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JACK SMITH

Living in the Lap of Luxury--Drill Instructors and All

July 26, 1993|JACK SMITH

I am now in residence at the Huntington Memorial Hospital rehabilitation wing. It is something like a Riviera hotel with roses and geraniums outside our window, sunflowers in our room and a cool ocean breeze. We even have room service, though there the similarity ends.

In some respects it reminds me of boot camp. The wing's function is to rehabilitate patients who have been crippled by strokes and other neurological accidents. The instructors are mostly voluptuous young women, cheerful but rather fierce in their dedication to their work.

In boot camp I never had a drill instructor land on me the way these women do. "Pick that foot up! Move it! Stand up straight!" They don't seem to realize they are talking to a tired, old man who has been severely treated by the gods. On the other hand I never had a drill instructor who gave me a bath, which one of my nurses did. He would have been drummed out of the corps.

Usually it is one on one, with one instructor haranguing the patient. I dread these sessions, though one could hardly ask to spend half an hour with a more buoyant young woman. Sometimes they work with groups. The other day, a young male instructor got a group of us into a volleyball game with a pink balloon. Despite my infirmities, I was rather the star. My old sense of timing was intact.

However, nothing else was. My nervous system is awry. My DI says I will soon be walking, but I do not believe her. The height seems too great to surmount.

Meanwhile, I am trying. We shall see.

There is also a speech therapy phase of the training. I would have thought that my speech was unaffected since my conversation seems to remain uninhibited, if generally pessimistic.

The tests they give you, however, are tricky. Some are true or false and extremely easy. For example: Abraham Lincoln was the first President of the United States. Another was trickier: In the United States anyone can get a license to drive a car. Well, that's easy enough, isn't it? Everyone is permitted to take the test, and if you can pass it you get a license. On the other hand, what if you're blind? I answered yes, which will probably go down on my record as a blot.

The other day in a word test, they gave me three words-- apple, mountain, truth --and told me to remember them; they would ask me for them later. When we finished the session, they thanked me and said goodby. I said, "What about apple, mountain and truth ?" They looked embarrassed. One said to the other, "He wins. You get a demerit."

Today I was given four words to remember and asked later to repeat them. I could remember only two. The therapist gave me hints about the other two and I finally remembered that they were piano and green . However, I have now forgotten the first two.

I confessed to the young women that while my tests may not show it, I am having trouble with my short-term memory. I cannot remember words that I have recently acquired, particularly those associated with my various diseases.

When my doctor diagnosed one of them as diverticulitis, the word refused to become part of my vocabulary until he reversed himself and decided I didn't have it. The same thing happened with shingles, a childhood disease that I contracted recently. To this day I cannot remember the word and knew it only because I asked my wife.

There have been occasional moments of conviviality, despite the stringent hospital rules. The other night we had a cocktail party in our room, which I suspect was an unprecedented event. Our internist, Dr. Andrew Muller, had given me permission to have one vodka tonic a night, showing his liberal streak. So my wife had brought a bottle of vodka, some tonic water, limes and tall glasses to my room. That evening three young relatives came by and I asked them if they'd like a vodka tonic. All three agreed enthusiastically. My wife poured. It was a delightful interlude, the more so because of a sense of conspiracy and a defiance of the rules. None of our fellow residents believe the story.

Room service is excellent, if somewhat overzealous. We have buzzers that we push to call the nurses. They quickly bring pills or whatever comfort you need. The other night I asked my nurse to give me an enema. I had been having trouble with my bowels and was in severe pain.

She got my doctor's permission and gave me an enema with great dispatch. I was relieved of my distress and spent a comfortable evening. She is a jewel.

What hotel on the Riviera would give you room service like that?

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