Archive for May, 2009

Clarence Clemons

Today’s update is from Bob’s sister, Susie:

Bob was moved from the ICU to Shady Grove Adventist Rehabilitation Hospital in Rockville on Tuesday. This is an excellent rehab facility, located, thankfully, less than 10 minutes from our neighborhood. Mornings are devoted to physical and occupational therapy, and meals are served in a large, light-filled dining room. Each patient has an entire care team, headed by a case manager, with whom Barbara has met. The general atmosphere is focused and lively, with bustling activity and a great diversity of patient needs and abilities. The goal is to guide patients to independence as quickly as possible, and stays are usually between a few days to a few weeks.

The initial transfer was confusing to Bob, and the first day he was quite disoriented and angry. He seemed to have thought that when he left the ICU, he’d somehow be transported magically back “home,” where everything would be to the way it was, and so the adjustment to reality was rough. The first night, he tried to climb out of his bed; thankfully, he was discovered before he made it to the floor. To keep him safe without restraints, the staff installed a kind of tent-like structure with mesh sides that zip shut over his bed. Needless to say, Bob was not pleased about that. Grrrr.

In spite of all this, his P.T. sessions have gone pretty well. Erica, his physical therapist, gives him generous encouragement, and Bob’s responded by working hard with her. He’s also got a speech therapist, who is working with him on swallowing, which has been a real problem since the ventilator was removed a few weeks ago. She’s helped him to be able to begin eating again, and his meals are served at a special table in the dining room for people with swallowing issues. He still has the PEG in his stomach for supplementary nutrition, but this is definitely a step in the right direction.

We’ve all talked with Bob about his issues with his “tent,” and he’s pretty well accepted that it’s not there to punish him, but to keep him safe and make sure his legs can heal. He’s even discussed it with his nurses and promised that he won’t “try anything stupid” if they leave the sides open, which they do as much as possible, especially when he has visitors…

…which he did on Friday – his 52nd birthday! The staff began his day by bringing him a bouquet of balloons, which they tied to his bed. In the afternoon, Barbara, Susie & George arrived with handmade cards from Kevin, Melanie & Jeremy, along with a framed picture and bio of Bob, written by Walt, to hang on his wall – to introduce his caregivers to the “real Bob”. When we gave it to him, he held it in his hands and read every word before looking up with a smile and pronouncing, “That’s the real me!”

The best birthday gift of all was a phone call that came in at 4:40: “Hello? This is Clarence Clemons. I’m calling to wish Bob a happy birthday.” Yes, the Big Man, himself. Several months ago, Bob had bought a ticket to the Bruce Springsteen concert here in D.C. that took place this past week, as a birthday present to himself. After the accident, it was clear that there was no way he’d be able to make it to the concert, so his brother David, who’s interviewed Clarence a number of times, started the process of getting in touch with his “people,” to see if they could make something happen in time for Bob’s b-day. And as we all know, once David decides to get something done, it does get done! He told us that when Johnny Green, Clarence’s rep, reached him, the Big Man thanked him for the opportunity to call Bob. And he placed the call himself, no intermediaries. Do we need to tell you how happy Bob was? I don’t think so. Big, big grin as they talked, telling each other they were each their guiding light, with “God bless”es all around.

“I’ll be checking back with him,” Clarence said as he hung up. So something magical did happen after all – in spite of the tent, the still-broken legs, and the long, uncertain road ahead. On Saturday, Barbara, Walt, Susie & George had supper with Bob in his dining room, and Sunday Mimi & company came down from Phillie to see him. Barbara has told Bob’s social worker about Bob’s piano playing, so we’re hoping that this weekend’s rec therapy will include a visit to the keyboard. Things are changing every day, but that’s the news as of this moment. And now, on to tomorrow.


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From Barbara:

It’s four weeks since Bob was taken to Suburban Hospital, and today, he made a big step forward – he felt, for the first time, that he could really recover. For the past week or so his mood has been sad and frustrated, mixed with great anxiety (when he wasn’t almost totally subdued by medications). At the same time,  his body and mind have been healing steadily, and his greater awareness has made him more and more upset about being in the hospital. We tried to comfort him as best we could, letting him know we understood how he felt. Today, when I came in to his room, he was as distressed as ever, insisting that he wanted to “get out” and NOW. I know at that moment he felt betrayed by my inability to whisk him right out the door, into the car and back to his apartment. It took a while for him to calm down and later, almost miraculously, his mood began to change. He’d closed his eyes for a while, and I was sitting near his bed, when he turned his head toward me and began to talk – very very slowly and softly. Some of his words were almost inaudible, and I had to lean close to hear.

“I can’t believe I did that,” he said. “But it happens.” I realized he was talking about the accident, something he has never said anything about, never wanted to hear about. We didn’t know if he remembered it. Then, he said, “I feel very fortunate that I didn’t get into a more horrendous accident.”

He cried hard, and then, “I’m sorry but this is the only way I can express myself.” And, a few minutes later, “I feel that I’m going to get my whole life back together again.”


And more news: Dr. Westerband, the wonderful surgeon in charge of his care, came to Bob’s room today to talk about next steps. He is very happy about Bob’s progress – clinically, he is 100% better than the day he first saw him, and he is ready for a new stage, not quite a rehab facility because of his extreme weakness, need for further medical care, and the fact that he can’t put weight on his legs for another 6-8 weeks. What he is recommending is a nursing facility that will give him appropriate care along with some physical therapy, occupational therapy and other help. This is planned as a step toward actual rehab.  We are waiting to see what help Bob’s health insurance can provide, and then to visit various recommended places to see what would be most appropriate for him.

There’s a long road still ahead, but Bob can do it!  Especially with all of you behind him – his extended family – whose beautiful words of encouragement come every day. Thanks, thanks, thanks.

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Like all recoveries, Bob’s has its ebb and flow, and right now is a fairly tough time for him. The protracted stay in the ICU – locked into bed, with every kind of tube inserted in his body – draws on all his resources and strength. All of your loving support and prayers are adding to that strength, we know. And, of course, the wonderful work of the nurses and doctors at the hospital. Still, the trauma to his entire being is deep – and fear, depression and great agitation are part of the story, a very difficult part for him. One added difficulty is his inability to control his swallowing, despite the early optimistic report about eating. Aspiration is a genuine danger (it happened once) and he is again being fed intravenously. We hope with all our hearts that there will be a new turn toward greater normalcy soon, and thank you again and again for your visits and messages. Keep them coming!!

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