We had just been transferred to a private room and the accommodations were better than I expected, honestly. It was as if I had gone from homeless to the Hilton in a mere hour. Private bath with shower, cot lined up next to Mike’s hospital bed, a telephone mounted on the wall, TV with cable. It was quite a dramatic change for me and a welcomed one at that. I was so tired I felt high, my phone had died, and I hadn’t taken a shower nor changed my clothes in days.
We had officially been upgraded to the suite.
The occupational therapist sat next to Mike. She had come in to try and get him walking around and test his brain to see if it was moving forward in a proper direction. It was one of the most frustrating experiences I had to endure. Every time she asked him a simple question, and he took too long- in my opinion- to answer, my leg would start bouncing up and down rapidly. I just wanted him to answer. I would try to mentally will him to figure it out faster: Mike, come on, you know what day it is, you know what you do for work, you know why you’re here. Faster Mike! I wanted her to look at him and say he was fine, all better, carry on with your life.
“Are you ready to try and get up and maybe walk a bit?” She asked him after having asked him a bunch of other repetitive questions. She was in her mid-thirties probably, a little heavy, with long, long dark brown hair that she wore straight down her back, held away from her face by only a thin head band. Her full-moon eyes and two deep-set dimples gave her the look of an adult three year old. I’ve always been envious of women with dimples. She was cute.
Mike nodded and tried to sit up more. Equally as frustrating as his slow answers to basic questions, was the pain and absolute concentration that moving required of him. His face tight, trying to ignore the constant headache that the bleeding caused all while trying to alert the rest of his body that it had to do something; telling his back to sit up, his legs to swing around to the floor, his arms to balance all of this out. He paused and took a break once his feet hit the standard linoleum and breathed deep to recharge. I stood in case I needed to help.
“Okay, now all we’re going to do is move from the bed to this recliner.” She announced to him as she put out her arm for support. The recliner was only a foot away from the bed. My frustration began to mount. I wanted him to spring out of bed, do jumping jacks, rub his head and stomach in two opposite directions like grade school children did to prove they were coordinated.
He grabbed onto her arm and slowly began to raise himself from the bed, shaky, weak, and almost unbearably slow. I took a step closer anticipating a fall. The hospital gown he wore was tied loosely in the back, so much so that his whole backside was exposed. No one really seemed to notice. He took one of the two steps towards the recliner.
I had seen Mike vulnerable before, but in a much different way. Or maybe they are similar. When I had started dating Mike he was locked pretty tight emotionally, and relationships have the power to lock that guard tighter or break it down. I still remember the day that I realized I was breaking it down, opening him up, as opposed to forcing him farther inside of himself. That’s a good feeling, and an indication that you’re doing something good for the other person. He was vulnerable then, in a sort of good way, like a child.
This vulnerability that I witnessed currently, was much like a child too, but as I said, it was different. He wasn’t choosing so much to allow it to take place, as much as he was just forced to show it. A child is unaware of their vulnerability. They are unaware that it is taking place. Mike was well aware that I could probably beat him up at that very moment.
He took the final step towards the chair and as he did, the therapist reached around and tried to hold the gown closed, to try and hide the vulnerability that showed as his bare bum. He grabbed onto her with both hands now as he tried to spin so that he could sit down in the recliner. After what seemed like forever, he slowly lowered himself down.
The therapist then set about making him do a bunch of everyday tasks; things that we don’t even think about doing: put on socks, put on a bathrobe, give a high five, lift one arm, lift the other, open a cell phone, stand, sit down, stand again. He did everything she asked, struggling all the while, every action requiring his utmost attention. When all was said and done, he looked as if he had run a marathon while simultaneously fighting off rabid dogs and dodging grenades.
He was exhausted from putting on socks.
I was exhausted from watching him get exhausted from putting on socks.
With the departure of the occupational therapist was the expected arrival of a few of Mike’s friends. Now that we were out of intensive care, visitors were allowed- as long as they were not falling down drunk, they told us- and there were a few people that were intending to come up that evening. Mike was a storm of headaches, exhaustion, and excitement, so much so, that at times he got snippy.
