My fingers were hovering over my computer keys to record complaints about the presidential debate and state report cards when life intervened, as life often does. I spent a couple of days in the hospital correcting a health issue, and the break from my regular schedule afforded me the opportunity to adjust my perspective.
After a stop at the emergency room in Urbana, I hurtled through the night in a transport vehicle en route to a hospital room at Springfield Regional Medical Center, where I spent the next day and a half.
At the end of a hall with my door shut, it seemed I was in a bubble of sorts, insulated from the outside world except to occasionally brave a glance at one of the 24-hour news channels.
As my pain subsided, I began to observe the people caring for me. Initially I was reminded of a recollection from my gall bladder adventure a while back: my fascination with the color-coded uniforms worn by staff members. Hospitals everywhere probably utilize this system, but I find it ingenious.
The parade of workers dressed in every hue began and continued; men and women drew my blood, cleaned my room, brought me food, and kept my IV flowing. To a person, they were accommodating and professional.
I enjoyed speaking with all of them and delighted in talking a bit longer with a few. My interest in uniform color faded, as I found myself involved in several more-than-passing conversations.
The nursing aide who helped me to the restroom and back had lived in Germany during the 80’s while her husband served in the military. What a grand time we had sharing our experiences! My own memories came flooding back as she described favorite scenes of cobblestone streets and open windows filled with pillows and feather ticks airing out.
This remarkable lady – by turns machinist, Greek restaurant owner, and now nursing assistant – is also totally in love with her seven grandchildren, especially the tiny one who is the current apple of her eye. A much-wished-for return to Europe, however, is out of her question until those lights of her life have sufficient wings to leave the family nest.
Another nursing aide helped me face the new day clean in body, gown, and bed clothes. This mother of a six-year-old daughter had moved to a school district with a state report card she felt would provide her child with a good education.
She talked about always having read books together with her daughter and her pleasure with the child’s kindergarten experience and progress. However, she shared her concern about her first-grader’s recent nervousness during reading and uncharacteristic trouble writing some letters on homework assignments.
I agreed with her determination to remain in contact with the child’s teacher and to continue reading at home. However, I regretted anew that Ohio’s aggressive benchmark, testing, report card approach to education causes enough anxiety in students, teachers, and parents to disrupt the natural learning tempo and progress of a little girl.
The overnight nurse who ensured a steady flow of antibiotics intravenously and regular pills orally spoke with a noticeable accent. He and his wife did factory work for several years after they relocated from the Philippines to Springfield. Now RN’s, they work the same shift on the same days.
He spoke glowingly of their four children ranging in age from 27 to 17, all of whom are attending or have finished college, with the youngest taking advanced courses at the STEM academy in Springfield. When he was unable to find a vein to reposition my IV needle, his wife stopped in to help; and I heard her version of pride in their children.
I shared an important goal of our German exchange program at Graham: that my students had the experience of feeling like a foreigner, an exercise in empathy seldom available to many American citizens. This man, who has spent much of his life as an immigrant, agreed – somewhat wistfully I observed.
The day nurse who expertly juggled my medical needs with those of the several other patients assigned to her filled my room with sunshine. A Pennsylvania transplant, this Penn State grad described cheering her Nittany Lion husband-to-be during football games before the sadness of scandal descended upon Happy Valley. Her respect for Joe Paterno remains clearly intact, as she spoke of this coach’s great positive impact on her husband and his teammates.
Her unlimited vivacity skyrocketed even further when she talked about her two-year-old son. Pictures in her phone showed a lively little boy sprinting from adventure to adventure. However, I will never forget the deep concern with which she delivered these sobering words now imprinted upon my heart: “I must always remember that I am raising a young black man.”
While I have returned to the familiar comfort of my recliner to regain my energy, I am still thinking about the traveling grandmother, the mother of an anxious first-grader, the hardworking parents of four, the mother of a sweet toddler.
The great concerns I have and the challenges we face as a nation became more than televised news stories from distant locations. They are daily realities in the lives of just plain folks right around here who are raising the next generation and the one after that. Somehow, we must ALL do better for the children.