The Rough Road With Reckless Randy
My first physical therapist in the hospital was Reckless Randy.
He didn’t know I called him Reckless Randy. I don’t think I needed to tell him.
I called him reckless because he was. Through his actions but also in his words. Randy was an awesome guy, really sweet, a 6 foot 6 inches tall ex-marine with the kind of hardened compassion you’ll see in a military man.
Perhaps he was still adjusting to people a little ‘softer’ than his military compatriots. Because, every time he messed up he would do a full 180 degree turn the other way and become eminently sensitive, almost overly kind.
Being shot in the head had left me in a bad way. Neck braces, hand braces (to stop them from curling). I was a quadriplegic when I met Randy. I couldn’t even give him a thumbs up.
Every so often, Randy would come see me in my hospital bed.
‘Hey, wanna have some fun? Nice day outside so why don’t we go for a walk?’
When he took me it’d usually be well above 100 degrees on account of us being in the middle of the desert during summertime. One day I remember registering the thermometer as we left the hospital reception and clocking it at 122 degrees.
I still to this day don’t know why he’d bother to take me out while it was 122 degrees.
On our walks, Randy would try to boost my spirits through his idea of fun. Not a great deal you can do in a wheelchair having been shot in the head, however. At this point I can’t support my bodyweight and I’m covered in braces.
In overcoming the challenge of finding entertainment for us, Randy earned his nickname and then some. Normal people, let alone normal physical therapists, might carry at least some reservations about what he decided would be our ‘fun’ thing to do.
You see, Reckless Randy was not a normal person in the nicest way possible. He didn’t just run contrary to convention, he took normalcy out of the bag and threw it as far as he could, laughing maniacally the whole time.
Randy was no crazy person, I never thought that. He just didn’t care for proper procedure, or at least much preferred to live in his own world.
His own world wasn’t that bad, actually. There existed a lot of toughness and compassion in Randy’s universe. But if you were caught in Reckless Randy’s orbit, then you were in for a hell of a ride.
“HERE COMES ANOTHER SPEED BUMP!’
My wheelchair catches air I’m launched forward on to a bump in the road coming out of the hospital car park and my wheels wobble as I land hard on the tarmac, propelled forward still by the outstretched arms of Randy.
I bounce and shake around in my wheelchair, like a rag doll, unable to hold on with my paralyzed hands in braces as Randy says: ‘YEAAAH! Isn’t this so much fun?!’
Feeling even more raw, battered and sore than before, we would always return to the hospital miraculously unscathed. Despite the fact that brain surgery meant there was literally a gaping hole in my skull, covered by bloodied bandages – ones that needed redressing every single day.
Randy did things his own way and not always by the book. In fact scratch that, almost never.
After running through the speed bumps in my wheelchair I’m sweaty and hot under my assortment of braces. But we wouldn’t go in straight away. Randy liked to sit out in the sun and say:
‘Isn’t it hot out here?’
He would tell me stories.
‘When I was in the marines I was stationed out here in the desert. Feel that heat? It gets so hot we were able to cook scrambled eggs on the top of our tanks,’ Randy started saying.
‘Well why aren’t we back inside the air-conditioned hospital then?!’
‘It’s so hot out here we wouldn’t even need stoves or barbecues or anything,’ he continued, ignoring my protests, ‘On our tanks we could even grill our steaks.’
That was the tough side of Randy. But, after these wheelchair thrill rides, he would try to make amends for my obvious pain and discomfort. That’s what he always tried to do; make things better after it’s been a little bit wrecked.
Usually he would run to Starbucks and leave me unattended in the hot desert sun. Within about ten minutes, Randy would reappear with a strawberry frappucino.
Sometimes, the pain was still too much and he would go get the nurses to bring me dilaudid and valium.
Reckless Randy would always go out of his way to leave me in a better position than before, even if he was the cause of my disturbance. After creating these awful situations he’d turn around and make it up to me. Every single time.
By putting nurses on standby with my painkilling drug cocktail he started taking extra liberties with our wheelchair thrill rides, convinced that this gave him license to really chase that adrenaline rush. He turned that hospital car parking lot into a skate park.
At this point I was 40 pounds underweight because, you know – GUNSHOT WOUND TO THE HEAD – and Randy is there trying to catch air on speed bumps while I literally can’t move.
‘Oh my god, I’m sorry, you’re beat up. I’ll go to Starbucks again. Strawberry frapp?’
Randy would always try to have fun. Reckless fun. Then afterwards, he would do something else to take my mind off of it.
One day I’m returning to my hospital room with Randy pushing my wheelchair when I decide to ask him something.
‘Randy, do you think I’ll ever walk again?’
He pulls up in my room, gets on one knee, fixes his glasses and turns theatrical in his deliverance. Dramatically, he says, ‘No, I do not think you will ever walk again.’
My mom, present in the room, goes running out with tears in her eyes.
Seemingly unfazed, Randy goes to leave.
‘I’ll give you some time,’ he says solemnly.
‘Do you think you can talk to my mom, at least?’ I ask.
‘No, she needs some time to herself too,’ and with that Randy exited.
What I was hoping for – some words of encouragement – were not forthcoming. If nothing else, he was direct and honest. Not diplomatic. He earned his nickname many times over.
Randy would often come by my hospital bed even when he was off-shift, to adjust me in my bed as I couldn’t move.
After telling me that I would never walk again, he would bring it up all the time.
Normal people would have left it but not Randy. He may not have been the world’s best communicator, but he had a zeal for life and that sense of tough compassion… you really felt that he could drag anyone out of their shell and give them just that tiniest bit of enjoyment and meaning to their life. No matter how bad their circumstances.
One day, Randy came into my room and spun me an anecdote that I think was designed to make me feel better.
‘You know what, I knew this one guy who had a spinal cord injury and he could never walk again, too. But man… he had all these girls. I don’t know how he did it. He always had these beautiful girls around him and all he did was work on cars all day long,’ he recounted breathlessly, convinced of the value of this anecdote.
‘You can still get girls!’ he seemed to be saying.
‘Yeah… he would go to car shows and have like 10 girls hanging out in his garage,’ Randy finished, almost wistfully.
It was seldom smooth sailing when you were with Reckless Randy; often it meant taking the bumpiest, most abject route available. But he knew to never give up unless you reach the happy ending that you set out for.
I’m sure he knew he was reckless. My muffled screams on his thrill rides outside of the hospital were probably enough. But he seldom left my side before putting me in a better state than when he found me.
For Reckless Randy, it was not about the journey at all but more to do with getting where you want to go. And Christ do I know, you aren’t always given a straight and honest path to follow.