[From Bella: Over at Living Single, I posted the first part of Psyngle’s story of her traumatic accident and inspiring recovery. This is Part 2.]

From Psyngle (Part 2):

The rehab program is like Outward Bound.  You sign an agreement that you’ll work at least 3 hours a day in therapy sessions, and that you’ll do all the “homework” assigned to you, or they can boot you out because there’s a long waiting list for the program and if you don’t want to work it, there are many behind you who do.  When it became clear that I was making enough progress to think about going home, they started having my mom attend the therapy sessions so she could learn how to help me at home.  Problems surfaced immediately.  My mom was understandably afraid of the responsibility and anxious—too anxious—to do a good job.  At dressing time, she held out my underpants with the legs spread open for me to step into.  The therapist admonished her again and again to simply hand me things and not try to do anything for me that I was able to do myself.  They did find a toilet aid called the “Bottom Buddy” that allowed me to do my own business with difficulty, but I still had to be helped into the shower and washed.  That wasn’t fun for either of us.  I was determined to shower independently by the time my dad’s shift started, 3 weeks after I got home, and I was able to do that as long as I sat on my new wheelchair bench and dried off with a stack of hand towels instead of trying to maneuver a big bath towel.  (Pay attention next time you dry off, to how many intricate motions there are.)

At one point in the rehab hospital, my nails got uncomfortably long.  Ever since I was 10 and caught a ragged nail edge on my mitten and tore it way below the quick, I have liked to keep my nails short.  I asked my mom to clip them for me but she didn’t want to do that, she was afraid she’d hurt me.  But rather than admit that, she showed me her own nails as an example of how long nails are supposed to be.  Until I got my powers back, I wasn’t even going to be able to decide when it was time to cut my nails!  I asked the night nurse to help and she brought me a piece of wood about the size of a hardcover book, with a sturdy nail clipper riveted to it, with an extended handle.  I was able to slide my nail into the right place and push the handle down with my wrist.  That simple act of self-help meant so much!  Another time I mentioned to a friend how it pained me not to be able to floss my teeth, and her husband ran out to the drugstore and came back with a bag of 100 “floss-picks.”  You can hardly imagine how much dignity there is in the simple act of flossing your own teeth in privacy.

When I got home, my family had been living in my condo for a month.  I don’t eat much bar-coded food, so my small kitchen has always been more than adequate for food storage.  What I saw shocked me—about 16 different kinds of packaged snack foods spilled out onto my countertops.  Bags of backstock stood under the martini table in my dining nook.  Not a single dish was in the right place, and I was too shaky on my feet to fix anything then.  A big black toaster oven stood in the corner where my small white one used to be, and what happened to my lovely steel IKEA dish drainer?  “That ugly thing is in the shed,” I was told, and the Rubbermaid rack that took up an entire half of the double sink was there to stay until they left.  The storage shed where I kept my bike was full of flower vases and all the natural, locally made “suspect” household products I used, which had been replaced with trusted chemical-laden national brands.  (There were even paper napkins stacked next to my basket of neatly folded cloth ones.)  Anyone who has ever lived in a small place knows that if there is an inch of open space, something already belongs there and it’s not available for the taking.  Where was I going to put my bike?  That wasn’t going to be a problem for months; they asserted their right to use the shed space.  (Well, my bike is repaired and sitting in the living room until I can clear out the shed.)  I had a relatively new vacuum cleaner that had been a big, expensive disappointment.  They had replaced that with a new featherweight Oreck; that was totally sweet.  (Though the old one was sitting guess where?  The shed!)

My stoneware dishes were replaced by lightweight plastic ones that I could manage.  Even my cookware was replaced, though by the time I was allowed to cook for myself, I was quite able to handle my cast iron.  My dish cabinet was already filled to capacity and I had to find places for all this new stuff.  Card tables and the ironing board were placed in front of closets and my family used these for their own stuff.  I only had a few clothes I could put on myself, and these were stacked on the ironing board.  I wasn’t allowed to put them in their places in the closet, or able to access the closet for anything that wasn’t already out.

And remember my stacks of things to be carted away and gotten rid of?  The mess I was so relieved that my family would never see?  They helpfully put all that stuff away.  Of course it wasn’t in the places it would have belonged if it hadn’t been crap I was getting rid of.  A lot of it was in the shed.  All of it was taking up space that was needed for actively used things.  After finally de-junking my place before this happened, I was under unbearable stress.

The Perfectly Assertive Person would have taken charge and had all this set back to right in a few hours.  But understand that I wasn’t steady on my feet, I had one arm bound to my chest with a sling and the other in a brace, I was drugged and in pain and completely exhausted from the ordeal of getting home, and my beloved cat was afraid of me.  I was in no shape to be the Perfectly Assertive Person.

[Psyngle’s story will continue with one more post.]

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