The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

April 23, 2011

MICHELE M. BENDER | Adventures at rehab

Michele M. Bender
For The Tribune-Democrat

— On a bright sunny day last August, my walker, wheelchair and I arrived at a local rehab facility.

I know what you readers are thinking: “She writes humor! This isn’t funny!”

Work with me.

I’d “done time” previously in two other physical rehabs, but none in eight years. Progress marches on and things change.

First came paperwork ... sign, sign, sign. A small army of experienced, efficient ladies (Lisa, Karen, Kim, Vicki, Gail and Dina) guided me through the red tape. They kept track of equipment, supplies and more. They directed me to Room 147 where I’d get settled in bed for now.

“Piece of cake,” I thought.

Dwight, a cheerful, capable nursing staffer, and my friend Joe tried unsuccessfully to winch my fanny from my wheelchair, but it was no use.

My swollen legs were so sound asleep, they were dreaming.

Dwight rolled a mechanical lift into the room. It terrified me. A sling fit around my body. 

When Dwight pulled a lever, the lift hoisted me in the air, across some floor space, and plopped me on the mattress. 

Although I howled, squealed and moaned, I landed intact.

I despised that gizmo. I called it “the meathook.” It reminded me of the hooks in the meat locker where Rocky Balboa sparred with sides of beef.

If you’ve ever been hospitalized, you probably bathed with a basin while in bed. Aided by nursing employees Della, Tracie, Cathie, Alicia, Julia and Rose, I mastered “the birdbath.” 

I marveled when they changed sheets around my carcass! These “day ladies” were treasures.

A friendly guy, Eric, and some ladies whose names escape me now, kept my room spotless.

Melinda, Jennifer, Kirsten, Helen and Diane managed my medications, no easy task. Beth and Jill kept my doctor informed. Martha, Sue and Jackie dealt with special nursing needs that arose.

Dwight usually worked 2 to 10, as did Pam, Barb and Alice.

My Atkins diet challenged the kitchen staff. Dwight and Pam weeded carbs and starches from my dinner trays, replacing them with proteins and veggies.

I appreciated everyone’s efforts.

Have you ever showered in a shower chair? You’d remember if you had. Pam gently led chicken-hearted me through the process so skillfully that I eventually stopped dreading it.

Tammy and Jodi supervised at night. Shelvia, Erin and Penny tended our 10-6 nursing needs.

Some beds now feature motion alarms. Older residents who sometimes tossed or thrashed dangerously set off bells and whistles that kept the night ladies stepping.

I had two roommates during my stay. Mary Jane, also a physical therapy patient, inspired me.

She approached the “meathook” like it was a Kennywood ride, shaming me into reducing my squeals to whimpers.

In turn, I tried my best to corrupt her. I introduced her to “Divorce Court” on TV. When our lunch trays appeared at 12:30, we’d tune in and spend more time laughing then chewing.

Shortly before I left, I told Bill, one of my therapists, “You’re gonna remember me when I’m gone.”

“I’ll forget you in 10 minutes,” he replied.

I’m betting he ... and others ... didn’t, because I certainly, gratefully, remember them.

Michele Mikesic Bender is a Johnstown resident and a member of  The Tribune-Democrat’s Readership Advisory Committee.