After years of substandard physical therapy at the warehouse, I enrolled in an outpatient program at the downtown rehab hospital where I did time immediately after my stroke. I remembered them treating me like a retarded gerbil; but after spending years at the warehouse, I’d physically progressed to the extent that maybe they’d take me seriously (like they should have done from the get-go). I had to admit that the majority of therapists at the rehab hospital were intelligent, well trained, and personable. Plus it was the only available game in town.
Twice a week, a cripplevan picked me up at the warehouse and lugged my ass to the rehab hospital. The charge nurse had reserved a ride for me every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon; for the most part, a different driver arrived each time. I looked forward not only to amassing long-term skills but also to the break in my daily routine. At the warehouse I dealt with a mostly disingenuous dirt-stupid staff. I’d be a lying cuss if I claimed that I didn’t welcome interaction with friendly and quick-witted young women.
Arrangements for me to return to the warehouse after my therapy sessions weren’t nearly as dependable. I soon discovered that I had to phone the cripplevan company midway through every session to remind them of my reserved ride; I routinely had to spend about two hours waiting for my ride in the downstairs lobby, where damaged gangstuhs hit on the receptionist corralled by a station centered in the lobby.
The paratransit dispatcher often assigned my return trip to the same driver for weeks on end. Most cripplevan drivers are dump trucks of failure who delude themselves that they’re “medical professionals” whose time is at a premium. They—or more likely the dispatcher—harbored no regard for a cripplevan’s “cargo” and thought nothing of consolidating trips: There might be two or three people in the van when it arrived at the rehab hospital; the driver might make a couple more stops to collect passengers after picking me up, before heading north. The paratransit company rarely provided a vehicle large enough to accommodate the number of passengers. Sometimes an unbelievable reek hung in the air, proof that some caregivers were more concerned that their charges participate in scheduled singalongs and Bingo games than use soap. The warehouse was located on the far north side of the city, so mine was usually the last stop.
I worked with a skilled and genuinely amicable therapist. Her sometimes vaguely patronizing assistant also knew her onions. When only a few weeks remained in the program, my therapist arranged for some high-ranking rehabilitation doctor to evaluate me.
On the appointed day, she led me from the spacious rehab room to a stereotypical examination room. After a few minutes, a horse-toothed woman in her mid-thirties breezed in followed by several schlubs wearing lab coats. She offered plastic cheerfulness along with her hand, smiled and introduced herself as Dr. Gytt. The guys behind her remained silent; Dr. Gytt didn’t acknowledge their presence.
Dr. Gytt grilled me (e.g. “What do you hope to accomplish?”) while the members of her entourage listened intently and took notes. Then she regarded my therapist and asked about my progress. I felt like a grade-schooler eavesdropping on a parent-teacher conference.
After listening to my therapist, Dr. Gytt turned back to me: “Well, I think you’re just spinning your wheels in the nursing home.”
I agreed. I explained that accessibility and finances were issues, so I had no choice but remain tangled in the red tape of a clueless system stuck in the dark ages. I pointed out that people you’d expect to know better allow themselves to become sputtering emotional retards or grinning automatons when confronted by a person using a wheelchair.
I don’t think she listened. She smiled and continued: “I can understand that you’re scared. You should probably get into a group home so they can cook your meals, do your laundry, make sure you take your meds…”
I informed Dr. Gytt that I hadn’t taken meds in years, and that I’d displayed my ability to do laundry years ago in occupational therapy and, jumpin’ Jesus Christ Almighty hadn’t she ever heard of a microwave?
Dr. Gytt started as soon as I stopped: ”…And you can socialize with people your own age…”
I mentioned that I wanted people to leave me alone already.
“…And have people around who’ll handle your money for you.”
At the time, I successfully managed a checking account and a savings account. Given that I’d helmed varies guises of the former for fifteen years and the latter for twenty-nine years, maintaining those accounts had become effortless.
Dr. Gytt’s enthusiastic delivery of the final selling point convinced me that her head was entrenched in her ass. I unceremoniously wheeled out of the room and toward the lobby without listening to any more of her spew. A member of her entourage meekly held the door for me.
The rehab hospital’s self-congratulatory website claims their physicians help patients achieve the highest level of independence possible.