I intended for this first blog back after vacation to be about our family vacation at the Outer Banks. It was great, sun, sand, food, drink, family and silliness. I will write about it in detail later. What greeted me when I came back to work changed my mind and sent my brain in a different direction.
I walked into the office on Monday wearing an orange blouse to show off my fabulous tan–this is a function of living in a highly integrated, mostly white environment, I have developed an appreciation of being temporarily darker. I was ready to get back to work, charged up for the upcoming new semester. I have always looked forward to the start of a new academic year ever since I started nursery school back when the earth was cooling. The excitement of new opportunities, new experiences, new people, new books, new school supplies, football will begin, cool nights, trees will turn brilliant, energy will ramp up. I love fall and all things about fall.
When I came into the office I noticed that Josmell, my dear friend , colleague, mentee and “adopted” son, was not there. I knew he had been scheduled for some relatively minor surgery on Wednesday last week. I asked where he was and got blank stares. Evidently none of my colleagues had thought to inquire about him. I immediately went into emergency mode. Josmell is nicknamed ” Inspector Gadget” around the office and is always, always available by text and email. The fact he had not been in touch was alarming.
I found out in short order that he was in the intensive care unit of our hospital, the surgery had gone badly and he had almost died. I dashed to the hospital to see him and was not reassured with what I found. He was still intubated, unable to talk, in and out of consciousness. Fortunately he is making a good recovery and should be out of the ICU today and into a regular room.
Having to visit the hospital every day is so depressing. I am pleased that my dear friend is rapidly recovering, he should get to go home early next week, but the visits to the hospital reminded me of things I want to forget, or ignore.
There are a lot of very sick people in this world. There are a lot of people who are permanently disabled. Seeing people whose bodies are so twisted they have to writhe and drag their limbs to walk, seeing children with their shaved heads bandaged, seeing people being pushed from examining room to treatment rooms in beds that you are pretty sure they will never leave alive, seeing people crying in the halls, or sitting holding hands and praying in the waiting rooms.
When I give talks I frequently talk about how we are all able to ignore the truly poor. We know there are people hungry, we know there are people homeless, we know there are people at their wits end because they cannot take care of themselves or their families, but very few of us ever pause even occasionally to think about them. Even fewer of us do anything to change their state of being, I remind people of that. But, I have not been as diligent either in reminding others or reminding myself in remembering the sick, the disabled, the chronically ill, the maimed.The national discussion of health care has been for me primarily an abstract one. My husband and I have always worked for some government agency, either the state or a local school district. Health care was and is part of our benefits package. Prescription drugs, for example, in our plan cost $10 for three months worth.
I have had one incident that made me realize, very late in life, that everyone did not have the same advantages when it comes to health care. Years ago when our Walmart first opened in Xenia I was waited on at checkout by an older white woman. At the time I was probably in my 40s, so when I say she was older she was probably close to the age I am now, but she had obviously not had an easy life. Her hair was white and her face was very wrinkled. She was friendly, it was around Christmas time and we shared stories while she rang up my purchases.
As I was about to leave she made a comment to me. ” You probably wonder why someone as old as I am is working at Walmart.” I, of course, lied and said I had not thought any such thing, although I had of course wondered why she was still working at her age. She told me her husband was a retired worker from a GM plant in Dayton. He had always made good money she said and so she had stayed home to raise the kids and keep house. After he retired GM informed them that they would no longer cover retiree’s spouses. She had had a heart attack before she lost health coverage. She could not get a new policy because of her pre-existing condition. Her heart medicine, at that time, was more than $250 a month. They could not afford to pay for it on her husband’s retirement. So, she had to go to work for the first time in her life, in her supposed golden years, standing on her feet for hours a day ringing up items from China for people many of whom did not give health care a thought. It shocked me.
I did not think they could change the rules on you after you retire. Currently we have a movement in this country that is anti-union, anti-health care, anti-poor people, anti-women and anti-racial/ethnic minorities. Their rationale for their actions is couched in fiscal conservatism but is actual Social Darwinism. Scrooge asked if there were no poor houses to house the poor, and implied if they died it would probably improve the gene pool. The right-wingers now trying to come to power are his legatees. I had not thought about the little old lady at Walmart for a long time. But I will from now on.
I hate hospitals, I even hate doctors to an extent. Although, of course, I am grateful for them when I , or one of my family or friends need them. In the final analysis though they both remind me that I am a mortal and relatively fragile being. Lots of things could hurt or kill me; automobile accidents, food contaminated with something, a fall, a crazy person with a machete, tetanus from stepping on a rusty nail. Human beings only have our brains to protect us actually. We do not have body armor like armadillos, we cannot fly like birds, we do not have claws and sharp teeth like wolves and bears. Considering how stupid I think the American public is –Michelle Bachman just won a straw poll if you think I am exaggerating–I am surprised that we survive.
So, you ask what is your point? My point is this. Look at yourself ,your siblings, your parents, your kids, your grandkids and your friends. If you did not have to worry today about whether or not they will survive health wise or economically, be grateful, very grateful. And please join me from time to time in thinking about the poor and the frail and the feeble and the poor and the sick.
I believe in karma. It drives a lot of what I do. I truly believe you get out of life what you put into it, particularly in how you treat other people. I hate hospitals–yeah I have said it before, but it is so true, but I would hate letting down my friend and colleague by not showing up at his bedside to show my concern more.
At least when I leave the hospital each day I do not have to deal with guilt about him, only guilt about my own good fortune and luck and my studied obliviousness of how very lucky and fortunate I am.