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Wang’s last week on the mainland

Theresa Wang digs into a plate of lobster. (Photo courtesy of David Chen)

(Editor’s Note: Although Theresa Wang has already arrived back on the Big Island, her husband has shared this account of her last week at a rehabilitation center in California.)

Aloha to our Ohana,

This past week at the Center for Neuro Skills in Bakersfield was devoted to last-minute testing and preparing for Theresa’s planned discharge date near the end of the month.

Since our plan was to fly home from Los Angeles rather than Bakersfield, the red-eye from Kona only took me as far as LAX where a rental car was booked for the drive to CNS.

Landing at the uncivilized time of 4:50 a.m., I waited for the Avis shuttle in the surprisingly chilly predawn hours and noted how wheelchair unfriendly the LAX airport is for moving between the various bus stop islands.

The support columns at the islands are so wide there isn’t enough room for a wheelchair (or even a large suitcase) to pass without one wheel falling off the curb. To get from the hotel shuttle stop to the rental car stop involves crossing traffic to return to the terminal curbside, wheeling ahead 100 feet and then crossing traffic again.

Fortunately, Theresa will only be with me for the return trip so this did not pose an issue.

Arriving at the rental desk, the agent perfunctorily offered the full coverage insurance, followed by the damage waiver, followed by the fueling option, and finally an upsell to a larger vehicle, all of which I declined. Coincidentally, the assigned vehicle was a Ford Escape which is entirely fitting for Theresa’s return home.

Leaving the rental car lot and merging on the near empty six lane 405 freeway at 5 a.m. on a Saturday was a surreal experience, similar to those end-of-days scenes in future apocalypse films. As the sun rose, traffic started to pick up and by the time I passed the Magic Mountain parkway, there was sufficient vehicle volume to make the drive through the Tejon Pass at least semi-challenging.

Descending into the Central Valley, the temperature was already in the mid-90s at 7 a.m., well on the way to the forecasted 103F (39C) for that weekend.

For this final visit, I didn’t stay at the usual Ramada Limited Suites and drove straight to the CNS residence. There, Theresa greeted me with a kiss and some perfectly seasoned scrambled eggs that I devoured in less time than it likely took to make them.

While this would be our final week here, Theresa still needed to attend to grocery shopping so off we went to the now familiar Trader Joe’s. The big difference compared to last week was that the physical therapist had assigned a no-wheelchair trip as homework so for the first time in more than six months, Theresa left behind her wheels.

Using the shopping cart as support, Theresa walked through the store picking up old favorites and from the higher vantage point, noticed a few new items that she’d missed before. Those extra steps and standing meant Theresa was on her feet for more than 40 minutes so by the time we reached the checkout counter, her legs were about ready to give out.

Quickly, I found a chair so she could take a break while the cashier rang up the total. With the near collapse averted, it only took a few minutes for Theresa to recover before standing again and helping to push the full cart to the far end of the lot where we’d parked.

For whatever reason, the handicap parking spots always seem to be taken up in Bakersfield, as if everyone and their dog have a pass. We’ve even seen Porsche and Corvette drivers pull into these stalls, hang up their placard and walk or in one case, even run into the shop without difficulty.

Maybe their handicap is invisible or they’re having a good day so perhaps I shouldn’t judge. Our Lord tells us to forgive others so we do so giving Him full praise for allowing Theresa to walk so far in so short a time.

After dropping off the groceries at the residence, Theresa told me she needed to pick up a few more supplies for a potluck BBQ she and another patient, Cory, were planning for Sunday.

This being our last weekend at CNS, Theresa’s original idea was to buy a Target gift card using a cash gift she’d received from a fellow church member back in Waikoloa. This gift card would be placed in a drawing for all of the rehab aides, Theresa’s way of thanking them for their kindness and support these past four months.

The aides were excited but word got around to CNS management and they let Theresa know it was against their rules to give gifts to the staff so instead, the idea for a potluck BBQ was born. Theresa intended to use the cash gift to buy food to treat the aides so off we went to Costco.

Rather than doing the predictable and just buying some pizzas, we decided on a tube steak-fest and returned with Costco’s famous hotdogs & Polish sausages, buns, salad ingredients and pies aplenty. The BBQ became a sensation and not only did the aides come by on their breaks but some patients had heard about Theresa’s potluck (Cory had dropped out due to the heat) and brought their own food to cook.

Unfortunately, most of them weren’t cleared to use the grill so yours truly was drafted to the position of grill master this day. Too bad I didn’t have my chef uniform handy as it would have saved my shirt from all of the grease splatter and some of the heat.

On the positive side (and there’s always a silver lining if you look hard enough) I learned that when it’s 108F (42C) in the shade, BBQ meat cooks really fast even when the burners are on low. After three hours of hotline duty, everyone’s food was cooked and there was lots of leftovers to take away.

One of the aides thanked me profusely and said this was the first time she could ever recall a patient hosting an event for the staff. As Theresa’s colleagues from her clinic in Wisconsin will attest, she plans wonderful parties (including her own farewell luau) and I am truly thankful to our Heavenly Father that Theresa has not lost this gift.

What would be Theresa’s last week at the CNS clinic started with the usual therapies of PT where she was challenged with speedwalking, sidestepping, stairs, and getting up off the floor; CR where Theresa read passages from Ivanhoe and then answered questions; and OT where Theresa made a salad and minestrone soup for 30 using a knock-off Olive Garden recipe downloaded from the net.

That she was able to plan and execute that meal in the allotted time, and make it delicious to boot, means she has a bright future on Master Chef if her career in medicine doesn’t work out.

The next day, Nancy, one of the homecare providers that our Lord has graced us with, arrived at the clinic for three days of intensive training to learn Theresa’s therapy routine at CNS and to support her back home. The therapists were excited to meet Nancy and devoted a good deal of time showing her how they train and encourage Theresa to succeed.

The PT also noticed Theresa is rolling her right ankle (the one that was operated on twice) on uneven terrain so a last-minute visit to an orthotics specialist led to a wedge under the heel and a removable ankle splint for improved stability.

With much of these fine tunings and followup appointments out of the way, we could look forward to a relaxing couple of days before heading out.

It continues to amaze and endear us that all has gone so well with Theresa’s healing journey and for that we offer praise to our Lord.

To be continued next week….


(For coverage of Wang’s homecoming, visit:… )

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