Dropped in the Cuckoo’s Nest

It had taken me 65 years to get to the point where I had no stress in my life.  Having lost my Last girlfriend, I found myself free at last.  Free to eat when I felt like it, free to sleep when I felt like it, free to read a book or listen to the radio as I saw fit.  It took some adjusting but the new freedom was something I truly relished.

I have been in relationships all my life; from my mother to my first wife of 28 years, to a darling sexmaniac for four years, then married to a raging eco-feminist for two years, then living with a Blonde Ditz for two years, and finally a beautiful nymphomaniac I met in Costa Rica and followed to Canada for two miserable years. 

I’ve been through menopause four times, hemorrhoidal surgeries, two caesarean sections, cancer twice, dental surgeries, thyroid issues and I’ve never been sick more than a day in my life!  No wonder I’ve had stress through most of my life.  I took care of my mother for the last five years of her life, a wonderful experience in which I got to know her like never before.  When she passed away at the age of 83, I realized I had no further obligations and was free to do as I chose.  I mean, in the course of these relationships I’ve dealt with a dozen children, only two of which were my own. I’ve lived with two stepdaughters going through puberty, a 23-year-old stepdaughter with the child of her own, a 15-year-old stepson undergoing born-again religious issues later turned Goth, as well as addiction issues, abandonment issues and all sorts of relationships. No regrets, but I have had a lot to deal with.

So, when Mom passed away and my relationship with the Blond Ditz was coming to an end, I decided to seek my own happiness.  But where?  It had to be warm, I was burned out by the Buffalo, NY winters, it had to have water in abundance and plenty of sunshine.  I did some research and, after finding Eric Weiner’s book, The Geography Of Bliss, where he posits that Costa Ricans are the happiest people on the planet, a fact which has been stated many times, I decided to give it a try.  The Blond Ditz, who had decided that sex wasn’t very interesting after all, had taken a cruise with her daughter so I decided to take a six-week vacation Costa Rica.  It had a rocky start!


I had answered an ad for a place called Cascada Verde which promised a delightful two months for $300 a month and some volunteer work.  So, I bought a ticket for Costa Rica only to be informed the following day that the place had been taken over by new management and all bets were off.  I was panicky!  Well, I figured the die had been cast and, though I hadn’t traveled much in the last 10 years, I was off.

As it was March and I had been carbohydrate loading for several months the heat and humidity of the coastal town of Uvita proved oppressive.  I didn’t sleep or eat for the first week I was there and I felt oddly out-of-place as the only 62-year-old among a bunch of twentysomethings.  Then I met Helen!  We didn’t exactly hit it off the first few times we talked.  It should’ve been a hint but, for some reason, I wound up following Helen around for the next two years enduring cancer surgery, an Edmonton, Alberta winter and a serious mental pummeling.  But, the sex was good, very good!  When she returned to Edmonton from Costa Rica in March I stayed.

So, there I was in Costa Rica, I woke up every morning knowing that I had full control of my life for the first time.  No concerns about money, obligations, or things I had not done.  My new-found friend, Roxie, an 85 pound rottweiler mix, was giving me all the attention and affection that I required at far less cost than a girlfriend.  I mean sex is great but, is it worth the cost?  Celibacy has its merits.

I mean, I was living in the tropics in a perfect climate, 85° at noon and 68° in the morning, low humidity, plenty of sunshine, $250 a month rent which included utilities, DSL, cable TV.  What more could I ask for?  I was eating a beautifully balanced diet, taking no medications.  I was home at last!  And then, it all changed.

