The last thing I got from St. Joe’s was a head cold.
I woke up this morning feeling that it was well with my soul, and I was getting out of the hospital. No way was I spending another twenty-four hours there. Dr. Tucker and I agreed to a discharge to home, even though neither of us thought it was the greatest idea in the world, and then James Square nursing home called to say they had a bed.
So I packed up all my gear, climbed on Medicaid transportation, and arrived at James Square at 3:15 p.m. in a dull rain. I was led up to the fourth floor and down halls lined with really old people in wheelchairs sitting in the doorways of their rooms. If it doesn’t totally freak you out to realize that you are now one of them then nothing will.
I am shown into my room, wherein the walls, closets and ceiling are painted a bilious green but, come to think of it, it is not hospital-white so that’s a step in the right direction. The furniture is all Wal-Mart middle-grade. The bed I slept in at the hospital cost $6000; everything in this room, new, didn’t cost $1000. All the venetian blinds are at odds and angles. The room already is occupied by an old lady in a wheelchair who is rhythmically grunting while she watches cartoons turned up loud.
If I didn’t have a head cold, I’d run screaming in the other direction. Spend the rest of my life here? Sweet Jesus, no!
Melia is here to provide a smile and buffer service as lots of people come in—nurses in colorful scrubs—nursing supervisors—maintenance—the middle-grade boss nurse is flat-out going to take my power wheelchair away from me until Monday. Internally, I pitch a screaming fit but this lady is laughing. She is genuinely cheerful as none of the hospital nurses were.
Hospital is a bad place. It’s acute care and it’s serious business and the average length of stay is five or six days. It’s a whole different thing—life-threatening illnesses, high turnover—nurses are friendly but not funny. Here at James Square the patients are old and they’re not going anywhere. The whole pace of the place is different, and staff really, really get to know their patients. And they laugh. I think they enjoy that I still have a functioning brain.
So the big nurse decides I am a safe wheelchair driver—you betcha, babe; I am the best!—so she negotiates for my wheelchair to stay and just have the maintenance guy come up here to make sure I haven’t got any loose wires or whatever. I back it into the narrow slot between the bed and the wall. Just showin’ off.
It’s all very, very confusing and way too many people asking way too many questions. Melia puts all my stuff away, straightens out the blinds, and gets me on James Square’s Internet connection.
(Note to world: St. Joe’s blocked my blog on the grounds that it was malicious but here’s the way it works: when anybody posts a comment on my blog then it shows up in my mailbox. If I click on “Approve” then I run into “STOP” but if I click on “Trash” then I can get into my blog dashboard. Access blog through the trash—works for me.)
Okay guys, I am, like, totally wrecked at the moment. You can take your pneumonia, concussions, high blood pressure and heart problems but for pure, sheer, ugly suffering you can’t beat your head cold.
Stick with me and we’ll explore this surreal world of old people and see what we can learn about what makes people human—because these folks seem post-human.