It happens all the time. And it just happened again.
Two weeks after my surgery, I am told I'm required to participate in an exercise program to get my body, and particularly my heart, back into shape. Now, I don’t mind exercising. I’ve been exercising regularly for twenty years. What I do mind – maybe more than most people, I don’t know – is people telling me what to do.
There is no rehab facility near my house. There used to be, but it closed down for financial reasons. Apparently, the paltry insurance reimbursements do not justify the expense.
The nearest program is – the way I drive – half an hour away. (The way Dr. M drives – eleven minutes. But she wasn’t driving there. I was.) There’d be a total thirty-six rehab sessions, scheduled three times a week. That’s thirty-six “there and backs” I really didn’t want to make.
Each session is an hour and a half long. Add in the two half-hour drives, that’s two and a half hours out of my day, three times a week. Man, was I pissed.
Well, I went the first time. Everybody was nice. They taught me how to click the electronic “leads” onto five adhesive white circles, and where to stick the adhesive white circles onto my chest and below my ribcage.
(Here’s a “head scratcher” for you. I am required to press three of the adhesive white circles onto the hairiest parts of my chest. Later, when I peel them off, it really hurts, because when I peel off the circles, the chest hair beneath those circles is pulled off with them.
Two days later, I apply the adhesive white circles to exactly the same spots, and when I peel them off later, the chest hair beneath them is pulled off again. The question is, where did that chest hair come from? Did it grow back in two days? I don’t understand it. It hurts every time.)
The reason you attach the electronic leads to your body is so the nurses can monitor your heart function (through readings recorded on a computer a screen) while you exercise. They also take your blood pressure before you start, during your peak exercise time, and after you finish. The exercise is basically an extended aerobics program, so they can see how your heart handles the exertion. Later, they add a light weights routine.
There are four different appointment times. I go at seven-thirty, waking up at six (so I could meditate), and leaving the house by seven. It was winter, it was often still dark when I left home.
I went early, because the traffic was lighter at that time. I also wanted to get my rehab obligations out of the way, so I could have the rest of the day for my personal activities, such as practicing the piano and writing this blog. As a bonus, it was easier to find a spot in the parking lot.
The nursing staff was friendly, knowledgeable, generous and kind. Every holiday was celebrated with appropriate decorations, adorning the walls and hanging from the ceiling. They played music while we trod the treadmills.
The staff did, however, display an inherent nurse’s condition, which I picked up on during my recent hospital stays.The condition boils down to, “Keep the patients in the dark.” It’s not their job to tell us what’s going on. That’s a doctor’s job. If a nurse told a patient what was going on, they ran the risk of being reprimanded.
“Who do you think you are, a doctor?”
The problem is, there are no doctors anywhere in the vicinity. Despite their absence, however, the well-conditioned nurses behave exactly the same way. This makes for an odd situation. The people who are there aren’t talking, and the people authorized to talk aren’t there. There’s something wrong about that.
My fellow rehabbers, they were my tribe. And I don’t mean Jewish. This was my new tribe. We’d all been through it, “it” meaning some form of “they opened me up, and they messed with my heart.” We were brothers. (And a small number of sisters. This sampling, though admittedly small, suggests that heart ailments strike men in disproportionate numbers. Waah.)
After an aborted effort to persuade my cardiologist to get me out of the program early, I dutifully do my time, impatiently counting down the sessions. It’s twenty-five percent over. I’m half done. Ten sessions to go. Then, eight. Then, six. I miss several sessions, due to a family obligation. Others are cancelled, due to Bank Holidays and Christmas.
What I was unaware of was that the rules stated you must complete the thirty-six sessions within fourteen weeks. So yesterday, when I was told I’d be “graduating” in three more sessions, I was taken by surprise. Yesterday was Session Thirty-one.
I could feel myself getting irritated. Again, strangers were controlling my fate. They tell me thirty-six sessions; now, it’s thirty-four. I hate it when somebody’s running my life and it’s not me.
Still, I am getting sprung two sessions early. That’s good. Two fewer six o’clock wake-ups. Two fewer drives to the place. Two fewer ripping the hair off my chest. Two fewer eleven dollars for parking.
Three sessions and it’s over. I’m a lucky Jewish man.
Or so I felt. Until this morning
I’m exercising on my treadmill at home, and after about five minutes, I detect a distinct change in my energy level. Something’s different. I feel listless and tired. I can barely keep up with a treadmill program I’ve been doing regularly for weeks. I am not imagining this. I am definitely dragging. I wonder, “What’s going on?”
And then it hit me.
I don't want to leave.