Monday, October 24, 2011

Government Health Care Poem

(Once in a while I experiment with free verse. This poem uses a poetic technique called enjambment. I've seen at least one magazine warn people not to send in any poems that used enjambment. If you, too, hate this style, I'm sorry; it's just the way this story came out. It's a true story.)

When I left university, I

Had hepatitis, however
The Community College accepted me as a
Candidate for a degree in
Geriatric Nursing Care, because
The Community Nursing Home was
Desperately in need of fresh bodies, because
Nobody wanted to work there very long. So
The classroom part was a
Piece of cake, and I
Felt ill only once, the day
Madalyn, who had just been fired from
A home-care job, for beating a
Patient, nearly got expelled for
Smoking in class, so
They chalked it up to “allergies.” The main thing was
Experience in the Community Nursing Home, and as
Everyone else in the class was married, or had been, they
Assigned me to bathe the men, because they said
Everyone else had a man of her own to practice on, and the men
Tried to Be Kind about that, and I thought
They looked as if they were afraid to complain, but
Maybe that was only because,
If they complained, the teacher might have
Sent them Madalyn. But the next time we went there
The teacher assigned me to a women’s wing where
I knew three of the patients, and someone was
Screaming and screaming for water, and they said
They never did answer when that one called, otherwise
They’d never get anything done, so
Leave her for last. I was looking around for
Miss Ethel, Miss Olivia, and Miss Cora, but
Had to work my way down the wing, and
Sponge-bath a lot of old women who plainly
Would rather have died, and
Stick feeding and watering tubes in, and
Change sheets, and worse. Miss Lizzie
Moaned and cried, the whole time. Miss Daisy I think
Tried to wet on Madalyn’s hands, but
Madalyn got out of the way. Miss Edna said
Why couldn’t she die in peace, but we just
Ignored her, and finally came to
Miss Cora, who said
She had to go home to her husband, who was
Sicker than she was. A nurse told me,
That one’s never going back home, and
She never did. Along the way we saw
Jessica, who thought she could find time to
Feed her Aunt Maude with a spoon, and the teacher said
You’re running out of time, you two, and Jessica
Dipped the spoon in and held it up, and Miss Maude
Took the beans in, and choked, and
Freckled Jessica all over with
Half-chewed beans. So I moved on, and came to
Miss Olivia, who kept a
Dairy farm, and sold milk, and used to
Smooth and ditch the gravel road with a
Long-handled hoe, before she
Broke a hip, and I said,
I know they need you at home, and she said,
They need me all right, but they won’t
Take time to help me do things, I know,
I know I will never go home. And
She never did. Her roommate, Miss Betty,
Said nobody ever got a glass of water, except
With meals, if they had time to drink then, or maybe if
Relatives came to see them. (This was
Supposed to be a visiting day, but
I never saw any visitors.) Miss Betty said
They always got meals, those who could eat them,
Or not, but nobody ever asked why you couldn’t
Eat what was on the tray, and they always got
Pills pretty close to schedule, and usually
A bath every two or three days, mostly from
Students, and there were supposed to be
Chairs to sit up in, a common room, and
TV and magazines, not that she liked
TV or magazines herself, but they were
Gifts. The Home could not afford things like
Newspapers. But, Miss Betty said,
Nobody ever pulled up a chair for
Her to sit up in, so she never knew
Where the common room was, much less
Whether they had a TV there. Maybe
The nurses went there, when the patients called
And called, and called, and nobody came. Miss Olivia
Said, if that one who’d been screaming
All day long didn’t lose her voice in a day or two,
They’d put her on sedatives, and that’d be the end of
Her and her mouth. Miss Betty said,
No loss. Now, of course, the Home was short on
Staff, but if they’d just push up those
Chairs where a person could get in and
Roll around, people like Miss Betty could
Actually be useful. A nurse said,
That one will talk all day, if you let her. So
I came to the screaming patient, whose voice sounded
More like a crow’s than a person’s, and that was
Miss Ethel, who was blind and
Raised strawberries by touch and
Let kids walk her dog if they would
Read her a page from the Bible. I said,
What happened to you, did you
Break a bone? and she said,
Nothing happened to me, but
My son went into the hospital, and
The caseworker said they couldn’t leave me
Alone in the house, which they might as well
Have done, it would have made no difference, as
He went out to work at six and never came
Home before midnight. I said,
Can you sit up? and she said,
I could, I’m not sick or
Hurt, but is there a chair to
Sit in? and I said,
Right here, and a nurse said,
Why are you doing that, don’t you know that one is
Demented, and I said, No, I don’t know that, she seems
Smart and sassy as ever to me, and the nurse said,
Always yelling and carrying on, now don’t make
Extra work, just leave that one in bed where
She belongs. Now Miss Ethel
Did eventually go home, that spring, but not before
They’d put her on sedatives, and her family said
She never seemed to know much of what was
Going on, after that. So I felt
Sort of funny about not getting a chance to
Wheel Miss Ethel around, but anyway
Got her a glass of water, and went out and
Looked around, and found that
Common room with the TV and the magazines,
Vogue and Cosmopolitan and one copy of
Good Housekeeping. I thought that was
Also funny, because all the old ladies I knew read
Readers Digest and Guideposts, and mostly in
Large type, so it seemed that those were
What ought to have been donated. I went on and
Found a bathroom on a wing where
No students were working. Patients were in there but
Not talking or yelling. It was quiet there, and
I could hear the piped-in music, and
It was a soft rock song I liked well enough to
Sing, and play on the piano, at parties, but
My parents hated that kind of music. Most
Older people did. People like Miss Ethel
Said it was Satan’s music, but my parents just
Said it stank. And that was how I knew
It wasn’t about being short of money or staff, although
Probably they were, and maybe
Not even because of embezzlement, but the bottom line was
The staff they had just totally did not care.