Donna came home from her three-week stint in rehab (she broke her ankle in two places and needed surgery to repair it). I wheeled Donna through the lobby, into the elevator, and down the hall to our apartment. I opened the front door and got stuck with the wheelchair in the foyer.
When we bought our apartment, I insisted on being in a “roll-in” building with an elevator. For over twenty years I assumed our apartment was vaguely accessible.
Wheelchairs, at least the basic ones provided by Medicare, need a lot more space for navigating than I imagined. I thought I had cleared a path through the apartment, but it was too narrow. I had to move the hutch (full of Donna’s mother’s good china) just to get her into the apartment. To get into the living room, I had to shift the dining table, the coffee table, and the couch. To get into the bedroom, I had to move the bed, the dresser, and her reading chair.
I knew that neither the wheelchair nor the walker would fit through the bathroom door, which is 24″ wide. Even the knee scooter is a tight fit. She can use the scooter to get to the shower, but it is awkward for the toilet. I wouldn’t want to do that maneuver if I was in a hurry to pee. The commode will be in the bedroom until she is more mobile.
We have help. Medicare pays for a visiting nurse (twice a week), a home health aide (five times a week for four hours a day), and a visiting physical therapist (twice a week).
The first person who came to visit was Pema, the visiting nurse and case manager. She is from Nepal. I opened the door and introduced myself as Donna’s partner. She was friendly and talked with both of us about the services that the agency provides. She seemed completely non-judgemental.
The second person who came to visit was Fatou, the home health aide. She is from Senegal, and wears a hijab. I introduced myself as Donna’s partner. After Fatou got settled in, I ran some errands and went to the gym. Donna thinks the aide is there to help her, but I think she is there to give me a break. While I was out, Fatou referred to me as “he”. Donna was flummoxed and did not explain our relationship. It remains unexplained.
The third person who came to visit, was Miriam, the physical therapist. She is an East Coast lesbian in her sixties. I introduced myself as Donna’s partner. She got the butch part of the picture, but through her own lens. I’m not sure she saw the trans part. She ordered me to roll up all the rugs and rug pads. She ordered Donna to stop relying on the wheelchair and to start using the walker to get around the apartment.
Donna is a good patient. She accepts that until she heals, she is dependent on me, Pema, Fatou, and Miriam. She doesn’t mind asking for help. She is willing to do her exercises. I’m impatient. I can’t see Donna’s broken ankle heal, the way I could see her recovering from heart surgery. I get rattled every time Donna interrupts me to get her something. I get flustered when Donna makes a second request while I’m in still the middle of doing the first one. I get stressed if she needs to use the toilet while I’m cooking dinner. I don’t like to multi-task, especially when I’m tired.
I didn’t think Donna’s broken ankle would be harder for me to handle than open heart surgery. It is not a life and death situation. It is just a case of twelve weeks of limited mobility and a narrow doorway. We are only in week five. I’m impatient for our lives to get back to normal, and to rebook that cancelled trip to Italy.
Notes: Since writing this, Fatou requested to have her assignment changed, and Donna told the agency that they need to assign us someone who is comfortable working with us. Gracie is not happy about all the people coming to assist us, and is banished to my bedroom/study when any of them are here. She is, however, very happy to have Donna home, as am I.