A Second Recovery
The next morning, Bill was moved to Sheridan Manor. We discovered that a couple of improvements had been made since Bill’s last stay. For starters, all the rooms had at least one phone. I learned much later that there was a phone jack by each bed so a second phone could easily be installed. The last time Bill was there, the phone was down the hall from his room, and although he could navigate his chair with his right arm and leg, it was difficult. Now, all his friends, relations, and I were close by as long as the phone was within reach.
The other improvement was the food. Not only did it taste better, but there were more choices. Since Bill was such a finicky eater, this was great news.
Since I had an eye appointment on the morning Bill was transferred from the hospital to the nursing home, I wasn’t with him when Sheridan Manor’s van picked him up. When I arrived at the facility, Bill was sitting in his room in his wheelchair with the television on. At the moment, he didn’t have a roommate so I turned off the set and we sat and held hands for a while. It was nearly lunchtime so I decided to eat with him.
In the dining room, Laura came and saw us. I’d called her the night before and left a message on her answering machine so she wouldn’t just read the news on that day’s briefing notes. Her voice was filled with concern when she said, “Bill, why did you want to come back here?”
“Because I want you,” he answered. “and I know people here.”
Before the strokes, Bill made friends easily as evidenced by the many people scattered across the country with whom he kept in contact. Now, he seemed more self-conscious about being in a new environment around people he didn’t know. He also could have felt a sense of loyalty to me by choosing Sheridan Manor since I worked there for fifteen years. In any case, I had to resign myself to the fact that this was where he wanted to be, even if the therapy took longer.
This time though, he was only there for a couple of months. A few days after he arrived, I found that his room had been rearranged to simulate our home environment. The bed was against one wall with the pole next to it. On the other side of the pole was a recliner. The bed and the recliner stood in a proximity similar to the pole as they were at home, although our recliner was in the living room with a separate pole next to it.
One Saturday morning, Bill was sitting in the recliner. A window was behind it, and neither of us realized that the chair was too close to the window. As Bill reclined, it hit the window which shattered with a loud crash. “Good God!” I said. “What kind of man did I marry? First, you’re hitting on other women. Now, you’re breaking windows. What’ll it be next?” We both laughed.
Grandma’s funeral was scheduled for the Saturday after Bill’s arrival at the nursing home. Danielle, the facility’s van driver, agreed to take Bill to the funeral. During the service, I sang “Amazing Grace,” accompanied by two musicians on violin and cello who often played at the nursing home. As I sang, I heard Bill burst into tears, and it was all I could do to keep from crying, not for the loss of Grandma, although I was mourning that, but because I couldn’t comfort Bill as I usually did during his outbursts of sadness. Somehow, I managed to get through the song.
At the end of the service, I sang “I’ll Fly Away,” a more lively number. My uncle from Colorado accompanied me on guitar. Afterward, everyone was invited to Grandma’s house for supper, but because there were steps leading into it, there was no way we could get Bill in the house so he went back to the nursing home with Danielle.
At grandma’s house, I enjoyed a variety of food and visited with family and friends. Just about everybody who’d been at our wedding was there. It was sad seeing all my uncles, aunts, cousins, and friends without Bill by my side. Although everyone was concerned about Bill and expressed wishes for his speedy recovery, the loss of Grandma was foremost on everybody’s minds.
When I walked into the house later that night, the phone was ringing. It was Bill. “How did it go?” he asked.
“It wasn’t the same without you.” We talked for a while, cried for Grandma some more, and hung up.
Laura again worked with us on transfers. At home, I was used to the carpet in our bedroom which gave my feet more leverage. Although I always wore shoes with good treads, I was afraid of slipping on the smooth, cement floor of Bill’s room at Sheridan Manor while transferring him. I was relieved when Laura said it was time to work with Bill at home.
However, the nursing home’s van developed a series of mechanical problems which made it impossible to bring Bill home for our therapy sessions. Although this was frustrating for Bill, his sense of humor came through one day after Danielle found a leak in the van’s gas tank. “She should have taken a match to it,” he said. “Burn, Baby! Burn!” Eventually, the van was fixed, and Laura was able to work with us at home.
