A Rude Awakening
As I opened my eyes I was dazed. Somehow I knew this was a hospital room and I was lying on a narrow hospital bed, unable to move. When I saw the nurse enter my room patting her hair and looking around, I remembered why she was curious; it was in my long-term memory. I guessed she was primping in case I had visitors. She knew I was a cosmetologist as many of my visitors were friends from that corner of my world. In a hazy, shadowy way, I remembered her as she was coming in and going out of my room. Until today everything had seemed to shift in and out of focus.
Today I saw her clearly. “How are you today, Linda?” she asked. When she finally looked at me, I flipped her off with my middle finger, on the only hand I could move. I was angry. She doesn’t care how I feel, I thought. She’s busy primping her hair. She won’t even bother to look at me for an answer to her pretentious inquiry. She ignored my rebellious gesture and kept walking toward me with the food tray, which had a big hypodermic needle filled with pureed food on it. Because of the tracheotomy in my throat I could not eat and swallow food; I was fed by a tube that led directly into my stomach. Feeling frantic, I plugged the hole on my tracheotomy tube with my index finger and tried to talk. Oxygen was pumped into my lungs through the tube in my throat so I couldn’t breathe when the hole was plugged. As I tried to talk, gasping I said, “Please, don’t feed me, I am still full. My stomach hurts.” I croaked as clearly as I could. That did not slow her down. She kept walking closer to me. I frantically pointed my finger at my communication board, to the tile that said ‘No food’. She wasn’t paying attention to me. She was going to hurt me again. What could I do to make her stop? Why won’t she look at me?
I’m awake! Which one of us here is incoherent?! She saw that I was agitated, and as I touched my throat she lunged at me. I quickly yanked out my tracheotomy tube. I must have passed out. I was later told I had pulled out my tracheotomy tube before, and tried to yank out the tube in my stomach also, probably for the same reason. The staff always justified my struggles with them by saying, “She is going through an angry stage.” I had been going in and out of a coma for several weeks but it felt like forever at the time! I remember the food assault happening frequently and what they did to me. If they had bothered to read my chart they would have seen in 1978 I had surgery that divided my stomach and altered my intestinal track. As a result, I could only eat small amounts of food, and only when I was actually hungry. I weighed ninety-seven pounds at the time of my accident, so I obviously did not over-eat. Seeing the nurse approach me with that hypodermic needle filled with pureed food on the tray meant more torture for me. I had to take desperate measures to stop them; I was supposed to be the ‘sick one’!
When I next opened my eyes I was confused. I did not know where I was, or what to expect. My throat hurt dreadfully. Everything hurt so much! At least this time when I was conscious again my hand was not tied to my body or to the bed – as had happened before. They would repeatedly tie my hand to the bed when I tried to communicate something to them. My left hand and arm was the only thing that I could move or use and they would ignore me or deprive me of that! I am truly amazed I managed to survive my medical care. I was only trying to talk to them. They kept hurting me. Why weren’t they nice to me?
Who Am I?
As I lay alone in my room my mind was numb. I seemed to be going in and out of consciousness again. I had no idea what had happened to me or why I was there. I was confused and frightened when anyone visited me, although I was happy when I remembered some people in the group of strangers. I was very confused when they told me that these three boys who visited me were mine. I thought they were too big to be my sons. After some convincing, I was told that the last two or three years prior to my accident had been wiped out. My boys felt bad that I didn’t know them. It was especially confusing because I remembered some people who were strangers to them. My boys had been with me throughout my recovery and the conditions of my memory just added to the confusion for all of us. My youngest sister Joyce married a guy that I knew in high school and gave birth to her daughter Sarah on Valentine’s Day in 1985. I didn’t know what to expect about ‘my life’ so when she walked into my room at the nursing home so that I could see her, I asked Joyce if she was my baby. Joyce just laughed and wryly said, “You have always wanted a daughter, but this one is mine.” By the middle of March 1985, I was conscious more than not and managed to convince my family and some visitors that I was awake. My family went through an erratic range of emotions as they realized I was awake and in some cases I don’t know if it was fear or delight! ~smile & wink~
I was sent back to Ramsey Hospital to be diagnosed so they would know what to do with me. The hospital performed tests on every level to determine if I was truly coherent. They removed my tracheotomy, along with all the needles, tubes and other medical paraphernalia. I could croak answers to things pertaining to different areas of my body, but aside from that I did not know much. I was confused, uncomfortable and as frightened about life as one would expect. But fortunately I also had a survival mentality I was not aware of at the time and that gave me enough confidence to overcome many of the would-be obstacles! They removed the feeding tube in my stomach so I had to re-learn how to eat. I had no strength or coordination in my body. The only movement I had for almost five months was limited to movement of my left hand and arm.
At the time I did not have much going for me. Therapists from the Saint Paul Rehabilitation Center, SPRC, began working with me in March when they knew that I was going home. SPRC saw me as no one else did. They did not see how much I had lost, they saw my unlimited potential. I thought they were crazy. I was confused by the things they would ask me to do, and I was just as confused at my ability or inability to do them. I was a mystery alright, and I think God was the only one who was not surprised! Many of the doctors at Ramsey Hospital were amazed that I survived in the first place, now I had recovered enough to go home! They knew first-hand how seriously ill I had been. I may have survived physically but my psyche; awareness and my sense of self were dead and gone.
Welcome back to the world lady… I was an empty/injured head on a broken body! I was sent back to the nursing home for therapy to do some basic physical things. I learned to sit up, but did not have the strength required for sitting up for any length of time. Even fifteen minutes was too long – I was like a jellyfish and had no muscle control anywhere on my body. I slowly slouched down as I sat in my wheel chair, or any chair I was put in. I had to learn to ‘transfer’, even though I had no idea what a transfer was yet. A transfer is the ability to go from my bed to my wheelchair, from my wheelchair to another chair, the car, the commode, or the toilet, etc. I was not able to help much when I tried to transfer. I was like a baby; literally a vegetable in every way. I was told what to do and how to do it. I had to learn how to breathe, eat, and how to breathe when I ate. I re-learned a little basic hygiene such as washing my face and how to brush my teeth, although I had fewer teeth to brush. Three of my front teeth were broken in half when I hit the steering wheel. The impact also caused several of my molars to split in half and eventually fall out. My mouth was like a battlefield, I never knew which tooth would fall next! ~toothless smile~
Speaking was a problem, as my voice is Dysarthric because the tracheotomy tube was left in my body too long. I began to re-learn to talk, which was an unexpected challenge. Trying to articulate, as I learned to breathe while I was talking was a big challenge. That was tough – breathe and talk at the same time? I took a breath for each syllable in each word. My verbal talking was choppier than this written explanation. ~smile~ I now know, thirty years later, there were a few people who regretted my re-learning to talk. Dad used to tease me and when I discovered I could tease right back it was all over for him. When he started calling me ‘nightmare’, I said, “I’m just getting started Dad!” My sarcasm was apparently another natural instinct. I obviously inherited it from dad, and I quickly re-learned to play off it.
I sure miss him. Every now and then when I do something really stupid (not too rare) I look up at Heaven and say, “That dumb move was for your entertainment Dad!” ~smile & wink~