The Chinese believe in auspicious days; it is usually the date that determines if a day is auspicious or not. The Olympics had to start on August 8th at 8:00 p.m. because eight is a lucky number. Today is an auspicious day in our family not because of the date but the event that is occurring: my dad is coming home three weeks after breaking his hip! The last two and a half weeks he has been in rehab at Azura of Lakewood or as Chloe, age four, calls it, Grandpa’s apartment. While there have been some rather trying times, it has also had some bright spots and we walk away a little richer from the experience. While we learned many things during Dad’s stay, they can be group in five categories. I hope you’ll never need these, but if you do, here are the insights we gained:
1. Pay attention – some classic lines will emerge. Even in the midst of stressful times comments become inside jokes or connecting points to be retold in the months and years to come. Not everything you experience during this time will be a painful memory. Here are a few of our take aways:
- Dad checked into rehab while still foggy from anesthesia. As part of the initial cognitive evaluation the occupational therapist showed him a rectangle and two triangles and asked if he could identify them. He mumbled, “rectangle, isosceles triangle and scalene triangle.” The OT just looked at Mom with wide eyes. “Former engineer,” came the reply. Do you know your triangles? I can’t remember what a scalene triangle is, can you?!
- One evening as Katy, age 8, and I were preparing to leave, the nurse’s aid came in to get Dad ready for bed and left commenting that she was going to get him a gown. Katy looked at me excitedly and asked if we could stay and see Grandpa’s gown. Oh the image she must have had.
- Later on the way out to the car we were being silly and when we got to the curb Katy said, “I’d better be careful around that curb or I, myself, may need rehab!” I, myself, nearly fell over at the grammar construction and quick wit of that cutey.
- Emily (10), Katy, Grandpa and I played charades one afternoon. Once they caught on after acting out things I’d written like driving a car or reading a book they got into the act and wanted to write their own clues. Dad had to act out growing a money tree and I was stuck adopting a cat. Oh my!
2. Fish and guests are like visitors and meals. You’re probably familiar with the saying that fish and guests start to smell after three days. I have a similar kind of saying for visiting people in the hospital or rehab that I hope is going to catch on. Unless you are family or very close friends, visitors are like hot meals: both are to be enjoyed for about twenty minutes, after that they just don’t taste as good. People mean well and one doesn’t want to begrudge someone who cares enough to stop by and visit. But really, shorter is better.
3. Be nice to the staff – they have the power to greatly influence your loved one’s experience. I cannot say enough about the staff at Azura (other than one lady at the front desk who chewed out my sister over a cup of coffee). Besides her, they went above and beyond in caring for Dad. CK, Ildy, Doug, Amy and others become household names in less than three weeks. At one point in the middle of his stay, Dad had to return to the hospital for two days. When he returned the staff cheered upon seeing him. Ildy, one of the aids, always saved the best seat in the dining area as a Broncos game went into overtime and consistently made sure that he ate enough. We will miss them and I think they will miss us too.
4. Follow the rules and do your exercises. It is not fun being injured and it’s understandable to have bouts of discouragement. That being said, most likely the patient will have been given rules that need to be followed for their particular injury. My dad had three rules that were reviewed by, I am not kidding, everyone. Going to PT? “Great, what are your three rules Tom?” Every nurse, aid, and therapist asked Dad what his specific three rules were and kindly pointed out when he might be getting a little loose and fast with his interpretation. Why are the rules and being consistent with exercise important? In my dad’s case it’s because you don’t want to pop the hip out of the socket. If the visual image of that isn’t enough to keep you on the straight and narrow feel free to be sloppy, my friend. I’m not normally the biggest fan of rules, but in the case of rehab I repeat: follow the rules and do your exercises!
5. Rehab reminds you, you are not alone. There were people of all ages and for all reasons in rehab. Jim, one of the patients, has had four hip surgeries and at one point even needed to have his hip socket rebuilt. When you hear other people’s stories you realize that you are not the only one experiencing this type of challenge. Meal times became connecting times for the residents– and not just about injuries, surgeries and trials but about the lives that had been lived before rehab and, Lord willing, would be lived after rehab. My dad leaves with some new friends he would not have met if he hadn’t needed to spend over two weeks in rehab.
Rehab wasn’t just about learning how to live with a hip injury while it heals, it offered something for everyone: patient, family members and visitors. While it ended up being a rich time, the final lesson is one that Dorothy made famous as she clicked her red slippers: there’s no place like home!