Recovering from Recovering


Recovering from Recovering

By Wendell Abern

Dear Readers,

              As some of you know, I experienced a seizure last year. Which included all of its accompanying  pals:  Ambulances. Stretchers. Emergency rooms. Blood tests. X-rays. MRIs. EEGs. Spinal taps. Smiling nurses with syringes sporting foot-long needles. Doctors who looked like they hadn’t even been b’ar mitzvah’d yet.

Wendell Abern. Photo by Allen Giese.

              Since then, I’ve been recovering. Beginning with rehab at HealthSouth. 

              I will not bore you with lengthy descriptions of exercise machines, demanding trainers, and the grueling process of learning  to walk again. Suffice it to say that I “graduated” after a month, and they gave me a T-shirt emblazoned with the announcement, “My Independence Day … Back to the Things I Love.”

              Plus a box of Pull-Ups.

              “What are these?” I asked the nurse who had given them to me.

              “They’re called Pull-Ups,” she said.

              “Yes, I know how to read. But what are they for?”

              “Um … protection. In case you leak.”

              “In case I – wait! What? Are you saying these are adult diapers?”

              “They’re gender-specific. These are the male version.”

              “I refuse to wear diapers!

              “Up to you. We also have another gift. From your kids.”

              She smiled. I did not like that smile. Something sinister was about to happen.

              About a year or two after I’d become a widower, my kids realized I had a tendency to flirt with women. Okay, I admit it. It’s true. I happen to like women. Still, that did not prepare me for the other T-shirt the nurse handed me.

              The wrapping paper around the T-shirt included a Post-It note, reading, “Never wear this to any Temple, or to any Sunday services.” The front of the T-shirt read, “Senior Sleaze.” The back, “Aging Slut.”

               After my stint at HealthSouth, I went home and proceeded to get sick again. Couldn’t eat. The mere thought of food churned my stomach sideways. My daughter had assumed the role of home overseer, and following a siege of dry heaves, she called 9-1-1.

              Another ambulance.  Another stretcher. Another hospital stay, peppered with countless needles. After five days, they declared me ready for more rehab. This time, they sent me to SunriseHealth and Rehab.

              My only real problem at SunriseHealth was a rehab nurse named Cari.  A Marine drill sergeant disguised as a physical therapist.

              I have never been able to verify it, but I’m convinced Cari had been planted there surreptitiously … by my kids. Beautiful blonde. Tall. Slim. Lake Placid blue eyes.

              “You can too walk some more!” she’d bark at me after ten or fifteen steps. “You’re  walking to the end of this hallway or I’ll see you get no dessert for three days! C’mon, walk! Heel to toe! Heel to toe!”

              Cari did not permit shirking, which she considered pathetic malingering. Grudgingly, though, I have to admit to her expertise. I was walking with a walker in five days; without a walker in ten.

              My stay at Sunrise Health & Rehab did have some uplifting moments. I discovered a huge heartfelt, caring support group:  friends from my congregation; neighbors whose last names I don’t even know; bridge players from all over South Florida.

              But nothing and no one compared to the special attention given me by dear friends, Gary and Karen.

              One night, under the cover of darkness, they smuggled in a cheeseburger and milk shake from my favorite five-star restaurant, Steak n shake.

              And they outdid themselves three days later, on my birthday.

              Several years ago, I had mentioned to Gary and Karen that I considered myself the world’s biggest dog-lover. Somehow, they remembered that. And so, on the day I turned 85, a service dog named Koontz padded into my room (along with his handler).

              Koontz may be the sweetest dog in South Florida. We got along  famously. For a half-hour, we schnoogled together. Lots of chortling from me. Lots of tail-wagging from him.

              When I called my kids and told them about it, my son said, “What a great birthday gift!” My daughter agreed, saying, “That’s about the sweetest, most thoughtful gift I’ve ever heard of! For anybody! For any occasion!”

              “I hope you thanked them appropriately!” my son said.

              I yawned. “Not really, I said. “I like to give them a hard time. Told them my arm was now in a cast because the dog had tried to take a chunk out of my forearm.”

              A double chorus of, “DA-ad!”

              “I told them that Gary and Karen had somehow found the only anti-Semitic dog in South Florida.”


              My kids, of course, knew I was only kidding. And when I told them I was wearing the “Senior Sleaze” T-shirt to all of my physical therapy sessions, they didn’t believe that either.

              The worst part of my year-long recovery process was being told I could not drive. Florida law states that a seizure patient must wait six months before driving again.  

              Imagine having to ask someone for a ride every time you need a loaf of bread or have to pick up a prescription! I had to choose between bankruptcy proceedings after endless rides from Uber, or extending already-overused friendships. I chose the latter.

              Thank  heavens for Rick, a friend from my congregation. He ended up driving me everywhere. Doctor appointments.  Endless medical tests at the Cleveland Clinic. Shopping trips to Publix.  Treks to bridge games in Weston and Pembroke Pines.

              One day, I asked Rick to show up at my place at around one. When he arrived, he asked, “Where to, today?”

              “Strip club of your choice,” I said.

              “Very funny,” he said. “Don’t forget,” he said, “I have your kids’ phone numbers.”

              I frowned. “Okay, okay.” I gave him the address of my cigar store. He wasn’t very happy about that either.


              The year 2018 was some year for me. I was actually sick for about six weeks. And recovering for ten months. Now I’m recovering from the recovery.

Cantankerously Yours,

Wendell Abern