EMMA BUSH COLUMN: Imagine yourself as a 96-year-old lady being admitted to Altercare

Emma Bush

Today I visited Altercare of Big Rapids. I was there to learn about what it’s like to be a health care service business in the world of today, and also to fulfill a promise that I had made to my “Altercare angels” several months earlier. They didn’t have wings or anything like that, but I will never forget how they reached out to a frightened, little 96-year-old lady and gently helped her regain the strength she needed to fight her way back to recovery.

Our Altercare thank you meeting started with a specially made thank you card. It included an invitation with a cartoon that reminded everybody of the accident that sent me to Altercare in the first place, along with a cute ditty that read:

There was a grand lady aged ninety and six

Whose Altercare angels knew medical tricks

That kept her alive

When an ATV dive

Dumped her in a hole full of dead leaves and sticks

The cards included an invitation to try a piece of “thank you cake,” a Texas chocolate swirl cake with vanilla cream cheese frosting donated by the River Junction restaurant in Hersey. I have heard that some of my readers are beginning to wonder if I am an investor or something in that new restaurant in Hersey since I keep bringing them up in these articles, but I am not. The problem is just that we liked the people, their food and their desserts. But, just to be “fair and balanced,” my driver also introduced me to a hot chocolate ice cream cake with whipped cream and a maraschino cherry on top at Big Boy in Big Rapids. He keeps talking about taking me to Cranker’s for a chocolate bump cake, also in Big Rapids. Both of them would be worth a special trip. But let me get back to why I came back to visit Altercare.

Before I get into the meeting itself, I decided that I wanted to share my own prior personal experience at Altercare, at a time several months earlier when I needed help recovering from injuries received in an accident. Even though the words below are based on my residency time at Altercare, my purpose is to share the feelings and emotions of that experience, rather than a detailed description of actual events. Who knows, there may be something here that may someday help someone else who faces decisions of what to do in similar situations.

Imagine yourself as a 96-year-old lady sitting in a wheelchair in front of the check-in desk at Altercare of Big Rapids. You have just come from a three-day stay at a hospital that included a prolonged trip through the emergency room. You’ve been in an accident. You’re black and blue and red all over, with lumps, bumps, two cracked ribs and a hearing aide that transmits less than half of what it hears. You’re sitting there with no idea of what to expect next. The door opens and Jason Kostecki comes into his office and sits down. He’s a brown-haired, handsome, friendly, well-dressed young man who looks young enough to be your grandson. This is all new to you. You try not to let anyone know that you are scared.

There is some paperwork and a list of questions that are answered mostly by your son. I remember traveling down a hallway lined with wheelchairs parked in front of Altercare bedrooms. The wheelchair passengers hear you coming and their eyes look up to see you coming and then turn to follow you as you pass by and continue down the hall. Your wheelchair pauses, and then turns and goes into what will be your shared, two-person bedroom, your home away from home during your recovery. Everyone seems nice enough and wants to talk, but you feel very tired. You’ve completely lost track of the time, even though it must still be the middle of the day. You mention that you’re tired and you are soon tucked into a surprisingly comfortable bed and doze off.

Sometime later, you begin to stir in response to something happening close by, or to the sound of a voice; you aren’t sure which. You’re still half asleep, but you peek out through one half-opened eye, a little worried about what you might see, and quickly close it at what you think you saw. Your still half-asleep mind begins to raise mental questions about what’s happening to you. Questions that include: “Where are we?” “How did we get here ?” “Why can’t I go home?” “Will I ever get home?” “What did you see that startled you when you peeked out with one eye?” “You think you may have seen a WHAT?” “You saw what looked like it might be an … an angel?”

Now you’re on full alert and the common sense part of you is called to take over from your imagination. Common sense grabs hold of yourself. You force your eyes open just in time to hear, “Hello Emma. My name is Katy Dalton. I am a nurse here at Altercare of Big Rapids. How are you feeling?” You slowly look around. You’re still on guard, but Katy is easy to talk to and you feel yourself beginning to relax a little bit. In the days that follow, you continue to meet and appreciate the nice people working at Altercare. They know what they are doing. They take the time to explain the physical therapy and other activities required to get your body parts working again. The seeds of hope have been planted. You begin to believe that you will actually be able to make it back home after all.

I have just tried to share the feelings and emotions experienced by this 96-year-old lady who one day found herself at Altercare. I received the help I needed at a time when I could have given up. Instead of giving up, I became someone who could hardly wait to fulfill her promise to come back and say thank you to her Altercare angels. As I said before, perhaps reading about my experience will somehow help someone else who may one day find themselves sitting in a wheelchair, thinking about health care choices while being scared and not fully aware of what is going on.

Before I close, there are a couple of things that happened that really tickled me. I remember that on my last day, a nurse aide came in to help me get washed up and ready to go home. Toward the end, she started to clean between my toes and I remember saying that I could do that when I got home, but she insisted that she wanted to finish the job. It felt funny to have somebody else cleaning in between my toes and I kept saying, “That’s OK, I can get it later,” but she kept on working. I finally said, “That’s good enough,” and she looked up, smiled, and said, “I’m almost done. It’s my job to be sure you leave here as clean as a whistle, and that’s the way it going to be.” I’m glad that I only had ten toes.

I also remember that one of the therapists, Lori Painter, came with me out to the parking lot when I left. When we got to the van, the seat was pretty high and I remember her saying, “Oh dear, how are we ever going to get her up that high and into that seat.” I said, “Oh, no problem.” I reached up to a handle above the door and lifted my buns onto the seat and slid sideways the rest of the way into the seat. I remember leaning out of the door to give her a good-bye hug and saying, “The trick is to get your left cheek hooked up and over the edge of the seat and then the rest of you just slides right on in.” She started to giggle so hard that she doubled over right there in the parking lot. As we drove away, she waved good-bye and I had a twinge of sadness that I would never see her again. That’s when I started to think about coming back someday to visit my Altercare angles and say thank you.

May each one of us reach out to those we meet with a smile, a kind word, or an act of kindness so that the seeds of hope might be planted in the hearts of those in need. This is my prayer.

Leave a Reply