Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Care givers and takers…

So, I guess I will take a couple of minutes to talk about my current situation, which, really, I am not very happy with. Specifically, the situation I am speaking about is my stay at the Metropolitan Jewish Geriatric Center and my relationship to the administrative staff and specifically a social worker here who has taken it upon herself to “teach” me a little something about life under her. I could say that staying here was a mistake on a couple of levels, some of it having to do with how I got out here in the first place. I am speaking of the Jewish community in Pinsk who offered to sponsor my coming out here in place of continuing my surgery at the Belarusian hospital. This is not to suggest that this base idea was bad because obviously, the level of care and opportunities available at the Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center far exceed any similar possibilities in the 12 Story Pinsk Hospital and this also includes the quality of the prosthetics available as well. But what I am speaking about specifically is my time spent here in the geriatric/rehabilitation center, which has been, unilaterally, pretty bad and this social worker has been making a point of making it worse.

But let’s take this one point at a time. Concerning the house itself, there have been any number of incidents which I have seen or been a part of which have basically turned me cold on the place. I am speaking specifically about the staff’s attitude towards the residents and the quality of the care that they give. I am speaking here about ignoring or insulting the residents and even practicing physical and mental abuse. As for myself, I could include the theft of a rather huge (for me) sum of money from my room by a nurse while I was downstairs last Saturday night and the subsequent torture and denial of an exit pass immediately after–I suggested that the hospital was liable-boom, you wanna sue? No sunshine for you! For me personally, this last business is really the number 1 thing that is bothering me because even not counting the money, it makes my life here pretty much unlivable and depressing on a far greater level than it has to be.

But what has become interesting to me is not my own emotions or feelings but my fascination with the people who are actively screwing me over. My feeling is that their manner of dealing with me is probably pretty consistent with how they deal with everybody. And I feel that at its root, their actions are based upon a deep personal greed and desire to exercise power and to dictate policy over someone’s life. And of course naturally, this sets them up at adversarial to the human needs of the people they would have been, in theory, there to protect.

You can take for this the comic “Peanuts” as an example. I don’t think anybody likes Lucy, do they? Lucy you remember is Charlie Brown’s nemesis. Maybe a good question to ask would be something like: Who would Charlie Brown be without Lucy? I think that he could exist without her quite well really. I mean, there are other girls in the comic. Probably, without the added depression and beatings, he would be working on his baseball or football skills. Possibly, he would be building on the goods and trimming the bads and maybe even getting better. Maybe he wins the spelling bee without Lucy as his manager or manages to throw a pitch without getting his clothes knocked off. But the real point is that Charlie Brown would exist without Lucy but Lucy, kneeling alone in the grass and playing with the football, does not have a reason to exist without Charlie Brown. And if perhaps there was the potential for Lucy to rationalize the symbiotic relationship, wouldn’t you think she might just one time just hold the ball so he could kick it? Wouldn’t you think allowing him to grow might be more sensible than reminding him that he can’t even beat the girl holding the ball?

No one likes to feel like they are under the heel or at the whim of another’s pleasure without having made the decision to be there. Having a sense of independence and freedom would be rather deeply seeded in most people’s minds, or at least I would think it would be to Americans. And to have that freedom abridged and ending up in a prison-like situation (and a corrupt prison at that), or even just to be saddled with a random and arbitrary person who has the power to tell you what to do, really robs the life out of you on a very, very deep and personal level. Or to say it briefly, being here and under the forced adherence to these social workers is depressing as hell.

I remember this last year I had a student who was a teacher at the University. She was a pretty serious academic, a Doctor of Philology (The Study of Languages) and her story at the outset was that she had had another teacher of English but was really unable to get her grammar together. And you know, she was a great and picked up the ideas of my method and was able to piece together a pretty intelligent essay in about two weeks and her success made her very happy. But what happened was, immediately after this session, she started talking about her personal life and saying that she had just moved from Minsk and was lonely and bored and in need of some company yadda yadda yadda, and my reaction was to offer to go and hang out and have a walk around Pinsk. I don’t know that I was feeling any angels or sparks or whatever one is supposed to feel, but I wasn’t opposed to the walk. But oddly, in response to my agreement, she began telling me that her parents were very strict and it was difficult to go out with somebody without a lot of questions being asked.

