My dad was in the ER this morning for a severe kidney infection. I sat and watched this ex-firefighter, Vietnam veteran archetype of masculinity lie under a thin white hospital blanket, the monitor he was connected to beeping away in the background, and I marveled at how frail and helpless he looked. It made me sad. And it reminded me that I’m already experiencing the beginnings of the same sort of decline, at least physically.
He’s tough, and he’s gonna be alright, but one thing that really struck me was how the staff spoke to him.
We all do this, and it’s something I try to avoid doing, but there seems to be an impulse on the part of younger people to speak to elderly people like they’re babies. Making little corny jokes, greeting them like “Hiiiiiii theeere” and all that shit. And I’ve done that, I’m not faulting them at all for it. But it’s a practice I think we need to reexamine. It was rather striking to see people doing it to my DAD of all people.
I think we should all make a conscious effort to come across as a little less condescending. These people’s minds are intact and sharp, unless they have dementia, or Alzheimer’s. They’ve lived. They know twice what people my age know, just as I know twice what some knucklehead in his 20s knows. And yet we compartmentalize these people who we will be one of these days, sooner than we think. They’re a burden, they’re a problem, they’re something to be dealt with and handled. Youth is king, old is “aren’t you dead yet?” I’m only 40 and I see it already.
Tell you one thing, if anyone ever talks to me like that, they’ll hear about it. I’ll be like “Bitch, talk to me like a grown-ass man. Don’t patronize me. I’ve taken shits smarter than you.” And they’ll probably laugh and pat me on the head and go “Awwww. Somebody’s cranky!”