One night I was having dinner by the swimming pool and enjoying some fine Costa Rican rum when I realized how drunk I was.  I stumbled back to my cabina, stepped over my dog, slipped on the wet bathroom floor and wound up head down in the shower with my chin pinned to my chest. I laid there for 10 hours, until my neighbor found me at 8:00 AM the next morning.  I had lain awake the entire time, conscious, sleeping in bits yet aware that I was in serious trouble.  My neighbor and landlord got me out of the shower, somehow, and I wound up in the emergency room of an under-staffed, low-end Costa Rican Hospital.  I was parked under a pair of bare fluorescent tubes for three days.  I could feel nothing below my neck and was unable to move.  I kept asking for water and had doctors tell me on several occasions that I was drinking too much water.  There were about 40 beds on the ward, and I could touch the hand of the person next to me.  Each patient had three or four friends and relatives serving as nurses and advocates.  On the third day I had one of my friends sign me out.  I said I would rather lay in the parking lot than spend another day in that room.  I was totally miserable, not in pain but completely numb, dehydrated and very hungry having been offered only salty soup and coffee.

I’d had a conversation with a neurosurgeon who informed me that if I had immediate surgery and three months of rehab I would be “better than new” and it would be $25,000.  He then went on vacation for 10 days.  The only other neurosurgeon in the region would be on vacation to the end of next month.  When Dr. Pena returned he informed me that if I didn’t immediately have the surgery, my muscles would atrophy in 3 to 6 months and I’d be paralyzed for the rest of my life!

Well, not having $25,000 on hand, my choices were limited.  A good friend of mine knew of a registered nurse who was not working and introduced us.  This turned out to be a lifesaving event.  The nurse had a young friend, who was available for nominal fee to basically move in with me and take care of my daily needs.  Additionally, he was a very talented massage therapist.  Unfortunately, my Spanish is limited and he knew no English.  My entire goal at this time was just to remain comfortable for several hours at a time.  For the first three days we stumbled along with him massaging me for as much as 2 hours a night just to get me comfortable enough so I could sleep for 6 hours.  I had a Foley catheter which basically drained by bladder continuously and had to be emptied on a regular basis.  My landlord had rented a hospital bed for me.  It wasn’t easy but I survived.

On the third day we finally got a translator and Franck explained to me exactly what the problem was as well as a brief history of my medical life.  He knew details I had never told him about!  He also explained that his job was to get me stable enough to return to the United States to have the required surgery.  So far,  he is the only one of all the medical personnel to actually make an accurate diagnosis and do exactly what he said he would do.  He spent the next six weeks getting me ready to get on a plane to return to the US and to the local VA hospital in Buffalo.  He, and my nurse Betsy, were instrumental in my survival.  I don’t know what I would’ve done without them.

Now, keep in mind, I had no idea if VA was going to take care of my surgery and/or rehab but, I had nowhere else to go.

I arrived at VA on a Friday night after my sons had picked me up at the Airport.  I was immediately sent to Buffalo General Hospital by ambulance for evaluation.  The following day I was returned to the VA hospital to wait for the results of the evaluation.  During that time I had an interview with a neurosurgeon, Dr. Leonardo, who agreed that I did indeed need the surgery and she approved it.  It was performed a few days later.  This was roughly seven weeks after the accident.  Two days later I was transferred to the Spinal Cord Injury/Rehab Center in Syracuse, New York,  where I spent 5 months in rehab.

Now, despite the name, it seems that I am the first quadriplegic to actually go through this new facility. Don’t get me wrong, I think the Syracuse facility is excellent. It’s just that it’s too new and very poorly designed for the nurses to do their job. Additionally the supervision has a long way to go to provide adequate training for the employees. The design flaws include poor layout; poor location of call bells, door access, mirror locations, commode facilities, sink access but, the greatest flaw is the lack of WiFi in the rooms.  In fact, the only access to WiFi is at the ground floor which was basically inaccessible to me without supervision. It was only after five weeks of asking that I was informed that nurses did not have time to supervise me at WiFi. I finally had a I’mfriend get me a WiFi hotspot and help me install it in my room. So, for the first six weeks after the accident I had no communication whatsoever with the outside world! No Internet, couldn’t dial a phone couldn’t even find my glasses.  Now, that’s lost!

Then, to add insult to injury, being the only quadriplegic on the ward, I found the staff and management seriously lacking in the skills required to deal with my particular case.  The longer I am here, the more convinced I am that the personnel and management here have no idea how to deal with someone in my condition.  Seems odd for a Spinal Cord Injury facility, doesn’t it?

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