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Heroics found in humble setting

(ran HT, CI, TP editions)

Once I got the hang of the wheelchair, things began to look up. Before long, I was whizzing down the long hall and meeting some very wonderful people _ people with a great sense of humor, people with courage and, most of all, people with determination to get well.

I drew upon their courage when my own faded out of sight, especially in the beginning.

Recovery from total knee replacement surgery is painful and lengthy, calling for patience and determination. I wasn't too short on determination, but when it came to patience, my supply was so limited it rarely made its appearance at all, and then, only in brief spurts.

When I found myself at the Evergreen Woods Health and Rehabilitation Center in Spring Hill, I realized I had proved to all concerned that I needed supervision.

Right after coming home from the hospital, I ignored one of Husband Dear's repeated warnings about getting out of bed on my own. I was sure the walker and I could manage without waking him, but I lost my balance, fell and added a few more miseries to deal with and more gray hairs to Husband Dear's weary head.

I dived into the pits of depression the minute I arrived at the center. After a few very unproductive hours of wallowing around in the "Poor me valley," I discovered there was absolutely nothing useful down there. So I had no alternative but to try to climb out, even when I didn't know how.

That's when I made a very useful discovery: The inspiration given to me by others would serve me well, even when I thought I had no courage of my own.

I was finally able to make it to the activity room, where patients began the hard work of physical therapy. There were therapists helping patients use every last ounce of strength to move their muscles, walk and stand again. There was lots of stretching, twisting and turning, and most of all there was persistence.

I watched a great family _ wife, daughter and grandchildren, cheering a stroke victim as the therapists helped him stand again for the first time. A football player making a touchdown would never use as much strength as John did that day, and when he finally made it, there was more love and hope in the cheer of that small group than athletes might ever hear in a lifetime.

Alice came whizzing by in her wheelchair in the hallway and called to me to make sure she had my name right. For a long time, she insisted on calling me Lois. What a great gal she is! She was a pedestrian when she was struck by a car, injuring her leg so badly that it will take months for her to walk again. She still manages to keep up a lively conversation in the dining room.

I noticed that singing the old standby songs we used to sing at parties raises the spirits of everyone. Some patients have strong and beautiful voices. Ed Ryan and a small group of musicians called the Country Cousins arrived to entertain us one day. I watched people who seemed so withdrawn and silent come to life. Feet were tapping, people were singing, and I was having a great time. When Ryan closed the entertainment with God Bless America, one man stood up from his wheelchair and raised his hand in as patriotic a salute as I have ever seen in any parade anywhere. It was a very moving moment.

In the dining room, everyone asked the usual questions one hears in Florida. "Where did you live before you came here?" We tried not to talk about our various aches and pains and laughed over hearing such long tales of woe being called "organ recitals."

I drew upon the encouragement and love of my family and friends. I doubt I said, "Oh, my achin' back," any less than the GIs during World War II. There were nurses, aides and physical therapists who were great, and, sure enough, despite all my impatience, I was getting well.

When I came home, I realized all the bravery and courage in this world is not on the battlefields. You can find it at physical therapy centers throughout the country, where people filled with determination get well by pushing themselves as hard as any Olympic athlete, joking with one another in their pain and helping one another by the power of their example.

_ You can write Louise Andryusky c/o Seniority, the Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.