VOL. 132 | NO. 199 | Friday, October 6, 2017
Hey, Hope, How Are You?
“HEY, DAN.” I was attempting to visit a friend in extended care at Regional One. That’s in the Turner Tower. “The what?” the parking lot attendant replied, and then added, “Got to be one of those.”
“The those” were all the backs of all the buildings we were staring at, an architectural metaphor both for the disparate mess our health care system has become and for the navigation of same.
I followed someone in scrubs through a door and asked someone else in scrubs where Turner Tower was. She was kind enough to take me on a “shortcut” through all sorts of swinging doors and down long hallways between buildings and by lots of people in nametags to an unmarked service elevator.
When the elevator doors opened, I walked around a corner and into Tem Mitchell’s room.
Tem has been an art director and production manager in a couple of my ad agencies, and a steady friend and reliable smile across my unsteady career. When a bookkeeper’s malfeasance cost me the last of those agencies, Tem cried when I made the announcement – not for the loss of his job but for pain he saw in my eyes and in the slump of my shoulders.
On a Saturday two months ago, he was playing with his grandkids on a Horseshoe Lake dock. A couple of days later he was in the emergency room, and then ICU, conscious but barely, confused and in pain, and then in some sort of tortured, suspended state. His facial expressions were a map of a mind receiving awful signals and unable to verbally express them, his responses and movements were primal, and then they were almost nothing.
They didn’t know what it was – some sort of encephalitis – and then came the diagnosis – West Nile Virus – for which there is no cure. Can mosquitoes ever leave us the hell alone? Gini and the family watched, waited and talked to him all the time with no response. Reality became a visitor as well. Living wills became a subject. Recovery became a hope, and then a distant hope. He was moved to extended care.
Then I heard he was better. Said something. Told Gini he loved her, knew names of family members, the name of his cat.
“Hey, Dan,” Tem said when I walked into the room.
I cried. Not in the room, I was laughing in the room, but out in the hall as I retraced my steps. Scrubs #2 walked by again. “Are you all right?”
“Oh, yeah,” I said, “I’m fine.”
Tem’s long and tortuous journey is what health care is really about, not that scary clown circus performing as Congress, not the indifference to millions upon millions who would never have an opportunity for recovery, who would die from a mosquito bite for want of insurance.
No family should have to go through what Tem’s family has, but every family should have every chance to hear someone they love say “hey” again.
I’m a Memphian, and hey, Tem.
Dan Conaway, a communication strategist and author of “I’m a Memphian,” can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.