Pain in Glendale

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November 1, 2017 · Posted in Commentary 

Lionel with Tiffany Austin, social worker at the hospital

By Lionel Rolfe

The morning I couldn’t get out of bed because my back went out, I had to be carried down a small elevator to Good Sam Hospital by four members of a Los Angeles Fire Department crew. They listened to my hysterical screaming where I yelled at them to keep me vertical. I was eventually dumped into a bed to save my back—and despite my doctor’s warning they gave me some strong morphine, which also helped.

After a few days at Good Sam I was taken to Glendale Healthcare Center, where the treatment was physical therapy. Physical therapy is a process where the body is hopefully thrust back into shape. Sometimes it is done with surgery and other times without. I don’t know if the therapy is “natural.” Sometimes it feels closer to torture, but you do need to know the skeleton is a well-tuned unit, except when it isn’t, and then the hurt and scraping seems more like what happens in a medieval dungeon than a modern medical facility. There is no better way of dealing with tired and broken skeletons than such therapy, as painful as it seems.

My main therapist was a Filipino woman named Sheryll Ocampo, who had a pretty Chinese face. She was not inscrutable—she seemed sadly pained by my pain, especially as I sat on the wheelchair seat. My doctor, George Ma, was against surgery because of my age and health. He recognized that the pain I was feeling might make my life not worth living. But he also said my back would feel normal once again.

Maybe I was showing my weak side by hollering; it felt as if my bottom was falling into an abyss. Some sat in the hallways for hours on end, but certainly without the pain I was feeling.

It was several weeks before I discovered that pain pills mixed with three or four hours of physical therapy were working some good. But even after a couple of months, the pain had not relented much. It became obvious that my back was not one of my strongest parts.

The therapists at the Glendale facility were good. There were four full time and some part time therapists including Jimmy W., Maria T., Akop A., Sherill O., Jenna M., Edner E. and Terry G. A modest bunch, none wanted to reveal their true last names, said Tiffany Austin, the center’s publicist and social worker.

The nurses were more mixed. They supposedly worked with the therapists but not always well. In fairness, their jobs were overwhelming. From wiping rear ends to remaking beds full of piss and shit to passing out needed drugs they struggled.

Sometimes it could be miserable begging for help going to the bathroom, and waiting endlessly for that help to get there on time. Sometimes the patients were terrible—one man who normally lived on the streets, pissed on the floor as well as his bed. He demanded immediate medical attention all night long. I know well of his activities because I was his neighbor. To me his size was formidable and he spoke with nasty cursing and constant grunting. He also was not just threatening but stupid. I don’t know what had happened to him but he had apparently been injured by a street colleague.

There also was an older woman who screamed and hollered all night and day long. She obviously suffered from Alzheimer’s or something. She also bit and screamed. You have to understand the patients were not just like me, people who fell or had had heart attacks or car crashes, they also were seniors struggling toward death.

Some of the nurses were overwhelmed by silly bureaucratic rules that didn’t make much sense. The air conditioning, for example, never worked quite right—often times at night the rooms became hot, and too cold during the day. There was one nurse who never honored my request because she insisted the air was properly installed. Other nurses just laughed and opened the door to the outside on my requests. Many of the sharper ones ignored these rules. It was a big enough job getting those of us with severe disabilities out of bed, into showers and into wheelchairs for transport to the therapists’ rehab center.

One expert assigned to my case said resting on my back, if it created little pain, was not bad for me. But if I wanted to walk better I had to act more like a gymnast who wanted to show off his muscles to get girls. Obviously being able to walk is more important than having buff muscles, but there might be a connection, he said with a smile.

Lionel with therapist Sherill Ocampo

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