The Richmond Register

April 20, 2013

Leading a double life between home and rehab center

By Marie Mitchell
Register Columnist

RICHMOND — I feel like I’m leading a double life ever since Mitchell’s car crash last month.

I spend most days and nights at Cardinal Hill Rehabilita-tion Hospital in Lexington, keeping him company, monitoring medicines, noting procedures, observing exercises and doing what I can to engage him in activities during the long lulls between therapies, meals and bedtime.

Mason manages the other three kids’ busy lives during my extended absence and relieves me for a welcome respite at home occasionally.

It’s a little strange when I first walk in the door, though. I have to play catch up in my own house. I’ve always been the one who knows where things are. I was the “go to” person because I’m the only one who ever picks things up and puts them away. Now, I have to do the asking.

“Where’s all the mail?” I quiz them.

I’m not that curious since most are medical bills these days. But it’s a bad idea to ignore the bills because they won’t simply go away. So I dig through a stack of newspapers, school papers and miscellaneous stuff heaped on my counter and uncover the official looking business envelopes. I transfer them to the green plastic tray that I’d carefully marked “bills,” for my family’s benefit and my convenience. We’ll have a refresher course about that fine detail before I leave.

What I really want to do when I’m home is forget chores and just play outside with the kids.

We get out Bocci Ball and challenge ourselves not only to hit the tiny white ceramic ball with the bigger ones, but to find it in the tall grass in our weed-infested yard.

Or, Ruby, Ingrid and I take on Marlowe in a game of driveway basketball. It’s not really fair, three against one. In fact, I’d like to recruit a few more players to our side to even the odds against Marlowe and his killer three-point shot.

Things seem so normal again after I’m home for a few hours.

I find myself more satisfied with average, everyday things. Eating at favorite restaurants. Shopping at familiar stores. Walking around nearby neighborhoods. Seeing people I recognize. There’s something truly comforting about that.

When I return to Cardinal Hill, there’s an entirely different rhythm to life. It took a while to familiarize myself with the care providers, note their roles, figure out who to call for which problems and adjust to their schedule.

We’ve gotten past most of the nightly visits of taking vital signs, administering medicines and who knows what else they wake you up every 30 minutes to do.

It’s also a big help that Mitchell has rapidly progressed from answering questions with a thumbs up or down, to writing thoughts on a dry erase board, to now telling us what he wants in a hoarse whisper that gets stronger every day. That certainly takes the guess work out of making decisions.

Some of his written messages were heartwarming — “I think it’s going to be a great day” — to humorous. He asked for a drink of water once when the doctor hadn’t authorized it yet. When we told him “no,” he wrote: “But water is the source of life.”

Mitchell has three hours of therapy each day, mixing work with pleasure. A recent physical therapy session was spent in the recreation room, playing ping pong and foosball.

Eventually he’ll get to work out in the swimming pool. I’m so envious since I haven’t suited up in over a month.

Mitchell surprised his speech therapist with his good study habits. She read him a paragraph about different topics, then asked questions to see how much he remembered. He had a dry erase board next to him, so he took notes. He had all the answers to her questions written down.

As time marches by, we won’t need to stay around the clock with Mitchell. But for now, no matter how caring and competent the staff might be, I believe a family presence is our contribution to his therapies. Even if I’m just a gofer, going for ice water. Bringing an extra blanket. Supplying clean clothes.

Still, I hope it’s reassuring to have a familiar face around. Someone to play cards with. Watch TV together. Gather information about what’s on tap for the day at Cardinal Hill and in Richmond.

And soon, I’ll be ending my double life when he moves back home in a few more weeks.