When they did finally arrive, Mike’s demeanor changed instantly. Cheerful. Bubbly almost. He pushed any exhaustion, pain, struggles to remember out, and allowed only the best parts of what was currently available of him to show. There was a lot of laughter. There was a lot of talk about what had happened. There was a lot of well wishes and simple gratitude and happiness filling our single person suite that night. The best of Mike was on stage, and it was dazzling the crowd. His face still looked as if someone had taken a baseball bat to it. He was still slow, and awkward, and I could see the concentration he put forth to shove back the headaches, but he seemed well, much better than they had expected, I’m sure.
His dinner arrived while everyone surrounded his hospital bed. It was the first food that wasn’t in the form of a liquid he would actually be able to eat since he began his stay. Chicken and a baked potato. Some unrecognizable vegetable that stained the rest of the food and the plate a violet color.
(That is one of biggest complaints of the whole stay: the food. Not for your typical “hospital food sucks” reasons, but because honestly, all of the choices were not what I would consider healthy. Browsing the menu that they would drop off in your room so you could make your meal selections, I saw pancakes, cheeseburgers, hotdogs, sodas, ice creams, beef stews, pizza, and a bunch of other options that I would select as ‘cheats’ on a diet, as opposed to a balanced nutritious meal program. They didn’t serve sugar apparently, but you were still able to get any diet soda you wanted. And ice cream. And jello. And chocolate pudding. It didn’t make much sense to me. In my not-so-respected opinion, a hospital should promote health at all times, regardless that some patient might want a cheeseburger. I would have liked to see more vegetables and fruit and less meat and grains. I also think hospitals should have a gym.)
Regardless, Mike sat slowly eating his chicken dinner while laughter and chit chat sheltered us from the rest of the hospital. Talk fumbled from each person’s mouth. Jokes. Stories. A fleck of food from Mike’s mouth as he chuckled. To say that having visitors didn’t help would be ridiculous. In fact, it was the best dose of medicine he got during his whole stay.
It seemed as his friends left, Mike’s smile and good mood walked out the door with them. He laid back, face wincing in pain, and when I began to talk- are you done eating? Should I take this away? Do you need another blanket?- he raised his hand to indicate that he wanted me to shut up. And so I did, slightly hurt that I- just me alone- was not enough for him to continue his lifted spirits.
I had once been discussing relationships- along some lines- with a gentleman and he had made a comment that I still remember and reference often. He said that his girlfriend got the best he had… but she also got the worst. For any relationship, that is remotely healthy, this is true. You are allowed a glimpse into the great person that no one else sees. Their goofy jokes, their stories they share with no one else, the gestures of love that not another gets to call their own, but at the very same time, you open the door to see what a person’s worst will show. Their bad moods, irritable tendencies, pet peeves are yours to hold as well. You get to keep it all, the whole package, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Mike and I’s worst is not so dramatic, so maybe that’s why I can say it’s not so terrible. For the most part, we’re both generally happy. Neither of us scream or yell. Neither of us snoop through each other’s things. Neither of us turn into some hulk-like version of ourselves and begin throwing cordless phones and frying pans. Neither of us take out our bad days on other people or each other. Neither of us put on pretend faces for most, but there is a level of ourselves that no one else sees. That is not to say that we haven’t questioned one another or been annoyed by one another. That is not to say that we haven’t had moments of utter absurdity and irrationality in regards to each other. But compared to some people, we’re relatively low-maintenance in terms of the worst we have to give, so in that sense we were lucky.
I grabbed a magazine and went and sat at the end of Mike’s bed and allowed him to be cranky. He shifted a couple times trying to get comfortable and groaned deep and loud, frustrated. Eventually he opened his eyes, stared at me for a minute, and then gave me a wink before he closed both of his eyes to try and sleep again. I half-grinned and turned back to my pointless magazine. I didn’t mind Mike’s worst. Mike’s worst was other people’s best.
They say, you have to take the good and bad of most situations and for people you are close with, I think this is even more true. Not because it is expected of you, and frankly, sometimes the worst is not worth taking, but there is a level of unconditional love that is forced upon you, a foundation for what your whole relationship stands on. You have to be your own judge of whether a person’s worst has a foundation worth building upon or if it is a foundation that will eventually crumble and flood with antagonism and self-pity.
Because at some point in a relationship, the door opens and you walk into that relationship as you have prior, yet it is all different. The foundation becomes your support. The walls become your comfort. It can feel like a warm, content retreat or the antithesis, a cold, restless prison.
It is different because eventually, you no longer walk into a relationship as just a visitor.
You reside there.
(To be continued one last time…)