Anger, like longevity, has its place

My father, like most people who were viciously abused as children, was subject to rage.   When he was treated unfairly, received shabby customer service, when he confronted the most brutal things his government was doing (he spoke less of this category as time went on) when he felt disrespected, he could be angry for days at a time.  He’d marinate in his anger and hurt, ruminate, as they say now, chewing on the indigestible cause for his righteous rage like an agonized ruminant.  

He sometimes experienced physical manifestations of his anger and frustration.  During my childhood his psoraisis, which covered much of his body, would sometimes flare up.  His skin would crack and bleed, the tar baths and light treatments he took at home would no longer help and the only relief would come in a hospital.  In the hospital, the pressures on him and his frustrations greatly reduced, with only the job of getting better to focus on and many treatments employed, his tortured skin would recover within a few days.  

Being the son of an angry man, a father who often took his frustrations out on my sister and me, with projection often coming into play (my teenaged acne was my hate and rage oozing out through my pores, for example), I made overcoming my own anger a lifelong priority.  Yet any reader of these posts will quickly see that, while I have spent a long time consciously practicing my secular version of ahimsa, I am still angry enough to, for example, wish horrible retribution on pampered people who cheer America’s military might while ignoring the indiscriminate slaughter of innocents during air strikes of dubious military usefulness.    It is not a gentle thing to opine that it will take having their own children reduced to chopped meat in a drone strike to give them any insight into the highly destructive evil they are applauding and, in some cases, profiting from.

I realize now that it is not always desirable, or even possible, to avoid anger.   We are correctly taught that the only thing necessary for evil to flourish is for good people to do nothing.   Evil, injustice and indifference must be opposed.  It is best, of course, to do it effectively, without violence or escalation, without letting oneself be consumed by the anger.  Ahimsa includes speaking calmly and clearly to evil and indifferent people and being steadfast in continuing to do what needs to be done to change the intolerable situation.  One thing that is necessary for operating this way, or at least very helpful, is a like-minded community, or the whole-hearted support of at least one other person.

Driving in the rain with an old friend the other day the subject of anger came up, as it occasionally does between us.   Raised in a home where he was also subject to irrationally harsh treatment at one second’s notice, it is not necessary for either of us to make more than a quick reference to set the stage for a story of a near-confrontation with an abusive type.   We both have become better at dealing with overbearing, abusive types, but the frayed nerves and the childhood reflexes, the palpable danger of reacting emotionally to the situation, are all still very much there.  

He seemed mildly amused that I was “unable” to refrain from telling a harsh truth to a bureaucrat, the head social worker for a hospital where a ninety year-old friend of Sekhnet’s languishes in misery.   I acknowledged to the social worker that the old woman was difficult, pointed out how depressed she was, but was obliged to express my doubt that the social worker was taught in Social Work school to blame the patient for her own unhappiness.  I included this opinion in an email seeking, for a third time, an answer to a straight-forward medical follow-up for the old woman.  My friend smiled and shook his head, here I was, still unable to keep myself from throwing a little sterno on the old fire.

I spared him most of the details, just told him I was responding to a bad email written by a non-responsive jackass who was abusing a friend of Sekhnet’s and blaming an old woman for her situationally appropriate misery.

The details: instead of providing the results of the eye exam the woman had a month ago, and telling us why new glasses were not being made, as she promised, the head social worker once again promised to follow-up but spent most of the email detailing what a stuck up, miserable, uncooperative snob the patient is, how she refuses to make friends and to participate in the many monthly programs they periodically hold for patients.  A tour de force of blaming the victim, the best defense a good offense, ’twas like the breath of an unwashed asshole, venting. [1]

The old woman feels isolated and imprisoned.   She is depressed by the objectively depressing situation she finds herself in.  Many of the other patients on her hospital ward are demented, many speak no English.  The services they receive are minimal.  The food is rich in white flour and potatoes, noodles and potatoes are often served on the same paper dinner plate.  An independent, health-conscious and active woman into her late eighties, she fell and broke her hip and is now spending the rest of her life locked in this far from ideal Medicaid ward, a place she had no hand in choosing.  

