I Never Lost My Mind Before and I Really, Really Miss It

You go to Crouse Hospital to fill your baby bucket. A baby bucket is one of those things that look like a big hard-plastic sphere that’s been cut in half, then filled with cushiony things and blankets. A big handle is added and then you got yourself a bucket for carrying your baby.

This afternoon while I was outside I observed a daddy juggling the car keys and two large coffees while his little daughter spun around an empty baby bucket on the sidewalk. They were going to take Mom her favorite coffee and then go to the nursery and fill the baby bucket. Then they all would go home and be a bigger family.

Also, while outside, I observed a triangle of soil filled with ten or fifteen very big chrysanthemum plants. All but one was white-and-purple. The singular distinctive plant was bright yellow and sort of purplish/rust colored. The guy loading the chrysanthemum plants at the greenhouse grabbed one that was atypical, and what do you do about that?

Likewise, when God delivers a person who doesn’t fit the pattern then what do you do about it? Send it back? Transplant it to somewhere else? Shrug and say, “Well, that’s just the way life is?” What do you do about the person who is taller than everybody else, or has perfect pitch, or is smarter than everybody? What if the bright yellow person has invisible illnesses like chronic hyperglycemia or immune dysfunction, type unknown? How do you react to the yellow flower in a field of white?

The Clock Tower Café—a cafeteria by another name—is located in the basement of one of Crouse Hospital’s buildings and is easily the worst place to use by a person in a wheelchair. The aisles are narrow; the food is all behind heavy glass doors; the soup is up too high, as is the pizza; the plastic ware and condiments are unreachable at the back of a wide table. The place is awful if you’re in a wheelchair.

Except for one thing: Crouse’s cafeteria has people. Not only does it have a lot of Dietary people working there, but also all those other hospital people drifting through as they get their food. And all those people OFFER to help. They don’t wait to be asked; they take the initiative, which raises the question of what the point is in making things wheelchair accessible.

If the point is to enable wheelchair users to feed themselves then Crouse is awful. If the point is to get fed then Crouse is perfect. Since I’ve spent three months here this year and am only mentioning this now, I guess it’s pretty clear that I’ve made my decision. I think people helping people is way cool. I don’t think people in wheelchairs care much about being independent. The problem is that there are so few people upon whom we can depend.

We care about independence only when there is no alternative. For example, Unity Church wins my worst-building award because of its narrow driveway, obstructive threshold, long flight of stairs, and nonexistent bathroom on the sanctuary floor. That’s architectural inaccessibility, which is an abomination.

An electric wheelchair weighs 250 lbs., plus the weight of the occupant. Where are you going to get six guys to carry you up the stairs? It can’t be done. This is why we want elevators. Crouse’s only two architectural obstacles are the toileting stalls, which only may exist in the single/isolation rooms. The stalls are so narrow that there isn’t room for an overweight person to get their arm back to wipe their butt.

This results in having to call for assistance and too many nursing assistants whine “Can’t you do it yourself?” Seriously, how stupid can they get? Do you think any human being WANTS somebody else to wipe their butt? It’s bad enough that you have to ask; having to beg is horrific. Could the nursing assistants please have this explained to them in simple terms they can understand? Doesn’t Crouse have some thing about treating you with dignity?

Okay, I can understand that the assistants don’t want to do it either, but hey—it’s part of the job. In her old age, my grandmother had to have her butt wiped, too. My mom, doing caretaking, said, “I never expected to be wiping my mother’s bottom but somebody’s got to do it and I’m somebody.” So could you girls please grow up and do what needs to be done without humiliating your patients?

The other apparently inaccessible place at Crouse is the chapel, except that it’s not really inaccessible—you just have to take a different elevator to get there—and once again the problem is human, not architectural. I asked the security guard for directions to the chapel and his directions put me straight up against a flight of stairs. So what—he didn’t NOTICE that I was in a wheelchair?

Have people always been this dumb? Didn’t people used to THINK? Is this a new concept, or what? Let me tell you about Kirstin, a Registered Nurse, who is so small that she barely can reach to change the date on the whiteboard hung across from my bed, but Kirstin THINKS. All the time. Does it like it comes naturally to her.

I don’t think so hot anymore—honest to God, one day I had a problem and a nurse said, “Um, well, if you take two or three steps to the left, I think you’ll be okay.” Damn skippy. I never lost my mind before and I really, really miss it. So I need some lidocaine so I can eat my meals, but the problem is that I order the meal, half an hour later it’s delivered, but it’s not until I take the first bite that I scream and realize I should have requested the lidocaine but I keep forgetting.

So Kirstin and I talk about it. What are we gonna do with the patient who can’t remember? (My short-term memory also is pretty well gone and I miss it terribly. Came in handy.) Anyway, Little Miss Problem-Solver Kirstin proposes that we put a note on the above-mentioned whiteboard, which I think is an excellent idea but then I go her one better and put the note inside the menu: When you order lunch, also order lidocaine.

Life sucks. I’m gonna take another nap.

About annecwoodlen

I am a tenth generation American, descended from a family that has been working a farm that was deeded to us by William Penn. The country has changed around us but we have held true. I stand in my grandmother’s kitchen, look down the valley to her brother’s farm and see my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Hannah standing on the porch. She is holding the baby, surrounded by four other children, and saying goodbye to her husband and oldest son who are going off to fight in the Revolutionary War. The war is twenty miles away and her husband will die fighting. We are not the Daughters of the American Revolution; we were its mothers. My father, Milton C. Woodlen, got his doctorate from Temple University in the 1940’s when—in his words—“a doctorate still meant something.” He became an education professor at West Chester State Teachers College, where my mother, Elizabeth Hope Copeland, had graduated. My mother raised four girls and one boy, of which I am the middle child. My parents are deceased and my siblings are estranged. My fiancé, Robert H. Dobrow, was a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps. In 1974, his plane crashed, his parachute did not open, and we buried him in a cemetery on Long Island. I could say a great deal about him, or nothing; there is no middle ground. I have loved other men; Bob was my soul mate. The single greatest determinate of who I am and what my life has been is that I inherited my father’s gene for bipolar disorder, type II. Associated with all bipolar disorders is executive dysfunction, a learning disability that interferes with the ability to sort and organize. Despite an I.Q. of 139, I failed twelve subjects and got expelled from high school and prep school. I attended Syracuse University and Onondaga Community College and got an associate’s degree after twenty-five years. I am nothing if not tenacious. Gifted with intelligence, constrained by disability, and compromised by depression, my employment was limited to entry level jobs. Being female in the 1960’s meant that I did office work—billing at the university library, calling out telegrams at Western Union, and filing papers at a law firm. During one decade, I worked at about a hundred different places as a temporary secretary. I worked for hospitals, banks, manufacturers and others, including the county government. I quit the District Attorney’s Office to manage a gas station; it was more honest work. After Bob’s death, I started taking antidepressants. Following doctor’s orders, I took them every day for twenty-six years. During that time, I attempted%2
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