On Canada Day, 1 July 2016, just like the country, I received a birthday present. I woke from a sound sleep, needing to answer natures call, got out of bed, and promptly fell, putting all my weight on my left ankle. Unknown to me (because I had been sleeping) I had developed a full blown case of vertigo. I don’t know if any of you have ever experienced it, but it is the most disconcerting experience I have ever had. The whole world reels around you and there is no way you can keep your balance.
I am a big guy, and no one person can help me get up so I lay there while we called the fire department on 911. Their paramedics got me erect in no time, and asked if I needed to go to the hospital. At the time I said no, that I had just got a sprained ankle. How wrong I was.
After five days of trying to hobble around with my foot not getting any better, my son convinced me I needed to go to the hospital, so off we went to The Scarborough Hospital, Birchmount Campus, for the check. Turned out I had a broken ankle. But, and here’s the catch, the orthopaedic surgeon deemed it not serious enough for surgery so he ordered me into a non-walking leg cast. Suddenly I was to be immobilized for six (6) weeks!
Even though I’m 83, I have always been active. It was like sending me to jail for that period of time because a non-walking non-weight bearing cast meant just that–no weight must be put on that leg for it to heal properly. I spent a few restless days in Grace Hospital before they shipped me off the Providence Healthcare Hospital, a rehabilitation hospital at Warden and St. Clair.
Being moved like that was upsetting enough, but getting used to the fact that I could do virtually nothing to help myself was an incredible downer. If it hadn’t been for the talented doctors, nurses, and physiotherapists at Providence, I think I would have gone stir. but gradually I learned the tricks that all people consigned to wheel chairs must learn–patience, take things slowly, try not to get upset with the fact that you’re always having to ask people to do things for you that once you could do for yourself. I think that’s the greatest lesson I learned during my convalescence.
I kept thinking about Rick Hansen, the athlete that has spent his whole life in a wheelchair, and of Barbara Walters (not sure it that’s her last name), the young girl who was shot in the back and unable to move for the rest of her life. How do they manage. Compared to them my life was a breeze–yet spending a whole summer confined to a chair, with only daily attempts at movement seemed like a lifetime to me.
I learned that it was okay to ask people to help you. I found that moving more slowly and cautiously wasn’t the end of the world. I learned to listen–really listen–to the advice my therapists gave me, and to the doctor who was a congenial man and first suggested to me that I was “In Limbo”. That’s because while the hospital exists to rehabilitate patients after personal catastrophes, the staff really couldn’t do anything to rehabilitate me until my cast came off. The exercises they would normally have given me wouldn’t work with my non-walking cast.
So I leaned back and let it all flow around me. I watched the courage of the other mould oldies as they tried to cope with the changing circumstances of their physical lives. I found most of them coping pretty well with their disabilities. Those that didn’t do so well had mental disabilities that therapy couldn’t overcome. Some of them brought ears to my eyes. There was one gentleman in particular who kept begging to be sent home He had been in the hospital since January!! It was obvious it was going to take a lot longer for him to recover. Again and again the doctor patiently explained to him why going home was not an alternative. I knew exactly how he felt.
I think the thing that worked greatly to my benefit was my use a tablet computer and iPhone. My daughter had given me a Samsung tablet as a gift a few months before I injured myself. I never seemed to be able to come to grips with it. Now, with lots of time on my hands and nothing else to do, I set out to master its complexities–and I did! I was able to structure myself to pay bills and do normal banking, even though it meant that every day I had to go to the Computer Café in the hospital because the whole building was not wired for computer use. I saw a few other patients using the café, but most were just playing games. For me, the ability to pay my bills, order things on line, and keep the threads of my life in some sort of order was a life-saver. That is something that has carried over into real life today.
But this story as about Returning from Limbo, not living in it. When, on August 29 at Grace Hospital my cast came off and my foot was x-rayed, the orthopaedic surgeon pronounced me cured. I had not lost foot flexibility (thank heaven) and he declared that I did not even require additional therapy because of that.
That was when I began noticing that the attitudes I had acquired at Providence were still with me. When my son wheeled me out to the car, I remember thinking to myself how lucky I was to be able to get out of the wheel chair and open the car door. I remember looking around and realizing that this was the first time I had been outside since the accident happened. It thrilled me to be able to walk from the car to the front door of my house, even if I was slowly dragging myself along.
The flower in the urns at the front entrance seemed brighter that I eve remembered. The tranquility of being in my own home again fell like a mantle around my shoulders. When I went to sleep in my own bed I knew there would be no night wakings to take medication or call for a urinal.
In fact, it simply feels enervating to be alive and walking again. I regard the days from I July to 29 August 2016 as “suspended in time”, and I think that’s the true meaning of Limbo It’s not a place sent to punish, but perhaps to force us to reflect on things. I know that returning from it is like being born again!