So I took a second look at this woman and I asked to hold on a minute and said that she was already 35 years old and where would her parents still be exercising such control over her? Well that was her story and that was all and as it doesn’t really take all that much to turn somebody off I decided to back off a little. But when I retreated I got a very odd response: She became very, very angry at me. And after, she began to make it very, very clear that her position in the university was such that if I was thinking about getting ahead in the university (I wasn’t) that I really needed to know that she was someone who really needed to be respected. And I told her that it was not that I didn’t respect her it was just that I just wasn’t really looking for a relationship at that time and frankly, wasn’t really convinced that she was looking for someone like me. And of course she went on about what she could do to me and horrible it could be and I remember thinking that really, the answer to this problem was this tiny little nugget of truth that this lady did not understand. Simply said: Fascism is not sexy.

So the thing that comes to mind after a couple of weeks of incarceration here at The Metropolitan Jewish Geriatric Center is that the prevailing attitude of spoiled fascist entitlement these social workers have, is also running all through the administrative ranks and down through the nursing and assistant nursing as well. It is in fact, the prevailing attitude here. And it is such an unfortunate thing. There is a language which erupts here, kind of a bureaucrat-speak that the administrators and workers use to communicate with the residents. It basically revolves around the excuse of “I am not allowed to do this thing because the bureaucracy does not allow me to do it”. Now it doesn’t matter if the excuse is true or not true because the staff here does not use these excuses to defend the house but rather to defend or cover for their own laziness (defend might not be the best word because it implies that they would be right in their action- mostly they know damned well they are wrong, but do it anyway). And having the power of this excuse, allows for the de-evolution of the quality of work and care as well as patient staff relations to the point that people simply wallow here. And from the point of view of a helpless 80 year old who can’t even control their bowels, it amounts to a daily insult, or worse, a daily request to simply get it over with and die- they are not needed or appreciated any more and the staff, the people who are paid exactly to do so, are too busy to care

As an example, I went and asked at the desk to have the air conditioning in our room lowered to a less meat locker-like level. I had been under three blankets for several days and could even see my breath and one day, decided that it was high time to try and deal with this particular problem. I went to the desk and, shockingly enough, the nurse actually picked up the phone and made the call. Within a few seconds a uniformed “engineer” appeared from the back and I led him over to our room. I suggested he stand right under the AC unit, which could also have been useful in a cryogenics lab, and though noticeably goose pimpling right before my eyes, the engineer decided to practice his head screwing technique and asked me why I had not complained earlier. That’s the important point? I answered that in my heart, though I loved him deeply (his name was Anthony- I could see this written on his shirt) and also felt this way for his wife, children, brothers, sisters and all of their kin, and would happily join with all of them for a weekend BBQ and to sit and sip schnapps together as the children played, I simply could not understand why he could not understand that I was making the complaint at that very minute and that therefore some sort of current time attention was needed. He answered by asking why I had not complained at night. I suppose this also meant something, though it escaped me. Obviously he had a lot of Sherlock Holmes in him and these “time of complaint” issues had some deeper and more subtle nuisances to them than were apparent on the surface to layman like myself. At the moment I cursed myself for lack of attention to some teacher I must have ignored somewhere in my background. Some TV show I had failed to watch which would have explained the obvious logic he was using to defeat my query. But despite my own incompetence, and probably stemming from some deep rooted “go ahead and fly by the seat of your pants” bravado I must have picked up from somewhere, I decided to persevere anyway.

“Anthony, please, I don’t understand why there is the necessity to put the fault of the situation back on me as to the timing of the complaint. The complaint is currently being made! It is happening during the very moment of our standing together and is very connected to the sounds coming from me and the movement of my lips and also from the frost which is now in your hair and those icicles which are now beginning to form at the bottom of your ears and nose.”

