When I was little our family doctor lived four houses up the street; it was before doctors lived in entitled enclaves. It also was before doctors earned a million dollars or ordered CAT scans or MRIs.
One day Dr. Plummer called his wife, Ursula, and told her to go down and give Betty a hand. Betty was my mom and Dr. Plummer had just ordered the last of her five children to bed with some kind of flu or something.
We lived in a big Victorian house with long staircases and my mom was running up and down all day from the kitchen to our bedrooms. I guess she was worn out and Dr. Plummer wanted to pass the word to the neighborhood that Betty needed help.
For the past month, my bed has been four feet away from Cora’s. I listened to her scream. When I would ask what was wrong with her, the administrative staff would say HIPAA, HIPAA, HIPAA and refuse to tell me.
I was the closest person to her in the world. I listened to Cora scream but they would not tell me what was wrong.
John, Ernest, Joan
“Joan Baez is to be applauded for the lyrics and song, but note that the lyrics are an allusion to Meditation XVII, by John Donne (1572-1631). It is the same piece from which Ernest Hemingway took the title of his novel For Whom the Bell Tolls (… therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.)”
No Man Is an Island: John Donne
No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.
At the Iroquois Nursing Home, Elfrieda sat two seats away from me three times a day at table. She was getting increasingly high doses of oxygen, and with increasing frequency she did not show up for meals. A nurse said Frieda and Doris were dying. Thereafter, when I asked after Frieda, the staff said HIPAA, HIPAA, HIPAA and I was not allowed to know how she was or if she was.
Until Labor Day when a funeral director wheeled Frieda’s body out past the dining area while we were at lunch. Then I knew that Frieda was dead. Doris and David died the same week, also without acknowledgment.
Rabbi Haim of Romshishok was an itinerant preacher. He traveled from town to town delivering religious sermons that stressed the importance of respect for one’s fellow man. He often began his talks with the following story:
“I once ascended to the firmaments. I first went to see Hell and the sight was horrifying. Row after row of tables were laden with platters of sumptuous food, yet the people seated around the tables were pale and emaciated, moaning in hunger. As I came closer, I understood their predicament.
“Every person held a full spoon, but both arms were splinted with wooden slats so he could not bend either elbow to bring the food to his mouth. It broke my heart to hear the tortured groans of these poor people as they held their food so near but could not consume it.
“Next I went to visit Heaven. I was surprised to see the same setting I had witnessed in Hell–row after row of long tables laden with food. But in contrast to Hell, the people here in Heaven were sitting contentedly talking with each other, obviously sated from their sumptuous meal.
“As I came closer, I was amazed to discover that here, too, each person had his arms splinted on wooden slats that prevented him from bending his elbows. How, then, did they manage to eat?
“As I watched, a man picked up his spoon and dug it into the dish before him. Then he stretched across the table and fed the person across from him! The recipient of this kindness thanked him and returned the favor by leaning across the table to feed his benefactor.
“I suddenly understood. Heaven and Hell offer the same circumstances and conditions. The critical difference is in the way the people treat each other.”
NO MAN IS AN ISLAND LYRICS: JOAN BAEZ
No man is an island,
No man stands alone,
Each man’s joy is joy to me,
Each man’s grief is my own.
We need one another,
So I will defend,
Each man as my brother,
Each man as my friend.
I saw the people gather,
I heard the music start,
The song that they were singing,
Is ringing in my heart.
No man is an island,
Way out in the blue,
We all look to the one above,
For our strength to renew.
When I help my brother,
Then I know that I,
Plant the seed of friendship,
That will never die.
At the Iroquois Nursing Home, Nursing Supervisor Susan Greer came—with a witness—to tell me that families of two residents had called to complain about what I’d written about their relatives who resided at the Iroquois, and one was going to take legal action. Greer told me I couldn’t write about them because of HIPAA. I am not a medical care provider and I am not bound by HIPAA.
The residents did not object; the relatives who had abandoned them did, and the staff that was mistreating them did. I told their stories.
“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”