My First Memories
My brother and I are the only two in the elevator. It stops on the third floor and he rolls me off.
We go down the hallway on the left to room 330. From the threshold I survey my new room. Perpendicular to the wall on the right are two beds with a partially drawn curtain between. High on the left wall is a TV. The far wall has a window. I take the near bed, the one closer to the door.
Well, itís not that I choose the bed, but thatís where Chris unloads me. He wheels my chair next to the bed, pulls the stop-brakes forward, and steps in front of me so we are facing each other. He bends over and takes hold of me under both arms, like you do with a baby. With his help I stand up, pivot back and to the left, and he lowers me onto the bed.
Chris turns on the TV and leaves but says heíll be right back. I donít know if heís going to the restroom or to the nursesí station to tell them we have arrived; Iím not really concerned. I wonder whoís in the next bed, behind the partially drawn curtain.
Now, over twenty years post-recovery, my memory tells me that I strained forward, trying to see past the white curtain, to see if perhaps Chris had woken someone when he turned on the TV, but I know I wasnít strong enough to pull myself from a prone to a seated position, to strain forward. I know I couldnít, but my memory tells me I did.
But I can only see the foot of the bed. I figure if I canít see anyone, no one can see me, so I relax back and watch a M*A*S*H rerun. In a couple minutes Chris comes back. Iíd ask him if anybody were in the next bed, but I canít talk.
He suggests we explore this new hospital unit, see what it has to offer. Right next door, room 329, is the game room. They probably call it the toy room here in pediatrics since all kinds of toys are everywhere, in boxes and on the floor, but since Iím thirteen and a little old for ďtoys,Ē Chris calls it the game room. No curtains cover the windows on the opposite wall, and the summer sun lights up the room. Two low wood tables about four feet square are in the center, and a chalkboard spans the entire left-hand wall, all the way from the door to the windows.
Chris pushes me adjacent to the board and puts a piece of light pink chalk in my right hand. I crinkle my nose and purse my lips and give four short, quick exhales as the rising chalk dust has tickled my nose. I resort to lifting my left hand to scratch with the back of it, or Iíd be left in that purgatory between sneeze and near-sneeze.
After my left hand is settled comfortably in my lap again, I turn my head to the right and gaze out the windowóat the grayish-white sky with thick clouds, which I can just barely make out. Thatís all I can see from this angle. It looks hot out, or, perhaps from spending every summer of my life in southwestern Ohio, I am simply conditioned to know itís hot out right now.
I want to feel that heat, to experience the comfortable sensation of every part of my body warming in unison from the chill of air conditioning, and then escape back into the coolness just a minute later, just a moment before the easy warmth turns to heavy mugginess. Or maybe not. Maybe Iíd sit out in the sun until I sweated clear through my hospital gown, worn down by the weight of the humidity and heat. I havenít been outside in so long. I at least want to see outside. I havenít seen outside in so long. But I canít ask Chris to push me to the window; I canít talk.
I drop my eyes to the piece of chalk in my right hand. Thatís what I was doing.
My left brain orders my right arm to lift my hand to the board, but my armís too weak. With my left hand I grab my right elbow and find enough strength to bend my right forearm up. My left hand raises my right elbow, and I begin to write my name, but I canít grip the chalk, so it just skids along the surface of the board like a water skierís rope along the water after a wipeout.
Determined to get my name on the board, I take the chalk from my right hand and attempt to write my name on the board in big, pink letters with my left hand. It doesnít work well either since Iím not left handed, Iím still ataxic, and Iím weak all over.
Grip tighter, grip tighter! My hand is not obeying my brain. Itís like last year during field day at school when the seventh graders pulled against the eighth graders in a tug-of-war. The teams were evenly matched, and although I summoned all my strength and concentrated, Pull, pull, PULL!, the rope wouldnít budge. That was frustrating, just like not getting a good hold of the chalk is.
I SAID, GRIP TIGHTER! Itís no use. Yelling at myselfóin my headódoesnít help; it just makes me more angry and frustrated. Oh, I canít do it. Iím not strong enough to even write my name on a chalkboard yet. Iím so weak. School doesnít start for another month. Maybe Iíll be strong enough to write by then. Iíll work harder at it. Thatís all I can do.
Chris can see how disheartened the first failed then sloppy attempts at getting my name on the board have made me. He suggests we play a game of checkers. He sits in a little plastic blue chair with chrome legs, his knees up near his chest, and I in my wheelchair, maneuvering pieces with my left hand.
Although the previously described scenes are my first memories, they canít be of my move from ICU to pediatrics as I remember them being. First of all, the journal Grandma kept says Dad moved me, not my brother. But also, I doubt playing checkers was possible so early in my recovery. I doubt my prowess at checkers because of something my therapist wrote in my medical records on July 27, my first full day in pediatrics:
Pt. able to take turns in simple game, follow one-step commands, and sequence picture cards with moderate structure.
While I was able to wait my turn when playing a ďsimple game,Ē I likely did not have the cognitive abilities to comprehend the objective or the strategy of checkers since I required ďmoderate structureĒ or moderate cuing to order picture cards.
I donít remember ever being curious about what happened to me, why I was there, why the right side of my body was useless. I think that, as a child doesnít ask what her name is once she can talk, I picked up on what happened from conversations among visitors to ICU even though I appeared unconscious.
Whether Chris or I was the victor in our checkers match, I donít recall. My memory would come and go.
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This site was last updated 02/22/07