june soon arrived and i continued to surprise and impress the doctors with my rapid recovery. because i required less care, i was moved from the ICU on the second floor to the recently completed seventh floor of VGH. my new room was bright and spacious, and featured four things my old room didn’t: a TV and three roommates. two of my roomies were fairly quiet but i can’t imagine the third guy was ever a good roommate, or cellmate for that matter. he was a grizzly, thick fellow in his forties and judging by his demeanor, was either a rodeo announcer, a harley davidson rally organizer, or both. as you might expect, his friends were equally loud and rambunctious. they weren’t mean or anything, in fact they had a lot of fun over on his side of the room. it was nice that they could joke around and all, but the laughter they emitted was no joke. it was at once disgusting and terrifying, like dinosaurs gargling. i didn’t even know laughs could be that unnerving.
one day, t-rex called over from across the room, “hey buddy!”
by this time my tracheotomy had healed and there were no tubes in my throat, but because the nerve to one of my vocal cords was severed, my voice was quiet and raspy. dad took up my side of the conversation and responded to t-rex, “hey, how ya doin’?”
“i’m doin’ alright. what’s he in for?” asked t-rex. from where i was sitting in my bed, i concluded he had asked that question many times in his life – after all, old habits die hard. dad gave a brief summary of what happened, after which t-rex shared how he ended up at VGH. “well,” he concluded, “just take it one day at a time buddy, that’s all you can do. i’ve been here eight days now and that’s what i do, just take it one day at a time.” my dad agreed, then turned to me, trying not to laugh. i had been at VGH for nearly eight weeks at this point. if i hadn’t been so scared of being eaten by t-rex’s friends, i probably would’ve laughed – a nice, clear, engaging laugh.
despite t-rex’s advocacy, the migratory patterns of his friends grew tiresome so i asked a nurse if i could be moved to a different room. soon enough, i was transfered to another room on the same floor with only one other patient. i was grateful to have a quieter room, but like a blind person who’s hearing is enhanced, the lack of noise seemed to strengthen my sense of smell. unfortunately, my new roommate was an older asian fellow who made liberal and frequent use of his bedpan.
i really have no frame of reference when it comes to sharing a room with someone else’s bowel movement, but this was especially nauseating. sometimes a crippling odor would waft across the room unexpectedly, like a spring chinook stinging my eyes. as bad as this was, it was even worse when i knew it was coming. i would be watching “Trading Spaces” when, above the sound of power tools on TV, i would hear my roommate working on a project of his own. confined to my bed, i could only turn up the TV and live vicariously through the program’s homeowner whose renovated bathroom now had a fan.
after a few days of smelling my roommate’s progress, i was rooting for his compete recovery more than my own. even so, i was excited to learn that i was to be released from the hospital very soon. doctors agreed i was strong enough to begin the rehabilitation phase of my recovery, and my transfer was scheduled for the fourth of june. i was psyched to be getting better, but also anxious and intimidated at the idea of moving. from what i had heard, life at the GF Strong Rehabilitation Centre was like boot camp compared to the Club Med treatment i enjoyed at VGH. i was told visiting hours would be much shorter and strictly enforced, most of my time would be spent with therapists, i would still have a roommate, and worst of all, i would have to spend much more time with the storm trooper. well, there’s no other way to go about it, i thought, i’ll just have to deal with all that too.
moving day arrived with an air of excitement and trepidation. when the time came, i was wheeled down to the lobby to meet the driver who would take me to GF Strong. i remember the glass lobby doors automatically opening like stage curtains. i hadn’t been outside in two months, and the rush i felt from the sun and fresh air caught me off guard. i remember sunlight first hitting my toes, then my knees, then my face as the driver guided my wheelchair outside. for a moment i wanted to jump out of my wheelchair and run around. i wanted to run to the beach to see the birds, hear the waves, and feel the salty air on my face. i could hear the rumble of the ocean already…
whhirrrrrrrr, in my mind it sounded like…like….
…like the wheelchair lift descending at the back of the HandyDart bus in front of me.
the driver secured my wheelchair to the lift and raised us up to board the bus. i sat there while she worked to free my wheelchair, awkwardly fumbling and
reaching between my legs. at VGH, every attempt to help staff had ended poorly, but i felt useless just sitting there waiting for her.
“you know, i can walk.” i informed the driver.
“oh! you can?” she exclaimed, both surprised and relived, “would you like to take a seat up there?”
“yeah,” i quickly confirmed. grasping the hand rails, i walked to the front of the bus, while she loosed the wheelchair and loaded it up. she took her place in the driver’s seat, my parents took their seats, and we were off.
as we pulled out of the VGH parking lot, i was reminded of my first day at TWU. it wasn’t as traumatic, to be sure, but once again i was being escorted by my parents to an unknown place full of strangers. additionally, i was leaving a place where i was comfortable, well-liked, and even impressive. i was nervous and anxious, but excited and hopeful. in my mind, my recovery was a big checklist. i had just checked off the biggest box marked “VGH”, and i was eager to tackle the next challenge. i’d do whatever was needed to check “G.F. Strong” off my list, then get on with whatever came next. soon i would pick up where i left off, and everything would go back to normal.
or so i thought.