On Friday night, Sept. 16, I fractured my left femur just above Elmo, my replacement knee. Four days and two surgeries later I found myself in The Fortress, a post-acute care facility, doing my best to save Elmo (and my mobility).

These are the stories of that path. They’re self-indulgent, icky-raw in places and, if you don’t know me, probably boring. As I move down this path, though, I’ll read them to see how far I’ve come. And, maybe, if you or a loved one end up on the same path, they’ll help you spot a light at the end of the tunnel.

“I’m sorry,” I said, falling back with a sigh, “I don’t quite have the hang of being an invalid yet.”

Dave had been rubbing cream on my sore leg, but now his head came up, “Invalid?!?” and his eyes flashed, “You’re NOT an invalid. Where did you get that idea?”

I gestured to the hospital bed, the wheelchair, walker, leg rests, safety rails, call button, bed pan… “Gee, I dunno,” I said drily, “Lucky guess?”

“Those things don’t make you an invalid,” he said, glaring, “Your HEAD makes you an invalid. These are tools to keep you from BEING an invalid, so stop saying that.”

Did I mention that Dave’s one of my favorite nurses at The Fortress?

I saw he was right. This rehab facility, the medical gear, physical-occupational-recreational-respiratory therapies… Just as I use kilns, studio classes, and cutters to sculpt glass, or computers and meeting rooms to do my dayjob, these are the tools of my new occupation: Saving Elmo and getting back on BOTH feet, asap.

So far, my tools wind up in one of three categories:

  • Enablers, like my wheelchair and reachsticks
  • Protectors, like Hector the Protector brace and the hospital bed with its blessed safety rails
  • Royal pains in the patoot. Like bedpans.

My sister Becky–who’s done no-load-bearing before, sent me a bunch of enablers: Long-reach sponges, reachsticks that use pinching fingers to grab stuff, and a telescoping magnet that’s especially good at picking a dropped power cord off the floor:

I’m getting better with the reachsticks. I can pick up socks, close the blinds, and retrieve stuff on the top shelf of my little closet without tumbling it onto my head. And I’m finding more and more of these infinitely useful enablers: Sliding bath seats (for whenever they finally let me shower) and fingerless padded gloves so my hands aren’t bruised when I wheel down the road.

But bedpans? Here’s the thing about bedpans: They contravene a lifetime of potty training.

I never encountered one before my current adventure and I can’t exactly say it’s been one of the highlights.

First time, the nurse brought the thing in, bagged and powdered it, then slid it underneath me.

Correction: “Slid” isn’t accurate. It’s more like “shoved, pulled, pushed, rolled, lifted, pried, and pinched.”

Finally, though, they got me perched atop this flat pink plastic pan that intruded on my private parts. We all waited for something to happen.

Uhm…Brain? You wanna get with Bladder and get on with it, here?

The Brain snorted, “Wait, what? You WANT me to wet the bed? Are you crazy? Sweetie, you just shimmy your nasty little bladder onto that toilet over there, like a good girl, and let me know when you’re ready. (sniff) Wet the bed. Yeah, right.”

Look, this bedpan thing hurts. Can you just…give the order to go?

“In your dreams, bed-wetter.”

The caregiver turns the bathroom faucet on full-force, apparently in hopes The Brain was too stupid to get the point and needed a watery stimulus. Kinda like a urinary sing-along.

The Brain wasn’t buying it.

Sigh. I’m gonna take root on this bedpan. They’ll find my body in the morning, permanently capped by this hollow pink monster.

I counted sheep. Tried to relax. Powered the bed up to full sitting position. Read a whole magazine article. 40 minutes later, mission accomplished. By then, The Brain and I weren’t on speaking terms.

The poor nurses carefully peeled the bedpan off my backside (ouch!), got some warm washcloths and, well, cleaned me up.

Thank god I’m constipated.

It got easier, though. Third time around, I had bedpanning DOWN. I’m never going to win a medal, and I will never make friends with my bedpan, but at least I was completing my mission in less than 20 minutes.

And it sure as heck gave me a great incentive to learn that bed-to-walker-to-wheelchair-to-bathroom trick.

The Saving Elmo series covers my adventures after crashing to the ground on Elmo, my replacement knee, sustaining an “open, comminuted fracture of the left femoral shaft.” It’s a tad more dire than it sounds; if my bone doesn’t grow completely back and return me to normal function, there’s a new, more painful, less effective femoral replacement in my future…with eventual amputation.

If you want to follow along on the journey, visit this page.