I waft into the ship’s dining salon on the arm of a tuxedoed escort, pausing at the top of the stairs to demurely show off my gown. He leads me to my table and gratefully accepts the slight smile I give him as thanks. As I sink gracefully into my chair, attendants rush to light the cigarette at the end of my long, long, long enameled holder…

———Scrrrrrrrritch. Yeah. Right. ———————

Uhm, well… I really DO enter the dining salon three times each day, escorted by a smiling attendant, but I’m wearing wheels instead of a ballgown, which means the stairs would be damn near impossible. Fortunately, there aren’t any.

It’s surprising how closely my current home–an assisted living facility in Walnut Creek–resembles a landlocked cruise ship. It’s a huge change of scenery–and pace–that’s taken some getting used to.

On Friday night, Sept. 16, 2016, I fractured my left femur just above Elmo, my replacement knee. I lived in a wheelchair, facing hip-high amputation of my left leg, for about two years while I fought health care bureaucracy, cost-conscious HMOs, and myself to figure out a way to walk again. (Spoiler alert: Elmo won!)

I documented my adventures in remobilization in this blog. They’re awfully self-indulgent, occasionally icky, and probably only of interest to me, but on the off-chance that they help someone else with a catastrophic injury, I’m keeping them together here. If you don’t want to read them, that’s OK; I still love you. If you do, you might want to start from the beginning, on the archive page that lists all posts.

The Kaiserbeast, in its infinite bureaucracy, kicked me out of the post-op rehab center a couple of weeks after I arrived. My Kaiser coverage, they smugly reminded me, only worked until I was medically stable. Functional had nothing to do with it, so at that point I was largely on my own, accommodations-wise.

The docs were unwilling to let me travel to Portland just yet–too much stress on my newly repaired leg–so, effectively, the Kaiserbeast stranded me some 600 miles from home. I wasn’t up to the task of caring for myself in a house or hotel room alone–I’d only just figured out how to get out of bed without help–and my knee could only flex 30 of the required 60-90 degrees I’d need to even pretend to use a walker well.

The PTs raised a ruckus–they wanted at least a couple more weeks of daily therapy with me–but the Kaiserbeast just smiled. “Let us know where you land,” it said genially, “and we’ll consider getting some kind of in-home therapy for you. Eventually. Probably. Ta!”

Raise your hand if this astonishes you.

Nobody? Thought not.

Fortunately, I’d already pulled some retirement money out of hiding, enabling me to pop $6,500 on my new home-away-from-home. And I had secret allies in the Kaiser bureaucracy; after hearing diddly-squat on the therapy bit for a week (and being told that I would only receive once-monthly appointments if I shifted to outpatient PT), I dropped them a despairing line. 90 minutes later, I had a wonderful new PT guy, visiting twice per week.

Tell me, Kaiserbeast: What happens to patients who don’t have $6,500 and secret allies? Are those the folks I see camped out in your hospital lobby?

Anyway, that’s how I came to live at The Court, a beautiful little spot in Walnut Creek with plenty of caring attendants, a great chef, and soothing surroundings. It’s a bit like taking a six-week cruise on the old Queen Mary (I was gonna say Titanic or Lusitania, but remember where they ended up–let’s not go THERE). For example:

  • The food’s good, made to order with fresh produce. Until you’ve eaten the “guess the entree” meals in a rehab center, you’ll have no idea how welcome this is.
  • You have your own private “stateroom,” a studio apartment with an attached bathroom and kitchenette.
  • Depending on its location you may also have a balcony for sitting and sunning, with a nice view of the outside world. Mine regularly showcases deer and hummingbirds.
  • There are lots of scheduled activities–bingo, fitness classes, movies, etc.–every day.
  • Your personal attendant looks after your living space and anything you require.

Of course, your personal attendant is more likely to be carrying walkers and medications than icy champagne buckets and secret notes from would-be lovers, but you can’t have everything.

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There’s a waiting list to get into The Court–it is MILES better than the place that housed my Alzheimers-stricken father in his last years–but I lucked out. The next guy on The Court’s waiting list couldn’t move in for about six weeks, and was about to lose his spot when I came along.

I was able to fill in the gap in occupancy, so they slotted me into the empty stateroom, er, studio. I’m currently paid up until the second week in December.

I’m the youngest person here by maybe 25 years, which makes for some interesting, if one-sided, conversations. (They talk, I listen). I still haven’t figured out how a family could drive hundreds of miles with a goat strapped to the fender of their Model T… but it’s fueling all kinds of short stories in my head.

Like a cruise ship, there’s assigned seating at meals, and I’ve apparently drawn one of the more sentient tables. The fuzzier folk are seated elsewhere, and my dining companions have MORE than intact faculties, thank you very much.

I’ve also been drafted onto the women’s Trivial Pursuit team. We battle the men (all two of them) every Monday afternoon. Apparently the men had a year-long winning streak until I joined; since that happy time we haven’t lost a game. My chief competitor, apparently with an eidetic memory, still beats me by a couple of points each game.

I spend my day reading, writing, sunning for vitamin D, and exercising; the PT has me doing small things with The Leg meant to get it used to bending and standing again. Nothing too strenuous, and I’ve learned to distinguish between “good pain,” i.e., the nasty side effects of stretching a lot of scar tissue around Elmo, and “bad pain,” the you-are-pushing-the-busted-bone-past-safety-STOP kinda feeling.

It’s Thanksgiving today; in exactly one week I’ll be back with Dr. Dan, checking my x-rays for signs of bone growth. Dr. Dan’s pretty confident that there WILL be callus, the pre-bone formation that starts showing up six to eight weeks after injury (“We threw the kitchen sink at that bone”).

I sincerely hope so, after a year’s worth of negative-growth x-rays. I guess we’ll know on 11/30.

If Dr. Dan’s right, I’ll switch from “toe-touch-down-weight-bearing” on The Leg to “weight-bearing.” I’ll start standing equally on BOTH feet, and the added load on The Leg is supposed to force it to strengthen and accelerate regrowth on that pesky femur. PT and OT want to give me a couple more sessions each once that happens, to retrain my body for walking like a normal person…

…and then I can go home, and maybe get back to this business of living. If there’s no sign of growth, well…we’ll figure that out when the time comes.

Until then, I’m exercising, writing, exercising, reading, strength-building, exercising, and drifting.