I went shopping yesterday with J. I often have no idea where my body is in space (in addition to, or one of the components of the Drunken Sailor Effect) and we ended up at this store we had no business being at. J asked me if I remembered when she made me go into the same store when she visited Portland, but I have no recollection of that excursion at the mall. We both think I probably blocked it out.
The sensation of being lost is not unfamiliar to me. You’re lost if you don’t know where you are, and that’s definitely what I felt as I tried to sort through living in the hospital and if the whole experience was a dream or not. When my parents would leave for the night I’d remember watching as the last bit of light spilled through the crack in the door as they exited, Mom carrying one of my reusable grocery bags and Dad wheeling a little carry-on bag with his laptop inside behind him. The feeling of seeing the door finally close mellowed from all-out fear in the 2nd Hospital to great uncertainty in the 3rd hospital. As I woke up more I had longer periods of lucidity during which I reasoned that all this was far too detailed to be a dream, and I was less afraid.
I had gained enough confidence (maybe it was just recklessness) by midway in my stay at Therapy Boot Camp (3rd Hospital) that I decided to do what I’d seen other patients doing and take myself back to my room when I had a break between therapy sessions. It was relatively early in the morning so Mom and Dad weren’t there, and I’m not sure if I knew what my schedule was. I knew I had trouble reading, plus I did not want to see a PT double-header on the schedule since then I’d dread it until the appointed time, so I often just waited for someone to come wheel me off to the gym or wherever for treatment. No one came and got me as the waiting area emptied out so I assumed I had a break and so wheeled off to the elevator.
In the absence of my own parents, my friend M’s Dad kept an eye on me, helped me into the elevator and pressed the button for the 6th floor. M came out of Therapy at that moment, so her Dad went to go meet her. I had delayed getting in the elevator too long, however, before M’s Dad came to help me, so unbeknownst to me, the elevator started downward to the 3rd floor in response to a call button pushed there. I had no idea what I was doing so I just got out when the doors opened. My disorientation was compounded by the fact that I was not wearing glasses (they were just another piece of equipment to manage in therapy), and at that moment I was still squarely in the camp of “this experience is not real.” So I slowly wheeled down the hall, thinking how the fact that everything looked different only confirmed that this wasn’t real, but when I got to the end of the hall and reached an office instead of my room I realized I had better jump ship and get back to the elevator.
Accordingly, I started wheeling myself down the hall again. My arms were still pretty weak (the trough for my left arm had only been recently removed), and my legs weren’t very good at half-stepping and propelling myself along in the wheelchair, so I turned it around and gave a series of large pushes with both legs since that was the most expedient form of movement for me at that point. (No one saw me so they did not have the opportunity to correct my grossly improper chair usage technique.) I turned my chair to face forward before I crossed a side hall of nurses doing charting or something at their workstations, and I made my best effort at looking like I knew where I was going as I wheeled by them and got back into the elevator. This time when the doors opened again it was on the 6th floor and Mommy was waiting right there since she was going downstairs to look for me. She said something like, Oh, my poor baby. She was surprised to see me by myself and I had tied my own ponytail that morning (another thing I had to relearn since I’d lost some motor skills and a large chunk of hair) and at that point it wasn’t looking too good.
I still remember the sound of the voices in the office when I was lost on the 3rd floor, and what the nurses looked like standing at their workstations and typing quietly. I remember so well because I considered asking them for help, but my pride (I had not yet been broken of my fierce independence) drove me to keep on kicking my wheelchair backwards down the hall in a ridiculous show of I-can-do-this-myself-ness.
Now if I had asked any of these people for help I’m sure they would have gone out of their way to deposit me safely back in Room 614. That’s been one of the hardest things to learn for me – how to ask for help. My new “thing” now is asking for stuff, but it’s been a long time coming. I’m used to being the one who is happy to run a taxi service, help clean up after a pot-luck, or take you to the grocery store. Currently I’m the one who needs help, and I am continually surprised by how both my friends and complete strangers are willing to give it.