30 Days of Thanks Day 15 – Mary Frances

I first wrote about Mary Frances earlier this year. Mary Frances was the woman I was fortunate to share a room with during my stay at Sunnyview Rehabilitation Hospital. Some of my newer readers may not have had a chance to read about her, so today I am recycling this post in honor of the woman I am now proud to call friend.

I met Mary Frances shortly after my arrival at Sunnyview Rehabilitation Hospital on January 27. I was sprawled on my bed, waiting for the next doctor to assess me, counting down the hours until I could take more pain medicine. The nurse was attempting to make my broken leg more comfortable by rearranging the pillows while giving me information about the unit. She looked up as a woman was wheeled into the room saying, “And here’s your roommate, Mary Frances.”

Hello. How are you? Welcome to rehab.

The sonorous voice modulated in pitch and prosody, the syllables elongated – a technique I used to teach my clients when I worked as a speech-language pathologist. Mary Frances sat regally in her institutional chrome wheelchair, feet firmly planted on the foot pedals. Her slightly askew smile lit her face and the twinkle in her eye told me we were definitely going to cause a ruckus together.

My years of employment in a variety of healthcare facilities gave me multiple opportunities to observe the social interactions between patients and their roommates. The right roommate can make or break  your rehabilitation experience. Negative roommates or those who complain nonstop can make recovery more taxing for the people on the other side of the curtain.

Mary Frances was the best roommate I could hope for. She was optimistic, intelligent, determined, and talkative. We bonded quickly as we shared our respective stories. Mary Frances was recuperating from a stroke which had affected both her fine and gross motor skills as well as her speech and language. Like me, she was learning to do everyday tasks a new way.

The two of us connected over the silliest rehab moments – things which were incredibly meaningful to us but perhaps not to an outsider. She was seated on the other side of the curtain the first time my occupational therapist and I attempted to use a slide board to transfer me onto a bedside commode. I can only imagine what we sounded like as we struggled to find the right positions and hand holds. When my session was over, mission successfully accomplished, I saw that same gleam in her eye as she congratulated me.

You peed on the potty like a big girl! 

Each night, we watched Jeopardy! together. Mary Frances didn’t mind me blurting out the answers to questions. A former teacher, she did well on the literature and history questions. She also beat me on most of the pop culture questions, even with her speech delay.

Mary Frances was determined to do her best every day. She challenged herself in her rehabilitation, often working on hand exercises during down time in our room. One afternoon I returned from the therapy gym to find her making faces at herself in a small hand-held mirror. She attempted to excuse herself for what she assumed must look like silly behavior. I laughed at her, and asked to see her speech therapy homework. Thus began our daily routine of extra speech and language assistance. We spoke to Mary France’s speech-language pathologist who agreed extra practice would be wonderful, as long as it reinforced what they were working on in therapy sessions.

Mary Frances wasn’t my client and I knew it was unethical for me to act as her therapist. However, having the opportunity to use my clinical knowledge to help her provided a reminder that I was more than just a patient. At night when we practiced conversation repair, word finding techniques or facial exercises, I was able to escape from my own pain and injury for a brief time. I felt better because I was helping a friend who was making improvements each day.

Patients at Sunnyview are welcome to move independently about the facility as long as they have been cleared by therapy and nursing. Once cleared, you are given a green wrist band to indicate your freedom of movement. Not knowing this rule, I had been wandering the halls for two days before receiving my green tag. Mary Frances received her green tag a couple days later. We would go down to the cafeteria together for real coffee (Starbucks, not the kind they sent to our rooms on the morning trays). If she was too tired to wheel herself down the carpeted hallway, I sat closely alongside her so she could grab my handlebar, giving her a tow with my power wheelchair. Staff laughed at us before they realized they probably shouldn’t encourage this behavior. We ignored their warnings. Although we worked diligently, we both knew how to be non-compliant at times.

Mary Frances was self-conscious about her oral weakness and took steps to eat without drooling her food and beverage down her clothes. A few days before her discharge, we sat in our room eating roasted peanuts. Mary Frances concentrated all her energy on using her weaker hand to pick up the individual nuts and put them in her mouth. I asked Mary Frances if I could write about her and our rehabilitation adventures on my blog. She stilled her hand, swallowed her mouthful, and thoughtfully gave me verbal consent. I thanked her, then made a comment about how well she was doing eating the nuts without drooling.

Survivors adapt. Other people drool. Put that in your blog!

Survivors adapt. Two simple words with a meaning much more complicated and nuanced.

Thank you Mary Frances for helping me adapt to my new normal. Your encouragement and optimistic support made my rehab journey fun, something I never considered as a possibility. I am grateful for your friendship and so happy we have kept in touch. You continue to inspire me with your progress and improvement.

