And You Thought I Couldn’t Get any Crankier (3)

(CAPTION TO PHOTO) The author, saying good-bye to his beloved walker. Photo by Karen Gonzalez.

Cantankerously Yours

And You Thought I Couldn’t Get any Crankier (3)

By Wendell Abern

Dear Readers,

It’s all over! My rehabilitation has been completed! I’m finally walking without my walker. Well, most of the time.

The seizure I had in late January is now almost six months behind me. As are two rehab stints, one at HealthSouth, the other at SunriseHealth & Rehab.
Left ‘em both in shambles.

After a month at HealthSouth, I went home, only to run into a strange problem: I couldn’t eat. Consumption of any food made me sick. Unheard-of. The legendary Abernian tradition for wolfing down unconscionable amounts of food was at stake!

Back to Florida Medical for another five days. After an undending barrage of acronyms — EEGs, EKGs, X-rays, CT scans, MRIs, and a bunch of other C’s, G’s and T’s — specialists representing a wide range of -isms came up with a brilliant medical deduction: I was sick.

They changed my medications. And sent me to SunriseHealth & Rehab for what turned out to be another month.

I hit a snag on my first day.

“Hey!” a nurse shouted at me. “Why aren’t you in Occupational Therapy?”

“Because I just got here,” I said, unpacking.

“Check your schedule. You’re supposed to be in the OT room with the others.”

“No, I’m supposed to be in a movie with Halle Berry, but the rest of the cast hasn’t showed up yet.”

She put her hands on her hips. I crossed my arms.

She frowned. I smiled.

She marched out of the room. I hung up my sweat pants The nurse returned three minutes later with a muscular young guy.

She smiled. I frowned.

“This is Ken,” the nurse said. “He’ll be your occupational therapist.”

“Hi, Ken. Where’s Halle Berry?”

“She’s in the OT room, waiting for you.”

Yeah. Right.

The OT room was filled with blocks, balloons, empty cardboard boxes, four patients in wheelchairs and three therapists.

“Where’s Halle Berry?” I demanded.

“She’ll show up after you put together this wooden puzzle.”

I did. She didn’t.

The next morning, it got worse. After breakfast, I ambled into the small gym for my first physical therapy session. Briefly, I scanned the equipment: exercise bikes, treadmills, various heavy objects, oversized wooden blocks, ankle weights and other torture devices.

Mentally, I wrote a caustic letter to my congressman.

Then my physical therapist introduced herself to me. Cari. Beautiful young blonde with eyes bluer than Lake Michigan.

Note to all rehab patients: institutions like SunriseHealth hire beautiful young women who had served as drill sergeants in the Army and Marines … then train them to be innocent-looking physical therapists.

“Why aren’t you in your wheelchair?” Cari asked.

“Didn’t need it. I used my walker to get here.”

“Who told you that you didn’t need your wheelchair?”

“Jennifer Lopez.”

Cari ignored me. “From now on,” she said, “you come here in your wheelchair until I tell you otherwise.”

It had taken a whole month at HealthSouth to rebuild the strength in my legs. But I had just struggled through an alphabet soup array of problems – all while flat on my back — at Florida Medical. Hadn’t used my legs in more than a week. They were rubber again.

Cari started with some basic exercises.

“Raise your right leg, from the knee, so it’s straight out from your body.”

I did.

“Fine,” she said. “Now do 20 of those.”

“How many?”


“Let’s negotiate,” I said. “I’ll do ten.”

“Thirty,” she said.

“What! That’s not a negotiation, it’s a declaration of war!”

“Forty,” she said.

“Okay, okay. I’ll do twenty.” And I did.

“Now the other leg.”

After I finished, she came up with five other exercises. “Very good,” she said when I’d finished.”

“What’s good? Everything aches.”

“We haven’t even begun,” she said, smiling. “Now let’s get your walker.”

We walked up and down the hallway twice.

Finally, after almost an hour, she sent me to Occupational Therapy. Ken’s turn. He had me haul six heavy towels out of a big cardboard box, fold them and return them to the box.

Then repeat the process two more times. My arms ached. Under my breath, I cursed him in Yiddish.

“I know what a putz is,” he said.

“Good. You’ll be happy to know you qualify.”

After ten days, I decided to take my walker and go for a stroll up and down the hallway.

When I neared the gym, Cari popped out.

“What are you doing?” she demanded.


“You can walk without your wheelchair when I say you can!”

“You’re so compassionate.”

“Back to your room!”

A few days later, when I started my therapy session with Cari, I said, “I can’t believe what I heard at breakfast. Most of the patients at my table actually think you’re a great therapist!

“I’m sure you set them straight.”

“The vote was six to three in your favor,” I said. “And I patently refuse to reveal whether I am a blue state or a red one.”

“Doesn’t matter. Today, we’re going for a walk outside. A long walk. Then you’re going to learn how to get in and out of a car and the proper way to step off a curb.”

“Yes, Nurse Ratchett.”

“Oh, you know her! She was my prize pupil. Until she was nice to a patient. Then I flunked her.”

Cari put up with me for the entire time I spent at Sunrise Health. I have to admit, she spearheaded a program that had me back on my feet and walking without my walker in a month.

The day I left, she said, “See how much good the physical exercise did?”

I nodded. “Listen,” I said, “nothing personal, but I hope I never see you again.” Then I actually kissed her on the cheek.

Cantankerously Yours,
Wendell Abern