Temple to the Human Spirit
Several hours a week, I have the privilege of working at Netcare Rehabilitation Hospital (NRH). Being a hospital for post-injury & illness rehabilitation; it is a place where many lives have been shattered by sudden and unexpected tragedy. People’s lives are brought to a literal standstill through illness, stroke or injury. Cold corridors link rehab units to wards of scattered beds. These beds are populated with unflinchingly brave patients whose lives have been stripped of everything familiar to them. When I started working here I soon realised that the confusing network of bland concrete corridors, that characteristically make up any hospital, are in fact the main arteries to a less tangible heart that beats at the centre of the human spirit. If this hospital is one of the temples to the human spirit, then its patients are the high priests from whom we, as therapists, learn. Their resilience and determination are the central teaching.
In other words, I learn something about illness, injury, resilience, patience, anger and, ultimately, what it means to be human from the patients at NRH, every day. I have learned not to take my ability to get in and out of the shower by myself, every morning, for granted. I have learned what a vital role my body plays in who I am. My ability to voluntarily move my limbs, not only allows me to get through the day with relatively little frustration, but is part of how I define “who am I”. Have you ever considered the implications of: being able to think but losing the ability to translate those thoughts into meaningful words; or not being able to control your own bowel movements; or being trapped in your own bed at night by docile limbs; or living with constant, unexplainable pain; or not being able to remember your wife’s name, never mind what you had for breakfast that morning; or losing sensation and movement in an entire section of your body? My 2yr old is fast learning that daddy stands and mommy sits when they “pee”. I am a man, because I stand while I “pee”. What happens to my manhood when I lose that ability?
The list of potential ways that your body can let you down following injury or illness is endless. Having said this, the guests at NRH have proven to me that being ill or injured does not make you less of a person. If anything, they have shown me that to live with illness or injury you have to become more of a person than you ever were. It takes a particularly exceptional man or woman to learn to live in an unreliable body. Following a spinal cord injury – you need determination to constantly try and throw your own, unresponsive, limbs over the side of your bed, every morning. After a stroke – it takes endless courage to try and communicate your complex inner world through the narrow possibilities of yes/no answers to questions.
Ultimately, I have learned that rehab is not for “sissies” but that we are capable of enduring so much more than we ever imagined. To live in an unreliable body is to find moments of hope, perseverance, joy, control and courage – despite – ongoing pain, suffering, uncertainty, frustration, despondence and anger.