Monday, January 14, 2008


It was just a little thing: a little nursing home composed of little people in a little town -- definitely not nearly as important as Britney whats-her-name's latest journey into rehab that made the news above the Middle East last week.

But it was important to those it affected. In a little town near where I live, with a little nursing home that used to be a little hospital, filled with little people who used to be housewives, school teachers, farmers, salesmen, writers, carpenters, and blacksmiths, something happened. Those former people are now line items of government funding that pays salaries of medical workers who give them their medicines, turn them in their beds, and occasionally give them a bath or take them to the restroom.

I've been amazed at the life that was still there when someone took the time to sit with them for a while and just listen. That little nursing home was only half full of patients. They had even converted most of the empty rooms to office space, maintenance headquarters, and storage rooms -- oh, yes, and a break room with coke machines and tables where the residents, who pay more daily than they would for an ocean cruise, were forbidden to enter unless lucky enough to be pushed in there by someone of my size and relative influence.

I felt at home there. I could sit in the living room with them, or go to their personal rooms and sit with them. I would hold my breath for the occasional waft of detergent and urine smell that I somehow think could have been removed. Sometimes I would go down to the dining room, pour myself a cup of coffee, and converse with them as they played dominoes or just sat and visited.

Then, the same week as Christmas, they were told that they all had to be out in the next 7 days. But it was okay. The big parent company that owns several nursing homes and knows how to soak them for the maximum in government money, was going to safely move them to the bigger home in the bigger nearby city.

I went there last week, looking for them. I found a few, though many were just names on the door. They are not there -- still in transit somewhere. The old place has yellow tape around it and stock trailers moving out furniture and equipment. The few I found smiled as they recognized me. I tried to visit with one of them in the lobby, but it was hard to do. It was too noisy. They had wheeled several older ones to watch the Cartoon Network, featuring "Spongebob Squarepants" and some act of violence against a Fred Flintstone lookalike. I wondered if anybody even cared whether these old people were being cared for.

The highly efficient staff asked me at least five times, "Can I help you, sir?" The translation, of course, is "You are not needed here." I wheeled one of my friends through the hallway. He wanted to see if there was a new place he could look out the window and see the occasional truck pass by like he used to do. I was checking the tags on the doors, trying to find my old friends. I was told at least three times that my friend "belonged" in the other wing. I stopped trying to explain. I really felt out of place in this geriatric processing unit.

I couldn't pour myself a cup of coffee in this place. I still haven't found a soda machine so I can slip one of my friends a forbidden Dr. Pepper before I leave. And I grieve one more piece of my life being cut off and thrown away.

Of course, it's for our own good. It's called "consolidation," which means sweeping up little things into bigger piles for easier disposal. Fifty years ago, we did it for our schools, to make education better. Of course, the people who could send us to the moon and back grew up in "pre-consolidated" schools. Consolidated schools teach about diversity and condom usage, and we wonder why things are not as good as they "used to be."

The nursing home building in the old place was actually a hospital that was built by a doctor in that small town so many years ago. It's easy to tell, because his old house was across the street, and when I sat on the front porch, sunning myself with my elderly friends, I would admire the construction of the old two-story house, built from the same stones. The doctor lived across the street because he wanted to be near his work. Of course, they had to shut that hospital down a generation ago and sent patients to hospitals twenty miles away, where they are now sent by helicopter to even bigger hospitals 200-300 miles away to get "quality" medical care.

We have been "consolidated" to absurdity. Buy a pencil, and it comes from a corporate warehouse in a big city that imported it from China. Remember when you could buy a food item, and it was the only thing the company made? Now it's a product from a division that's a subdivision of another entity which in turn belongs to another corporation with a hyphenated name. Everything you eat and drink, or take as medication, can be traced back to two or three worldwide mega-corporations who have never heard of you or the town you live in.

Now they are processing people. The day they closed the local nursing home, they also combined the only two in my old hometown. It seems the same corporation owned them, too. They did some type of consolidation that drove down costs while maintaining profit.

By the way, the bigger nursing home in the bigger town has a nice, corporate, enhanced soap-and-urine smell that way outdoes the old one.

Why consolidation? It's easier to control, it's less personal so you don't get mixed up with actual people, and it's way more profitable. And it's killed community hospitals, elderly care, small town schools, mom and pop operations, and ultimately, us!

Of course, our government has consolidated, too. States are no longer states, but administrative districts of an ever-increasing federal government. It's all around us. What can I do about it? First, call on all of us to maintain some form of individuality, to fiercely refuse to be labeled by the "consolidators," and to walk away from the hometown bank when the big corporation buys it -- at least until we don't have a choice; to pay a higher price when something says "Made in USA," and to tell your doctor you don't need another test somewhere else -- that the reason you came to your hometown clinic is because this is where you live.

I wonder if I'll ever spend another tranquil day with my elderly friends. They don't last too long, anyway, but I could always find new ones in my hometown nursing home. Now I will have to find new ways to acquaint myself with them -- after they clear processing, and before they are taken away to the showers.

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