Following a grueling nine-week hospital stretch, the room felt claustrophobic to my wife. Although logging quite a few hours in hospitals during her 83 operations resulting from a 1983 car accident that also claimed her legs, this stay seemed extra hard on her. Obtaining permission from nurses, we left the floor and traveled around the hospital. I eventually wheeled her to the piano in the main lobby.
Auditioning for the staff weeks earlier to make sure I could appropriately play the piano, I passed with flying colors – which should make my piano professors in music school proud. During breaks, I often went to this piano and worked out feelings lengthy hospitalizations can foster. For the first time in months, I would get to play for my wife and listen to her sing. She’s an extraordinary singer who’s performed on enormous stages (including for two presidents).
A man wearing a volunteer vest was playing the piano, and I asked him when he might be finished. Telling me he’d be done in about 10 minutes, I wheeled my wife around a bit longer to see some new sights. As we returned, he started packing up his music. Thanking him, I sat down and softly played as my wife faced me in the wheelchair to the side of the bench. It was hard to hear her with a mask on, and as I helped her with some lyrics, she had a hard time understanding me through my mask. But we fumbled on.
Within minutes, the volunteer coordinator I auditioned for appeared and embarrassingly said, “Due to COVID, we don’t allow singing.”
Two years into COVID, masks were coming off, and surely we’ve flattened the curve by now – but evidently not in this massive hospital lobby.
Pointing out that no one was even near us, and Gracie was facing me (and a wall), I asked the coordinator if she was kidding.
“No,” she said apologetically. “But the hospital has rules based upon scientific studies of particles put into the air by singing.”
And we must follow science. Right?
Hardly able to hear Gracie sing, I pressed further.
“Did someone tell on us?”
Again the embarrassment.
Closing the piano, I got up and saw the vest-wearing “pianist” come around the corner from the direction of the coordinator’s office.
Tears filled Gracie’s eyes as I wheeled her back to her floor. I couldn’t help but remember checking her into the hospital nine weeks earlier and listening to the team evaluating her. Inquiring about her pain levels, medications and so forth, the anesthesiologist asked, “What helps with your pain?”
“Singing,” she replied softly.
Gracie has sung throughout pain-filled days and even longer nights for nearly 40 years. It takes her mind off her harsh reality – and, as she usually sings hymns, it helps anchor her soul in greater truths that transcend her pain.
Yet, the hall-monitoring, vest-clad volunteer “pianist” did his duty.
In a post-9/11 and COVID world, the vest wearers and clipboard carriers seem to be everywhere.
A few months ago, I did the unpardonable at a major airport. Pushing Gracie’s wheelchair with one hand and dragging two carry-on bags through the problematic turns of a nylon-band queue, I detached one of the belts to cut across the path of empty lines.
Wrestling two bags and a wheelchair through the opening I illegally made, I found myself confronted by a stern TSA agent, who directed me to push my wife back through the empty lane I now stood in and re-enter the uninhabited lane with my wife.
Looking at him with the same disbelief I gave the woman who prohibited Gracie from singing, I thought he was joking and trying to imitate the “Soup Nazi.”
He stated that I broke the rules and must push my wife to the end of the course, turn around, and push her back in the same empty lane to his station. Otherwise, “No plane for you! Next!”
Socialism is not coming; it’s here. And we used our fears to welcome it in the front door. It’s not just about economics; it’s about small people who like authority.
Dean Wormer may put us on double-secret probation if we get out of line. Frank Burns may write it all in his report, and God forbid Barney Fife reaches for the bullet in his pocket.
Regrettably, the hospital lobby got the vest and not the voice for the rest of Gracie’s stay.
While a nominee to the Supreme Court refuses to define a woman, the science she deferred to is also used to prohibit singing in a wide-open hospital lobby for a recovering patient. Yet, while the science seems less fixed than moveable TSA nylon bands, it does appear to serve the purposes of those in charge – and their acolytes with vests and clipboards.
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