by Elaine Miller
I worked on a medical/surgical wing in the hospital and Mary was down the hall and through the door on the orthopedic floor. I would go to work a few minutes early, run over and see Mary, then back to work. When it was lunchtime I would take my sack lunch and soda over there and sit with Mary. Her first roommate was a sweet elderly lady who had had a hip pinning. Her second roommate was a young girl one-year-older than she who had a broken leg and was also in traction. Sheíd fallen off a horse. Since Mary was still mute, both roommates looked after her. The teenager Jeannie was with her the longest and worried about her all the time.
Jeannie used to tell me how the staff treated Mary. Once a night shift nurse was abrupt with her and Mary used to cringe whenever she came near her. I took my complaint to the unit supervisor and Jeannie said things improved. Another time after my shift I went in to see Mary and they had not emptied her catheter bag and her urine was backed up into her bladder. I really raised hell then. It caused her to develop a nasty bladder infection.
Over a period of time Mary was drinking easier and wanting more and more. She scarffed down her pureed diet. I asked the orthopedic doctor to up it to soft. He said o.k. and did it. He took an x-ray of her leg and said the bones were healing slightly overlapping and he was trying to decide whether to operate and scrape off the new growth and put in a plate or not. My intuition told me no and the next day it was as if he read my mind and told me he thought she could live with it the way it was. An operation was too dangerous and could cause osteomyelitis, a severe and dangerous bone infection. I heaved a sigh of relief.
She was moving more in bed and attempting to feed herself with her left hand. She was dominantly right handed. I noticed that she would stare at the TV as if she was watching TV. When she was lying there every so often she would yawn and I noticed there was a vocal sound upon expiration. I decided to teach her speech again. I told her to look at me. I opened my mouth real wide, took in a deep breath and upon expiration audibly said "hi!í I did it several times and then I commanded her to try it. It worked. She said "hi!" We progressed in the same manner saying "mama", then on to more words.
Each day I told her who she was how old she was, where she was, what month, day and year it was and that she had been in an accident. One day she was staring at the TV. By now she was wearing her glasses again every day so that she could see. There was a game show on and she suddenly blurted out the word flashing across the screen that was the answer to the question. Her voice was raspy and very soft. I started asking her questions that required more answers than just yes or no. She started talking to me in phrases. There was a breathiness between every couple of words. She would say a couple of words, suck in her breath and go on. I was ecstatic.
I had been talking a little with my ex and he had been begging me to get back together. I left work and drove over to his apartment. I told him my news and he said "uh-huh". I told him I wanted to call Mom. I called Mom and he started ranting and raving at me. I hung up the phone, picked up my purse and without a word I left. It would never be different with him. There was no hope. There was no going back. It didnít matter what he said. We were finished. I wanted more than that. I wanted someone who cared about me, could love and care about the children. I wanted someone to share my joy, happiness and sorrows. I was only thirty- four years old. There had to be more to relationships than what I had experienced.
I had a pretty good relationship with my parents then. My Mom was very supportive in Maryís progress. She would get excited when I talked about something new she was doing. She would remind me that she knew she would be all right. I had friends that were supportive, but I didnít have a mate to share with me. I was still lonely. I dated some. I had joined Parents Without Partners and I had girlfriends there that helped guide me through some really hard times. Sometimes I thought I was going to die of loneliness. There was no man I even thought about getting serious with. All they had on their minds was sex. I was sick of them. I wanted more.
Now and then a girlfriend and I would go out and sit at a table for two, so no one could join us and we would nurse one drink for the whole evening and watch the group bands perform at the night clubs. Men would come over and spin tales to us, we would dance with some of them, lead them on, say we were going to the restroom and boogie out the door and go home laughing all the way. I would tell them my name was Delilah or Cinderella and when they would protest I would tell them that was Momís favorite Bible story or that was her favorite fairy tale. If it was Delilah I told them they could call me Dell or if it was Cinderella I told them everyone called me Cindy. I never told them my real name. Sandy and I had some really good times dissipating some of our anger towards men that way.
Mary continued to improve. I in turn started thinking of what I was going to do when she got out of the hospital. I didnít know what to expect. There was no help from the hospital. No social worker or psychologist came to see us. They did not order any kind of rehabilitative therapy. I thought she could have used a speech therapist or rehab on her right arm.
One day I noticed that she more and more frequently moved her right arm down with her left arm and it stayed put better instead of drawing up. Pretty soon she was able to use her arm. I would put a spoon up and see if she could grasp it. Her grasp was weak, but she would try. I would try her with a rolled up wash rag and other things. She was making progress. It seemed strange that all these gradual little changes made such a difference in her life and mine. Everything was important.
