They Work!!!

Wednesday will mark four weeks since I got two new knees. Started thinking about what they’re made of. Titanium? Dave’s are titanium, but his last replacement is ten years old. Maybe the materials have changed. I forgot to ask.

Never mind, what’s important is that these two new knees work! The post-surgery brain fog seemed to lift overnight last week and now the almost-new equipment is stored: the bedside potty that fit over the regular toilet to make a lift, the walker, even the cane! Actually, I’ll keep the cane handy for trips to uneven ground like the garden plot or maybe a cemetery.

I’m exercising caution as I proceed with what I suppose to be daily activities. I’m not quite sure what my new routine will include because we replaced the kitchen and bath countertops on Friday and everything is amuk until the painter comes Wednesday. Anything that was on top of the counters Thursday night is sitting on the dining room table. The under-sink supplies are in the living room floor. Bathroom items are in the guest room.

There’s a little ugly strip at the top of the new quartz backsplash where the old laminate version was torn off, just a little repair but one that will mean re-painting all the walls. Dave was sure to tell me that he likes the present color, a soft jade that seems to pair well with the old oak cabinets. No problem there, I love that color, too.

A few years ago, my daughter-in-law Vicky explained to me that I shouldn’t paint anything blue. “You’re such a green person,” she said, and when I thought about it, yeah, I’ve had some shade of green as a neutral in my home for at least thirty years. I’ve remembered her advice more than once.

If I’m changing something in the home decor, I like lots of research and advice. I know more about kitchen counters than I’ll ever know about artificial joints. I didn’t get much advice on the knee replacements except for one thing: Do your physical therapy. I’m doing my best to heed the good word!

So far, I’m only imagining spring in the garden with this new ability to walk without pain. Dr. Shell says full recovery is a few months away. Pain, in general, has been controlled and not nearly what I’d expected. From Day One, the new knees hurt less than the old ones. When I first get out of bed, I notice minimal stiffness. At the end of the day, I am somewhat sore, but the incapacitating pain of bone-on-bone is gone.

Well! I have lots to do! Maybe I should re-assemble my bathroom since all is finished in there. Maybe I’ll have another cup of coffee. Maybe I’ll visit Mom early today, then go to PT at eleven.

I’ve learned some new patience. Not everything has to be done quickly. I am one grateful, compliant, patient patient.

Good, Bad, Ugly, Good

Friday the 13th, late afternoon, after surgery on Wednesday.

“You’re ready to go to rehab! They’re waiting for you for you over at Southside Rehab! All you have to do is call your ride.” The arrangements were made. I called Neil. The nurse suggested it might be good to get some pain meds in my system for the ride ahead.

I don’t remember much about the trip there, except that I kept backseat driving.

I went inside in a wheelchair. Was it mine? Or theirs? Who wheeled me? I don’t know, but I was taken immediately to my room.

“Where are my things?” I asked. “I really need to go to the bathroom.”

“Look, we have a dinner tray here for you.” I lifted the lid and replaced it immediately. I remember carrots. I was nauseated.

A young woman in wrinkled grey scrubs and a greasy long ponytail introduced herself as the admitting nurse and said she would have a few questions for me in a few minutes.

“I’ll be right back,” she said.

“Can I have my nightgown?”

“Your stuff is all out front. We have to go through it all. We’re going to wash everything.”

“What? Go through it? But my laptop is there and, and, my Kindle and, and…”

It was hard to tell who was talking because there were five or six people gathered in the room. In the halls, other workers giggled and talked too loud.

“You don’t need anything right now.”

“I need to go to the bathroom. I need my phone. I haven’t seen anyone yet.”

“Seen anyone?” the admitting nurse asked. Ah, she was back. “You’ve seen all kinds of people.”

“I need to see a nurse.”

“You’ve seen ME,” she said. “I’m a nurse. I told you I’d be right back.”

“I want my laptop and stuff. And, listen, there is a little silver box inside a clear plastic makeup bag that has teabags in it. I need that right now. My wedding ring is in there.”

Grey Admitting Nurse put her hand on her hip. “Did you not read the part that says not to bring valuables?”

“It doesn’t matter what I read at this point. I want you to go right now and get me that silver box.”

She sighed, flew out of the room, and came back with the plastic makeup bag, and my laptop. All there, thank goodness. I put two rings on my hands. The toe rings and earrings left in the box could be replaced, but not my wedding ring. No way.

