As I was cleaning out my desk (just moving down the hall — nothing too serious), I found  a scrap of paper I made some notes on about brain surgery items I hadn’t yet addressed.  So you get a story about my whomping stick.

When I was trying to get discharged from the hospital, I had to prove to the PT folks that I could walk, or something like that.  After my surgery, I’d lost all function in my left arm/hand, and had been in a hospital bed for nearly a week.  Also recall that balance is a function monitored and controlled in the brain, and my brain was, um, a little “off”.  A little sore having been cut open that week.

I stood up, I shuffled out to the hallway.  I walked.  I didn’t fall, but I did rely heavily on the wall on my left side.  As in, I was leaning on it and sliding along as I strolled.  That would not do, the PT declared.  I was indignant.  They had only said I had to prove I could walk.  They said nothing about walking upright or unsupported.  Blessedly, she passed over the walker she’d brought with her, and handed me a cane.  Somehow, holding a cane in my right hand (left hand = useless) helped me lean less to the left.  I don’t understand it.  I’m no physiatrist.  I guess that’s why I’m a speech pathologist.  Somehow it helped. 

I left the hospital in a wheelchair, though equipped with a wooden cane (cut down from its original height to fit my munchkin stature).  I left the hospital AMA, which was why I had to “prove” myself to the staff.  It was a Saturday, and I’d been told there’d be no chance of discharge on Sunday, when even bustling university hospitals go to skeleton staffs.  This whole mess had started on Friday, when some dum-dum got my hopes up by saying I might be discharged on Saturday.  In the world of being an inpatient post-surgery, that magical D-word is a light at the end of the tunnel. It signifies an end to the endless lack of sleep, the constant poking and prodding and the revolving door of med students eager to practice neuro tests.  One more day?  That’s an eternity when you’ve lost track of time.  I could not bear the thought of staying till Monday.  I needed out.  Now.

So I busted out, first proving myself on my feet, then proving I had adequate supports at home (2 steps to enter the house, one boyfriend to care for me, one parent [or two] to make sure I didn’t fall, etc.), and finally proving I could pee on my own.  Peeing on your own is a beautiful thing, even if you’re scared to death you’re going to crash to the floor (or into the garbage can) as you try to stand up from the toilet.  Ask me how I know. 

So they let me out.  I only puked one time on the car ride home.  As I entered the door, exhausted by the journey, I smelled that “home” smell, a mixture of dog, and old carpet, and familiar foods, and, sadly, mouse poop (though the critters wouldn’t reach critical mass for several more months).  I spotted the couch, and made a beeline for it, saying, “I”m going down.”  The dog sniffed me, mystified by the odor of hospital, dried blood, and nast that had collected all over my body.  Still I was home.

I couldn’t sleep that first night, so I hobbled down the hall, and slid down the stairs on my ass, bump bump bump, to watch mind-numbing “Blind Date”, a perennial favorite of insomniacs.  Finally, mind sufficiently numbed, I crawled back upstairs and found my sleeping boyfriend. 

The rest of the weekend was a little scary, with my balance still unsteady.  I took a spill on the futon, and my parents watched me like hawks, flanking my sides as I took my therapeutic walks around the block.  Each day I walked farther and farther (though I still can’t tell the different between further and farther), until one day the three of us made a half-mile trek to the nearest Starbucks, where I partook in the one beverage I was allowed to have — ice water. 

I remember thinking to myself at one point, as I had grown stronger and stronger, and felt more and more human, that even if I had left the hospital AMA, I would now be home anyway.  I would now be well enough anyway.  That twinge of guilt and recklessness I felt (only psychopaths leave AMA, right?), even as I advocated for what I thought was best for my overall well-being, faded as I realized it was all water under the bridge.

My goal was to feel human enough to go to the 4th of July fireworks, a date not even 2 full weeks post-surgery.  My sister had planned to be in town for that “shift” of care-taking, and I was really looking forward to it.  I needed to use that outing as a benchmark for healing and recovery.  I met my goal.

My sister helped me glue pink ribbon in a spiral around my cane, just to dress it up a bit.  And we went to the fireworks.  We staked out a huge chunk of grass for our blanket and got there early.  By the time the festivities were about to start, people had filled in not only all around us, but some rogue teens had decided it would be okay to sit on the perimeter of our blanket.  I was quite ticked, but withheld my wrath, as I was not supposed to get excited, lest it raise my blood pressure. 

I can’t remember how exactly my cane earned the moniker “Whomping Stick”, but I do remember holding it menacingly as people threatened to come nearer and nearer to our coveted blanket.  I must have looked a little like Frankenstein as I made my way over to get a drink, teetering back and forth clumsily as I stomped on top of everyone else’s blankets, trying to keep my footing on the unsteady ground. 

Later that week we were passing by a strip mall which contains those teenage necessities — a salon, next door to a tanning place, next door to a nail place.  This one also contained a Barbizon modeling “school”.  It consisted of two rooms, one for reception and waiting, I guess, and one for the try-outs, or something.  At any rate, this being a strip mall, we could see in both rooms.  We paused, “reading” the information offered by the signage.  We moved along to the try-out room.  Some girls inside noticed us.  I smiled as wide as my left, paralyzed side would allow, and bowed my head down deeply so they could see my headband scar.  Then, like the hooligans we are, we took off as fast as my hobbling would allow, cackling hysterically at how frightened the poor beauty queen wannabees must have been. 

From Jade Monfils, on the Barbizon site:

“Barbizon enhanced my life by making me feel good about myself on the inside and the way that I appear on the outside.”

I wonder if they could have done that for me? 

From their FAQs:

Do you accept everyone?
The answer is No. All prospects must meet certain requirements including a personal interview and evaluation to determine if they possess the qualities and dedication that Barbizon is looking for.

I wonder if my 38 cranial staples and pink striped Whomping Stick were “qualities…Barbizon is looking for”?