Hospital memories part 4 – Floating head
I had been lying flat on my back for six weeks but I still didn’t feel ‘disabled’.
I was in denial about how much had changed. “Most people lie still when they are in bed anyway so I could put up with this, it isn’t THAT bad”. I realise now that I wasn’t thinking clearly but denial is a very powerful defence mechanism.
I wasn’t ready to think about the next stage, to think about what happens when I’m not lying on my back. There were some obvious questions like ‘how do I get out of bed?’ but I had been fighting them off, refusing to ask. It is very easy to block out what we are afraid to face.
No matter how well I was hiding from the questions, one afternoon in July the answers found me.
My hospital bed was surrounded by the group of usual faces who brought two new pieces of equipment with them. The first was called a mobile hoist. It looked like an oversized claw for grabbing teddies in a fairground machine.
I couldn’t take my eyes off the other thing in the room. It was a cold, cheap, empty wheelchair. It looked sad, like it should have been tucked away in the corner of a nursing home. Not sitting next to my bed, not waiting for me.
It was a horrible moment of realism. There it was, the ‘thing’ that would turn me into a freak. At least that’s how I felt at the time, my insecurity still shattering my confidence. I tried not looking at it, concentrating on what the doctors and physiotherapists and occupational therapists were saying but I could only focus on the wheelchair.
They explained what was going to happen and asked if I was ready. The question sounded rhetorical, like it or not it was happening. I still answered “yes”. With four bodies at either side of the bed they rolled me, firstly on to my left hand side and pushed a canvas sling underneath my body. Then onto my right and half of the sling was pulled through the other side.
The hoist was wheeled over until it was hanging directly above me and they began to lower the hooks. Stopping a few inches from my body the four corners of the sling were looped through the four hooks.
The claw began to rise, lifting me out of bed cradled like a baby in the sling. When it stopped rising I was hanging in the air with my legs dangling lifelessly through the bottom of the sling. Trapped like a stuffed animal in the fairground grabber.
For the first time I understood what feeling disabled was like
They moved me into position above the wheelchair and started to lower me down. I was sitting in the chair before I realised I had landed, no sensation of sitting down, no awareness of my own body. That was the first time I had experienced a total lack of perception, no connection between my body and my surroundings. I was feeling more disabled by the minute.
For some length of time, no idea how long, bodies jostled for position round about me. Measuring dimensions, screwing this on, screwing that off, checking blood pressure, moving the footplate up, spreading the armrests out, clambering all over each other in silence bar the occasional grunt and groan. When they were finished they stood back, admiring their work I think.
For the first time I was facing the world, not the ceiling. To be perfectly honest, I can’t remember how I felt at the time. I’d like to think that it was great. The relief, the satisfaction, the sense of achievement but who knows, maybe I was scared. Maybe that’s why I can’t remember. I can promise anyone going through something similar that there is no need to be scared. It gets better. Every time gets that little bit easier.
We couldn’t go far but I insisted that I wanted to get out of the ward. I was struggling with cabin fever and wasn’t going to miss this opportunity to escape the room. We went to the lounge, where my family and friends had spent so many hours sitting waiting to see me. I will never forget being pushed down the corridors for the first time.
A neck brace held my head rigid and straight, not an inch of give up or down or left and right. My eyes darted from one side to the other trying to take in as much detail as I could.
I felt like a floating head.
I was void from the neck down, my body was just a prop for my head. Almost dreamlike, my bodiless head hovering along the corridors in slow motion. Like watching images on a TV taken from cameras in my eyes.
This was an introduction to one of the most drastic changes I was facing. Approaching life from a wheelchair alters everything and it takes time to accept the new lifestyle. Adapting to life without mobility was not easy, I wasn’t used to being so reliant on others.
The key to adapting was control and in time, I took control back. I needed to gain the confidence to take command and communicate what I wanted. To be ‘pushed around’ doesn’t mean I need to be submissive. I still dictate where I go and when I go, when to speed up and when to slow down, when I stop to chat and when I am in a hurry.
I wish I had been mentally prepared for that first journey as a floating head. I realise now that the physical battle has not been as challenging as the psychological one. That experience was one of many examples why.
I have met people in the last six years who have struggled through the battle to adapt, some who have been defeated by it. So much time, money and care is invested in medical support. In my experience excellent medical support. People need to be offered a similar investment in psychological guidance to find a road back to happiness.
Hopefully the health care industry soon recognises that physical strength means little without emotional well-being.