Speaking Out

After respiratory therapy, I was wheeled back to the 5th floor. The transportation worker now took me to speech therapy. The lady I was to work with gave me a psychological battery, including memory and cognition tests. I scored very well on these. I was pleased with our interaction, and I looked forward to working with her again. I couldn’t wait to see what kind of speech exercises we would try.
On the next day, I arrived at speech therapy optimistically. She began by giving me more games and puzzles to do. I worked through these tasks, expecting that we would soon get to the speech part of speech therapy. Then she asked me do Sudoku. I became irritated. I told her that I didn’t want to do it. I had just gotten a voice again, and I wanted to use it. All of the games could wait until later.
After I told her that I didn’t like Sudoku, and I refused to do it. She suggested other games. I began to feel like she was wasting a lot of my time. Here I was in speech therapy, and I had a voice that needed retraining. The one thing that had not suffered was my mental capacity. The session ended badly, and I went back to my room.
That night, while I should have been resting, I lay in my hospital bed becoming more and more angry. I understood that she had a course of treatment she had to pursue, but I was the patient. Over the past few weeks, I had lived through just about the worst ordeal that I could fathom. I still couldn’t walk; I couldn’t move my left arm. The one ability I had regained was the power of speech. I desperately wanted to work on that, so at least one facet of my life would start to feel normal. I resolved that I would tell her the next day that it was time to begin working with speech.

When it was time to start speech therapy again, my brother, Ivory and his girlfriend, Sharon came with me. I was excited, because I hadn’t seen him in four years, and this was my first time meeting Sharon. I wanted to be able to sit and have a conversation with them, but speaking was still difficult. Still had no breath support. My weakened airways caused me to have a very faint voice. I would overcompensate by trying to speak as forcefully as possible. So my volume never wavered, and my pitch never rose or fell. Always, speaking was exhausting.
She began the session by giving me more sheets. I told that I was here for speech, and that she was trying to practice psychology, instead of doing what I was asking her to do. She responded by pulling up the speech therapy curriculum from a university’s website and commanding me to read it. I looked at the screen, and my eyes began swimming wildly. The double vision was slightly better, but I had tried to read anything from a screen since the day my father had brought me my phone.
I told her that I was having vision problems.
She fired back, “There’s nothing wrong with your eyesight.
I thought of how, just days earlier, the doctor had simply looked at me, and remarked that I had double vision. Now I was angry. told her that I was not going to do anything else until we started doing things that were speech related. She told me that the doctor had assigned me to her, and that I had no choice but to work with her. At this point, I began thinking, I’ve worked for two insurance companies; I’m trained in HIPAA. There’s no way in hell you can force me to work with you. And this is the last time I will.

The following morning, while I was in the gym for physical therapy, my nurse practitioner came by to ask how things were progressing. Told her that everyone else was treating me well, but that I wanted a new speech therapist. She asked me to try and get along with my present one.
I told her, “I’m a patient; not a coworker. I’m here to get healthy. Medical law states that it’s not my responsibility to try to get along with her. I want a different speech therapist”
I can’t remember what she said after this. But it was calm and accepting. The next time I went to speech therapy, it was with someone different.

At the time, I was unaware of everything that speech therapy entails. I have since learned that rehabilitation therapists divide the body into three regions of treatment: physical therapists work the legs; occupational therapists treat everything between the waist and the neck; while speech therapists tackle everything from the neck up. But despite her being correct about her function, I feel that her behavior was completely unprofessional. People in an inpatient setting experience a profound sense of loss of their freedom and control of their surroundings. It is never a provider’s job to enter into petty verbal altercations so she can prove the patient wrong. If someone comes to you at their most physically and emotionally vulnerable state, being empathetic to their emotional state of loss is also part of your job. You must seek to help them preserve their dignity.
Many people do not have the background or the mental wherewithal that I had to advocate for myself. It bothers me that some do not have knowledge of what their rights are.
* * *
I had also met my neurologist my first week there. He was kind of short and stocky, and he wore black cowboy boots. When I asked him about them, he explained that while he was born and spent most of his life near Washington, DC, he had spent his high school years in Texas. And when you grew up in Texas, you took on certain things Texan.
I liked him. He was good natured and quick-witted. We got along well. I could tell through our interactions that I was regaining the ability to express myself. I was, at appropriate times, friendly, sarcastic, stern, or observant. It felt like I was now able to participate in the world around me.
This was vital, because so much over the last month had been a blur. I was not the person in charge of making my own financial or medical decisions, and I could not direct much else. My father decided which hospitals I was taken to. He decided whom to pay and how. I wasn’t the one to apply for short term disability. My brother had driven my car up from the coast. My locus of control was very external, and I had to rely on other people to keep me healthy and financially solvent.

From the day of the stroke, I had been worrying about the fact that I had to get back to work, so I asked the doctor how long it would be before I would start walking. He told me that he couldn’t guarantee anything. I replied that I understood that, as a medical professional, it would be irresponsible of him to declare an outcome. But I assured him that, when my discharge day arrived, I would be able to walk out of the hospital.
We only ever had one unpleasant exchange. As many of my other providers before him, he had developed the habit of addressing my father when discussing my progress. I became annoyed by this one Friday, because I knew what I had been through, and I had fought to reclaim my ability to interact competently with the people around me.
I told him – more curtly than I had intended, “Don’t always to talk to him. Talk to me. I’m the patient!”
Instantly felt guilty. Had I sounded angry? Cruel? Whatever the case, he seemed rather sheepish. I made sure not to ever take that tone with him again. Nonetheless, that was the last time he failed to direct his comments toward me.

My disagreements with staff members became less frequent after this. I knew full well that they were only here to help me. Most of my jobs had featured some form of customer service, and my coworkers and I had always hated that some customers viewed service people as people who had to suffer abuse, because the customer was in a foul mood. I never wanted to hold a caretaker responsible for my bad day. So I would joke to lighten the mood every chance I got.
I must have been successful, because it seems that everyone I worked with thereafter laughed at least once during each interaction. People could also see my determination, and they would try out new equipment on me. The years of sports and weightlifting had given me a great deal of stamina, and physical therapy simply was nowhere near as painful or exhausting as everyone assured me it would be.
One day, I worked on the Nustep machine so long and so hard that I urinated on the gym floor. My physical therapist – now I knew him as Andrew – laughed it off, and asked me not to do it again. It was after this episode that I realized that I should do something about my incontinence. So I began going back to my room to try to use the restroom between therapy sessions. Most of the time, I would hold the urinal or sit on the toilet, pushing as hard as I could, but nothing would come out. Other times, I would still have accidents. But while my underwear and my shorts might be a mess, I never left another puddle.
Betsy,and my psychologist even had a computer placed in my room. As I understood, this was a privilege very few patients were ever afforded. I don’t know how true that was, but it made me feel special. But after those two encounters, it seemed that staff members always thoroughly enjoyed their time working with me.
With all of the major distractions out of the way, I was mentally able to concentrate on what I felt I had come there for: to learn how to walk and use my left arm again.

2 Comments, RSS

  1. Jason Samuels October 11, 2017 @ 4:03 am

    Hi Michael, we met at the barbershop a week ago and you told me about this blog. Your writing is exceptional and your story is powerful. Thank you for sharing it.

    • admin October 11, 2017 @ 4:07 am

      Hi Jason. I was hoping to hear from you. Thank you. I try to produce a new installment every Wednesday. I’m really happy that you enjoy it.

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