CAR IS READY
It was Wednesday, November third twenty ten.
I had hobbled down the stairs from my third floor apartment, grasping the rail in my left hand, and carrying my cane in my right hand. The HandiBus was just pulling in front of the apartment. Fortunately I had left enough time to make it down the stairs. And, for a change, there were no cars blocking the sidewalk that led to the apartment’s front door. It had snowed in the night. But only a skiff of snow graced the grass. And, unusually, the maintenance guy had cleared the wisp of snow from the sidewalk.
I gripped my cane firmly in my left hand. Pushed the right hand glass door of the apartment building open. Stepped onto the rubber mat which lay at the foot of the apartment door. Slowly limped toward the HandiBus. When I was about five feet from the door the driver pressed some button or lever inside the Bus. The front door of the HandiBus opened slowly. The driver asked, “Mr. Lachmuth?”
Who the hell else would I be, I thought. Then nicely said, “Yes.” I later learned, from frequent trips on the HandiBus that the driver was required to establish the identity of the customer. I could imagine some poor soul getting on the wrong bus. And, subsequently all hell breaking lose.
A yellow handrail, angling upward, graced the door that had opened to the right. A matching yellow handrail was firmly mounted on the passenger barrier that was to the left of the door opening. The stairs into the Hand-Bus were coated with plastic or rubber. Grooved to ensure traction. I gripped both handrails. Simultaneously grasping my cane and the left hand rail. My hands were not gloved on this cold but not frigid November day. I raised my left foot onto the first step. Levered my right foot up using the power of my right arm. One stair down. Two to go.
I handed the driver the bus ticket I had stashed in my left coat pocket. Zoe, the Recreation Therapist, I had worked with in Unit 58, had warned me that I would need a bus ticket to secure a ride on the Hand-Bus. Either that or a monthly bus pass from Calgary Transit. I did not anticipate riding the HandiBus so frequently in any month that the cost of a monthly pass would be justified. I had a very tight monthly budget.
The HandiBuses were subsidized by the City of Calgary. But the powers that be thought that the people that used the service should pay something. I agree. As a coach I found that my prospective clients did not value my coaching when it was free.
“Sit anywhere Mr. Lachmuth”, said the driver. So I sat in the right front seat. I could look out the front window. And, brace myself if we were going to crash. Ever after that when I rode in a HandiBus I would try to get that seat. But, it took me a while to learn to learn how to work the complicated mechanism of the seat belt and shoulder strap. I learned over time that the drivers were trained to politely intervene and help their passengers. Without said passengers feeling awkward or patronized.
The driver put the HandiBus in gear. And, we were gently underway. “We have one other passenger to pick up before we take you to Sheldon Chumir.” Again, over time, I was to learn the drivers always told you how many stops they had to make before you were due to arrive at your destination. My destination this November 3, 2010 was Sheldon Chumir Urgent Care Center. Sheldon Chumir was named after a former Member of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta and a community organizer. For me the location of Sheldon Chumir, on fourth street and eleventh avenue was ironic. My father had been a maintenance carpenter in the Colonel Belcher Veteran’s hospital that for decades occupied that same site.
My exact destination was the fourth floor of Sheldon Chumir. Zoe had taken me there on our visit a few weeks befoe. The fourth floor was home to the Community Assisted Rehabilitation program or CAR. I was about to begin what would turn out to be five months of rehabilitation that was intended to build on the foundation of the work I had done in Unit 58 at Foothills Medical Center.
Only this time I would add time with a Social Worker to my work with a Physiotherapist, Recreation Therapist, and Occupational Therapist. Evidently I did not need a Speech Therapist .
She had shockingly white, Nordic blond hair. It wrapped a rounded face graced with protruding cheek bones, under glacial blue eyes, and set off with a ski jump nose. Her name was Brandi and she was my newest Recreation Therapist.
Brandi had an effervescent, nothing-gets-me-down personality that immediately reminded me of the Jack Johnson song, “Bubbly Toes”. I used to love to listen to that song when I was feeling down. Too bad I hadn’t brought any of my CDs with me when I moved.
“I see you spent some time with a Recreation Therapist during your stay at Foothills,” Brandi said. “What sorts of things did you do?”
“Well. Actually. We mainly talked. I needed someone to talk to. I did write some poetry and I did some drawing,” I said.
“Well. Time for you to get moving,” she said. I was to learn that Brandi was about action and talking wasn’t action in her mind.
“Why don’t you go over this list of recreational activities. I want you to underline the activities you’ve engaged in in the past. And, as you go through the list also circle the activities you might like to engage in.”
I looked over the list. There must have been four or five dozen activities. As directed by Brandi I underlined some and circled others. She asked me to take the list with me to my home, complete it, and bring it to our next session.
