I said ‘Yes, Yes, Yes’. I could hardly believe the words coming out of Liz’s mouth.
‘There’s a bed for you from tomorrow’.
I would have jumped for joy if my legs allowed me.
I was enjoying the company of my Mum and my Uncle, sitting outside the hospital’s coffee shop and enjoying my first Latte in over five weeks. When Physio-supremo Liz and my favourite nurse Chelsie appeared at our table, I knew there was something up.
‘Have you got good news?’ I asked.
I was on the waiting list for a bed in rehab at the London Spinal Cord Injury Center and the last update was that it could be up to a month before a bed would be available. I hoped now that they might be here to tell me it was going to happen within the next week or two.
My Mum was the one jumping for joy. Tears sprang to her eyes before she managed to spring to her feet to hug me. My uncle’s jaw dropped. I couldn’t have been any happier. I put my arms up towards Liz for a hug and gave her and Chelsie each a squeeze.
Filled with adrenaline, I started to pack my stuff up that evening. It’s amazing what you can accumulate in 5 weeks. My mum gave me the carry on suitcase she was using to travel over from Ireland to see me. I had to dump, gift and repurpose a lot of my things, but by the end of my packing, I was pretty pleased with myself. I had my Mum’s carry on case, my tidy box full of books and bits and bobs, my bags of toiletries and medicines, my splints and other aides ready to go. They were neatly piled by my bed and I was just waiting for morning. This was what I had been wishing for since rehab was first discussed.
Be careful what you wish for.
The early warning signs came in the form of the ambulance driver who was transporting me. He took one look at my luggage, all ready to roll, and refused to take it. He said he would only take two bags. The rationale was that he would have to take two trips to and from the ambulance. Chelsie rolled her eyes at him and offered a solution. She and Charity, who were both looking after me that morning, would carry my stuff to the ambulance and then someone at the other end could help bring it in.
A drama ensued. He called his pencil-pushing manager who agreed that anything other than two bags was a health and safety risk.
With her signature eyeroll, Chelsie took the phone from the driver and tried to explain that there really wasn’t that much stuff and if I had two large bags, it would all have fitted. But I didn’t have two large bags. Lazy Driver wouldn’t accept any suggestions, nor would Pencil Pusher, so the phone was soon passed to the Ward Sister, Sarah and eventually to me. The same argument played out until the Hospital’s site manager took the phone. Pencil Pusher still would not be dissuaded.
While the conversations went on, Lazy Driver could have brought my stuff too and from the ambulance about 12 Times – and that’s even taking into account his far-too-chilled attitude. If my legs worked, I might have done it 20 times.
In the meantime, Chelsie had magicked a huge laundry bag out of somewhere and she and Charity filled it with all of my things. They plonked it next to my little suitcase. There. Two bags.
A call from Ward Sister Sarah to a buddy at the rehab and it was arranged. Chelsie and Charity would bring my stuff to the ambulance and the nursing staff at the other side would take it in once it arrived, saving Lazy Driver the trouble. A half and hour of unnecessary discussions later, we were back to Chelsie’s original suggestion. Pencil Pusher was all but told where to go.
And we were on our way.
Until we weren’t.
Lazy Driver wheeled his chair to my bedside and as the nurses helped me to sit upright at the side of the bed and I started to shuffle, he had freaker number 2.
‘She can’t stand?’
Did I mention that he was a genius?
Cue the second call to Pencil Pusher complaining that I wasn’t mobile. How was I going to transfer into the ambulance wheelchair and from the wheelchair to the bed at the other end.
With the eye roll of all eye rolls and a hand placed firmly on her hip, an exasperated Chelsie tried to explain that I could transfer using my arms to lift myself, but genius that he was, he couldn’t quite grasp the concept. He wanted me transferred by stretcher and that meant a 2 man crew. We’d have to re-book transport for a later time. Pencil Pusher agreed.
No way. If I wasn’t at the rehab by 12pm, I’d lose the bed.
I didn’t have to blow a gasket. Chelsie did it on my behalf.
