The summer of 2012 will be tucked away in my memory as the summer that never was. I didn’t get to experience much of June, and very little of the next three months. I spent those months incarcerated, shut off by four walls from the rest of the world. No, I had not committed some felonious outrage against society. I was incarcerated because I became seriously ill and required several weeks of hospitalization and even more weeks confined to a convalescent facility, actually two of them for different weeks.
As I lay in my cell – I mean my bed – I had many hours to observe and judge the activities going on around me, and the following is a random sampling of thoughts that occurred to me.
First let me go on record as believing that the hospital bed is one of the most effective forms of torture ever devised by man. Clearly modern technology has not kept pace with human needs. Institutional food and cooking can be a crapshoot. One meal I had featured a slice of roast beef that was one of the most succulent cuts of meat I have ever had. But the kitchens still struggle with scrambled eggs and cold toast. I consistently requested small portions because my appetite was compromised, but too often the “small” portions could have fed several hefty lumberjacks.
Still, I do not want to appear too negative. I received excellent and attentive care. I was especially pleased that the staffs of the nursing homes reflected the demographic changes in our nation. I was looked after by people of both sexes, by those of varying ages and experience, and particularly by those of many national and ethnic backgrounds. It was invigorating to see demonstrated so clearly how such a variety of workers could work together in harmony. I certainly have no fears for the future of the United States when I see such changes in our population functioning smoothly.
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One of the aides who assisted me frequently won my total respect. She learned early on that I had once been a schoolteacher, and from then on, whenever she introduced me to someone new, she always added the words “He is a school teacher.” Never mind that I hadn’t been a teacher for over 30 years. Never mind that she certainly never experienced one of my classes. She was a fairly young and soft-spoken Latina, I think perhaps Mexican, but I never bothered to ask her – it just didn’t seem important. What was important is that somewhere in her cultural background she had been taught that teachers can really be someone important, to be admired. She won me over with her sincerity.
Yes, there are features of nursing-home life that I wish I could have changed. Television service is not high-quality. I discovered, too, that the ruling class in a nursing home are the physical therapists, who can be relentless in asking patients to do what the therapists want, when they want it. Still, I know that they are working for the patient’s own benefit.
I had only one run-in with a roommate. A patient older than me in the other bed in my room had many visitors, all of whom were aware that he is hard of hearing. I tried to be understanding, but one night things went too far. His visitor had left, and I was listening to President Barack Obama address the NAACP. I did not have the sound on my TV elevated, but before long I heard the call from the next bed, “Too loud!” I shot back my reply, “That is the president of the United States, and I don’t silence him for anyone.” No reply. My satisfaction complete. The high point of my summer.
Jim Carlson is a retired high school English teacher and 60-year resident of Olympia. A member of The Olympian’s Board of Contributors, he may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.