No, not that kind of rehab.
And besides, go set up shop in Intensive Care for a week and see if you can’t shake the urge for a drink or a smoke. Being hooked up to a wall of machines and covered in tubes should be enough to wake most people up to the dangers of excess
My rehab is of the cardiac nature, if you haven’t figured that out yet have another drink, on me. Despite a lifetime spent avoiding places like hospitals and gyms, I was surprisingly calm a few Mondays ago when I walked across a frozen parking lot and up the stairs into a gym, that was located inside a hospital.
The room is basic. Some weights, a few treadmills, one elliptical machine (yes, I knew what that was, I’m not a total idiot), a stationary bike and several other machines that you sit on and, well, I haven’t figured out what those do yet.
There was a small group gathered in the middle of the room when I arrived for my first session. They started to check me out, I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do and the entire situation started to make me uncomfortable. It was no fault of the three nurses running the program or my fellow patients, but I have always felt like I was on the outside of whatever side there was. Ever since I was a kid I felt that everyone around me was in on some inside joke while I either wasn’t cool enough to be included, or they just thought I wouldn’t be interested so they didn’t bother.
“Good morning, are you the new doctor,” said a sweet voice coming from an older woman that was in the midst of testing her blood sugar.
“Good morning, no ma’am, I’m not a doctor, I’m the new patient,” I answered softly.
You could tell that this particular group and been together for at least a few weeks and I could sense some of them wanted to follow up with more questions. The group of seven was much older than I am, and older people are noisy, but in this medical setting it seems people respect your privacy more than they would at a cocktail party so I figured it would take them a few sessions to resume the interview.
There was a weigh in and a check of blood pressure before you hooked yourself up to a heart monitor. The monitor is about the size of a cigarette pack but much heavier and clips to your pants or shirt. There are three wires attached to different parts of your chest via super strong sticky patches. After realizing that I was going to have to bribe my wife to shave my chest, we got to work.
A little warm up, some time on the treadmill, some time on the sitting down machine I have not yet named and that was it. Then we sit around until our heart rate reduces enough that we are safe to enter the outside world.
Just like that, it was over. I drove home that first day wondering if I needed to go back and began talking to myself. “I barely broke a sweat.” “I can do that at home.” “I drove a half hour to walk with a group of seniors? I live in the Berkshires, I can do that anywhere.” I’m not proud of that last thought but I promised honesty when we started this project.
The rehab goes for 12 weeks, so by the time I got home I promised myself to give it two weeks. I am glad I did. The exercise is important. But cardiac rehab is much more than that. I soon learned that this rehab is not just for bypass grafting survivors. After of some conversations at rehab I learned that my fellow patients are in the program for a variety of heart issues. We have a few stent holders, some heart attack survivors, some heart attack at riskers and then there is me.
By virtue of my age and my scars I seem to attract a minor amount of attention and I am starting to be okay with that. Talking about my experience has been a great way to heal and talking to some of these older patients helps me realize once again that I am not alone. It is only one hour three times a week but I already look forward to the rehab sessions more than anything outside of my home life.
It has taken me a few weeks to realize that I am not just rehabbing my heart, I am rehabbing my life, and that is hard to explain to those people in my generation that haven’t had a similar setback. It seems easier to relate to the older people in my rehab, perhaps because they are that much closer to death, or maybe they just listen better, or remember worse. Either way I am glad I get to keep going.
There are going to be good days and there are going to be bad days. But at least I still have days.