 

Happy Birthday Mary Frances!

Today is National Teacher’s Day. My life has been enriched by many teachers through the years. I would like to thank them all for helping to shape me into the woman I am. But I would especially like to express gratitude to a new friend – a teacher who taught me important lessons of perseverance and strength this year when I was facing new challenges.

I met Mary Frances shortly after my arrival at Sunnyview Rehabilitation Hospital on January 27. I was sprawled on my bed, waiting for the next doctor to assess me, counting down the hours until I could take more pain medicine. The nurse was attempting to make my broken leg more comfortable by rearranging the pillows while giving me information about the unit. She looked up as a woman was wheeled into the room saying, “And here’s your roommate, Mary Frances.”

Hello. How are you? Welcome to rehab.

The sonorous voice modulated in pitch and prosody, the syllables elongated – a technique I used to teach my clients when I worked as a speech-language pathologist. Mary Frances sat regally in her institutional chrome wheelchair, feet firmly planted on the foot pedals. Her slightly askew smile lit her face and the twinkle in her eye told me we were definitely going to cause a ruckus together.

My years of employment in a variety of healthcare facilities gave me multiple opportunities to observe the social interactions between patients and their roommates. The right roommate can make or break  your rehabilitation experience. Negative roommates or those who complain nonstop can make recovery more taxing for the people on the other side of the curtain.

Mary Frances was the best roommate I could hope for. She was optimistic, intelligent, determined, and talkative. We bonded quickly as we shared our respective stories. Mary Frances was recuperating from a stroke which had affected both her fine and gross motor skills as well as her speech and language. Like me, she was learning to do everyday tasks a new way.

The two of us connected over the silliest rehab moments – things which were incredibly meaningful to us but perhaps not to an outsider. She was seated on the other side of the curtain the first time my occupational therapist and I attempted to use a slide board to transfer me onto a bedside commode. I can only imagine what we sounded like as we struggled to find the right positions and hand holds. When my session was over, mission successfully accomplished, I saw that same gleam in her eye as she congratulated me.

You peed on the potty like a big girl! 

Each night, we watched Jeopardy! together. Mary Frances didn’t mind me blurting out the answers to questions. A former teacher, she did well on the literature and history questions. She also beat me on most of the pop culture questions, even with her speech delay.

Mary Frances was determined to do her best every day. She challenged herself in her rehabilitation, often working on hand exercises during down time in our room. One afternoon I returned from the therapy gym to find her making faces at herself in a small hand-held mirror. She attempted to excuse herself for what she assumed must look like silly behavior. I laughed at her, and asked to see her speech therapy homework. Thus began our daily routine of extra speech and language assistance. We spoke to Mary France’s speech-language pathologist who agreed extra practice would be wonderful, as long as it reinforced what they were working on in therapy sessions.

Mary Frances wasn’t my client and I knew it was unethical for me to act as her therapist. However, having the opportunity to use my clinical knowledge to help her provided a reminder that I was more than just a patient. At night when we practiced conversation repair, word finding techniques or facial exercises, I was able to escape from my own pain and injury for a brief time. I felt better because I was helping a friend who was making improvements each day.

Patients at Sunnyview are welcome to move independently about the facility as long as they have been cleared by therapy and nursing. Once cleared, you are given a green wrist band to indicate your freedom of movement. Not knowing this rule, I had been wandering the halls for two days before receiving my green tag. Mary Frances received her green tag a couple days later. We would go down to the cafeteria together for real coffee (Starbucks, not the kind they sent to our rooms on the morning trays). If she was too tired to wheel herself down the carpeted hallway, I sat closely alongside her so she could grab my handlebar, giving her a tow with my power wheelchair. Staff laughed at us before they realized they probably shouldn’t encourage this behavior. We ignored their warnings. Although we worked diligently, we both knew how to be non-compliant at times.

Mary Frances was self-conscious about her oral weakness and took steps to eat without drooling her food and beverage down her clothes. A few days before her discharge, we sat in our room eating roasted peanuts. Mary Frances concentrated all her energy on using her weaker hand to pick up the individual nuts and put them in her mouth. I asked Mary Frances if I could write about her and our rehabilitation adventures on my blog. She stilled her hand, swallowed her mouthful, and thoughtfully gave me verbal consent. I thanked her, then made a comment about how well she was doing eating the nuts without drooling.

Survivors adapt. Other people drool. Put that in your blog!

Survivors adapt. Two simple words with a meaning much more complicated and nuanced.

