Good morning … or afternoon, he said glancing at the clock on the wall, why don’t you come over here and we can talk while we wait?
I glanced around the usually filled waiting room at the rehab facility to see an elderly man sitting by himself. He was wearing a Vietnam Veteran cap so I knew he was retired military and probably about my age.The white hair definitely looked like my hair color. His blue jeans did their best to hang in there under the weight of a man whose belly fell over the belt struggling with the blue jeans. I recognized that look and the battle with the jeans because I fought that same battle every day. Yep, we were two old people sitting in a rehab waiting room. Evidently one of us was looking for conversation.
Sure, I said with what I hoped was an air of conviviality, and sat down in a chair across from him. Not too close but closer than I would normally sit with someone as I waited for my PT trainer to appear with a wave that signaled I was up next.
What would you like to talk about? I asked him, expecting a dialogue in which we compared our progress in rehab and complained about how hard it was to get better once you’d had knee replacement surgery or some other body part that was now a foreign object in opposition to our own natural parts that had worn away with age.
Politics, he said rather abruptly, but seemingly something that popped out of his mouth with no forethought.
I was stunned. I was on the short side of time with my second knee’s rehab, and I had sat in that same waiting room 44 times during the past six months, and not one time had anyone mentioned the word politics to me. Just my luck – I was ready for the light at the end of the tunnel, and here comes a train.
Uh, actually I don’t think politics is a good topic for us today, I said with what I hoped was a degree of innocence.
Why not? he asked.
Well, I said, as I quickly ran through 40 years of political activism in my mind, I don’t think you and I would be quite on the same page in a political discussion. You see, I’m what’s now referred to as an ancestral Democrat and I’m very aware that this county has only a few of us – I’m guessing only one in this waiting area.
He thought about that for a second, then frowned. I gave 21 years of my life to the military and another 25 in civil service, he said. I’ve got two types of health insurance – Medicare and another one, and you (pointing a finger at me) have got candidates running around talking about Medicare for all and taking away my health insurance plans. I don’t like that. I don’t want to hear about it.
First of all, I said, thank you for your service to our country and I believe you should have any benefits available so I am very happy for your retiree benefits. Some of the Democratic candidates have other ideas for health care so we won’t know until the primaries whose ideas will win the day. He continued to frown.
Luckily, I was saved at that moment by my PT trainer who brought this man’s wife out from the training area. No wonder we hadn’t talked about rehab – he wasn’t there for his own sake. He had brought his wife who was celebrating her last day in PT. She hugged my trainer who had already motioned in my direction.
I saw the train whiz by without incidence as light reappeared at the end of the tunnel. Only four PT sessions left. Get me out of here, Percy.