Her one refuge was reading, but she can no longer see well enough to read.   After much exertion by Sekhnet and me, an eye exam was scheduled for her.  It took a few months but was finally done on March 25th.   She heard nothing further from anyone after the exam.  We followed up.  The head social worker responded that she would follow up to see what happened.  

When we followed up a second time we were treated to a long analysis of what a difficult, stuck up asshole our miserable friend is.  The question of her vision was never dealt with, except by another reference to following up with the medical department.   The social worker’s prose is appended at the bottom, read it for yourself.  She is a wonderful example of her type and very eloquent in expressing it.

This would seem to be a small evil, unless you are an old woman with no other options, kept against her will, in a Medicaid ward at a bare bones hospital on the Lower East Side.  I’d be within my rights, I suppose, to sarcastically thank the head social worker, who wrote to tell us she will no longer answer our emails since we misconstrue them and accuse her of writing things she never intended.  If you have the stomach for it, read her masterful prose poems below, judge for yourself.

I’d be within my rights, I suppose, to write, my toes still almost on the edge of the high road:  Hopefully you will never find yourself old and helpless and at the mercy of a merciless bureaucrat.   If you did, it would only be karma, and if that offends you, I deeply apologize for speaking the unflattering truth.

And cc the entire non-responsive correspondence to the director of the hospital, the hospital’s patient advocate (if any), the State Ombudsman, NYC Department for the Aging, the NYC Public Advocate’s office and anyone else who might give a rat’s ass or make this unaccountable corporate “social worker” have to defend her actions and non-actions.  

True, it seems like a lot of energy to spend, energy that might be better spent elsewhere, unless you consider the understandable despair of this abandoned old woman at the mercy of a system that clearly sees her only as a source of Medicaid payments.  Suppose she needs lasik surgery– that would probably come out of the Medicaid payments otherwise payable to the hospital for her maintenance.

The same way I find it impossible to forgive the unrepentant self-justifier, who, instead of acknowledging hurtful behavior, defends it with energetic hostility, anger at this type is still unavoidable to me.  The one thing to consider, in the case of this particular career bureaucrat gatekeeper, is if trying to hold her accountable will make things better or worse for our friend Margaret, locked up under the supervision of this creature.  

I would truly like the serenity to be able to stop thinking of galling, seemingly unresolvable, things like this, but they sit across my throat like sharp, jagged bones.  This is one of three or four such bones, crosswise in my craw right now, most related to the near impossibility of finding decent medical care at any price, and it is the only one I can theoretically do anything about at the moment.   Here the creature speaks for herself, in response to why there is still no report on the eye  exam, and then on why she will no longer answer our emails:

[1]  Ms. H_____ has rejected every attempt to have her involved in additional social situation.  She finds everything we offer beneath her.   Attempts to pair Ms. H______ with other residents (who have similar backgrounds and interest) to share stories and or for stimulation usually ends up with the other resident feeling bad about themselves because Ms. H_____ feels that they are not educated enough or somehow not smart enough for her.  I not sure what else the staff can do but continue to encourage Ms. H______ to engage and continue to invite her.

Getting Ms. H______ to attend her appointments is not without challenges.  She usually tells the staff that she will go later or tomorrow.  The staff reminds Ms. H_____ of the appointments in advance but still are faced with the stalling and delaying suggested by Ms. H_______ the day of the appointments.  The ophthalmologist has not indicated any need for eye glasses on his last consult 3/25/2017, I am asking for additional clarity as to why.  The team is aware of her upcoming appointment with the dentist on 4/20/17.

Ms. H______ is on the list to receive pet therapy, however pet therapy is a special event and not offered often.   I cannot tell you when the next pet visit will be at this time.  The recreation therapy department head is aware of the request and has assured me that Ms. H______ will be involved in the next pet visit.

her last email, which opens with a classic “if-pology”, if you are an asshole, I am truly, deeply sorry:

Good Morning

I apologize if that is how you and Ms. W______ have read into my email.   I was  stating facts of her behavior, I never blamed Ms. H_______.  Staff continues to encourage and support Ms. H_______ well-being.

Further updates to you and Ms. W______ will be done in person and with the team from now on.   I don’t want any further misunderstanding that emails often lead to.

I thank you for your response and continued support of Ms. H_____ and the Staff here at ______.

Oh, there will be no further misunderstandings, dear, none whatsoever.


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