It’s a good thing for me my wife reads Margaret Mead. In my previous commentary in the News Tribune I noted that anthropologist Margaret Mead had said that the first evidence of civilization was the discovery of the fossil remains of a healed human femur bone, that it pointed to one person caring for another. “Helping someone through difficulty is where civilization starts,” she wrote.
My wife is taking care of me as I recover from surgery for the broken leg I suffered in missing the last step into our living room. I was coming down from the upstairs bedroom, carrying a loaded laundry basket, which, fortunately, I fell into or I might have had additional injuries. I suffered a little heckling from Facebook friends, some of whom suggested I leave the laundry to my wife. (They don’t know my wife!)
We’re lucky here in Duluth that we have been listening to our state leaders to stay at home; our hospitals are not overcrowded with COVID-19 cases. When I was injured, there was room for me “in the inn,” even with an influx of ER patients triaged ahead of me. It seems “normal” life goes on for those in the medical field, at least in terms of medical emergencies. The temporary suspension of elective surgeries allowed room for people like me.
I have nothing but the highest regard and praise for hospital personnel at all levels. During my latest visit, they were kind, patient, thorough, gentle, and attentive. And they all took precautions seriously for themselves and for patients, regarding the coronavirus.
I can’t say the same about other patients or their friends, however. I reported for outpatient surgery at 5:45 a.m., to find the waiting room more than half full. It turned out several people there were visitors, against the explicit rules of the hospital. Some had the tops of their masks pulled down below their noses and even below their mouths. The man who came behind me in line was wearing no mask at all. His denim jacket and baseball cap displayed Bible verses and pithy phrases. Evidently, he was washed in the blood of the Lamb and thus immune from the coronavirus.
I wondered why the hospital bothered with my COVID-19 test in the ER, which came up negative. What about as a result of the waiting room?
I waited two days for my surgery. After X-rays, I crutched myself outside to wait for my wife to pick me up, and I was about to have a private pity party when I saw a younger man being pushed in a wheelchair toward the hospital entrance. One of the man’s legs was amputated above the knee.
Once home in my recliner, my head spinning from high-powered drugs (yes, there is a God!), we received sad news from our former next-door neighbor. She had been a widow when we knew her, her husband having died of cancer. We learned that on the very day of my accident, her daughter, 42, had become a widow, her husband also dying of cancer, leaving two young children.
Later that week, we were “present” for the man’s memorial service in the state of Washington, via Zoom. Our former neighbor texted afterward, “Thanks for being here, wherever here is.”
These are difficult times. We see signs cracking of Margaret Mead’s definition of civilization, of caring for one another. We try to “be here” for each other. The least we can do for each other is wear a mask.
The Rev. David Tryggestad of Duluth is a retired pastor and a regular contributor to the News Tribune Opinion page.