I spent yesterday morning at the county hospital getting a prescription refilled. I called it in for refill last week, but it takes five business days to get a prescription refilled. I meant to get up at about 5:30 a.m. to drive over there and be sure to get a parking space. I kept thinking to myself that it is difficult to get a parking space. The hospital’s outpatient services will be closed over the upcoming holiday. People with scheduled services like chemotherapy and radiation will have to be shifted to days the hospital is open, creating log jams on the days the hospital is open.
At 5:30 a.m. I rolled over and went to sleep again. I was tired to the bone. My joints hurt. I have put on some weight because I am not getting out and about as I usually would. My bladder has been painful. I have some ringing in my ears. I have a painless rash on my shins. I am tired. I had tossed and turned most of the night.
So I expected to have this errand take all day. But it did not. It must have been a Christmas miracle.
I drove around the parking lot a few times but found a space. That alone was a surprise. You take it for granted that there will be sufficient parking at a hospital. Not so at Stroger Hospital. People sometimes have to park blocks away and wait for a shuttle. And it is cold this week. That would have been a misery.
Once in the building, I was prepared to encounter long lines. However, the place was no more crowded than usual. I sat in the main waiting room of the hospital for about five minutes. I was girding my loins so to speak for the short walk across the street to the Fantus Clinic. The wind was blowing hard and snow was falling. I was not looking forward to running through a cloud of cigarette smoke around the exits or dodging cars in the street between the buildings.
There were about twenty people seated there. The chairs with huge bites taken out of them had suffered more nibbling. One man kept getting up, walking over to a trash can and spitting into it. It had one of those lids that has to be pressed in with your hand to access the trash receptacle. Each time the man spit I imagined how far his cold or flu was spread. I know I shuddered at the thought. A maintenance man with a bucket was washing down doors and door handles, but the trash can was filthy.
One man sat with his crutches at his side. He appeared to have spent some time on the street. His clothes were dirty. But his foot was in a cast that appeared to be of recent vintage. He wore his coat, a hat, and gloves even though we were indoors. His big toe stuck out of the cast. It was clean, but I wondered how long it could stay that way. And he talked to himself. He was not loud enough for me to decipher what he said, but he was loud enough for me to know that he was angry and fearful. His eyes were squinted and he appeared mean as could be, but his whole body trembled at the same time. There was so much tension in every muscle of his body that I could not help but think about the battles that must go on inside of him every day.
The man next to me was about six feet tall. He also wore enough clothes to bear the cold outdoors. He wore a baseball cap pushed back on his head. He wore dark glasses that balanced on his forehead. Whenever the man with the crutches got particularly excited about something, the man next to me would dip his head. The sunglasses would drop down onto the bridge of his nose and he would stare long and hard. That’s how most of us feel comfortable staring at “crazy.” We hide behind dark glasses so the other person only suspects that we are watching.
It must be difficult to look “crazy” in its face and have to deal with it every day. In our society we have released our mentally ill citizens from institutions and now let them fend for themselves between appointments. This means that their families are the ones who must try to ensure that they have a place to live and receive treatment.
Everyone knows someone in need of treatment or looking out for someone in need of treatment. I have plenty of friends who cope every day with a mental condition or a relative with a mental condition. One friend has a brother who is living with strangers. She wonders if those strangers help her brother or prey on him to gain access to his federally paid disability income. She has tried to assume the role of being his protector, but he resists family supervision.
A former coworker has a sister with schizophrenia. Their mom kicked the sister out. My friend has fought for her sister’s disability benefits, hunted for her in shelters and on the street, gotten her sister job training, and watched as her sister has repeatedly damaged her prospects by not taking medications or wasting her money.
A friend of my mom takes care of a husband with dementia. Another friend has cared for a dad with Alzheimer’s disease. One friend has taken anti-anxiety and depression drugs for years. Another has several children with varying degrees of autistic behavior. Alcoholism is a significant problem in this country. Other forms of drug abuse or addiction are difficult to combat. I encounter many homeless people on the street and some of them appear to have a form of mental illness.
I did not have a pair of dark glasses to hide behind as I sat there watching that man addressing the demons within, so I got up and walked away. Where does a man who lives on the street go when he has a foot in a cast? Our country has significant financial problems that our elected officials seem unwilling to handle. Any segment of our society that cannot speak for itself will likely find itself facing reduced services and support in the coming months and years.
As a society, we don’t have to look too far to find our mentally ill citizens talking to themselves. Maybe we can find some time to talk about this problem with each other and find the resources to care for those who cannot care for themselves.
I crossed the street and picked a number (B151) at the Fantus Clinic. The clinic’s staff were already working with B145. It took about forty minutes for them to call my number. I sat in the waiting area along with about twenty other people. There were people from the street who smelled of urine and the kind of sweat that doesn’t come from being hot. It was the smell of sickness and alcohol and despair.
One man worked the room. He was drawing the people to the first row and talking them into watching what was on the TV. It was the stories of The Bible; and I did not have to be facing the screen to see that it was the story of Moses that was told. The actress said, “What’s that in the water? Is it a crocodile?” Someone else answered, “It’s a basket. Get it for me.” The servant opened it and said, “Look, it’s a baby.”
The man said to his assembled observers, “Look, that queen gone and took in a baby that weren’t hers. And she raised him like he was royal. Someday someone’s goin’ to do that for you, too. What kind of baby are you goin’ to be? You can be like Moses and say that the riches of the mighty pharaohs are not enough to make me turn my back on the people of God. Or you can do what’s right and turn away from wealth and riches and fight for the people God loves. What kind of man are you goin’ to be?” (Interesting idea to offer only “two” good approaches.)
I found myself smiling at the idea that this hospital preacher’s congregation was going to be Moses’ army on earth, but what do I know about that subject? Isn’t the Salvation Army filled with people who seemed lost and found their way to a life that serves them and others well?
After I got my prescription and got back to my car, I drove past several intersections where homeless people ask for money. I was going to give something because I usually do that. But I saw something I don’t see every day. I saw a man holding a folded cardboard sign reach into his pocket and give some money to another man walking on crutches. I could not tell if it was the man from the hospital waiting room, but the corner was close enough to the hospital for that to be the case.
The spirit of generosity that causes us as individuals and as a nation to reach out and help our fellow man comes from a well so deep that even those in need give every day to help someone worse off than themselves. The only way to replenish that well is to keep digging, even when it hurts to do so. That is the spirit that makes this a great nation.