Recovery, by Rich Paschall
Bill was to report to County Hospital at 10 AM so he had to hustle through his morning routine, if you could call it that. He slept until the sun woke him up, so he barely had an hour to wash his face, shave, get dressed, make coffee and leave the house. In his usual haphazard fashion, Bill accomplished his tasks on time.
From the kitchen window he spied clouds that might roll in from the west, but nothing could erase the shine from this day. A goal had been met and Bill would have the honor of walking the winner across the finish line. But despite his bright attitude, Bill grabbed for the large golf umbrella on the way out the door. No, Bill did not play golf. He just never knew when there might be a need for such a large umbrella.
Everyone seemed to know Bill when he arrived at the hospital. He had been making regular visits there for months, and chatting up the nurses and interns along the way. Now he only had time to smile and wave as he made his way to the fifth floor.
In room 502 a nurse was assisting the patient in getting ready to leave the rehabilitation floor to head home. Slowly he dressed, needing some help from others as he went. When he was all set, the nurse helped him to stand, and after a minute on his feet, to sit in the wheelchair. His personal items were stuffed into two plastic bags marked “Patient Belongings” and a small plastic tub, which was used a few times for washing up, was filled with a small half used tube of toothpaste, a cheap toothbrush, a small unopened shampoo bottle, a half bottle of mouthwash and some hand lotion.
The patient, a retired Industrial Planner from the Midwest, had arrived rather unceremoniously three months earlier. Paramedics brought him in after collecting him from the floor of his screened in patio. A neighbor had spotted him and another neighbor arrived with his first name. A medical investigator actually discovered his last name by visiting the home where he was found and looking on the mailbox.
Now the entire staff on the fifth floor of County Hospital knew Harold. Although he said very little due to his condition, nurses and therapists liked to stop in to have a little chat. For the first month, Harold could say nothing in return. As time progressed, he began to react more to the comments with a nod, a smile, or even a word or two.
He had spent the first week at County down stairs in ICU. For the second week he did little but lay in bed in 502. Sometimes someone would turn on the television, but it was doubtful Harold was aware of it most of the time. After that, the plan was put in motion. It was not the plan of the supreme Planner, but one on which the rest of his life depended.
It took many helpers to carry out the plan for Harold. A physical therapist was brought in to get Harold back into motion. He worked his arms and legs and soon began to prompt the patient on which action to make. When he was quite ready, the therapist would take him to the activity room where Harold would sit and roll a large ball across the room to the therapist who would roll it back. After that there was standing and walking. By the third month, Harold moved to the stairs. It was a narrow set of three with railings on both sides to grab. He went up to the top, then down the other side.
As movement improved, Harold was taken to a room set up like a kitchen. There he would practice opening jars and bottles and sometimes even cans. It was a struggle. In the third month he would prepare his own lunch. It was soft foods which he sometimes could not eat.
From week three a therapist came to teach swallowing. Weeks of exercises lead to attempt at swallowing thick liquids. Water and coffee were no good unless thickener was added. Harold looked at the therapist with a bit of disdain every time she poured thickener into a good cup of coffee. In truth, he could barely swallow the liquids when his time at County was up.
Another therapist worked on speech. Harold found it strange that someone must teach him how to shape his mouth and exercise his throat for sounds in order to say words again. It was not perfect after three months, but at least he could speak and be understood.
Bill arrived in 502 with all of the enthusiasm of a relative welcoming someone back from the dead. His smile was even larger than the patient’s, who still was working on his facial muscles and reactions.
“Ready to break out of here?” Bill said with a laugh.
Harold nodded slowly. He actually was not sure he was ready, but he was certainly glad to be going home.
“OK then, I guess we will just roll you out of here, since they will not allow you to race through the halls,” Bill blurted out, amused with himself.
A member of the hospital staff rolled the patient to the front door and Bill pulled his car right up to the front. They both had to help Harold get into the car, as his range of motion was limited.
The hospital worker handed into Harold a cane, the kind with four feet on the bottom. “I guess you will be needing this for a while.” With that, the two retirees drove away.
Leaving the hospital was not the end of the journey for Harold. It only took him part way down the long road.
This short story originally appeared on SERENDIPITY (teepee12.com).