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by Jenny Blaser
My eyes are stinging and the tears that have been flooding my face are now simply crusted to my cheeks. I am still heaving and sobbing, even if the tears have seemingly dried up. I look around the small bathroom through squinting eyes. It’s dark. The little light that spills through cracks around the locked door is enough for me to make out the basic geography of the space. I am lying on a bed that I have fashioned from the five pillows, one wheelchair cushion, and the hand-crocheted blanket I managed to drag in here. I am not very comfortable but I maintain this is a better place for me than the hospital bed on the other side of the door.
“Jenny….?” I look up to see Heather, holding the key to the bathroom in one hand with the other on her hip “It seems you’ve had a rough night.” Her enormous eyes are cool and calm and her broad smile is clearly forced. I have to assume that dealing with a patient who’s locked herself in the bathroom isn’t the ideal way to start a shift.
“That’s an understatement,” I reply while trying to scrape off the caked on gunk that currently covers my puffy and reddened face.
“Let me go get help so we can get you back in your chair.” Heather skips back out the door, her too-long green scrubs catching on the heels of her white runners with each step.
I glance over at my chair and suddenly I am determined to get back in it by myself. I just had the night from hell and I need an accomplishment more than ever. The spasms have begun to reduce in the last few days and I am slowly starting to regain control of my right side. I study my wheelchair and contemplate how to go about this. Simultaneously I am thinking about the horror that was my night.
The day before, I received a new roommate. At first glance, she seemed sweet. A smiling older woman with magnifying-glass glasses making her eyes look the size of Utah and fiery red hair that perched haphazardly on her delicate frame. Initially she was quiet, though a bit overzealous with her use of the call button. It became clear that she had fallen and broken several bones, and this was why she is in the hospital. As the day went on, it was also apparent that dementia of some sort was part of her reality. I was clued in when it became evident she was talking to people who weren’t actually there. I am Deaf and so I simply tuned out her talking and yelling by taking out my hearing aid, but Penny didn’t have such luxuries. While I was not sure what was happening, Penny was regularly alerting me to noises and sounds coming through the flimsy curtain acting as our divide. Every few minutes I was slapped with her paw and met with a panting face two inches from mine, hoping for a treat for a job well done.
This was all annoying but tolerable. Then came the light.
All evening, she had apparently been complaining about my light, asking for it to be turned off. When I finally did turn it off around midnight – hers turned on. Then it turned off. Then it turned on. Again, and again, and again. And again. This is some kind of torture for a Deaf person trying to sleep. I had started off with a pillow over my face. That didn’t suffice, so I crawled into bed upside down and tried to sleep with my head at the foot of the bed under the blankets. Come 3:00am I gave up and went to the nurses station to beg for mercy.
The nurses did take pity on me and offered to let me sleep in the patient lounge. I brought my pillow and a blanket and got set up on the sofa - only to find that there was no light switch for the room and the light was stuck on. Then they decided my spasms made sleeping on the slender sofa unsafe as my body threatened to eject me onto to the floor, and I was booted back to my room.
I crawled back into bed - once again with my head at the foot. My nose was the only part of me exposed to allow for breathing. That was until the stench started to invade my nostrils. It was the unmistakable stench of human waste; of urine and feces combining with sweat and toxicity of expelled and metabolized medications. My roommate had found her diaper.
I am beyond sensitive to scents. It is right up with my sense of taste. I gag in an instant and vomit is never difficult to illicit from me if enough effort is put forth. I lost it at this point – now around 4:00am. I contemplated my options. While the nurses took pity on me once, there was little they could do for me now. I grabbed all of my pillows and my blanket. I piled them on top of me and used what minimal control of my body I had to grab at the walls and pull myself along into the bathroom.
I laid out the five pillows and threw myself down on top of them. I pulled the cushion off my wheelchair and placed it under my head. With my blanket snuggled around me I decided it was time to sleep. That isn’t what happened though. Instead I went and had a meltdown on the bathroom floor. I laid there on my hand-crafted bed and sobbed as loudly as I possibly could for several hours. I sobbed because I was in the hospital. I sobbed because I had lost control of my body. I sobbed because of this woman in my hospital room. I sobbed about everything that needed sobbing over since I got to this place.
I just wanted to go home.
I laid there on my back sobbing until Heather appeared for the first time. The first time she opened the door and turned on the light and I screamed “TURN IT OFF!” in response. She didn’t turn it off. Instead she spun around, closed the door and left. She didn’t come back until I pulled the call bell close to an hour later. At least she respected me enough to give me my space. I had to give her points for that.
I poke at my wheelchair a bit to remind myself of how tippy and precarious this thing is. I grab onto the back of the seat and I start to hoist my body up, relying on my right side and my freakish upper body strength. I take note of the bulging deltoid muscle that I hate so much. I am tall and average build, but with these freakishly defined upper arm muscles. Clearly, it is because I am a wheelchair user and my upper body is how I get around, but these particular muscles have always been a point of tension for me. Go figure that it is what is saving my butt right now and helping me towards independence.
I pause to plan my next move. I am currently resting on my side, half in the wheelchair but three quarters of the way out. I give one hard pull and manage to get my hip into the seat and from here I am golden. I wiggle my bum into position just as Heather opens the door. I look up and see Kelly standing behind her.
“Look at you! Did you do that by yourself!?” Kelly looks rather shocked that I pulled it off. I simply beam back at her and nod. It was nice to see her again. I have become fond of her firm and no-nonsense attitude. I find it oddly comforting to know where I sit with her at all times.
Heather helps me collect my pillows and blanket while Kelly pushes me back into the room. Kelly gives me a smile and a look that I can only read as “behave, Jenny!” before she turns and heads back to her unit.
“I have called someone from cleaning to come and do the whole room. It should help with the smell…” Heather starts to arrange my pillows in bed and pulls down the sheets so I can transfer and get some sleep. I ignore her gestures and I am already diving into my power wheelchair so I can flee from this putrid hole to a place where I can actually breathe. She looks at me knowingly and gives up on trying to get me into bed.
I go immediately to the pantry and get an ice cream bar from my personal food stash. Caramel almond crunch may not be the best breakfast, but I earned it after that night. I settle in next to the nurses station and wait for the cleaning to take place. With each bite I think of how blissful it will be to follow this up with a nap.
“Jenny, Molly just called up. She wanted to let you she will be here to see you around 10. Okay? I think Sasha is coming too.” Heather leans over the tall desk to tell me.
“So much for sleep…” I mutter with disdain.
Jenny Blaser is a young, Deaf and Disabled Queer who loves all things pink and butterflies. She is a chronic story teller who uses narrative as an act of resistance and reclamation of identity and experience. To learn more or to reach Jenny, check out http://fiestydeafanddisabled.wordpress.com/