Being 32 in a rehabilitation hospital, which can look more like a nursing home some weeks, can certainly have its downsides. My doctor was a geriatric specialist who could never overcome his surprise that he was treating someone younger than himself. The night nurses were always worried when they opened my door during the night and couldn’t hear me breathing, so they often woke me up. The other patients stood at my door laughing when the occupational therapist had to give me a lesson in how to use a shoe horn (seriously, what 32 year old has ever used a shoe horn!). A serious health problem resulting from the anaesthetic was overlooked because it was normal for an eighty year old. And there were a lot of times where I just missed talking to someone my own age. My physio argued that I should be released early from rehab because of the age gap between myself and the other patients. Surely I would be better being around people my own age. Yet, in my mind, being in the rehab hospital was for a short time only. I wasn’t moved into a nursing home permanently as a 32 year old. Being in hospital was temporary and having access to daily rehab far outweighed the fact that my next door neighbour was a grouchy woman of 78 who was very blunt and demanding. Also, as I tried to show my physio one day, who just happens to be around the same age as me, the upsides far outweigh the downsides.
Entering my third week in rehab, I was given more freedom. Rather than waiting in my room, I was able to walk (assisted) to other parts of the hospital. The nurses were always able to find me. A garden exists at the centre of the hospital. On most days, mid morning, sun will stream through the roof to floor windows that run from one end of the hospital to the other. The nurses would always find me in a chair, soaking up the sunshine. I wasn’t the only one. Other patients were there as well resting after group classes or waiting for their physio. The physio gym is at the end of the hallway. It also just happens to be the corridor where the catering ladies would wheel out the trolleys with our meal trays. As soon as they came out into the hallway, we all knew the time and we would return, some more hurriedly than others, to our rooms. I was by far the youngest sitting in that hallway. I’ll be generous. A twenty year age gap existed between myself and the next youngest. Unless the patient knew me from seeing me out and about with my physio, or from the hydro pool, or from seeing me walking around, I will always be asked by those sitting next to me, or by those passing by, why is someone so young in the hospital. I kind of stick out. I began to master the short reason as to why I’m a patient in the rehab hospital. Often when a patient heard my quick story, they would sit down if a spare seat was next to me, or they would just continue to stand, and they would tell me their story. I heard stories that nearly had me in tears, others in hysterics of laughter. I heard some very angry responses to circumstances, but I heard some uplifting stories that were positive and trusting even though the patient’s case was as complex as mine or even more so. Other patients just saw my iPad and asked me dozens of questions about Apple, wondering whether a tablet would be helpful for their new lifestyle. I became the ‘young’ person who could give some wisdom about IT, something that a lot of people who know me would find hysterically funny. Intriguingly though, I would have thought, before all of this happened, that a stranger asking me about what happened to me as being condescending or inappropriate; they probably would have received a look that said very loudly, ‘And why is my walking stick your business?’ But in a hospital, where patients are everywhere, seeing a person with a walking stick and who is below forty is very rare, and really, the walking stick plus my age is the elephant in the room; I didn’t think twice about smiling and giving my well rehearsed answer. And I always enjoyed the conversation that always came afterwards. Those conversations were the upside and for a short time, I’m glad I was the 32 year old who could hear the stories of those who had lived twenty, thirty, forty, and even fifty years more than me.