With respect to Socrates, my unexamined life is not worth living. The front room is the face we show everyone but we hide our true self in the back room.
(I wrote this piece while I struggled with the recent book review. The previous words were eventually scrapped and I started fresh. This was the writing exercise that helped me to refocus.)
And then nothing.
Lost inspiration and frustration in not getting the right groove back. And so agonizing the search to reclaim my brain.
So here I sit in this early afternoon on the sofa, with windows opened everywhere, catching cross-ventilation splendid to my bare shoulders. I’m drinking orange juice while being soothed by the pre-1990 Angelique Kidjo recording. It could just as easily be a pint of Guinness and Wes Montgomery. Delightful conditions for inspiration.
(courtesy of Bi Tra)
I knew I would need gasoline this week so I went to the bank machine across the street last Friday. The tank finally fell below 60 miles to go, as read on my dashboard, so I pulled into a Shell. The station is rarely busy and I can get back out on the road in five minutes.
I have 20 dollars to fill the tank to my satisfaction. Where I live it is advantageous to use cash so I try to always have it on hand. The same attendant serves me every time, a man in his 50’s with olive skin and black hair, always repeating my request before proceeding. Afterwards he comes back to the passenger side and I hand him the twenty. He instinctively reaches into his pants. “No, keep it,” I say. I always say it. And he always smiles, nodding and reaches into the car to shake my hand. “Thank you. Thank you very much. Have a good day!” he says. I return his request and grin.
The transaction does not go as well unless I have the twenty. Handing over a tip has been a little dicey. I hand the eighteen dollars over and then they just walk away. I never know quite how to handle the situation but the twenty has worked every time. “Worked” meaning that they receive the tip, seem happy about it, thus making me happy for the rest of my journey.
(Angelique over. New CD. Courtney Barnett. Australian singer. Think female Lou Reed.)
(courtesy of milkrecordsmelbourne)
I tip. I love to tip. I love to be served. I’m willing to pay for service and reward accordingly. I don’t cook either. Fortunately, I have a wife who is not only a fantastic cook but loves to cook for me. And I reward her accordingly.
Work was fine today. Actually, it was better than fine. Every floor I go to has different ideas of “social activity” and the results are often surprising. The third floor welcomed me with “One in a Million You”. Most of the patients were still in bed but the Larry Graham tune had me floating into the lounge area just the same. My hips swayed and fingers snapped as the song segued into Sylvia’s “Pillow Talk”. Her come hither whispers may not have been apropos for this venue (maybe her earlier “Love is Strange” popularized by the film Dirty Dancing would have been a safer choice) though the nursing aides grooving along would have disagreed.
Toni Braxton’s “Love Shoulda Brought you Home” came on and now it was a party. Well, not really, because one of my patients was having difficulty adjusting to his new face. Apparently, one of the nurses shaved him this morning, taking his mustache in the bargain. With every new compliment on how young he looked he responded with a tearful, “She just kept on cutting me and now I look fucking stupid,” or just breaking into tears. Of course, a few minutes later he displayed the same tears describing his last good dinner, years ago, made by his wife at home. “Baked yams. Macaroni and cheese. Green beans. And (sniff) Popeye’s chicken. I love (sniff) Popeye’s.” Those tears I could understand. I, too, have been reduced to tears from the wonder that is Popeye’s chicken.
I reassured him his face would return to its original look in a few days, but he was inconsolable. And this is where empathy becomes a lost art. The nurse got fed up with his “complaining” telling him “you shoulda stopped me” but it wasn’t all about the face. It was mostly about the loss of his independence. He was at another’s mercy for daily activities. Such an adjustment one may never get over. They are left with people like me discussing “coping skills” and what would he like to “deal with adverse situations”.
The fifth floor is not nearly as groovy and free. For one, the activities manager has an office on the floor. If the music is not to her liking or too loud for her tastes, she will huff and storm into the lounge area making the necessary changes. If I am at the nurses’ station writing a note and I can hear the music enough to appreciate it I know the manager will be passing by momentarily to ruin it for everyone.
(Courtney out. Now… Laura Mvula. Shimmering soul poetry.)
(courtesy of paulusthewoodgnome)
So on the fifth floor, the sound is Mary J. Blige’s “I’m Going Down”. One of those slow build songs not conducive to multimedia distraction like the television blasting an episode of Hot Bench, the intercom constantly interrupting with a request for the red Nissan with the license plate NYC45G to please move your vehicle you’re blocking someone in, the phone ringing, or one of the residents screaming at the other because their wheelchair is in their way. The only things “going down” on the fifth floor are people’s moods. I spend a good portion of the day listening to residents say how much they hate this place. Some have unrealistic expectations of returning home, though to be fair many of them have not been told they cannot return home. Some have requests like renewal of oxygen tanks or calling a family member simply ignored. From my lofty bi-weekly view the treatment of the residents appears to be at the caprice of nursing aides.
But I am not downhearted. For I am thankful of the life I have now. And in between psychotherapy, I am constantly inspired with ideas. Hardly any of them come to fruition by the time I get home but that’s on me. Being out there with a purpose, often with a bouncy soundtrack, buoys my resolve. It allows me to shape my professional dialogue with fidelity. When I suggest an alternative to isolating in their hospital room, I can explore what being in their room gives them, seeing if the addition of the cacophony above would enhance their day rather than just saying “you’d be better off with people, socializing, rather than cooped up in your room”. Many are incapable of verbalizing their wants on cue thus exemplifying the virtue of patience.
After over a decade in the helping profession my feelings about service have clarity. I appreciate the service of many because I do not wish to do what they do, though would like to reap the spoils of their efforts. “Thank you for your service!” “Delicious meal!” “Keep the change!”