As Mark’s physical health stabilized and his awareness consistently improved, his daily therapy sessions became a test to find out what he remembered and what he needed to relearn. The physical therapist, Sharon, didn’t just do range of motion exercises where she did all the stretching, but now tried to teach him how to move his own body. The occupational therapist, Cheryl, and speech therapist, Kris, worked on simple math, reading and writing skills. Evident from the beginning, his long term memory was good. He remembered not only family and friends, but employers and events from his past. However, remembering what happened the day before or even just hours earlier in the day was poor. The therapist gave him a notebook and instructed him to write what he had worked on after each therapy session. In the next session, the therapist asked him about the previous therapy. When he couldn’t remember what he had done, they reminded him to check his notebook.This occurred in all six therapy sessions each day in hopes to improve his short-term memory.
The tilt table was as unpleasant as any test could be for Mark. After transferring him onto the padded table, Sharon positioned his feet so they rested on the footplate. Safety belts strapped his body to the table to ensure he wouldn’t slip off. Sticky patches (electrodes) were placed on his chest, legs and arms and were connected by wires to an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) machine, which monitored his heart rate. A cuff was wrapped around his arm to check his blood pressure. While pushing a control button, the table slowly moved from a horizontal to a vertical position. His heart rate and blood pressure regulated the degree Sharon would angle the table in each session. If his blood pressure dropped or there were prolonged pauses between heartbeats, she slowly returned the table to a horizontal position. It took several therapy sessions before Mark could tolerate going from lying flat to a head-up position. Once he could endure the vertical position, Sharon extended the length of time being upright from five to forty-five minutes over the next few weeks. She vigilantly monitored Mark and I always felt like he was safe. However, it appeared to me he felt unsafe, possibly confined or maybe light-headed because he despised the tilt table. When I asked him why or what was wrong, he said, agitated, “It’s just a waste of time!” While in the upright position, he often lashed out at the therapist, “Get me out of this senseless contraption,” or he’d demand I take him home.
When Cheryl and Kris gave Mark simple math problems and he correctly answered, my heart soared like a kite. He could read children’s books with little difficulty, but Mark had double vision, which made it nearly impossible to read the small print in adult books or a magazine. After reading a couple of paragraphs to him, the therapist questioned him on the content and he’d have trouble remembering what they had read. Mark seemed frustrated and/or embarrassed. My heart dropped into a dark hole as I remembered his perfect grades in college and the pride I had the previous year as he passed the ultimate test and earned his Electrical Master’s License. I wanted to give him the answers and save him from the humiliation. Other times it appeared he had the correct answer on the tip of his tongue, but the words came out wrong. Knowing he’d given the wrong answer, he struggled to find the right words to correct it. Irritated and impatient with himself, he’d say he was useless or felt inadequate. By the end of his daily therapy schedule he’d be exhausted and discouraged. It definitely was the hardest and most painful work he had ever done. The brightness of the day came at night when I’ brought the kids for a visit. They didn’t ask him trivial questions, or expect him to do hard and painful movements. They loved him unconditionally and were pleased just to see him awake and have him close to home. Every night they filled his empty cup with love and encouragement, which helped him get ready for the next day’s drain.
Mark was anxious to come home and nearly every night he’d make a comment like: “You need to take me home with you.” or “This is not a good place to be, please get me out of here.” Another night he said,“You need to take me far away from here. They ask silly questions.” One night he recited our home address and told me specifically, “That’s where you need to take me!” I was happy he remembered our address. I understood his longing to be home, to return to familiar surroundings and a normal way of life. I had the exact same yearning. Our house didn’t feel like home without him, but I silently worried about the future. How long would we have to deal with this new way of life? When would Mark be able to come home? How could we speed up this rehabilitation program? My biggest question: What changes did I need to make to improve this situation?
Learning how to transfer Mark in and out of his chair was the first answer that came to mind. It took two aids to do that. Could I learn to do it by myself? I went to the hospital library and checked out a how-to-video on transferring. That night I watched it and the next morning I told Sharon I wanted to learn how to transfer Mark. She demonstrated how she positioned her feet in front of Mark’s, pressing her knees on his legs. Her arms stretched over his shoulders with her hands reached under his arms. Using her body leverage she pulled him forward and up towards the chair and then set him down gently. I felt confident and anxious to try it, so I did and to my relief, I didn’t drop him. From then on we no longer had to wait for the aides to help Mark, which made us one step closer to getting him home.