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Marc Dion
Marc Dion
20 Oct 2014
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The Catheterization of Christmas

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When my wife wheeled me off the hospital elevator, 24 days before Christmas, two guys in blue work clothes with their names over the pockets were standing next to a flatbed dolly loaded with artificial evergreen boughs, some of which sported red bows.

"I think the ones on the bottom go outside," said the older of the two men, a fellow with a short gray beard.

I was going into the hospital for knee surgery.

To the punditopotamus, the word "hospital" leads to the words "health care," to the name "Obama," perhaps to dark mutterings against unionized nurses, to "death panels" and, as does everything in this fractured nation, back to a discussion of liberal and conservative thought.

I have health insurance through my job as a newspaper reporter. I pay about $74 a week for the insurance, and even with it, the ambulance ride after my fall cost me $150 and the hospital presented me with a bill for $1,000 during the "pre-surgery conference."

At night, in the three days after the surgery, I would tell them to leave the door to my room open so I could follow the life of my floor, a section of the hospital dedicated to people with orthopedic difficulties.

You slip into the life of a hospital the way you slip into the life of an Army barracks or a college dorm. Food comes when it comes. Your wife arrives with a take-out cup of coffee each night at 5:30. I didn't watch television. I read books I had stowed on my Kindle.

And, at night, half asleep, I'd listen to the ward. I'd hear the nurses laughing and talking and the old woman in the room next to me who spoke of her pain in broken English.

And at 1 a.m. on my first night, a nurse with a calm gaze catheterized me.

My father used to tell me, "Everyone who works every day is as good as you are, no matter what they do," and I never forgot that, and I watch working people work. I watch the middle-aged woman making coffee at the coffee shop and the truck driver easing down a one-way street and the roofing crew beetling their way from chimney to gutter.

I watched the nurses. I watched the nurse's aides. I watched the woman who cleaned the room and the burly, tattooed guy who wheeled my food in on a cart. My doctor I saw seldom. The woman with the mop I saw every day.

I said I read books on my Kindle, but I read nothing written after 1920 and nothing political, and I didn't watch television. Every day, my reporter wife brought me a copy of the newspaper for which we both work, but I didn't do more than scan the front page or read one of the stories she'd written.

It was just three days and nights in the hospital, but during that time, most of it spent alone or under a nurse's cool hands, I swung my compass needle away from the dreary political yawp about which I am paid to think.

That woman who catheterized me at 1 a.m.? Tea partier? Occupy Wherever-er? Gun owner? Christian?

The short woman in a green uniform who picked up the tissues into which I'd sneezed? Legal immigrant? Illegal? She spoke bad English to me, and I spoke worse Spanish to her.

She has two kids.

Where I live, the unemployment rate is at 13 percent. People will beg a not-too-friendly uncle who works in the hospital to "get them in" as a washer of laundry, a pusher of carts, a dumper of trash. It's steady work, and you could see that on the faces of the people who did the hospital's less glamorous work. They did not look triumphant, but they looked as though they could relax for a while. That is all most working people want, a moment between paychecks to breathe deeply because the last check paid bills and the next check is coming.

I, too, like that breathing space between paychecks, when you don't need money right this minute and you know more money is coming. And I, too, like to go about my trade calmly, like the woman who catheterized me, like the guys with the flatbed dolly full of evergreen boughs and the woman who was paid to pick up my used tissues and empty my urinal.

We were all working together on those night shifts, conniving at my comfort, helping me to heal, hurting me only when it could not be avoided, finding a nurse who spoke the same language as the woman with the broken hip.

And we did not argue about Ron Paul. Or the 9-9-9 tax plan or the war on Christmas. And one of the nurse's aides told me he liked to fish on his day off.

I do not recommend missing the last two steps of a steep flight of stairs. I do not suggest you sever a tendon in your knee or forget most of the English you know and then break your hip. I do not even suggest you go to work picking up used tissues in a hospital.

I suggest you turn off the television sometimes. I suggest you watch people work. I suggest you remember that politics is not life. It's just the way we organize life.

In America, we believe that each one of us is shockingly different from everyone else, and we get the same "edgy" tattoos to prove it.

But we are not that different. Lying in a bed, knee throbbing, missing your wife, taking a 15 minute break from your job cleaning the hallways, lobby and toilets of a big hospital, we are stunningly similar, looking for that easy-to- breathe moment between paychecks.

It's a good thing to remember, especially as we scream filth at each other in the months before an election.

To find out more about Marc Munroe Dion and ready features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit www.creators.com.

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