The site manager walked purposefully to the nurses station and picked up the phone. Charity and I looked at each other and she just secured the wheelchair and nodded to me. Her meaning was clear. I was getting in that chair. I did my usual transfer – part shuffle, part slide, part lift. I was sitting in the chair and he wasn’t getting rid of me now.
This was confirmed a moment later when the site manager came back and announced that it had all been sorted out and I was going to rehab as planned. I don’t know who she had called, but it had worked.
Lazy Driver looked mildly sheepish as he ended his call with Pencil Pusher and began the job of wheeling me to the ambulance, with Chelsie and Charity carrying my two bags and their grinning faces behind him.
I spent the next two hours or so strapped into the ambulance wheelchair which I had, surprise surprise, managed to transfer myself into. Lazy Driver wasn’t so slow when it came to putting his foot on the pedal. He drove erratically through the streets of London. It only got worse when we hit roads with two or three lanes. That’s when Lazy Driver turned into Lewis Hamilton, at least in his own mind. He weaved in and out of traffic at breakneck speed – or if not breakneck, there was definitely a risk of whiplash. With no neck support on the ambulance wheelchair, I could feel my head and neck jerking forward and back, side to side. The wheelchair was so uncomfortable that if I’d had any feeling in my arse, I’m guessing it would have gone numb on the journey. I just closed my eyes and waited for it all to pass. We would soon be there.
Eventually, we arrived – at least we were in the main hospital grounds, just going back and forth, the driver seemingly taking in the scenery. He must have driven up and down the same road 4 times before he stopped to ask for directions. But he didn’t ask for the Spinal Unit. He had far more pressing matters on his mind.
‘Where’s the toilet?’ I heard him ask the guy he’d finally decided to speak to, before abandoning the ambulance, leaving it – and me – blocking the road while he went to relieve himself.
When his business was done and he had taken a leisurely walk back to the ambulance, we were back to the task of getting me to my destination. He decided the best thing to do was to drive around aimlessly a little bit more. It wasn’t until somebody stopped him and asked him what he was looking for that I realised he didn’t actually know where he was supposed to be going. At this point I had to shout out ‘Spinal Unit’ and we got directions. Lazy Driver cursed and complained about the hospital complex. I was just happy that I was soon to say goodbye to him.
It goes on. I could include all the boring details of more road blocking, arguments with people trying to get past, his disgust that there was no space to park directly outside the door. But it got old very quickly.
At long last, I made it to my bed. I was in a a bay with 3 others and was delighted that there was more personal space in my cubicle than I’d had at the hospital. Even filled with all my stuff, the place looked bare. I hardly noticed or cared. I was shattered.
But I was here. In the rehab I’d fought for and hoped for and waited to get into. Within minutes I was bombarded with doctors and specialists, physios and pharmacists. Nobody seemed to have read my hospital files and everyone wanted me to start from scratch or on a new regime. Nurses came and told me the plans for the coming days. To say they were unpleasant was an understatement. My heart sank and anxiety rose.
Is it possible to become institutionalised in 5 weeks? Because if it is, I can’t help but wonder if that’s what had happened to me in the hospital. In hospital, I had seen improvements day by day and had felt proud of my achievements. Here, they were dismissed or taken for granted. I had worked on training and health plans for organs that were in trouble and had started to develop patterns that were working. That was all thrown out the window in an instant. Even the medication that we had worked hard to get right was changed without discussion or reference to my previous dosages. My anxiety built to inner panic and I wanted to go back. I wanted what was familiar to me now. I wanted Chelsie and Charity, or Beth who had always looked after me. I wanted my physio-terrorist Liz, or Anthony and the Motomed and our jokes about being on so much medication that I could be Lance Armstrong. I wanted the enthusiastic smile of my Occupational Therapist, Lucy. Even Nurse Snorts-A-Lot and the nurses that had been a bit useless were tinted now with a more rosey hue.
I know that I’ll adjust and that I’m in the right place (please, please if leaving a comment below, don’t reassure me of this. It really doesn’t help). I know this is where I need to be if I’m ever going to really get back on my feet. I know I’ll get into a routine and I’ll get comfortable with those around me, but for now, it’s all so unfamiliar. And what’s unfamiliar is a little bit frightening.