He was unmoved by humor and continued to defiantly stand there smiling at me and enjoying his little mental game. I don’t know, maybe he was proud of his sarcastic abilities. Or maybe he had heard I am a teacher was trying to show me had done his head screw homework and had learned bureau-speak. Maybe he thought there would be praise from this.

But really it was my neighbor, Regina, a very frail and thin old lady who is currently suffering from lung disease who won the day for us. She called for my attention from the next room and told me that she was also cold as hell adding in that she had been asking for weeks for them to lower the AC and that she had been begging her children to bring her extra sweaters to help her make it through her nights. I offered that Anthony should maybe also talk to my neighbor and I guess hearing the identical complaint from a withered 80 pound old woman with an oxygen tube slung over her ears made a difference. In any case, this made it was 2-1 and being a fascist, he knew about being outnumbered and retreated the 20 or so meters (probably equal in scope to the Bataan death march as far as he was concerned) to the back and made the 1/8 turn of the valve and eased the temperature for us.

I have a picture in my mind of a young person, maybe 15 or 16 years of age, thinking about what they want to do with their lives and perhaps recognizing that they have a big heart and care about people and so they decide to go into the health care field. Maybe the more ambitious students decide to try to be doctors and the more emotionally inclined decide nursing would be the better choice. But it has to be that the base idea (other than getting rich for the doctors) would be that they do in fact want to help people. There is no other way. Probably, nursing assistants didn’t put all that much thought into it, but you get the idea.

But I wonder where the along the line the idea changed here from trying to keep the elderly comfortable to keeping them beaten down to make things easier on themselves. When did it become more important to preserve laziness and incompetence than doing the job of being good to people who need the care? I mean, where is simply giving an extra blanket or bringing a cup of juice so hard? Or even just a smile or a short conversation with someone who is simply lonely. I just find it hard to look at and really, when I talk to the residents, there isn’t a single one here who would stand up and dance a jig (if they could) and sing the praises of the staff or their care. And this includes visiting family members- everybody here gets the picture about how bad it is.

You can of course dismiss this and say that the old folks are not well people to start with and therefore are grumpy generally. You can also say that it is wrong to say that there aren’t any serious or talented or dedicated people amongst the staff. And this is true too because there are several really standout people here as well. I talked with Kumar yesterday, who is as fine an example of a CNA as you could find, and who always does what she can to help and communicates reasonably with her people. I told her I really liked how she worked and she mentioned that she was actually the award winner the previous year and had been a record breaker when it came to receiving merit awards. So, really, all of this is pretty seeable.

But generally, to me, I feel that this place they have stuffed me into is more like a war than a care situation. The relationship between staff and resident is bad and no one is happy. And in my case, the problem is that the attitudes of these social workers (ironically, they are both Russian) that their power is more important than my health or mental well being, is really beating me down. Their point is that if I want to be able to go to a friend for a father’s day BBQ or to hobble up the street to get a bagel and coffee is something I want to do, I can pay for that through them. They stand in the road and therefore have the power. I understand that I need to come to heal, but really, to hell with them. I’ve met these people before and of course it would be a huge oversight not to include them along with their Polish brethren right here on the pages of the BEING HAD Blog.

Such a situation.

I don’t know. I think if I had to assign blame here, I think that the real responsibility should fall on the fathers of the two social workers. I mean, when he noticed that thier daughters might have a little something and might be going somewhere in the world, he probably should have pulled them aside and given them “the lesson”, the real truth about the world and how people should comport themselves in it. They should have told them that fascism is not sexy and making the mistake of thinking that it is a grave and irreparable mistake. I really wish they would have thought of teaching them that because I bet there have been a lot of people who could have gone to a lot of BBQ's along the way. Yea, they messed that one up. Probably, they were drunk at the time.

More soon...


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