I've just spent some time in Gaylord Specialty Healthcare, a physical-rehabphysical center in Wallingford, Connecticut. (A world-class facility that I would recommend to anyone.) Here are some things I wish someone had told me before I went in:
- Be in good physical shape. You may think, "I'm just a 90-pound weakling. I only want to be the same 90-pound weakling when I'm done." Okay, but when you start rehab you will be a 45-pound weakling, and getting back to 90 is going to be tedious at best. If you get stronger, you may have the luxury of starting at roughly the level you want to finish at.
- Get medical problems attended to. Been in denial about that mysterious pain in the ankle or left arm that comes and goes; the one that's been coming a bit more than going lately? When you start rehab, that pain is going to seem like agony that won't quit. They're going to ask you, "What is it? What needs to be done about it?"; and you're going to feel like an idiot.
- Is there some physical task that's been getting difficult over the years? Figure out how you're going to cope with the fact that it's going to be impossible for at least a few weeks.
For me, it was cutting my toenails. For various reasons it's been hard to get my foot into position, and hard to do the manipulation required, especially with my left hand. That task is going to be impossible when you start rehab, and guess what? No one can cut your toenails around here but the podiatrist, so you have to make an appointment. That doesn't mean your wife or brother can't cut your toenails. Or maybe you can live with uncut toenails for six weeks or twelve months or whatever it's going to take. (You probably can't.)
- If there's some piece of equipment you've kind of wished you had for some physical task, get it. For example, do your bifocals ever make it awkward to read a computer screen, because one of the lenses is right for things much further away than a computer screen and the other is right for things much closer? In "real life" you've always just pushed your laptop a little this way or a little that way. In rehab, it's going to be impossible to read your laptop screen. Maybe you can live with that for a while.
If you find some good toenail clippers, let me know where you got them; I'm still looking.
- Make sure your spouse or someone else close to you knows where everything is in your house that you may need. You've always known how to find the switch that resets the furnace in your house. Now suppose the heat fails in the dead of winter with your spouse and child at home. Can they find that switch?
This is especially true for financially relevant information, including account numbers for bank accounts, credit cards, and monthly bills. If you're the one that handles this stuff in your household, how much of it can you neglect for a month or two or twelve? You probably can neglect balancing the check account indefinitely (as apparently many people do), but paying the average bill cannot be put off more than a month or two without incurring various charges and disconnections; but you know all that. Make sure someone you trust knows the account numbers, online passwords, etc.
If you're short on such people (as, tragically, many of us will be if we live long enough), consider getting in touch with some local religious organization that is in harmony with your background. If you've been a Buddhist for many years, but your main connection with your spiritual guide in Nepal is via regular Skype calls, consider getting in touch with that Orthodox Jewish temple near you that reminds you of the community you grew up in. A group of people committed to keeping a religious community going are probably less likely to collude to rip you off than any one person you don't know that well. (And maybe that eligible-bachelor rabbi could get interested in that unmarried granddaughter of yours.)
And finally: Anyone here for more than a day will swear religiously to exercise daily, keep their weight under control, fasten their seat belt, stop smoking, and get substance abuse under control. Some people are here because they were stricken by mysterious diseases, but many were stricken by diseases due to smoking, obesity, and other avoidable conditions. It's easy to say, Oh, I don't mind trading a few years at the end of my life for the pleasure I'm getting now; but be aware that those years at the end of your life are going to involve a lot of rehab.