“Someone should bring in a tape recorder, and record your laugh.” He was smiling, a little lopsidedly, one hand limp in his lap, posture slumped, voice always quiet. Yes, he’d had a stroke. They guy I was working with–and, yes, laughing with–had been through two strokes. Both struggle with depression, but deal with it differently.
He thought my laugh should be recorded. But he also thought there was a cure for his weakness–a pill, a treatment, a doctor on the radio who was stronger than his 20-year-old sons now, a typewritten piece of paper advertising oxygen therapy. Anything. Something.
But not exercise.
He would come here. He would do what we said, here. He would talk and talk about how he used to be “strong like a bull.” Or the latest treatment that he thought would cure him. Did you do your exercises at home? No, it was too hot. His son was staying in the room he used to exercise in. He had no energy because of this hormone imbalance; once the pills came, everything would be better. Listen, you have to work your body to get it stronger. Nag, nag, nag.
He didn’t exercise.
He stayed a slumped old man, older than he should be because he couldn’t accept he wasn’t young anymore. That he had to work to get strong. “That’s how strong I was!” he would say. Yes. You were. Now you need to work hard to get stronger.
He wouldn’t. He was discharged today. What can you do for someone who wants to wait to get better? Wait to be younger? Wait to be happier?
The other one, the one I was laughing with? He was so depressed when he came. I made him laugh. I explained things, and he drank in the explanations like he was trekking through the Sahara. I gave him an inch and he took a mile. He started eating better, and gaining weight. He smiled more and harassed me, the other patients, the staff–anyone who got within yelling distance. He went from dragging his involved leg behind him and trying to use momentum to throw it forward and using a quad cane to being able to walk around the clinic with no asisstive device, placing his feet appropriately, walking for 12 minutes on the treadmill. He stood up straight and got his center of balance over his feet.
We talked about his goals. What else would he like to be able to do? What was giving him trouble? What should we shoot for? He couldn’t come up with much any more. You’re supposed to be happy, then, you know. To be done with therapy. To get on with life. To be better. Soon, I said, soon we will be done, and you can continue on your own.
He seems quieter now. More subdued. He doesn’t get after as many people. I surprise the laughs out of him; he doesn’t really mean to. Was I imagining it?
The secretary told me to today–Oh, the family wanted me to tell you. He isn’t eating right at home again, or something.
Why can’t you just get better? Why can’t you just stay happy? I know you’d like to be a working man yet, I know you hate that your job is being alive and walking, that you have to think so hard and concentrate so much on it. But why can’t you just get better and stay better?
This man I met this morning, he had a stroke, too. He only speaks Romanian. Or French or Spanish. Not English. His wife speaks English, mostly. She doesn’t quite understand that pronouns are gender specific, and that her husband is not a ‘she’. But we can communicate with her.
She says she will take him home. She is adamant she will take him home. She can do it. She describes in careful detail how she assists him with a stand-pivot transfer. Painstakingly, she describes it. Let’s practice, I say. She already knows how, she does it, she does it. Yes, before. Let’s watch you do it, to make sure it is the same. So that we know he can go home. Finally, something clicks. “A simulation!” she says. Yes, a simulation.
A simulation of what? A wife who won’t let go of her husband. She will fall, he will fall, they will fall together.
They do the stand-pivot. She is bending too much. She will hurt her back. He is too tall. He pulls on her shoulder.
She brushes off the pain. It was nothing, it was nothing. The wrong angle. It’s better at home. Let me take him home.
If you hurt yourself, who will take care of your husband? You must keep yourself safe. Lift carefully. Don’t bend your back.
Yes, yes, she says. Yes, yes, her mouth says. Let me take him home, her eyes say. Please, let me take my husband home.
I say I want a band-aid big enough to fix the whole world. In the back of my mind, I sort of hear that God kind of has a plan about that, in the person of His son. I guess sometimes it doesn’t seem ‘now’ enough. When you make people cry with pain. When they ask you if they’ll ever get better, and you wonder how to not lie and not kill hope in the same sentence. When people look at you, and their eyes say, “I’m glad you’re happy. I’m glad you think I’ve improved. I still feel like shit and I can’t do anything.”
I’m sorry. But I don’t know to help you anymore.