Celebrating the Triumphs

I have been an outpatient now for eleven weeks. From week to week, seeing the tiniest of improvements and then experiencing bigger setbacks, takes persistence that I honestly thought was sometimes beyond me. I have also seen how transient patient life is at the rehab hospital; most patients pass quickly in and out of the hospital. But then there are the few of us where rehab work is for the long haul, never quite reaching that graduation point. Another patient, a bloke we shall name John for the sake of this retelling, started as an outpatient a few weeks after me. We shared the same appointment times each week, although with different physio teams, and crossed paths regularly, but never connecting.  This changed when John became an inpatient. He wasn’t progressing as an outpatient. He remained a paraplegic. I saw the familiar red band around his wrist one afternoon. That was how our first conversation started. At one point in the short exchange, he looked at me glumly and said, with anger rising in his voice, that he just wanted to stand up straight again, as though the desire to simply stand was too much to ask for. It’s been four weeks now since that initial conversation. I was in the pool, doing my step ups, still holding onto the rail. My goal is to be able to step up and down without holding onto anything. I had my back to the pool entrance, concentrating upon the repetitive movement of stepping up onto a step and then down again. I heard the familiar click of someone entering and the click as the door shut. I didn’t turn around though. I just kept going. The Physio came over and remarked that I may wish to see who just came in. I looked at her quizzically and turned anyway. I didn’t recognise John at first. And then I realised who I was looking at. John was standing with the use of a walking frame. He had walked from his room to the pool. I know what it means to long terms patients like John when they hit their goal. I’m one of them. Getting there is indescribable, the elation and sense of achievement is overwhelming. I started clapping and the tears welled up in John’s eyes. This was a triumph that he never truly believed he would achieve. I saw hope in his face again. I had never seen his face light up with a smile. And even better, he could now go home. Week after week, having to simply persist, it’s easy to start believing that nothing will ever change. But with time there is change and there are triumphs. This is the beauty of being part of the few, the few who have to persist week in and week out; we are able to be part of each other’s triumphs and celebrate them together.