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Patients and Staff Pull Together

July 08, 1988|JAMES CHIRCOSTA

EL CENTRO — Now, what did my life hold for me, what did I have? These questions ran through my mind as I sat in my wheelchair, nothing to live for.

I was in a convalescent hospital surrounded by total strangers. My closest relative was thousands of miles away. I suddenly felt so lonely and desolate here in this strange place, afraid of what may happen to me . . . isolated . . . marooned on an island. What a terrible part of my life; I now had to rely and depend on others for sustenance.

This was the melancholy state that I was in which left me in a semi-daze; another victim of multiple sclerosis.

Before, I was living in a hotel where, although I was in a wheelchair and still able to dress myself, I could even with some effort use the swimming pool. It offered the necessary exercise. I kept busy with painting and there was an elevator and meals available in the dining/coffee shop.

After reading that aspirin was good to ward off heart attacks, I began to take 10 grains a day, which resulted in stomach ulcers. This landed me in the hospital--my first step in the direction of a convalescent.

In the beginning, the painful expressions seen on the faces of the patients were hard to endure. To offset this, I had to do something productive, so I started to plan a program that would make my life seem worthwhile. I determined what was important, what to pursue that day. I got to the point where I was eager to get up each morning.

My friends played a significant part in my adjustment. One lady supplied me with books that emphasized holistic medicine and meditation in my life. Staff members were accommodating, anxious to swap tales, but they were held back by their demanding work. Since I studied Spanish in both high school and college, I was fortunate to have conversation with those who felt more comfortable in their native language. (Being so close to the Mexican border, there are many bilinguals.)

There is a physical therapy department here. After being evaluated, I was placed on a program of exercise. I felt, if one was confident, he could very well forget his illness and go on to a worthwhile life. One had to make his decisions and remember that he is the master of his ship.

The total body of patients soon became a family to me, with delightful incidents occurring daily. I recall a few in the past. A bearded man in his wheelchair was always anxious to get back to his room. To bribe the nurses or anyone, he offered oranges and apples and even money. They politely brushed him off. After all, they were busy and had little time for promises. Having no heirs or relatives, he passed away and left the state of California $2 million dollars.

Another patient, retired from a respectable position as a postmaster, would add numbers, audible for hours at a time (and I must mention I would have hated to have her as my accountant, as she was seldom right).

I have been in this convalescent hospital for three years. It has been difficult at times. And I reflect on those times on the outside--it was difficult there also. But here I have my paintings, my writing, my reading, my many wonderful friends.

Time is not of the essence. Peace of mind is.

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