After his second stroke, Bill had more bouts of crying than usual. His doctor prescribed an antidepressant which made Bill tired.
The first afternoon Laura brought him home for therapy, we worked on transfers for a while. Then Laura left us, promising that Danielle would pick Bill up later that afternoon. We stretched out on the bed, enjoying each other’s company. After a while, Bill had to go to the bathroom, and the nightmare began.
He was so weak I could barely transfer him from the bed to the wheelchair. Not again, I thought, as I wheeled him to the bathroom. It was all I could do to hold him against the wall while I got his pants down. I got the commode under him in the nick of time. As I stood outside the bathroom, waiting for him to do his business, I looked at my watch and wished it was already four o’clock, the time Danielle was scheduled to pick Bill up. Would it always be like this?
When he was finished, I grabbed his gait belt with one hand and positioned my other hand under his bottom, bent my knees, and said, “One, two, three, up.” Nothing happened.
“Come on, honey, we can do this,” I said, more to reassure myself. “One, two, three, up.” His butt moved an inch or two above the toilet before his legs buckled under him, and we were back where we started.
“I can’t do it,” he said. “You’d better call Laura.”
To my relief, I was able to reach Laura at the nursing home right away, and when she came, between the two of us, we were able to get Bill back into his wheelchair. “I need to lie down,” he said.
“That’s not a good idea,” said Laura. “Abbie may not be able to get you up again. You’ll just have to wait for Danielle to pick you up. Then you can rest when you get back to Sheridan Manor.”
For the rest of the afternoon, Bill sat at the kitchen table with his head on a pillow while I worked in my office. I found it hard to concentrate, thinking about what had just happened and wondering if it would always be like this. I was relieved when Danielle finally arrived. Needless to say, the antidepressant was discontinued, and Bill’s strength improved.
After a couple more weeks of sessions at home that went a lot more smoothly, Bill was finally discharged from the nursing home. The first night after he came home, I was a little worried, but to my relief, other than the usual potty breaks, we made it through without difficulty. We quickly settled beck into our routine.
The year before, after We Shall Overcome was rejected by numerous agents and publishers, Bill said, “Why don’t you just self-publish it? It’ll be my Christmas present to you.”
At the time, one of my writers’ organizations, a group of disabled authors from all over the country, was trying to find a publisher for an anthology of poems, stories, and essays by its members. To our surprise and delight, iUniverse offered to publish the book for free. This encouraged me, and I called the firm and talked to a helpful representative. Although she didn’t offer not to charge me for the publication of my book, she gave me some useful information about pricing, and I decided to go with this company.
This was in November, and there was no way I could even get it ready to be published by Christmas. A lot of revising needed to be done, and I spent the next few months doing just that. This sustained me through the stress of the holiday season and the turmoil of Bill’s second stroke in January. In a fictional world where nobody had a stroke, and no one had to assume the role of family caregiver, my heroine’s romantic difficulties seemed mundane, and I was only too glad to lose myself in her story.
By June of 2007, with the help of a local copy editor, the book was ready for the publisher. A month later, I was holding my first published book in my hands.
“Let me see it,” said Bill. He was sitting in his recliner when the box containing thirty free copies arrived. I took one out of the box and put it on his lap. Although I couldn’t see his face, I imagined the proud smile from ear to ear, as he fingered the front cover, then turned it over and felt the back. “I love you,” he said, and we embraced. “My wife, the published author.”
After Bill was discharged from the nursing home, he continued his outpatient therapy until one day in August when he came home after his last session and said, “They’ve given up on me. I don’t think I’ll ever walk again.”
As I held him while he cried, I realized that I would probably be a family caregiver for the rest of Bill’s life, but the prospect didn’t seem as daunting as it did the year before. Finally, I said, “I love you, sweetheart, and I’ll take care of you for as long as I can.”
“Good,” he said, planting a slobbery kiss on my cheek.