I had weathered a bad dream and survived my first night in GF Strong Rehab Centre. I had come from six weeks in an acute care hospital and now found myself in a new place I did not know or understand. There were new routines, new protocols and new rules I knew nothing about. There were the social codes and etiquette of a whole new culture I had yet to discover. There were going to be different expectations of me too, from all sorts of people in occupations I had never heard of. I felt enclosed in my experience of this new world and I was scared.
I had been helped by the nurses to have breakfast, get dressed and get up. With the morning routine over, I sat in a wheelchair alone in my new room. I looked around trying to find something I could make a connection with; some object that was meaningful to me. Noticing the clinical and very sanitary built-in vanity with its disinfectant dispenser and proper handwashing sign, I thought of my cozy bedroom at home and then turned my attention out into space and stared for a while. “Here I am,” I thought. That was all I could pull out of the chaos that had swallowed up my life – a simple, vacuous thought that made no demands of me. Beyond the immediate reality of my surroundings, I could make no sense of my life anymore. I had no idea what to do. I could not even push myself around in the wheelchair, so I sat and I waited for whatever was going to happen next.
I soon became aware of an unfamiliar whirring sound coming from the hallway. As it got louder I wondered what it could be and then suddenly it stopped. A good-looking, tanned, blonde haired man had appeared at my door, his electric wheelchair having come to an abrupt halt there. He looked at me with wonderment. I looked at him the same way. In a moment of pause our eyes looked steadily and asked each other, “Who are you? What happened?” The spell broke and just before whizzing off at high speed, he leaned in a bit and said, “Wow, that must have been some kiss!” For a minute I was stunned. I couldn’t comprehend what had just happened. Had this man made a joke, a joke about me?
My disability had been caused by a very rare reaction to mononucleosis, also known as the kissing disease due to its prevalence among young adults. I was in a rehab hospital full of people whose lives had been turned upside down. He was one of them and he had just made a joke! Did that really happen here? People still laughed? That was how I met Doug. We all need shepherds along the way and he was one of mine.
A few minutes after our encounter a nurse came in to check on me. “Are you okay,” she asked? “You were screaming bloody murder last night.” I felt an automatic twinge of embarrassment but mostly I was shocked! I had no recollection of this at all. The dream I’d had came to mind immediately. There were no other people or places in it. I was alone, adrift in a black void, my arms wrapped around myself in a protective cocoon. Over and over again I cried out, “Help me! Help me!”, but I was aware of my isolation and knew there would be no answer. I still find it astonishing that the words I heard so clearly in my dream translated into the sound of raw terror when I opened my mouth. It was as if public politeness had flipped to the inside and the hidden subconscious had burst through to the outside to relieve the overwhelming burden of stress it was carrying.
Shortly after the nurse left, two young women wheeled in under their own power. Like me, they were quadriplegic. They had come to meet “the screamer”. Oh yes, I still had good lungs and had managed to wake up the whole floor. They were curious to know what was going on with the newbie, but they were warm and compassionate too. I noticed they didn’t seem scared or sad. They were comfortable and at ease. Two more shepherds to add to my flock.
I learned a lot that morning in GF Strong. I was part of a small, close-knit community where news travelled at lightning speed! I had a long way to go before I would get to know my neighbours and feel comfortable in my new surroundings but right off the bat I knew I was in a safe, friendly place and I was not alone.
Doug was the light that came on in my darkness. Far from being offended by his joke, I was grateful for it. We were both in the same predicament and in making fun of mine he did the same about his. He reminded me that we are all human beings and we are so much more than our physical bodies. With that lovely mischievous twinkle in his eyes, he gave me the hope I needed. One day I would laugh again. That was all I needed to know.
Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/maf04/14734365072