Two or three days ago my sorry ass was dragged back into a room in St. Joseph’s Hospital, suffering from back pain, depression and uncontrolled diabetes. I was suffering from those things; what the room was suffering from was a Lady from Dewitt. Dewitt is a Syracuse suburb where there are two cars in every garage and no sidewalks. Another Lady from Dewitt stated that there were no sidewalks “because we like our privacy.” The Lady’s message was “stay out of my business.”
So I’m in the bed by the door and the Lady is in the bed by the window. When I was in this room six weeks ago, I was in the Window bed. This matters to me a lot because I live and breathe by the sky. At home, my bed faces the window. I watch the sun rise, the clouds cover, and the trees change color. This time, I got no window. In fact, I haven’t even got a glimmer of the sky because my roommate has the curtains fully closed.
When I arrive, she’s got visitors, later determined to be a daughter and granddaughter. They move me from the stretcher to the bed, which involves a lot of screaming from the back pain, which the Lady has to listen to. I feel sorry for her. Listening to a human being who has lost all personhood and been reduced to animal status is very disturbing.
Decades ago, I learned about the voice of pain. I was working as a temporary admitting clerk in the Emergency Room and two patients were admitted. One was a middle-aged man who’d been hurt in a car crash. The other was a sorority sister from the university. The man was laid on a gurney in the hallway; the sister was ensconced in a treatment room in the back. The sister yelled and screamed her pain, and cursed the doctors and nurses who were trying to treat her.
Turns out she had PID, pelvic inflammatory disease: “Most cases of PID are due to the bacteria that cause chlamydia and gonorrhea. These are sexually transmitted infections (STIs). The most common way a woman develops PID is by having unprotected sex with someone who has a sexually transmitted infection.” So she was screaming from something that was her own stupid fault.
The car-crash guy, on the other hand, didn’t scream—he just laid there and moaned. From this I deduced one the Laws of Life: When you are really in pain then you can’t make words. If you can still make words then, babe, your pain level is low enough that you can shut up and not inflict it on those around you.
Well, my little trip through back injury and pain this week has taught me a new level of pain: animal pain. That’s when the pain is so severe that you lose all human control and just whimper and gasp like the animal that you are. Most of my pain is of the moaning sort but when they try to move me then it hits animal gasping. The nurses have to come in every few hours to turn me over.
My roommate’s response is to completely ignore me. She doesn’t introduce herself. She doesn’t offer words of comfort. She doesn’t acknowledge that I’m in a good bit of pain. When I ask the nurse if the Lady would be comfortable having the curtain between us open so that I can see out the window, the Lady tells the nurse, “Oh, just to here would be fine”—“just to here” being barely distinguishable from “closed.”
Okay, so I lay in bed in virtual darkness for two days, alternately screaming, crying and enjoying morphine-induced naps while the Lady has multiple visitors, frequent phone chats, and watches television till after midnight. Trust me, my morphine level was not high enough to block the pain of the presidential political debates.
There is absolutely nothing to be gained by keeping the curtains closed: sound travels. As she must hear me, so I listen to her. She is a Perfect Lady. She always says please and thank you, politely inquires about everybody’s health and is oh, so nice. All the staff love her. What is wrong with me, I wonder, that I am a cussin’, moanin’ bitch and she is oh, so nice?
The Lady is flawless in her discourse, except . . . except. She didn’t like the noise and commotion of the grandchildren so she stopped sharing Christmas with them. And she is stoically accepting the fact that she can’t eat for the next six months. Say what? Really, she has some weird gastro thing and instead of surgery she’s going to have feedings from a bagful of liquid that she has plugged into a vein.
So here is this Perfect Lady, whom I see only when she passes the foot of my bed on the way to the bathroom, and she’s not speaking to me. I thought she was about eighty but it turns out she’s only sixty-ish, and she’s decided that the way to deal with me is to ignore me. That’s Dewitt, ladies and gentlemen: shut out anything that you don’t like, even if it’s human and in pain.
Well, yesterday evening they gave me two shots of morphine and three shots of insulin, then I slept ten hours. Woke up feeling sweet and hopeful. Turned on my music at 6:00 a.m. . . . boy the Perfect Lady so didn’t like that and, somehow, even though I very helpfully pointed it out, she didn’t see any resemblance between her television late at night and my music early in the morning.
And when I didn’t follow her orders to turn it off, she got really, really angry at me. The Perfect Lady bawled me out like she was some kind of cussin’, moanin’ bitch. So then I put Crefo Dollar, the black preacher, on television. He shouted at her about “being in the blood!” and I’m guessing she didn’t like that one bit, but what could she do? A Perfect Lady can’t object to the word of the Lord, now can she?
I’ve always found it useful to accept reality, my own and others. You’ve got to swallow life, and you’ve got to swallow it whole. Otherwise you end up not being able to swallow anything for six months.