I never dreamed while contemplating my reverse right shoulder replacement that I would actually have a good time during the process. That never happened after previous surgeries. I’ve had my gall bladder removed; back surgery; both hips and my left shoulder replaced, yet nary one laugh escaped me during those ordeals.
Several days after this surgery they transferred me to a brand new rehab center. I should have suspected an unusual environment when the head nurse introduced herself as, “Nurse Anthrax,” (not her real name but one equally toxic). I was incredulous at the naiveté of her parents for giving her such a moniker. That set me off on a scavenger hunt of other ironies, such as entering the physical therapy room and noticing that they were playing “Masonic Funeral Music.”
One day, my heart skipped a beat when I saw Fritz standing in the doorway. His neatly trimmed grey beard and hair reminded me of my late husband. Imagine my excitement when he sat down on the bed, his body touching mine. I wished that he would kiss me. Instead, he turned away and eagerly kissed my red-headed woman visitor. This aroused my jealousy, but then suddenly he disappeared. Could I hold a grudge against him? No! I knew that next Tuesday, Fritz the Schnauzer therapy dog would visit me again.
When you look around the dining area, superficially all you see are old bodies in wheelchairs, some with oxygen cannulas in their noses, others with drains coming from their kidneys, or those with broken limbs in splints. It’s so easy to discount these wounded folks. But that would be a big mistake. Many of them had led adventurous lives and had had marvelous careers.
Once I opened myself up to their stories, I was constantly stimulated and amazed. I learned the gory details about a husband who dumped his wife for a much younger woman he met on a Greek Island; Wynona entertained me with descriptions of being in Tehran just before the Shah left and the Iranian Revolution began. Nursing attendants told tales of being abused by ex-mates; or about the suspicions single dads encounter when they accompany their teenage daughters to buy underwear. And do you know the difference in the way male attendants give showers compared to female attendants? Mine washed me like he was washing his car, spraying first down one side of me. Then I turned and he washed down the other side. I took care of my own headlights.
One dinner hour I said to my tablemates, “Aren’t the nights long here?” To my amazement, one ordinarily quiet woman began reciting lines from “Macbeth.” Then she told me about attending Yale and her life’s work as a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner and nursing instructor.
I met the son of a patient who’s a retired probation officer. Guess what he does in his retirement? He collects and repairs fountain pens. He has written articles about his collection and even had an exhibit of them in nearby Alamogordo. This was a folklorist’s delight.
Sometimes snippets of conversation captured me:
I miss my dog more than my husband;
I married a Roman Catholic priest;
If you leave off your brassiere, your wrinkles disappear;
My dog knows how to spell D-O-G-P-A-R-K.
Food services were excellent and unique for such an institutional setting. For example, one time they served eggs benedict for breakfast; chicken Alfredo over fettuccini for lunch; stir-fry steak and veggies and rice for dinner. And there was an alternative menu available for all three meals.
I met Angelica Wagner, also a patient at the rehab center. She teaches cooking and does catering when not recovering from surgery. As a special occupational therapy exercise, she taught us how to make cherry-filled empanadas. The following week we made mini-cinnamon rolls. This was a very enlightened healing environment.
Still patients complained:
“Can you believe they call this bean soup. The beans aren’t even white?” (I had a cynical hunch that her attitude applied to people, as well.)
“You know, I have to hit the TV remote button FIVE times before it will change channels.”
Overcoming pain and getting the digestive system back to normal after anesthesia and medications are the two most difficult post-op tasks. It takes patience to be a good patient, something that I lack. Nonetheless, social interactions go a long way in helping rehabilitation. From the many colorful get-well cards to my many visitors, two laden with Stroopwaffel McFlurries, and to my almost-daily visits from Damien, a Papillion, and his driver Carol Witham, fellow patients and staff with their intriguing stories contributed toward my recovery. After almost a full month at the rehab center, I eagerly returned home and with thanks to all of you.
Oops! I forgot to mention something. While I was away I had Liza Chase take care of my cat’s meals in the morning and Roxana Gillette gave Sweetie Beattie the night feeding. Liza left the TV on for the cat 24/7 so she wouldn’t feel alone in the empty house. Often Liza turned on the History Channel. However, one day as she was leaving, the History Channel was airing a show about Hitler. Liza thought that was inappropriate for a Jewish household, so she changed the channel to one about Aliens.
Norine Dresser is a folklorist who is relieved that the surgery is now in the past, and she is home at last with Sweetie Beattie.
Visit the Gallery of Folklore and Popular Culture: flpcgallery.org