I sat and listened as my Mum and the Occupational therapist conversed over what amendments my house would have to undertake for the hospital staff to be happy to discharge me. Fiercely trying to listen intently on the discussion that was going on, constantly trying to drag my mind back in to the present , rather than letting it wander off in to the piled high compartments of worry that were stored quite prominently at the forefront of my mind.
The stair case in my house didn’t have a handrail leading up it, therefore it was important that one was immediately fitted. It was also decided that I should have a removable bench fitted into my bathtub, as the shower in my house is placed over the bath and I did not have the ability to climb in and out of it, or to stand and shower safely.
I watched from my bed, in silence as Mum and the Occupational therapist finalised the details so that the work to make my house ‘stroke proof’ could get underway. I couldn’t help but think how embarrassing it would be when people entered my bathroom and saw the bath bench... not even my Granny uses one of them! But all of this was necessary to get me home, and that’s where I wanted to be wasn’t it? For the last two weeks of me being in hospital I couldn’t think of anything else other than getting out of there. I’d been pestering the physio’s to let me go, and never went a session without telling them how much I wanted to get out of here. But now that it was finally here, they were finally letting me out of the ward... I was scared.
I was going back to the place where, when I last saw it, I was being lifted in to an ambulance. I would be going back to the bed where I woke up paralysed. I would be going back to my home a different person, a broken person. Maybe it wasn’t going to be as comforting and familiar as I had imagined it would be. If anything, my house was going to be alien to me.
The stairs I once ran up in a pair of 6 inch heels, because I’d forgotten my lip gloss, while a taxi was waiting outside to take me and my friends on a night out, would now be stairs that I’d have to slowly learn to walk up and down. The kettle in my kitchen that I’d used thousands of times to make cups of tea for myself, friends and family, was now out of bounds in case I lost my balance and scalded myself. The shower where I used to spend far too long, singing at the top of my lungs and slipping about trying to dance would no longer be my private stage, as I had to rely on my Mum to help wash and dress me.
I knew that leaving the hospital wasn’t the end of what had happened, but merely the beginning of a very long, tiring and emotional road. In my small hospital room, I could hide away from reality and indulge myself in the day to day routine of hospital life that I had so quickly gotten used to. Going home I knew I’d have to take responsibility for what had happened to me, and I knew the hard work was only just beginning. I was starting to doubt whether I was ready for this.
As I was falling asleep that night, while Chris sat in the chair next to my bed, his head resting on the pillow next to mine while his hand gently stroked my brow, my suspicions were strong that this would be the last time that Chris would see me off to sleep in Ward E1.
6am woken for observation: blood pressure, temperature, oxygen levels. Drifted back to sleep. 8am breakfast arrived. Ate my brown bread roll, drank my orange juice, and turned on the telly. 9am I get a phone call off mum, ‘The man is here to fit the banister, so I will be a bit late.’ 9.15am The Occupational Therapist said she’d like to help shower and dress me, to see how well I was coping. 9.45am Go back to room, a little embarrassed to find Mum and Anna are waiting for me. 10am The Consultant discharges me from hospital, says he has booked me in for even more tests but as an outpatient and that he will see me in 4 weeks time.
I was going home.
Mum had brought in with her some thank you cards for me to write and 5 big boxes of chocolates that we were giving to the ward staff as a small token of how grateful we were to them. I didn’t know how to put it in to words how thankful I was. They’d cared for me faultlessly for two weeks and had treated me like a human being rather than just another patient. I was in awe of them. I’d never really understood or taken seriously the job of a Physiotherapist or Occupational therapist, but they were the people I entrusted my body to. They know how to make me better. I also got to see firsthand how hard a nurse has to work and yet the majority of them still managed to take the time to chat with me, and pop their heads round the door of my room just to make sure I was OK. I will forever be eternally grateful for how I was cared for on Ward E1.
I sat on my bed as I watched Mum and Anna collect my room away. Each card and picture that had been placed on the long windowsill or stuck to the bare wall was being handled with care and placed softly in to a bag. My clothes were being taken from my small side cupboard and folded neatly into a holdall bag. The sink was cleared of my tooth brush and tooth paste, and my cluttered table was once again empty. My heart was filled with a strange melancholy feeling as I searched round the room that now looked just as it did when I was first introduced to it. My safe haven would now belong to another resident of The Ward for the Elderly.
The Occupational Therapist and the Student physio that I had been working with for the last 2 weeks entered my room and told me the taxi was here and ready to take me home. Hospital rules stated that I had to be taken home by these members of staff because they had to be satisfied that I would be safe in my house before they could formally discharge me.
