Caring for the crummy

If you’ve been reading this space lately, you know that for the last month, I’ve been involved with helping my father get through a little convalescent time in his life. I think he’s gonna be OK one of these days, although with the semi-perilous combination of my brother Tom and me acting as his principal caregivers, he might want to avoid buying really green bananas.

Don’t get me wrong, we mean well. It’s just that we don’t get as concerned as we should when we catch the old man talking to imaginary beings in the corner of his room. Home health professionals inform us that saying, “Sorry, didn’t mean to interrupt, back in a minute,” isn’t the textbook way to handle that situation.

In the last five weeks, I’ve seen more of our sprawling, raging, reeling healthcare system than I’ve seen in the last 10 years. I’ve come into contact with doctors, nurses, hospitals and emergency rooms, and all of these various episodes and incidents have inspired me to say something to all of you who work in the health care biz.

Thanks. Thanks a lot for busting your humps to make us feel better when we aren’t doin’ so well.

When I took my dad to his oncologist’s office one morning, I caught a glimpse of something that sticks with me. The waiting room that morning was filled with patients, an overflow crowd of 40 to 50 people. And in an oncologist’s office, you know almost every patient there has heard, or is about to hear, some very bad news. Some of the folks looked OK, some of them looked pretty bad, some looked downright horrible.

One of the doctors opened the door to call in a new patient, and then he looked up. I could see that, just for a second, he was startled at the sight of this overflow room. That “Oh Jesus, it’s gonna be a long one” look flashed upon his face. Then, he sucked it up, gathered himself, greeted the next patient and took her inside. Right there, I appreciated the gravity of the scene. I mean, this wasn’t a crowded coffee shop, with a lot of folks wanting good food in a flash. Nope, this was a tad heavier, with a lot of people who are dying and feeling crummy, and they wanted to stop dying, or, at the very least, stop feeling crummy.

To face each one of those folks five days a week, patient after patient, and you gotta keep the cell phone on at 11 at night … well, that sure ain’t the definition of a breeze gig.

And now, every time I think of that somber scene in “the boneyard,” I think of that old joke about how I want to die in my sleep like my grandpa, not screaming and begging for mercy like the other three people in his car.