THE DARK BEFORE THE DAWN
By Ellie Goldfon
Part 1 of 3
“Good night, sweet Ethel,” my disembodied voice mechanically spoke from my nursing home bed. “Good night, my Ellen.” We were quite the rare pair, Ethel, having lost both her legs to devastating diabetes, and Ellen, a now virtually dependent and helpless blind woman with a rebuilt ankle.
The demolition of my otherwise eagerly anticipated summer began quite dramatically. Innocently stepping out to water my patio vegetables, I plunged down a two foot drop from my beautiful back porch to the decorative flagstones below. Somehow, by the grace of God, I managed to walk on the ankle, get myself into my room, phone in hand, take a couple of Tylenols, get ready for bed, and then, call the ambulance.
“You broke it, for sure,” the paramedic said. “Ah, but don’t you worry, they’ll have you out of the rehab center in no time.”
Rehab center? Well, yes, but of course, and that had been my supposition while awaiting the arrival of the ambulance. My dear mother had died at the hands of such a place, and I was terrified to the bones.
This was to be the week of my long awaited visit with my cousin, Cindy, and her husband, Chris. Our family reunion was to take place the following Saturday, and I wouldn’t even be allowed the opportunity to visit Mom’s grave. Inconceivable as it was, it was indeed real and perplexing, not to mention, unthinkable.
“Ellen, honey, I am your night nurse, Eric,” the soft soothing voice broke my reverie. A female nurse asked if I’d like a snack. “Well, of course not, silly people,” I thought. What were they thinking? But I was the silly one, for, had I known that they always had baked ham sandwiches at the ready, I would have eaten one.
“You might as well eat,” soft spoken angel Eric continued. “After this, it’s nothing by mouth for you after midnight tonight.”
Eric began patiently describing the three types of fractures. “You could go home tomorrow, but then, there’s the possibility that it could be complicated,” he said. I knew that I wasn’t to go home the next day, based on my jellied mass of an ankle which kept swinging erratically in its socket.
“Well, my young lady, you’ve gone and done it,” Dr. Gayle’s voice boomed, again awakening me from my trance the following morning. “Three months. Of course, we’ll have to send you to a nursing home for a short stay of a few weeks.”
“Holy mother of God, they are dead serious,” I thought. “Well, all right then, if it’s to be, then let’s get it over and done with.”
“But first, my dear, it will be surgery tomorrow morning for you. We’ll get those tests over with, today.”
Being the eternal optimist, I somehow manage to see humor in everything. A lovely breakfast would be forthcoming. The next four days were a haze of smelly food, major narcotics, and kidneys which wouldn’t work properly. Thank goodness, this was simply occurring as a consequence of the insertion of a catheter during surgery. Unable to eat, to evacuate, and to sleep, and with the emergence of skin breakdown on my legs and bottom, and bedsores soon to possibly follow, the irony was that I couldn’t wait to be transported to the nursing home.
Angel Marilyn greeted me, “Miss Goldfon, welcome. I am your night nurse, Marilyn,” the friendly older woman’s voice floated as music to my ears. “After we get you into bed, we’ll see to a good supper for you. They’re featuring stuffed peppers and mashed potatoes tonight. It shouldn’t be long. Now, let’s get you into your bed.”
With the help of several strong young men, I was deftly and gently placed upon my air bed. I had specially requested an air mattress, due to the prevalence of bed sores in nursing homes. Explaining how special my bed was, Marilyn regaled me with memories of her youth, how she loved to administer back rubs, and how nursing had really changed. After that night, Angel Marilyn was whisked away by the wind, or Heaven or God, never to appear again to either Ethel or me.
Life in a nursing home rehab facility is largely what you make it. In conjunction with the long hours spent in physical and occupational therapy, time hangs heavily, wondering and waiting – for meals, for opportunities to be put to bed at night, for visitors on weekends, for much needed help during long lonely nights.
Whenever I would experience a siege of the sads or a bout of self- pity, all I had to do was think of my partner in the next bed. Not only my beloved friend and delightful roommate, Ethel is the most stoic person I’ve ever met. Through trials, endless exercise, mystery meals, and endless nights waiting to be changed or given a much coveted bed pan, we counted on each other to create both laughter and merriment out of foolish, frustrating situations and debacles. Ethel and the aides who attended to our needs would always cheerfully mention that I would be going home very soon.
Throughout the ordeal, I absolutely never believed that I would go home. At least, not for a very very long time. Three weeks to the day of my arrival, I was finally homeward bound and scared green. While in the home, I was virtually helped with everything. Now, finally allowed the opportunity to go home, what would I do? Why, I couldn’t even put my shorts on. Endless arguments with my shorts and underwear, navigation with a truculent wheelchair, a stubborn refrigerator which won’t let me enter it, and a myriad of silly turns of circumstance, make me chuckle. We’re doing it, by golly.
You’ve heard the saying, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” – you are helped by helping yourself. I’ll thankfully heal, while many folks don’t. My independence will be restored in a couple of months, and there is always a rainbow at the end of each storm. Be oh, so brave, for we know not when winter will yet again emerge into a bright buoyant and glorious spring.