I would lay in bed at night and I would be just starting to go to sleep and I would think of the things that we needed to do next. I would ask the doctors and they would acquiesce. There were some rough times when the unit would call me at all hours or off the floor where I was working to come and handle a problem with her.
For a while at night when she was first at my hospital she started crying and was restless. She thought she was going to fall out of bed. She told them "Iím falling". She would cry and cry. I went back to the hospital. I mulled it over. It came to me to put a vest restraint on her. I suggested it and they got the order and tried it. It worked. It seemed that every night at dusk she was having an anxiety attack. She finally worked through it and stopped after a while.
At the same time she was agitated with falling, she developed an acute anxiety whenever no members of the family were present. The hospital was calling me day and night. They didnít know what to do. The in-laws called all the time, and so my mother-in-law just insisted she would come down and sit all day with Mary for as long as it took to get her through this phase. She came. I would take her to work with me in the morning and she stayed all day while I worked, then we went back home. She stayed with me and had time with Marie then in the evening. I felt that Eunice needed to feel part of Maryís recovery. She wanted to help with Marie too.
I was continually working at reorienting her. When she could talk I asked her where she was and she said Omaha. We lived there for two years and moved back to Peoria when she was four years old. I would ask her how old was she and she would say seven or eight, anything but what she really was. Over and over we went, every day with work on speech and reorientation. It was every break, every lunch hour and every day after work. I was determined. From time to time she played in her feces. She was still not totally with it.
Soon I discovered she was spoiled rotten. Everyone had felt sorry for her. Now the nurses were calling me to tell me that she had pinched one of her caregivers or used foul language. Several times I went over there and got real stern with her and made her apologize to the staff. I decided she could now be tutored if she was able to act up and swear at the staff.
Mary had just completed seventh grade in the gifted program at Washington School in Peoria. I called the principal and he arranged for a tutor. She started coming three times a week. By this time Mary was out of traction, could go to rehab to learn to walk on crutches and be up in the wheelchair. I would go on my lunch hour and take her down to the lunchroom and we would sit. She would have a soda while I ate my sack lunch. I was trying to get her used to people around her again and in crowds.
The tutor worked hard with her. We soon discovered she didnít remember math, history, or science. If she was told again, then she would remember. I was scared. How could she go back to school later? I tried not to think about it. The day was approaching when she was to go home.
We decided to try a home visit on my weekend off. I was to get her Saturday morning and then bring her back Sunday afternoon. Someone had to watch her like you do a baby every minute. I sat down with my youngest child Marie. I explained to her that we were going to bring Mary home soon. I told her I was counting big on her. She had to help me. She would have to help me take care of her older sister and watch her. We had a split foyer house and we had to particularly watch her around the stairs. She was to have no weight bearing on her right leg. By this time she had recovered her strength and usage of her right arm. Marie agreed to help. I had just turned her from being my baby into the "responsible one." Her childhood had just ended. She was eleven and a half years old. There was nothing else I could do.
I borrowed the wheelchair and brought Mary home from the hospital. We helped her to use her crutches up the stairs and into the main living area. She went to her room and started looking at her things. She remembered her bed and her room. I was apprehensive. We had to constantly remind her to use her crutches properly. She kept putting her foot down and dragging her crutches behind her. I was frightened she would mess up her surgery. I took her back Sunday afternoon. We had all survived. The weekend went well.
We tried it again on a day off. We tried it on the next weekend off. We were ready to take the plunge and she was ready to come home. It had been one month in the hospital in Iowa City and three months in my hospital.
It was the weekend before I was to bring her home. It was evening. Waves of fear and depression washed over me. I had hardly been going out with anyone or seeing my girlfriends. It was Halloween. My friends Karen and Norma from PWP called. They said there was a dance at the Holy Family school. They wanted me to go. I said no. I was sick of men. They dogged me. First one called and then the other. I was crying. Karen told me I needed to get out of the house. She told me to get ready and go to Normaís and weíd go from there. I finally said I would, but I needed to curl my shoulder length dark hair into a pageboy and get ready. They said theyíd wait.
I sat down on the floor with the curling iron and sobbed while I worked. I prayed. I prayed my old and trusted prayer. "God what am I going to do? Itís just Marie and me and Mary comes home next week. O.K. I accept the fact that Iím always going to be alone. How am I going to manage?" I finally got up, washed my face, got dressed, put on my make-up and was ready to go. Marie was already waiting. We drove over to Normaís and dropped off Marie to baby-sit with her son. Norma and I drove to the school gym and met Karen. Little did I know that before the evening was out that my life would again be changed, but for the better this time. God didnít talk to me this time; he just programmed destiny.