Going home: It was the moment I had waited for, worked toward, forever, it seemed. I said my goodbyes on the Sixth with a sense of irony: the absence of new friends, who I really wanted to miss, would go unnoticed because, day to day, I would not remember them.
Arriving home: The children were the most welcome sight imaginable. The garden was beautiful, the house tidy, the cat wary. I was exhausted. I had learned physical stress could bring on emotional exhaustion and overloading, and the reverse was also true: I had been so keyed up about going home that by the time I arrived, I was too tired and overloaded to enjoy the homecoming.
Being home: The stairs. If that flight in the rehab clinic was Everest, this was to the stars. My husband and father had installed a new banister so I had something to hold on to on both sides. Still, the stairs seemed insurmountable. I learned quickly that, once down in the morning, there wasn't much upstairs of enough import to necessitate a trip back up, except...
The bed. In our living room we had various chairs and two love seats. Made for love? Maybe. For horizontal comfort? No way. And so I did make the trip upstairs more often than I wanted. I'd do what housework I could and then go upstairs and relax. Perfect, except...
The television. The only one available to me was downstairs, all the way down in the basement family room. And so sometimes I would venture down an even steeper flight of stairs with a badly designed railing mounted on the right. Once there, though, I had a lovely long sofa to lie on and a remote control. Perfect, except...
The bathroom. We had one on the main floor and one upstairs, but not in the basement.
It went 'round and 'round. What had seemed a perfect house, one in which I had happily been housewife and mother for nine years, was still perfect – but not for me. I used about 50 percent of each day's strength just getting from A to B. It was great to be home, but I was exhausted all the time.
People would say to me, "Thank God you've still got your sense of humour," and I would think, "God, that's what you say to someone who hasn't anything else."
We were all right. In their eyes, and sometimes to mine as well, I didn't have much else: I had been reduced from a strong, quick-thinking dynamo of competency to a tentative, bumbling, inarticulate morass of fears and inabilities. And I was, indeed, grateful for my sense of humour. It had always come from left field; during those first months of recovery, it was somewhere over the left field fence, but it was there. My existence, then, elicited dismay and sorrow from friends and neighbours, but was, for me, merely reality, and any reality has its hilarious moments.
Day-to-day life was odd. My left hand, the one competent about lifting, carrying, opening, held the cane; my right hand attempted to do everything else.
Carrying a muffin into the living room resulted in naught but crumbs; several piles where I'd dropped them along the way, or one handful if my right hand got a really good grip. For four months or so, when I was alone in the house, I had to drink every drink and eat every meal standing at the kitchen counter because I couldn't carry spillable things anywhere. I still own coverless, spine-broken, missing-paged books, mute witnesses to being carried. I shot cutlery around the table at mealtimes until my children became as quick as snipers' targets. Even the cat, always a lover of my petting, grew wary of a spasmodic hand that could turn the softest caress into a stranglehold.
Doing housework, formerly a pleasant and simple occupation, became something out of a Mel Brooks Twilight Zone. Mum had The Bag made for me; it was prettier and slightly smaller than, but styled after, a paper carrier's bag. I would wear it all day long, putting things into it as I found them around the house and, in theory, dropping them off where they belonged. In fact, more often than not, by suppertime I would be carrying around about 10 kg' worth of dirty glasses and socks, books, Gameboy games, shoes, etc.
I would go upstairs to put away my sweater and make the beds, a seemingly clear, simple, short sequence of tasks. If I put the sweater in The Bag while I climbed the stairs, I would forget about it altogether. If I carried it up in my right hand, I would drop it unnoticed and therefore unremembered. If I made it to the bedroom with sweater in hand, I would set it on the bed while I doffed The Bag and hung the cane somewhere – and then make the sweater into the bedclothes. My family grew accustomed to finding the oddest things in the damnedest places.
Writing notes to myself didn't work, either. I'd lose them and find them minutes, hours, days later, and not know whether I'd done the task. As a result, half of what needed doing was done twice, and the rest wasn't done at all.
The vacuum cleaner was both the bane of my existence and one of my greatest sources of entertainment. Almost every day saw me in the middle of some room or another, weaving an intricate tapestry: a warp of cord, canister, hose, power head, cane, table leg, throw rug, doorknob, leg, arm, The Bag; and a weft of laughter.
My laughter carried me through the individual moments of each day; the big picture was never funny. I worked each day to the very best of my ability, my strength, my endurance, and saw myself falling further and further behind in every endeavor.
The single undertaking I completed to my satisfaction
during those first weeks home (perhaps because, unlike housework,
it was a finite task) was the horticultural society's quarterly newsletter, for which
I was responsible. I gathered information, wrote articles, did artwork
and typed it single-handedly (literally and figuratively). I've
since read that newsletter; it's pretty good, but I don't remember
[When I consider what I eventually retrained in (journalism/desktop publishing) and what I now do to earn my keep, it's a wonder I didn't have some sort of revelation or premonition with regard to this newsletter. Of course, I may have, but I'll have forgotten it, won't I? :) ]
I saw my doctor weekly; the findings were good. A physiotherapist visited several times; she seemed pleased with my progress. I told each that I was tired all the time, that the overloading was happening more rather than less often, that the shutdowns were longer and harder to overcome. Their answers were along the lines of, "What do you expect? Be patient". Good advice, but hard to follow when you have a house to run and a family. And when you're pigheaded.
My husband, the kids and my parents all offered to help around the house, the yard, to run errands. Sometimes I accepted their help; sometimes I didn't. I was stubbornly, adamantly determined to do things myself. What I succeeded in doing was exhausting myself completely.