As the doctors came in to consult with us I learned that the stroke effected Strokeman’s right thalamus as well as the occipital and temporal lobes of that side. He was alert, able to speak with only a slight slur and was able to eat fairly well, only needing to have liquids thickened for him. As the swelling went down we found he had lost most of his function on his left side. He could move his toe ever so slightly, sometimes, but other than that it seemed that he was only aware of his right side. His vision was effected in both eyes, giving him what they described as a left cut. He also developed chronic hiccups that went on for more than a day before a doctor finally prescribed something to stop them so that he could sleep. Once it was determined that he was stabilized, he was moved to the stroke unit, and we began to look forward to the therapy evaluations that would take place.
One of the first visits we received on this unit was from the social worker. I confess I anticipated some kind of connection with this lady, since I was once a discharge planner, just like her. She was unimpressed, and seemed only to be able to perceive us as a problem she had to get rid of as soon as possible. Granted, we were there without insurance. I could certainly sympathize with the pressure she was getting to find a way to make us somebody else’s problem. But I would like to now apologize if I was ever so heartless and impatient with a family in need in the five years I spent as a medical social worker. At one point during that week I ended up telling her to go away and leave me alone. Most of our communication from that point on was by phone, which suited me just fine.
The social worker told us that there was no possible way that any rehabilitation center would take us without insurance. She told us we needed to look into skilled nursing facilities (code for nursing homes that do rehabilitation therapies) or take him home and do the rehab ourselves. She did contact a few rehabilitation hospitals to inquire about a charity bed on our behalf. When I realized the monumental decisions I had ahead of me, I called my oldest son and asked him to come. He and his wife live across the country from us and I had told them to wait to come until I knew for sure what was going to happen, but I new I needed them now!
On the day the therapists came to make their assessments four of my five children and my two in-law children were present. Only my army manchild was having to keep tabs from across the world. Strokeman seemed terribly motivated, and kept saying he wanted to walk, that he thought he could stand up if we could just help him a little. The physical therapist was a little firecracker by the name of Marisol. She was barely 5 feet tall, and probably not much over 100 pounds, but she was full of energy, a natural teacher and smart, very smart. She also spoke the truth to us, but somehow from a position of “let’s see how we can deal with what we have”. She was the most informative and motivational person we met in our entire experience with this particular hospital. She instructed us all on how to assist Strokeman in all of his turns, how to protect our own bodies from injury, etc. She did actually get him into a standing position for a very brief amount of time. All this made me see the enormity of the road of rehabilitation, and I knew that I could not take him home without a tremendous amount of help. What was I going to do?
As we dispersed that day, it was with a plan of attack. My oldest son and daughter would go home and try to assess our finances. My daughter in law and I would work towards finding somewhere we could take Strokeman from the hospital where he could continue to get the therapies he needed. We called everyone we knew who might be able to help and then began to visit skilled nursing facilities that had been referred to us either by the dreaded social worker, or by a friend who was in the business.
The first skilled nursing facility we visited was clean and bright, and the staff was helpful, but in the end it was a nursing home filled with elderly people and smells of institutional food. We toured, looking especially at the therapy room. We spoke with the administrator about availability, and then went back to the car where I broke down and cried like a baby. Was I really going to have to bring my husband into a place like this? He, who had been playing tennis with me only a week before? It would kill him. He would not survive this. I did not know what to do.
I pulled myself together and we continued on our way. Each place we went my daughter-in-law took command a little bit more while I sank a little bit further into shock. At one point I got a call from an old friend from Africa who had just come back into my life weeks before. Gary prayed with us over the phone, and this bolstered me to continue.
We did, finally, find a couple of places that seemed a little more like rehab facilities and a little less like nursing homes. One place in particular had a separate floor for the skilled nursing patients with a staff that seemed interested in seeing my husband regain as much ground as possible. One of the nurses was a man from Kenya, and having grown up there, I found his accent a comfort (is it racist to be drawn to people with African and Indian accents?). We had only a day or two to make our decision, because the hospital was determined to get us out by the weekend.
At the end of the work day, we made our way back to the hospital. The kids went home, and I took up my place in the recliner next to my husband’s bed. Each time he awoke, it was me he wanted, not the nurses. The nurses or techs would come in to help me turn him, and of course they were in and out doing their assessments and administering the medications. Needless to say, I got very little sleep.
The next day we heard from the Rehabilitation hospitals, one by one, telling us they did not think Strokeman was a good candidate for their charity beds. Jenny and I went to tour a couple of skilled nursing facilities we had not seen the day before, and then we met my son back at the hospital at lunch time. It was Friday, and they wanted us out by Saturday. Things were looking grim.
My son said to me, “This is a long shot, but why don’t you just call the company dad retired from and see if you can get them to reinstate his insurance? All they can do is tell us no.” So, thinking he was crazy but not having many other choices, I called the member services number and talked to a woman about our situation. She verified that we did not have insurance. I gathered up all the courage I could muster, prepared to beg, grovel and cajole and asked, “Is there any way to get it re-instated?” She responded, “Yes, all you have to do is pay the premium, and we will reinstate it effective today.” Never have I wanted to reach through the phone and hug someone so bad! Most of the hospital bill would not be covered, but at least we now had the option of good rehab, and with the promise of salvaging some money from this situation, the hospital agreed to let us stay until Monday when all of the insurance red tape could be taken care of. Things were far from fine, but there was an ever so tiny hint of light at the end of our long tunnel.