The doctor who saw me in the ER wrote in her report: “nice 67 y.o. male, flat affect, awake, alert and appropriate.” I had appeared with slurred speech and a balloon in my head, had driven myself to United Hospital in St. Paul, parked in No Parking, walked in and was triaged right in to a neurologist who trundled me into the MRI Space-Time Cyclotron for 50 minutes of banging and whanging which produced a picture of the stroke in the front of my brain, so off to the Mayo Clinic I went and the St. Mary’s Hospital Neurology ICU and was wired up to monitors. A large day in a nice 67 y.o. man’s life . . .
. . . Nurses are smart and brisk and utterly capable. They bring some humor to the situation. (“Care for some jewelry?” she says as she puts the wristband on me.) And women have the caring gene that most men don’t. Men push you down the hall in a gurney as if you’re a cadaver, but whenever I was in contact with a woman, I felt that she knew me as a brother. The women who draw blood samples at Mayo do it gently with a whole litany of small talk to ease the little blip of puncture, and “Here it comes” and the needle goes in, and “Sorry about that,” and I feel some human tenderness there, as if she thought, “I could be the last woman to hold that dude’s hand.” A brief sweet moment of common humanity.
And that is a gift to the man who has been struck by a stroke: our common humanity. It’s powerful in a hospital. Instead of a nice linen jacket and cool jeans and black T, you are shuffling around in a shabby cotton gown like Granma in “Grapes of Wrath,” and you pee into a plastic container under the supervision of a young woman who makes sure you don’t get dizzy and bang your noggin.
Two weeks ago, you were waltzing around feeling young and attractive, and now you are the object of Get Well cards and recipient of bouquets of carnations. Rich or poor, young or old, we all face the injustice of life — it ends too soon, and statistical probability is no comfort. We are all in the same boat, you and me and ex-Gov. Sarah Palin and Congressman Joe Wilson, and wealth and social status do not prevail against disease and injury. And now we must reform our health insurance system so that it reflects our common humanity. It is not decent that people avoid seeking help for want of insurance. It is not decent that people go broke trying to get well. You know it and I know it. Time to fix it.