Tuesday, August 6, 2013


   The Banda Islands -- Whatcha Gonna Do When They Come For You?

My head is swimming, even though I haven't had much time to actually do some of that, whole body, in the nearby very nice pool.  The old folks in their visors, hats and sunglasses just bob and are well behaved, the blue sky and rustling greenery are soothing and the music on the loudspeakers is surprisingly agreeable -- Link Wray and some old surfing instrumentals the other day.  Okay, that's just what I like.  The jury's out whether that's good music or not, if analyzed objectively.
What has my head swimming is not the presence or lack of such pleasant things, it's what I'm engaged in here daily at Sun City Center, FL.*  Have spent hours each day visiting Dad in his rehab hospital, and it is sad to see people having to give up what they are.  I enjoy getting engaged with fixing problems (TV and remote screwed up, laundry MIA, cords all tangled around the bedframe, probably for years) as that gets Dad involved in little details of the real world for a few minutes.  There's nothing else real-feeling about lying in a bed for 23 hours a day.  No fault to be found; inevitable age has brought the patients to their knees.  Dad said he's tired of the regimentation and is about terminally bored.  Can't read, can't really see or understand what's on TV, and the lower end of the staff (the only ones who seem to be working) only buzz in quickly, do whatever the thing is at that moment and disappear like Houdini.  Instead of paying yet another R.N. to ignore everyone and everything, shuffle papers or noodle on a computer screen while at the station, how about one to visit each patient and find out what little things they need and have a normal conversation?  Now, many patients are beyond that and are lost in their own interior wilderness.  But you'd be surprised what happens sometimes when you look one in the eye and talk to her sincerely.  For a few moments at least, they return to life.

So, I've been there enough time to observe how, as with every organization, inattention and incompetency rule.  The laundry disappeared, and Dad spent three days in a food-stained shirt, because (as I found) Housekeeping had him in two rooms he was not in, and had removed the hamper when his silent roommate left.  I went directly to the "back of the house" this morning, found all his missing clothes, and got the stinkeye from an employee as I was stacking them to carry back to his room.  With little effort, I had found a lady the previous evening who was the institutional TV expert and who could fix those electronic problems in a few minutes.

That's how it goes.  You either do, and get, what you need in any organization directly without asking permission or filling out forms (like Radar on "M.A.S.H.") or you find that one person with the skills.   And I didn't learn everything I needed to know in kindergarten as the book said; I learned how to go through the "back channel" in the school system, military and in pathetic non-profits on one hand, and how to deal with people, on the other, from my smart and sweet wife. She reminded me long ago that it doesn't cost anything extra to be nice and treat everyone with respect from the start.

A lot of the people around here are 70 - 90, and the men in particular seem to be egotistical, demanding authoritarians who were previously career military or business executives, whose style was to intimidate and demand; when that no longer works they just become complainypants malcontents.  Apart from a very few loud and unbalanced types, most of the women have long mastered the art of being positive, well-mannered and skilled in people relations.  What the men miss is the simple fact that other people like to be treated well, are probably being used by their employer and they know they're not valued, don't appreciate being abused or put in their place, and will generally be as helpful as they can when approached with courtesy to cooperate in solving a problem.

All this works in person better than on the phone.  When someone can keep a safe distance from all your warming radiating sincerity, they are usually more mindful of the time limits their employer puts on each call than of solving your problem the first time, accurately.  While dealing with the myriad details of our mother's estate, for example, just getting Dad's new insurance member ID number and card (which they changed without notifying him or us) and getting it to Medicare has been a comedy of unnecessary errors.  In these sorts of dealings, you must find or already know the key words that will elicit the correct response.  I don't have any pointers about how you do that, because neither the company's literature or information on the internet will be helpful providing those all-important terms so both you and the company rep can cut to the chase and just get the small job done. My Brother The (relentlessly efficient) Executor found out that the operative term was "Automatic Crossover," and after hitting the rep with that after many calls, she said okay and it was done.  Why oh why does someone who does the same thing all day, every work day, not ever get good at it?

The movie "Groundhog Day" seems to me to be a pretty good description of life as it is.


*When things get you down, think about what happened to the previously happy natives long ago in the Banda Islands (part of present-day Indonesia), once the only source in the world for nutmeg.  As you learned in junior high history, worldwide trade has always been spurred on by the search for commodities to sell that the folks back home can't (or think they can't) live without.  People have gotten very medieval when it came to getting those commodities, be they spices, tea, sugar, rubber or even free human labor, making our daily frustrations look pretty microscopic in comparison.  The Dutch East India Company hired Japanese mercenaries to slaughter almost all the adult males in the Banda Islands to enforce their total control, and limited production of cloves, nutmeg and other rare items to keep prices up; trees producing them were even cut down and cargoes dumped at sea to enforce that policy.

So, we've got to keep things in perspective, don't we?

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