Brandi looked over the list. “I notice you would like to take an Acrylic painting class. I have the calendar of classes from the City of Calgary Recreation here. Why don’t you look over the list of classes and we’ll discuss them next time,” she said.
“Our time is up. Unless you have any urgent questions.”
I didn’t. I took my leave wondering what awaited me at my next visit with Brandi.
In time I would learn that not only was Brandi a woman who encouraged action in others. She was a woman who took action. Decisively.
In December nineteen eighty three I attended a week long Human Interaction Laboratory, sponsored by the NTL Institute. A Human Interaction Laboratory is literally a laboratory in which the participants experiment with and thus learn more effective interpersonal communication. The HI lab has no structure and few rules. One of the rules of course is no physical or verbal violence. It is an intensive, emotional experience in which one learns about oneself – if one is paying attention, that is.
Over the course of the week we thirty became friends. I became especitally close friends with three people in the HI lab. One was a thirty-something, dark haired young women named Karen. She was an engineer for the now defunct DEC, Digital Equipment Corporation. Her aspiration was to be just like Spock the half-human, half-Vulcan First Officer of the star ship Enterprise. Karen had little taste for emotion.
After a few minutes with Alana, I was reminded of Karen – and Spock. Alana was CAR’s by-the-books Occupational Therapist. Like Spock she appeared to have no room for emotion – and softness. I don’t think I ever saw her smile.
Alana started my engagement with her with what I took as a threat.
After questioning me about my “accident” she said this.
“I want you to phone the department of Transportation and tell them you were in a car accident and had a stroke as a result of the car accident. They will suspend your drivers license. And, then, at some time, you will need to be retested for your drivers license. I want you to do this. I don’t want to have to phone them myself. That might be worse for you.”
I was scared. Of her.
When I got home I looked up the number for the Department of Transportation. Asked who I should talk to about this issue. Told someone that I had been in a motor vehicle “accident” and as a result had had a stroke.
A week later I received a form letter from them stating that my drivers license was suspended. And, that I would have to undergo retesting.
I was pissed off at Alana.
Bitch. I don’t know why she had to threaten me. I would have done it … eventually.
But in the end I accepted the wisdom of her approach. Who knew how my stroke would affect my ability to drive. Not me. I didn’t feel any ill effects from the stroke. But who knew what would happen when I got behind the wheel.
However, first thing in the spring of twenty eleven I went for my drivers test.
And, then I was ready to go home to my apartment. I took the elevator down three floors to the ground floor. The elevator door opened and I retraced my path from when I had entered. I had not paid attention to the waiting room when I entered Sheldon Chumir just over an hour ago when I was dropped off. Now I had time to examine it.
Several plastic chairs lined the walls of the room. In the corner was a wooden end table with a black plastic phone resting on it. That phone was to become critical to me several months later.
But, again I digress.
There were several others waiting. All men. I went over to a chair farthest from the others and sat there. Zoe had told me that the HandiBus driver would come in to the waiting room and call my name and the name of any others who shared our routing. The organization that ran the HandiBuses had many, many buses. As a customer I had to make sure I got on the right one.
About twenty minutes after I had sat down a driver came in and called my name. I stiffly got up and cane in hand hobbled over to the driver. He guided me to his bus whose door was open. He stood aside as I struggled up the stairs. Then came in the bus to aid me into my seat. This trip I was sitting three rows back and on the left side behind the driver. There were two other people, a man and a woman, already sitting on the bus. The driver went around the front of the bus and got in the door at that side. The drivers door.
He pulled a complicated metal lever which closed the door. He said, “Brenda. I will be dropping you off first. And, then I will drop of Stan. Lyle you will be off last. About forty minutes from now.”
True to his word the driver had me in front of my apartment forty two minutes later. I fumbled with the seat belt mechanism and he had to help me. I gingerly went down the stairs and walked carefully through the fresh fallen snow that graced the sidewalk. I pulled the glass door toward me and entered the small rectangular lobby of the apartment building. I took my key out and unlocked the inner glass security door. I clumsily opened the door and turned left.
I walked down the corridor turned left in front of the laundry room and opened the door to the stairwell which was located opposite to the laundry room. The apartment building did not have a elevator. So I would have to climb my way up thirty five stairs my third floor apartment. I grasped the railing with my right hand, my left hand pushing up on my cane to boost me up the stairs. I summited the first seven stairs and turned sharply a hundred and eighty degrees to the next flight of stairs. Five flights to go.
Twelve minutes later and I opened the stairwell door and looked upon my apartment door. I opened it, stepped through the door, leaned my cane against the right hand wall, closed my door. Walked on the carpeted floor to my bedroom and flopped on my bed.
I was exhausted.
An excerpt from CRASH! Memories of a Healing Journey, All Rights Reserved, Lyle T. Lachmuth