“Did you bring my clothes?”

“No,” someone said. “You don’t need them right now. We need to get you admitted.”

***

Everyone had left. I was alone in the room. I was cold. Was I wet? The spinal block I’d had for surgery had rendered me temporarily unable to control my bladder, well, more than usual.

I was the old woman I’d heard hollering many a time while visiting a nursing facility.

“Somebody please help me.”

***

No one came. The incontinence pad I was wearing didn’t hold. I might have been dripping.

I can’t stay here. I felt my chest for my phone. It was there, tucked in my bra.

I texted Neil. Do you think you could come get me and take me home?

How serious are you? he replied.

I’m serious. We’d have to round up my stuff but I can’t stay here.

Whatever you want.

?

I’m on the way.

I thought about calling Dave. I don’t know if I did. I remember arriving at home. I think Neil wheeled me into the bedroom. I know he sat all my bags in the floor. Dave stood by.

Before Neil left the room, I said, “Neil, you’ll have to assemble that potty chair that’s on the porch. It’s in the box. I’ll need it by the bed. I am so nauseated.”

Dave helped me undress. I did not know where my nightshirts were, or my underwear, or my pads, or anything. I knew they were in the bags but not which bag. Dave would never find them.

“At the end of my closet, there is a long pink thing, like a dress, or nightshirt. Give me that, and find me some panties. There are some pads in my bathroom.”

Dave could not find panties because I’d packed pretty much all of them. I did not know which bag they were in. I wanted to lie down.

“Just give me an old pair of your briefs and I’ll wear those tonight.”

I lay down in bed and Neil brought in the bedside commode and left.

Dave came to lie down in bed with me. I coughed, coughed until I might have broken a rib. I was nauseated. I might have thrashed.

Somewhere around 2:00 AM, I got up to transfer to the bedside toilet. It was in the lowest position. I crouched and held to the side arms. My new knees objected when my backside fell too far toward the floor.

I was wet again. The floor was wet. The bed was wet. Somewhere I got panties and a pad.

About 2:00 o’clock (I think), I told Dave, “Something’s wrong. I need to go to the hospital.”

He tried to discuss, but I couldn’t answer coherently.

“Hand me my phone,” I said. I dialed 911. I’m not sure what I told the woman on the other end of the line, but she stayed with me until some EMT’s walked in and asked me if I could get on the gurney.

I didn’t know, and I don’t know how I got on the gurney. I was cold, with no shoes and wet pants–again. The cold of the night stung and numbed. I had no blanket. Outside, the EMT’s moved me to the cot that lifts into the transport ambulance, strapped me in, and hit the lift button. A short grey-haired woman with a gravelly voice positioned herself beside me and buckled herself in.

“I’m so cold,” I said.

“Yeah, I think we’re finally getting winter,” she answered.

Wind whistled. There was no heat in the ambulance. My feet were numb.

***

I got a blanket at the hospital. When the nurse asked me why I was there, I said, “I just want to go back to the hospital.”

She prepped my arm for a needle stick and inserted the routine IV.

“Where is my phone?” I asked. “I had it. Where is it?”

Dr. Carpenter, a hospitalist, appeared. He didn’t look like the Dr. Carpenter I’d known before.

He asked me why I left the rehab facility. I think I told him something about all my personal belongings in a heap on the floor. Whatever. I wasn’t able to say much more.

“Could somebody get me another blanket?” I asked.

Dr. Carpenter said, “Let’s get her another blanket.”

He patted my leg and left the room.

Somebody said they were going to get a CT scan of my stomach.

“I don’t need that,” I said. “I just need to go upstairs and go to bed.”

***

The night shift was still on duty when I got upstairs to a room just down the hall from where I’d been after surgery. I was safe. Finally.

“I’m Heather,” she said. (Not her real name.) “I’m your nurse. We’re going to take care of you.”

“Can I have some water?”

“Of course you can.”

Drinking water never felt so good. It wasn’t the taste. It was the feel.

“Are you hungry? Want some crackers? We have peanut butter and crackers, applesauce, fruit cups…”

I knew from experience I could get a sandwich. “Sandwich?” I asked.

“You may be in luck. Let me see if I can rustle up a turkey sandwich.”

Heather smeared a whole packet of mayonnaise on each slice of bread. I ate the best turkey sandwich of my life.

