Thursday, October 18, 2018

Humanity is great!

It's been over four years since I left the Rusk Institute. In the course of my recovery I was there twice, each time for about two or three weeks. When I was there I had no idea what a rehab hospital was supposed to be like, I really didn't know anything about hospitals. It took me a while to figure this out but I was in a small part of a gigantic hospital system that was completely put together for the benefit of the patients. It wasn't just a place with great doctors wanted to work, it was a place where great people wanted to work. I was there a while and I got to interact with some of the top rehab specialists and some pretty great janitors as well.

One day in therapy I remember pausing and saying to my therapist that I'm too old. The therapist was confused and told me I was doing fine. I said no, I'm not too old for this therapy I'm too old to go back to school and become a physical therapist...... but I'm not too old to come back here and volunteer.

The volunteering started a a few weeks ago. A whole workday, from 9 to 5. I learned the hard way a few weeks ago that I shouldn't be taking the subway during rush hour with my left hand in a cast. So even though it takes more time I take an Ack Stress a ride/curb taxi to get there. Yesterday, the traffic was hideous. It took 15 minutes just to get out of Park Slope.

The cabbie didn't seem very chatty but I was desperate for conversation as we werere standing still in the Battery Tunnel. I not so subtly gave myself a quality face palm and said "All this traffic and I am not money going to work, I'm going to volunteer." The cabbie turns around and asks me extremely politely (not a condescending politeness, but an old-school politeness.) "May I ask, what you do to volunteer/" we got plenty of time so I told my health history, my quick descent into paralysis and my slow crawl back out of that giant hole. I told him how wonderful it was at Rusk and that I am following up on what I said I wanted to do over four years ago, I go back there and help. I volunteer with the horticultural therapy department. I told him it's weird for me because I really have no understanding or interest in plants. And that we also have a pair of bunnies. I have no intention of getting my hands dirty with either potting soil or bunny fur, but I spent most of the day following around the cart and sometimes a patient would like to spend some time repotting a plant, or petting a rabbit. Often, I'm introduced as the new volunteer, who used to be a patient here.

The first patient I  interacted with was a man who was completely paralyzed, he couldn't speak and could barely move his eyes. I was told that before his stroke he was a gardener and his wife felt he would enjoy watching some plants be repotted. The wife was in the hall and I was introduced. The moment she was told that I had been a patient she looked right at me and said, "Please go in there and talk to my husband, tell him that he will be okay like you are." With only two breaths of time to prepare I walked right into the room and lied. I introduced myself and told him I had been a patient here for years ago and that I was as sick as he was [I was always able to speak and never needed a respirator] and now I'm walking around. I told him I had really no idea of his medical condition but his wife said he's going to get better. I told him to believe his wife and that I got used to a life different from what I had before, but I was happy to have a life. I told my cabdriver that I wasn't sure if I did the right thing until his wife gave me a big hug and thanked me. She said hearing it from another dude would be more meaningful especially with my experiences.

I also told the cabbie what I realized I should've told this man. I should've told him what made me less upset with my physical condition when I was at my worst. I should've told him that I was happy that my wife and kids were visiting me in the hospital and that it wasn't the other way around.

The cabbie's English wasn't great, but I got the impression he really appreciated what I was doing for people who are still the hospital. He asked my permission to tell me a story. Oh boy, it sounded like a lot of proselytizing was coming. But the man was operating the motor vehicle when I was sitting in so mocking his religious beliefs would be out of the question. I had to literally roll with it. It was hard to follow but he told me a story about sickness and forgiveness. Then he asked me if he could play some music which would go along with the story. Believe it or not we were still in the tunnel so we could get YouTube up on his phone but when we got out he played some music for me. It sounded a lot like the Hebrew chant things that the kanter would sing when I was forced to go to Jewish religious services. But I knew this language wasn't Hebrew. He told me I would hear the word Allah and if I wanted I could replace it with the word god or anything I felt comfortable with. It wasn't irritating and after another 45 minutes we finally made it to East 17th St.

I asked the cabbie what language it was. He told me it was Arabic and I told him it was beautiful.

The meters sand $56, the MTA pays that, but my required copayment was $2.75. The cabbie would not accept it from me, he told me my service to the community was worth more than the money.

When I got to Rusk I got to meet a woman who I had met two weeks earlier. She was very happy to see me because she had more questions about how Ack Stress a Ride worked. I told her I had something to tell her that might be inappropriate but I felt I needed to say it anyway.....  I told her that two weeks ago when I saw her she looked like a hospital patient, but today she just looked like a woman who happened to be repotting a plant while sitting on a bed. I think she almost cried when I said that. Just like I was cried when the cabbie wouldn't take my copayment.

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