INVALUABLE: That’s the Real Answer, Mr. Commissioner

Fusion of Smiles, Languages & Colors Gets Us Back on Our Feet

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No matter how you slice it, surgery is no fun. More to the point, it’s no fun no matter how they need to slice you. 

Painful stuff. Recovery is no walk in the park, either. After nearly eight days in recovery at Sanford, I can say this with certainty. 

I also can say the people who took care of me are diamonds, immigrants from across the United States and the world, each with a dazzling smile worth a million bucks.

Fusion, Part I

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I’ve had daily pain from degeneration of my spine for about five years. Bulging discs, pinched spinal cord, constant pain in my hips and lightning bolts screaming down the backs of my legs. I tried everything, from physical therapy to chiropractic to steroid shots. It all helped a little for a little while but, ultimately, the pain and resulting limitations kept worsening. 

The surgical team connected the vertebra above the key problem area to the one below with four screws, then inserted and expanded artificial material between them to relieve the pressure on my spinal cord. Ultimately, the vertebrae will fuse together.

Some issues extended my stay from the expected three to five days to more than a week. That’s a long stretch, but I had some great people helping me through.

I also had lots of time to think. Physical pain was on my mind, certainly, but another kind, too.

Community Pain

It’s the pain and embarrassment I feel as immigrants and refugees are targeted with accusations that they drain resources or burden communities.

One targeter is on the Fargo City Commission, others are in the North Dakota Legislature and there are many more around the country. They call for an accounting of costs, suggesting “others” take services away from “real Americans.” 

Funny thing, though. The targeters never seem very interested in balancing the scales with the value “they” bring to our communities and our country.

Immigrants and refugees work. Hard. They pay taxes. They start businesses. They diversify community identities. They share new customs, foods, music, art and clothing styles. They become citizens. Their children often go on to improve American society. They make us richer.

Oh, yeah. They improve and save lives, too. One day it could be yours.

My experience didn’t open my eyes, but made me perceive the persecution of immigrants and refugees more keenly. I use the word persecution purposely; in my mind the implication that immigrants and refugees cost too much is just that.

Cost and value are the wrong words, anyway. 

Invaluable. Now there’s a word that makes the cut.

Fusion, Part II

My caretakers are from the Dakotas, Iowa, Minnesota. One is an authentic University of Arkansas Razorback, first one I’ve ever met. More than a third hail from around the world – eastern Europe, as well as Canada, Liberia, Nigeria and other countries. 

They have melodious accents, a brilliant array of skin colors and command of many languages.

One aide came to the States in his teens, all by himself. He relocated from New Jersey because Fargo “seemed safer” and “isn’t so crazy.” He speaks five languages. I speak one. How about you?

Whether they came from the USA or the other side of the globe, they prepped me for surgery, helped me to the bathroom, refilled daily meds, monitored pain and progress, brought me food, emptied fluids from my surgical wound, made sure I could put my own socks on and walked me up and down the halls. They also got me through some really rough patches.

Their life experiences, expertise and compassion fused into one powerful, international force committed to making me better. They did so without any need for thanks or giving a rip about my skin color, religion or political beliefs.

Capital “U”

I am not unique or special, even though the nurses, aides, doctors, therapists, technicians and everyone else at Sanford made me feel that way. 

They’re simply professionals living their lives, doing their jobs and applying their talents where they’re most needed. I happened to be an Everyman who needed it most.

There was no me or they. There was only us, and we made it through those eight days together. Kind of how I’d like to see Us – yes, with a capital “U” – make it through the coming decades and centuries. 

The pain I’ve had for years is gone. Turns out recovery really is a walk in the park, or at least up and down my block. Each day I feel better and go a little farther.

This, thanks to everyone who literally helped get me back on my feet, including “they” and the “others” who are as American, and as invaluable, as I’ll ever be. 

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Also published on Unheralded.Fish 5/26/17 and The Forum print edition 5/28/17.

 

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