Heather stayed with me for what seemed like quite a while. When I woke, she was gone. I was still wearing the long pink knit sleepshirt from home but I was dry. I felt treaded socks against the footboard. I smelled coffee.

I pressed the call button. “Can I have some coffee?”

Heather appeared with coffee, creamer, and sweetener.

“I didn’t know what you wanted in it, so I brought it all,” she said. “When the day shift gets here, we’ll get you all cleaned up, okay?”

I thanked her and drank that cup of kindness in Holy Communion with all the world’s hurting and those who take care of them: caretakers, professional and not, those who walk every hall, enter doors, and sit bedside. I drank it black. Normally, I want cream.

***

Shirley and Tessa washed and dried me and anointed me with unscented lotion. Shirley’s been at St. Thomas for fifty-two years. “

Heather said, “Shirley runs things around here.”

“Here. Do you want to brush your teeth?” Tessa asked.

I was hard on the bristles of the plastic brush. Some of them came off in my mouth.

“Here, spit in this emesis cup,” she said. “We’re gonna throw that old toothbrush away anyhow.”

“I don’t have any panties,” I said. “I’m going to need a disposable brief or something.”

“Alright, honey, we’ll get all that.”

The rest of Saturday passed in a blur of dozing, rejecting food trays, and watching helpers enter and leave the room. I slept in two-hour segments, awakened by Yolanda for vitals and the day nurse for medications.

“I really don’t need pain meds,” I said. “I need to pee.”

***

Sunday morning, I ate pancakes. Dr. Hoffman, “my” hospitalist, stopped by.

“Diana, what happened to you was a _______.” [Now I can’t remember the word. It means overdose– but not.]

“That’s why I was crazy?”

“I wouldn’t say you were crazy, but the medicine was just too strong for you. We overmedicated you. I’ve changed you to something lighter and I think you’ll get by fine on that. We’re going to watch you. PT will come in to work you out.”

“Did what I think happened at Southside not happen?”

“I feel certain it did, but it’s possible things were magnified or enhanced to you, and you were certainly confused.”

“I couldn’t stay there.”

“I know, I know,” he said. “Well, we’re going to let you stay with us another couple of days, and then you can decide what you want to do. Dr. Shell’s nurse practitioner is back now–she’s been on vacation–and she and Dr. Shell will get you all fixed up. You might want to go to another rehab or you may just want to go home. I’m not sure what your home situation is, or…”

“I’m going to Richland House if I can. I need somebody to take care of me.”

“Okay, then we’ll probably get you out of here tomorrow afternoon. I’ll look in on you later on.”

***

Dr. William Shell, one of TOA’s finest, certainly the sweetest, walked in the room with his nurse practitioner Lori on Monday morning. Lori had already stopped by to tell me that Dr. Shell was coming.

“So you didn’t fare too well over at Southside,” he said. “I’m so sorry about that. I was afraid of that when I realized where you were going. If Lori hadn’t been gone last week, we’d never have let you go there.”

I was now the facility’s defender. “It’s okay. It’s not all their fault.”

“No, well, there are other better places. Lori will get you all fixed up with that.”

“How about Richland Place?” I asked.

“That would be one of my three suggestions,” he said. “Let’s get you out of here this afternoon.”

He started toward the door and then turned around. “Unless you’d rather stay with us one more day, get some more PT done, and then go home.”

“Oh, my, I’d rather go home.”

“That’s what I prefer,” Dr. Shell said, “even if we didn’t have this epidemic upon us. But those people are so stretched, and you could do as much for yourself at home as they’d do for you.”

“One of my main concerns is Covid, too,” I said. “Southside assured me of a quarantined ward and room. I wasn’t going to even get out of the room over there.”

“Yeah, home is always best if you can do it. Okay, then, Lori will get you all fixed up for outpatient care. I think you’ll do just fine at home.”

“Will I have home health?” I asked. I was thinking about bathing mainly.

“You won’t need it. They tell me you have a couple stairs at home. Did you have any trouble with stairs in PT?”

“No.”

“Then you’ll be fine. Don’t forget to make your appointment for followup in three weeks.”

***

I left the hospital the second (and last) time on Tuesday about noon.

“Neil, we have to get tacos. I need tacos. Tacos for everyone!”

At home, Neil unloaded my bags and set a casual table.

“Isn’t this a great idea?” I asked.

Mom, Dave, and Neil all agreed!