Thank you Mary Frances for helping me adapt to my new normal. Your encouragement and optimistic support made my rehab journey fun, something I never considered as a possibility. I am grateful for your friendship and so happy we have kept in touch. You continue to inspire me with your progress and improvement.

Today is Mary Frances’ birthday. She is celebrating with family, something she was not certain would be possible while we were together at Sunnyview. Happy birthday Mary Frances – may your day be full of love and laughter.

Rehab Life

As I mentioned last week, I have not had a fantastic January. On Wednesday I was discharged from the hospital after a two week stay for a broken femur. I left St. Peter’s Hospital in Albany, NY, and was admitted to Sunnyview Rehabilitation Hospital in Schenectady, NY.

I have lived with a life-long disability, but this is my first stint as an inpatient at rehab. I have worked as a speech-language pathologist at rehabilitation facilities, which gave me some idea of what I would experience. But doing the work is a different story.

To qualify for my stay, I must be able to tolerate and participate in three hours of therapy each day. Three hours may not sound like much, but trust me – it is work.

Each morning, patients receive their therapy schedule for the day by 9:00. It lists when you need to be at therapy and the name of your therapist. For example, yesterday (Saturday) I had Physical Therapy (PT) for an hour with Steve at 10:00. I had Occupational Therapy (OT) for an hour and a half with Margaret at 1:00. Then I had another half hour of PT with Steve at 2:30.

It has only been four days, but so far I am enjoying my stay. I can see small progress already. I have more bed mobility and am able to hold myself up on my side better than I could on admission. My pain is not gone, but it is managed better. I am diligently taking my pain medication prior to therapy sessions. I am sleeping soundly for longer stretches at night.

The atmosphere in the therapy gym is positive and encouraging. Everyone is here to get better, to improve in functional ability. Progress is celebrated and people are quick to offer support.

I am blessed with a wonderful roommate. MF is a former teacher who had a stroke a few weeks ago. She is hoping to go home after another couple weeks of physical, occupational and speech therapy. My first night, she asked if I minded her practicing her speech exercises, not knowing of my clinical background. I’ve been helping her practice for the last two days.

This is just the beginning of a long road. I am still not able to put any weight on my left leg, and the right one has some healing to do. My stamina has taken a hit, but my will to succeed remains strong.

Thank you for your notes of encouragement. I am inspired by your faith in my ability. I am exhausted at the end of the day, but it is a good tired – knowing I have done my best to put myself into a better position for full recovery.

Current status: ice pack on my knee, prayer shawl on my shoulders, chamomile tea next to my phone.

30 Days of Thanks Day 22 – Sally

I met my friend Sally back in 1996 at the end of my first day of work as a speech-language pathologist. It was my last stop of the day. I had one more swallowing evaluation to do before I could go home. I rolled up to the nursing station to review the medical chart for the resident and almost ran over the nurse sitting on the floor in the doorway.

Sorry, didn’t mean to startle you. It’s the only way I can keep an eye on one of my wanderers and still get my charting done.

Over the next few months, I learned Sally was someone I could turn to when I didn’t understand notations in medical records. As a new graduate just embarking on a career in medical speech-language pathology, I frequently encountered new abbreviations and acronyms. Sally never laughed at me when I asked her to explain something I probably should have known. She calmly answered my questions, giving me clarity on why parts of a person’s medical history might be relevant for their current treatment.

As time went on, we began to see each other outside of work. We would meet for dinner and a movie. Sally may actually talk more than I do, so our nights together were never quiet.

Sally changed jobs and moved away for a few years. I was reassigned to another nursing home and eventually left the field to work in public health. But we stayed in touch, seeing each other when we could if Sally traveled back to the area. Our friendship is the type of friendship which does not require daily watering to bloom and flourish. We never lost touch when Sally lived out of the area. It only took one phone call when she moved back for us to return to our routine of dinners, movies and gab sessions.

Sally is a devoted, generous friend. She comes to my rescue whenever she can. She is dependable and loyal, caring and kind. When I was preparing to be discharged from the hospital in 2013, Sally volunteered to stay with me for five nights so I would be safe to come home. She also serves as a back-up Personal Assistant for me, helping me frequently when my other staff are ill or cannot make a shift. I know whenever I call, if she can help in any way she will. Even if it is 12:22 AM and I am sick, unable to get out of bed, I only need to call Sally and she comes to help.

I have shared my frustrations with maintaining good Personal Assistant staff in posts on this blog. Sally is one of the main reasons I have been able to continue to function throughout this year when I was short staffed. While I was preparing for my Australia trip, I was also packing my entire apartment for repairs which were to be done while I was gone. Sally came to my house almost every night for two weeks to help with my personal care and with packing. She and her sister also helped prepare my apartment for my return, saving me from coming home to a mess.

