I was getting transferred to my second hospital, which was seven hours away, and I was told that the transport vehicle was going to be a luxury RV, which sounded great considering I was on a rotation of twenty-two pain medications, off life support for a week, and it was 122 degrees outside. Upon being told that transport arrived, I was injected with a generous dose of dilaudid, Valium, and an assortment of other drugs before being rushed out to a beaten down 1989 Toyota Previia, not the picture of “Luxury RV that I was led to believe. To make matters worse, after the transporters got me on a stretcher and my mom in in the back, the air conditioner broke. I was already heated, pun intended about the retired soccer mom van with no AC in the desert summer situation, however, I completely lost my cool when I heard the driver on the phone. “Yeah boss, the van became disabled, the engine over heated, it’s completely shutdown… We need a second transport vehicle.” This time I was promised a Mercedes however, I knew better then to believe these people, again. With that said, when the pain medication wore off, my catheter broke, and found myself in so much agony that I began violently puking and urinating on myself, while my head is wrapped and I am still bleeding from my skull, I reminded myself that if I cannot control my circumstances, I can always control my attitude and how I react to them.
When I arrived at Almaden Health and Rehab, I was relieved to find a cool ocean breeze that gently brushed my skin as soon as I exited the transport vehicle, a stark difference from the 120° desert heat I was used to in Palm Springs. When the two EMS drivers pulled the stretcher out of the transport vehicle, where I laying helplessly in excruciating pain, I was covered in urine as my catheter had broke during the ride to Northern California. Not only this, but my entire torso was painted with puke due to the fact that my stomach had not been able to handle the new pill-form pain medication.
At this low point in my life, arriving at the skilled nursing facility, I was paralyzed from the neck down, in excruciating pain, and I constant mess from consistent puking and urination. I needed a daily round of 22 different medications just to combat the pain I was in. It is no exaggeration to say that I wanted to die.
When the EMS drivers finally transported me inside the hospital on a stretcher, the night shift nurse approached me politely welcomed me to my new temporary home.
“Mr. McDonnell Welcome to Almaden Health and Rehab, can I help you with anything?”
“Yes! I need my pain medication now, I am in so much pain. I think I’m gonna die.”
“Mr. McDonnell, can I offer you some ibuprofen?” he replied.
Fueled by pain and rage, I snapped back, “Excuse me, what’s your name?“
“I apologize, sir,” the nurse smiled. “My name is Robin, it’s nice to meet you.”
Taking a moment to compose myself and channel all of my energy into my lungs, I screamed as loud as my body would allow, “Fuck you, Robin! Ibuprofen? I’m not fucking with that shit!“
He must have felt the pain in my voice and seen the anguish painted across my defeated face because he immediately explained to me that my Dilaudid, Oxycodone, Morphine, and other drugs had not yet been transferred to the facility. However, he was able to provide me with a dose, explaining that the hospital keeps an emergency supply for situations just like mine. I was administered the pain medication soon after, which I immediately vomited back up as my body continued to reject the pill form. Now screaming in pain from not only the gunshot to my head, the hospital ride from Hell, or my contractures as my arms, hands, and feet began to deform, but now, my stomach was getting tortured by these pills that had left me in extreme physical agony. I immediately went back to work vomiting on myself, as I was painfully screaming for help from the nurses. At this point, I could not see my mother anywhere and that was when I heard her crying in the empty hospital room next door. As I was choking on puke I yelled to her, “Stop crying mom, it’s all good!” As I continued to project puke on my chest, and scream in pain, I kept myself optimistic about the situation by detaching myself from my past, believing in myself, and using this moment as a turning point to begin living the life that I always wanted for myself.
Shortly after my arrival, to Almaden Health and Rehab, I was scheduled to have physical, occupational, and speech therapists to work with me and help with my recovery. While she had originally been scheduled to be away on vacation during this time, this one aggressive, and overly motivated, therapist had happily cancelled her travel plans to Israel at the last minute in order to be present for my stay. The first time I met her, she came running up to me with a rather strange sense of excitement on her face, a contrast to the solemn looks people usually greeted me with. “You’re the one, I’m going to get you walking again! You are my next project! I just got done working with a client in your position and she walked out of here.” she beamed, introducing herself as Monica.
As I was paralyzed from the neck down, Monica forced me to use an arm bike, practice standing in a frame, and walking using the parallel bars. Her objective was simple, to make progress without bullshit, excuses, or days off. One of the best acute rehab centers in the country was just down the street and Monica’s goal was to build up my strength to a point that they would accept me into their program. I was so determined to recover that I was willing to do anything that my physical therapist made me do. I never declined to do a single therapy session and was always willing to throw my all into each and every exercise. In fact, when another patient refused to do their own therapy, the specialists would eventually come to get me and spend the spare time on my recovery. I started getting so much extra attention due to others’ inability or refusal to do their own work. What I learned was that, if you help yourself, others will view you as somebody worth helping.
Things weren’t all sunshine and rainbows though. During my stay at the facility, I experienced plenty of strange and traumatic events including being attacked by a blind racist, getting dropped in the shower, meeting a potential mail-order bride, and having a roommate who killed someone and thought nothing of it. Perhaps one of the most bizarre situations was when my roommate started smoking a blunt in his hospital bed. When the nurses came in and told him that he could not smoke inside, he claimed that it was his medicine and that they had no control over when and how he took it. The nurses explained that patients could not have any medication that was not administered by the medical staff and that marijuana was not considered medicine in their hospital. Following this, he started playing games and checking himself out of the hospital to smoke his weed before checking back in later in the afternoon. Eventually, he was banned from the hospital.
After all my hard work and the support, love, and encouragement provided by the Monica, I was finally able to rewire the connection between my brain to my arms, overcoming the paraplegia in my upper body. At Almaden Health and Rehab, I got to the point where I could start moving my right arm, an event that proved to be the spark for my recovery. I could then begin further arm exercises and ramped up hard on my recovery. Shortly after that, I was evaluated by the acute rehab center down the street and was approved to go. It was at that point that a new phase of my recovery started to take shape. Almaden Health and Rehab had played such a big part in my recovery that the staff and I enjoyed a party before I left. My recovery would not be what it is now without them. My mom and I gave the hospital plenty of food and they provided me with balloons and a congratulatory card. However, it was the lifelong friends I made there that I still cherish to this day.
However, one startling memory from the hospital that will always scar me was the visit of my father. My biological father, the one who had abandoned me as a child, showed up in my hospital room after ten years away. He was immediately cold to my situation, although I expected nothing less. As I was lying in my bed, paralyzed from the neck down, he was telling me to stop being a bitch, to get myself up and get a job. I asked him to leave, at which point he laughed in my face and told me that he wanted nothing more than to walk away, just as he did when I was younger. This incident, with my father, taught me the divine meaning of turning points and realized that my time at Almaden Health and Rehab has come to an end and I was ready for the aggressive, and intense, therapy at Santa Clara County Valley Medical Center.