*****

What we do for love…

Mama usually calls maybe once a day. Today she called four times. Her knee replacement surgery is next Monday. She’s concerned about her wardrobe, the low potassium diet her urologist has recommended, and the three weeks she’ll spend in post-operative re-habilitation.

2013-11-28 10.58.28“Your father doesn’t want me to go to re-hab for three weeks,” she says. “He says we can do everything I need right here.”

“Well, he’s wrong, and Dr. Shell wants you to go to re-hab,” I say. Dr. Shell is her orthopedic surgeon.

“I know. I want to go to re-hab, too. I need to do it.”

“You just want to know he’s going to be okay without you?” I ask.

“Oh, he’ll be fine,” she says, waving it off. “He just doesn’t want to be here alone.”

Mom and Dad married at fifteen and seventeen. I don’t think they’ve been apart any longer than a five-day stretch. To use the psychological term, they are “enmeshed”. In day-to-day operating language, their very breaths are one. Each needs the other to survive.

The anniversary of their first date is Groundhog Day, when Dad walked Mom home from church. He was most perturbed this year that he could not find the dark-chocolate-covered cherries that he always gives Mom for that special occasion. I promised him I would find some. I’ll look tomorrow.

I wonder what will happen when the first of them goes. From my current perspective, we pray for Dad to depart before Mom. Yes, it is true that my life, and Dave’s, would be easier, but we also think Mom would be able to take alone-ness better than Dad. Mom is more adaptable, more able to make something drinkable from bitter fruit, more likely to roll it around until she can squeeze out a juice she can swallow.

Dad says, “Your mom always sees the best in everything. I see the problems.”

Even now, she relishes a lunch outing, while Dad would rather heat up canned cream-of-chicken soup. Mom is the one who, even with painful knees, is most willing to perch on the front passenger seat of the Sienna to take to the road.

“Mom,” I tell her, “We’ll see that he eats and takes his medicine and doesn’t work too hard. We’ll bring him to visit any time he wants. I could even bring him over there first thing in the morning and he could stay all day. He could play his guitar, and talk to the other residents.”

“Oh, Lord.” She changes the subject. “Can you put buttons on that wrap-around robe?”

“Yeah, I’ll do that, well, uh, I’ll do that…before you go to the hospital. Did you try on your new moccasins?”

“Yes, they feel great.”

“Are you able to slip your feet into them?”

“Oh, yeah,” she answers.

“Without bending over to pull them on, I mean?”

“I think so.”

“Tomorrow you can show me.”

“Okay. Hey, I need to add a couple of things to my grocery list. I need three apples, some cherries, carrots, and a cucumber–just one. I see I can eat all those.”

“Dave’s doing your shopping. I’ll let him know.”

“Oh, he’s going to the store for me? How come he decided to do it?”

“We bargained. He said he’d do the shopping run if I gather all the things he’s asked for in order to do the taxes. I just hope he gets the right things.”

“He’ll do fine. Just tell him to call me if he has questions. He doesn’t mind calling. If your daddy went with this list, he’d get at least half of it wrong. He wants to do it, but he’s really not good at it.”

“Did you start taking your Bumex again?” I ask. “You start that again today, and then….”

She interrupts me. “…and then I stop it again after Saturday before the surgery.”

“Right. And the….”

“The spirolactone, too. I stop that after Saturday, too. I sure wish I could drink orange juice. I’m going to miss that.” She hastens to add, “But don’t worry, I’m going to do everything he told me to do. Are they going to let me wear Depends?”

“Oh, I think for the surgery, you might be au naturel, but the nurse at the education session said they want you to wear your own clothes as soon as possible. I bet you’ll put on an outfit the day after surgery.”

“Can you put a little makeup bag in your purse?”

“Sure.”

“You want to watch Gunsmoke?” she asks.

I hesitate. “Just for a few minutes. I might not make it to the end. I have to get over there and get some work done.”

“Well, I just don’t know what I’d do without you,” she says, pointing the remote at the TV.

“I don’t know…I don’t know what I’d do without you, either,” I answer.

My friend Inez Torres Davis posted on Facebook a few days ago: My mother loves to do jigsaw puzzles. I do not. Or, I will put it this way: I do not MIND doing them so much if the picture on the box is helpful and I have nothing else that needs to get done. This puzzle we are doing? The picture does not help one bit and it was clearly designed by a sadist! I do jigsaw puzzles with my mother because I can sit close to her. I love jigsaw puzzles.

Inez, I know exactly what you mean.