, , , , ,

This one in the shape of “If you can Google it, never trust them to make good decisions without your input.”

A week ago Monday I had my second knee replaced, and if anything, the surgery went even more smoothly than it had last time. No nasty little surprises like the blood clots in my lungs. But by Friday I was ready to move on to rehab. Fidgeting my brains out, actually. My roommate was a tiny older woman who amused and annoyed me by complaining about how much nicer my attendants were than hers–amused, because this was a textbook case of the Golden Rule, annoyed because I have limited patience with cranky extroverts. When she left, I realized that I would never have to hear the story of how the dog pulled her down the steps again, and life was GOOD.

Then my ambulance arrived, and off I went.

Now, for those new or who have forgotten, my last rehab center was quite nicely posh, and the two weeks there were a sort of vacation. The case manager at my hospital had explained to me this time that one could never be sure of landing in the right areas, and hinted that my rockstar recovery from the first surgery might mean I would only qualify for a “skilled nursing facility.” They had reassured me that my surgical group was all over this particular one out in Boston (i.e. easier for my spawn to visit) and it was quite nice; people wanted to go back. “OK,” I thought. “Sounds like a plan.” They waved a list of rehabs and SNFs at me, and made researching them sound boring and complicated. Besides, I knew that chances were great that it all really boiled down to where a bed was open. And maybe that’s what happened here.

It took a couple extra days, as it was; and although the place they picked (NOT the one my surgeons liked) didn’t look spiffy from Google maps, their website made them look a good bit spiffier. So then there we were, on the second highest heat index day of the year, and . . .

. . . I smelled pee. And bleach. Started to panic. But then, of course it was a nursing home, with people living there, not just traveling acts like mine. My eyes met those of the sympathetic ginger dragging the gurney. “I hope you know I’m trying not to throw myself around your legs and scream not to be left here,” I said, feeling my pulse begin to rocket.

He grinned. “You’re not here yet.” Meaning I still had a bit to go before not being able to change my diapers inspired me to clean out the medicine cabinet the uh, final way. Then they left, and I started to blink back tears.

I have no idea what my deal was even now; I have no nursing home-related traumas. But this place was . . .OMG. Remember, I was expecting a nice state-of-the-art rehab facility. Luckily for me, the admitting nurse was a nice normal person who validated what I was saying, squeezed my hand, and told me what the steps were to get transferred to another place. (Complicated and overwhelming.) She overheard me asking a kid on the phone, “Remember the sanitarium level in Psychonauts? This is it,” and cracked up. Aha, gamer girl! No wonder she rocked.

The residents shuffled. Or sat in gloomy deshabille in wheelchairs. It was hot and sticky, and, I repeat, there was The Smell. No art on the walls except for a big, dour calendar of events–your basic bingo, arts and crafts, and other thrills, none of which were actually announced while I was there. I was wheeled into a room with a lopsided old lady, who started telling me her woes immediately. I noticed that my bed was only sort of made, with the pillows scattered here and there. At least they were embarrassed enough of themselves so as to keep the rips in the pillowcases face down.

The bed itself was scary. It was from I don’t know how many decades ago–it had to be cranked from the floor to be raised or lowered, and the gizmo that made the head go up and down was the squeezy thing covered in grotty-looking rubber. It had a headboard and a footboard made of cheap lumber. The mattress was a chunk of foam rubber.

I ended up having a panic attack. My first real panic attack, complete with chest pain. Mercifully, I’m prescribed a benzo to help me sleep, so they had an order for that that came through by 11. I cowered in my weird little tent (the sheet-thickness curtains went right around the bed itself) and tried to work on my breathing. I have never been so close to having something click in my brain and send me to a psych ward involuntarily. (OK, it would have been voluntary. Anything to get me the hell out of there.)

The one decent nurse apologized a lot, especially for “dinner” which was what the kitchen scraped together in the wee hours of the morning (i.e., 6:30 pm): two limp cheese sandwiches in humid wax paper, with soured canned fruit and milk cartons (it was a 94 degree day, but still) and teeny yogurt containers. I had half of one of the sandwiches and one of the yogurts, because diabetes; but it was hard to get down.

In short, you name it, they had it–nurse assistants FOB (fresh off the boat) who didn’t have much English. (I unfortunately have no Haitian Creole and had to point at things.) Roommate fell out of bed in her quest for City Hospital. Got popped in upon by residents who were lost. Strange noises. The staff went through all my stuff, ostensibly to catalog it in case of “loss.” (I got a speck of amusement at how impressed they were that I’d packed a full two weeks of panties.)

My daughter there-there’d me during our incoherent phone call that evening, but her face made up for it the next morning. “Did I lie?” I demanded. Wide-eyed, she shook her head.

The nice nurse had warned me to expect resistance on the part of the upper staff to the idea of my getting out of there, and they indeed treated me almost as condescendingly as they did the dementia patients. And why not? I was saying the same things: I don’t belong here. I want to go home. Please, just let me go home. I’m not crazy. I bolstered myself by remembering that there were laws against imprisoning people against their will unless there were compelling and legal reasons. And took my Ativan around the clock, all weekend long, until the full staff (i.e., decision-makers) showed up on Monday morning. At least they had internet and I had my laptop so I could block out the screams, hoots, and moans of the milieu.

Big stroke of luck–their visiting doctor (yup, no full-time on staff as with the last rehab) works in the same team as my own PCP, which I swear gave me points or something. Or maybe it’s just that he didn’t have a whole lot invested in bed-filling in this dungeon. Anyway, I used the big word decompensation (pro-speak for “mental breakdown”) and he admitted I made a very good case and he had no problem signing me out to go home.

By more luck, I had already been practicing going up my 37 steps by using my good leg only, so I got home on Monday afternoon, only briefly flashing on kissing the ground and claiming it for Spain.

This Monday marks the three week point, and I would have been leaving a nice rehab right now anyway. Knee is doing well–0 and 105 degrees of straightening/flexion, so I can’t complain too much over all that missed PT and OT. But it took me a few days of awakening in my own bed before I realized immediately I was home and not still back there.

Next week: I learn how to complain. Bwah-ha-ha-ha-ha. Feed me soggy cheese, I dare ya.