So Mum and Anna hurried off out of the ward, as Mum would have to drive her car home, and I let my eyes do one last sweep of the room. Noticing my lonely, white phone charger, still stuck in the plug socket on the wall, I pulled it out and shoved it in my pocket. It was time.
The nurses at the nurse’s station all waved goodbye to me, and the senior phsyio I had been working with hurried out of the physio gym to give me a quick hug and to tell me she was going to miss me. As we made our way to the door to the ward, I soaked in all the familiar sights the bathroom I used, the communal area, the staff kitchen, the occupation therapists room... and then we were in the corridor.
I could see the taxi waiting for us through the double doors ahead. The weather was bright with hardly a cloud in the sky, but it was fresh and chilly, with a pleasant breeze sinking into my cheeks. I was helped in to the car and exchanged, ‘Hellos’ with the taxi driver... then we were off. It felt so surreal to be outdoors, away from the hospital. I hadn’t been in a moving vehicle since being in the ambulance. I gazed out of the window, spotting certain people I recognised, and hoping they wouldn’t see me. I didn’t want to interact with anybody just yet. I had to focus on getting home.
As my house is only 5 minutes away from the hospital, before I knew it I had entered on to the street where I live. I had a jolt of excitement mixed with anxiety bounce through my chest, and there it was... My house. My lovely little house, with its four symmetrical windows, and its burgundy wooden door placed centrally with its silver number attached to it. My cute little front garden cordoned off by a simple front wall, where when I was little I used to put on dance shows for the neighbours. My Mums colourful hanging baskets, swinging next to the doors and windows, ready to face, and be defeated by the cruel, icy winter ahead. I couldn’t help but let out a smile and say, ‘Hi house!’
Something was missing though... Where were Mum and Anna? Somehow we beat them home. How embarrassing. I didn’t have a key. I couldn’t help but laugh, and soon enough Mums little red car turned the corner of the street, and the four of us, including the taxi driver let out a little cheer.
Mum couldn’t apologise enough, and said she couldn’t understand how we beat her to it. None of us could understand it, she left about 10 minutes before we did. That’s my Mum all over, she’d be late to her own funeral.
I walked timidly up the driveway, following Mum and Anna, and holding on to the physio, and watched as Mum pushed and turned her key in to the lock on the door. Being helped up the step, good foot first, I entered the living room and drank in that oh so familiar sight. It was just how I had left it. I sat awkwardly on the settee as Mum offered drinks to our guests, who declined as they wanted to get on with their assessment of the house. Now I was here, home, I wasn’t going anywhere. I watched as both professionals exited the door to the living room to scan the rest of the downstairs, and Mum sat quietly next to me on the arm of the chair with her arm around me. Both physio and OT re-entered the living room, and said they would like me to go upstairs with them so I could test out the new banisters and take a seat on my new bath bench.
It was strange going up the stairs, slowly, one step at a time. My body wanted to bound up them like I always had for the past 21 years, but my brain wouldn’t let it, my brain didn’t know how to let it. I followed the rehab team in to the bathroom and Mum and Anna followed me. The 5 of us stood around the bath, eagerly waiting for me to try out my new bench. I sat on it with my legs hanging over the side of the bath and with the help of my right arm I heaved my left leg in to the bath and swung my right leg to follow... simple enough. Getting my legs out of the bath was slightly easier as my right leg took the lead and was able to reach the floor to steady myself while I dragged my left leg out. With the agreement that there would be someone supervising and helping me in the bathroom at all times, and also helping me up and down stairs, both Occupational Therapist and Physio were happy to formally discharge me.
We exited the bathroom and made our way down the stairs, very cautiously on my part, and when back in the living room the student physio handed my Mum a sheet of exercises for me to do daily until the local rehab team started their work with me, and with that it was time to say goodbye. I gave them both the most warm and sincere, one armed hugs I could muster. I was going to miss them. They were my life lines. I hadn’t spent a day in my new body without them. I had truly needed these people.
Mum, Anna and I watched from the front door as they made their way back down the drive and into the taxi which had been patiently waiting for them, and we waved until the car was out of sight.
Back in the living room I flopped on the settee and Anna placed a cushion under my head. I was beyond tired and my emotions were so confused. Mum knelt on the floor beside me stroked my head and grabbed the bag that was filled with all the Get Well cards I had received, as she wanted to display them around the living room. I watched as she tipped the bag they spilled out on to the floor, there had to have been over 100. Mum looked at them all, and assessing with her eyes she saw how many cards there were, ‘Oh wow Bec,’ she said to me, ‘You are such a lucky girl...’ And after a pause,f where we both established the irony we laughed, hard.