Five Minutes

The following was written in August, 2010

Our days crawled by slowly, his recovery measured in increments.  Transferred from the ICU one day earlier, a new face appeared in his hospital room, a physical therapist.  With a breezy air he introduced himself, shook my hand then turned toward Chad. He fulfilled his efficient entrance in one smooth motion.

Medical people no longer inspired reverence for Chad.  He had become weary of the abysmally slow institutional routine, the new faces everyday.  Still despite his disillusion he was never rude to any of the medical staff, but I received a good run down when we were alone.

This particular therapist seemed to have arrived with a plan to rebuild my husband’s ravaged, broken body and depleted endurance.  The regimen, the PT announced would start by having Chad sit up in a chair for five minutes.  And though that sounded harmless enough it quickly became one of the trials of Hercules.  With the help of the nurse, they diverted or unhooked the multitude of attachments to Chad’s body, now including pressure socks to prevent blood clots.  The two then hoisted his body to a chair by the bed.  Though bobbled around, he said nothing while the two stuffed and padded blankets around him like a newborn.  Once he seemed balanced, the PT and nurse left.  They left.

Five minutes can be a very long time in certain situations.  The last five minutes in class. The last five minutes in a dryer cycle. At this particular moment my husband immediately began to sweat, and fretted that he would faint if he didn’t lay down. I scrutinized his movement with the vigilance of a gymnastic spotter, ready to catch him if he toppled.

Wasted muscle covered by white hosiery was all that remained of his legs, his exhausted head bowed in agonizing surrender begging me to help him back into bed. Where was the therapist? Why didn’t he stay?

I waited, searching for words of encouragement, but growing equally anxious. Poor Chad grew visibly physically anguished, swaying forward.  Still no therapist.

“I can’t sit like this any longer,” he wailed.  Panicked, I resolved that if the PT didn’t come back in sixty seconds, one minute, I would press the button for the nurse.  I slowly began to reach over to the bed, for the call button pinned to his sheets.  And that was when the therapist materialized, sweeping briskly into the room followed by the nurse.

“How did that go?” he inquired brightly.  We didn’t answer, as he swiftly bent over Chad,to assess his condition.

“That was five minutes?” Chad gasped.  “Seemed longer.”

“He didn’t do so well,” I added, feeling it my duty to tell the truth. The therapist and nurse didn’t reply as they hoisted him back to bed.

He then spoke up.  “Well, the doctor wants him up to fifteen minutes before the hospital can release him.”

With that, the two blew out of the room, on to other matters, other patients.

Neither of us spoke. After a few moments Chad drifted back to sleep, lightly snoring.  I stared ahead, drained.

Gail Chumbley is the author of the two-part memoir “River of January,” and “River of January: Figure Eight.” Both books are available at, and on Kindle.

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