Another post card from the retirement center
I found an unexpected benefit from living at Burcham Hills.
Readers may recall that, after major bowel and bladder surgery last year for a non-malignant condition, I had what to me was a spiritual concussion. Like following a serious head injury, I was dazed and discombobulated.
Friends and neighbors offered the standard ‘let us know if you need anything’ assistance. I felt weak, but had no pain. I bathed and dressed myself. I shopped and prepared my own meals. After being seriously ill before surgery, I languished in relief and comfort afterwards.
I ate the right foods, but irregularly. I was bored with eating alone and had little interest in cooking, so I usually fixed the same old stuff. I seldom felt thirsty and often felt too lazy to get out of the chair to get myself something to drink. Even a beer.
After two weeks I had become dehydrated and knew I needed help. I called it “failure to thrive after life-saving surgery.” I was readmitted to the hospital to kick start my recovery.
A coupIe of days later I returned home, reawakened to the obvious. Survival required my active involvement. So I sold my condo and moved to Burcham. I am nearly a half-decade younger than the average resident and arguably the most active.
I immediately reached a goal of having a wider variety of food available. And sitting with different people at every meal, I opened up a whole new world of socialization. I was prepared for that by literally growing up in my father’s barber shop where I learned the knack of asking questions and listening. Everyone has a story, Dad said, most are willing if not anxious to tell it. His customers liked to talk. He and I liked listening.
Everyone in the retirement center welcomed the new kid on the block. Asking and listening, I heard great stories from fellow residents, like the man who spent 40 years as a librarian in the Library of Congress. After retirement, he moved here to be near his daughter and family.
I learned there’s a whole generation older than I; people between 95 and over I00. I’ve come to appreciate the trials and tribulations of those who struggle with dementia, combinations of pain, vision and hearing issues, and are unable to walk at all or only with various modes of personal and mechanical assistance.
I’ve come to understand how banal it is to complain about the weather. On the other hand, there’s lots of evidence that football, basketball, baseball and hockey scores are very important.
The unexpected benefit I’ve received from living here comes from learning employees’ and occasional visitors’ life stories. There are two general types of employees; students and those who start at or near the lower employment rungs, with opportunities for career advancement. All are on personal quests for better lives.
One is a woman from China who came to MSU as a graduate-student-linguistics researcher. After her project finished she returned to China, vowed to return to the US, but wasn’t able to get a student visa. She’s working as a dining room server and taking community college classes to prepare to become a health care aid and, hopefully, a nurse.
A charismatic mid-level executive immigrated with his family from Iran, went to high school here, graduated from MSU, couldn’t find satisfactory employment, and is working full time while going to school part time for a graduate degree in health care administration.
There are high school, undergraduate and graduate students in various educational programs. One central European refugee who is in graduate school allows me to read her term papers.
A common thread in all of the stories is their fascination, resilience and determination to improve their lot in life. For me it’s the opportunities to learn better empathy and offer my personal concern and support.