At one point about five years ago, we spent most of our gab sessions discussing our experiences with online dating. I was jaded and ready to call it quits when Sally told me she had met someone “different.” I calmly reminded her they all seemed different at first, but she told me this guy was something special.

I went to dinner with Sally and Greg a few months later, and agreed he did indeed seem different than the other men she had been dating. He seemed genuine. He asked intelligent questions over dinner. He went to church regularly. He chewed with his mouth closed. Things looked promising!

At the end of this past October, I had the good fortune to be a bridesmaid at Sally and Greg’s wedding. It was a beautiful day and both of them looked very happy. They have had their fair share of trials and tragedies this past year, and it was a blessing to be a part of their celebration.

Sally – thank you for all you did to help make my Australia trip a reality. I would not have been packed and ready to go without your help. You were an optimistic presence whenever I needed a boost, and a fantastic sounding board when I needed to talk things through. My transition back to the real world was made easier thanks go you and Sue. I appreciate all of the little things you do to make my world a better place, and I know the future holds even more adventures for us both.11694844_10206040369783651_6637012869619276262_n

To The Graduates

Dear Graduates from the Class of 2015,

In my area of the United States, this weekend is high school graduation. Just like you, many students are celebrating the conclusion of one era of their lives, preparing to embark on the journey to adulthood. My friends and I have shared memories from our high school graduation on social media – something not even imagined when we graduated from high school – and we have had fun commenting about experiences with commencement.

I almost didn’t participate in commencement with my class, but not because I was in danger academically. I spent my last year of high school as an exchange student in Australia, so I had a different experience at graduation than most of my peers. I had no desire to return home for the graduation ceremonies. My student visa did not expire until July, but my parents asked me to come home in June to graduate. My family and friends wanted me to be there. However, graduation meant nothing to me. In my head, I had already moved on. I had been living on my own in a foreign country for almost a year, and had no desire to participate in a ceremony celebrating completion of something I had already left behind.

In the end, I did return home in time to graduate with the other sixty four members of my high school class. I don’t regret being there for their celebration, but I do regret depriving myself of an extra month in Australia. It is one of the few regrets I have from the past twenty five years.

Now you are standing where I stood twenty five years ago. You probably think you have a plan. You imagine you know what will happen next. You have selected a college or university, or maybe you are going to leave for boot camp in a few weeks. Perhaps you have a job and you are ready to begin working towards a career. Or, maybe you’re afraid because you don’t have it all figured out yet.

When I was your age, I thought I had it figured out. I knew where I was going to college. I knew what I would study. I had a picture of what my dream job looked like. I was pretty sure I knew what I wanted life to be like when I “grew up.”

Guess what?

The world considers me a “grown up.” And life is nothing like what I thought it would be.

Looking back, the only part of the plan I envisioned to be successfully executed was college. I knew I was going to attend The College of Saint Rose, and I did. But that special education major which was to help prepare me for graduate school where I would study music therapy? Yeah – I knew within a week of classes it wasn’t for me. That dream job working with children with disabilities as a music therapist? It morphed into an amazing job working as a speech-language pathologist with geriatric nursing home residents. Who knew I would love “the old folks” so much, and find it rewarding to spend my time improving their quality of life? And that career as a speech-language pathologist? I never imagined I would want to leave it and begin one new career in my thirties, and then another new one just before turning forty.

Life doesn’t follow a plan. It is messy. It is full of surprises, opportunities disguised as difficulties, and second chances.

Life is not fair. It just is. It’s how you cope that matters.

You have so many choices as you start the next part of your journey. You will receive advice from adults, like me. Adults who are full of optimism for you, who remember what it was like to stand in cap and gown, ready to change the world, a little nervous about the future. I encourage you to listen to the advice, and store it in your brain for future use. Trust me – right now you are not able to predict when those words of wisdom will apply to you, but they will.

I did not receive much advice at graduation, but I received many words of wisdom the prior year before I went to Australia. The night before I left, I received the best advice from a dear family friend. It is advice which has guided me for twenty five years, and has helped me live without many regrets.

Say yes to life. Do it all. You never know if you’ll get another chance.

That’s it – say yes to life.

Be engaged. Get involved. Don’t miss an opportunity to pay a compliment. Hug your loved ones. Tell and show your friends how much they matter to you. Take a stand for those who need an ally. Volunteer for a cause you believe in. Say yes to life.

Graduates- the world needs your intelligence, your passion and your creativity. We are trusting you to share your talents and your treasure to improve your communities. We are hopeful you will make a difference in the lives of those around you. We are confident you will succeed.

Good luck – you can do it!graduation