Covering the Mirror.

 

The henna tinted haircut had become oily and matted. Clothes, twice worn, and I’d missed the shower in the a.m. It was nigh on 5:37, and the service was to begin at 6.

I looked a sight. Yet, the temple being a scant four minutes from the house, my heart told me that missing their open invitation would be the greater regret. Dabbing some under eye concealer, a bit of pink powder and a neutral lipstick, I fluffed what remained of the haircut, grabbed the short raincoat, and headed for State Street.

Turning left at the top of Cherry Street, my Pontiac soon joined a steady trough of traffic. Parking at the temple’s Jefferson Society lot was limited, and street options could extend north all the way down the hill if we didn’t get all the greens heading east. I wondered how many from as far away as Fairview had also accepted the invitation?

West of the stadium, cars were already lining the curb. But, two schoolbuses were also present, next to the academy. The stream of drivers was intended for their evening football game. My thymus relaxed, a little.

Reaching the temple, I was relieved to see a spot up from the Jefferson entrance. People were still walking from lot to front, and I joined them, hugging the mustard yellow rainjacket around my jeans to cut the wet chill. Sure enough, ladies were in mid calf skirts, men in dark dress, and then Jack, looking pensive, the news cam man who’d taken my one and only career black and white decades earlier. I resumed my customary cringe. Find a seat in the very back, slide in swiftly, say nothing. Stepping past the security guard and the packing, body armored special agent, I entered the foyer. There was Charles, standing at the door.

We greeted, me offering the self deprecating reference to shabby attire and he quick with the witty retort, something about God not caring and me hoping so. He, with his hearty, reassuring laugh.

My seat awaited, one of four in the far right rear row, two fellow Gentiles on either end. I sat beside Maria, who looked as Bavarian as if she’d just arrived from northern Minnesota.

The room was filling, rapidly. I recognized several, from various stages of my own history in our ageless community. The men, in their yarmulkes. A respected surgeon, in his, plus blue scrubs. An extremely tall gent, in his, ball of the hand curved over a carved walking stick. The current Erie County Executive. A former Mayor of Erie. At least two Mizrachi, with stronger noses in profile than hardly anyone saw anymore, likely never in a fashion rag. And, me, feeling every percentage of the Persian/Turk in my Ancestry.com DNA reveal.

I missed, quietly, Rabbi Len and Faith Lifshen, and their son, Moshe. This had been their temple, prior to the move south and Rabbi’s subsequent death. Turning to Maria I made mention of them, and pointed out the Ark of the Covenant glass encasement in the center of the altar. After my lengthy paragraph, she mentioned the Torah scrolls, me realizing that, yet again, I’d presumed the role of teacher rather than learner.

One of the last to enter was a short young woman, who chose the remaining seat beside me. She was the only female in a yarmulke within my sight line, and I hadn’t remembered ever seeing a woman wear one. Just as she became settled, removing her coat, around the aisle came a slender man who extended his open palm to the Gentile on the left end. He took the hand of each one of us in the back row, introducing himself and asking our names. He was the new Rabbi up from Pittsburgh, where he lived, to conduct the Shabbat Kaddish at Temple Brith Sholom.

This was my second Jewish service. At Yom Kippur, several musical colleagues and I had been invited to the other temple, across town, by another of us who, being a Jew, was slated to play the Kol Nidre on her flute. The rabbi that night was a woman, a guest from New York, and the remaining four vocal musicians and their pianist were all Gentiles but one.

The music at this Shabbat was all vocal. It was produced by the Rabbi, and his seasoned congregation.

After an earnest and warm welcome from, surprise! Doris, a retired teacher with whom I had worked nearly thirty years earlier, the rabbi explained in detail what we as the guests could expect from the service. He encouraged us to select a prayer book from the racks attached to the chairs in front of us. The prayer book pages were turned briskly, from rear to front, as the rabbi chanted in fluent Hebrew and the congregation sang along. I was reminded that, let alone a language strange to my tongue, unless I could see the notation my ability to retain a new melody was woeful. We sat, and stood; remained standing, and sat. Stood. Turned; bowed; sat, again. At each rise and return, a room filled with slightly damp athletic shoes squeaked, in chorus.

The Kaddish, Rabbi explained, was the congregational prayer, uttered in unison aloud. Some Shabbats were mourning Kaddish; this one would have two aspects, the first for private mourners and the second for the victims of the tragedy at Tree Of Life.

Just before the time had come to offer up the Kaddish, the Rabbi spoke in short sermon. He described the innumerable traditions which were the foundation of conservative Judaism. One point in particular spoke to me, as an aspect of mourning.

He said that Jews, by their nature and by their tradition, are open. They encourage emotional expression. Crying during mourning is a given. But, he also insisted, mourning was to be embodied. There would be no preparation of fine adornment; instead, Jews were to begin by eliminating bathing. They were to immerse themselves, entirely, in grief. And, to render this practice intently selfless, they were to cover all the mirrors in the house.

My eyes opened, wide. I looked at the Rabbi.

For that moment, and in the moments later, I stood in solidarity with God’s chosen people against both the recent horror and an entire epoch of vile hatred which had wrenched their global family. Soiled, unkempt; unclean, I was right there.

Out of body, present in spirit, I no longer saw myself.

Only Adonai.

.

.

.

.

© 11/2/18    Ruth Ann Scanzillo.       littlebarefeetblog.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Principle Of The Thing.

 

My partner is a registered nurse.

He works in the hospital where I was born.

But, it’s not a hospital, anymore. A medical center complex, owned by a huge health corporation which also provides insurance, it is one of the area’s largest employers.

One would think that, being enormous in scope and financially well endowed, said corporation would be able to sustain the employment of at least one person whose job it would be to enforce fair practices.

Like, staff scheduling.

Instead, the man I love is forced to fill his week with days which often run fifteen consecutive hours or more on site. And then, add being on call, which ties his hands and his imminent presence at least one day per week until 5:30 am the following morning.

And, he isn’t even in the Emergency Room, the scenario which provides fodder for more televised drama than the field of poorly managed medicine deserves. He’s in the dialysis department. This is where patients come, three times a week, to have their kidneys flushed so that they don’t die in a matter of hours from uremic poisoning. And, unlike other departments, such as the cardiac catheterization lab, the doctors aren’t actively on site throughout the shift; the entire week is managed by the nurses, and their supervisor.

Most dialysis patients are in house, admitted, many for weeks or even months at a stretch. These are individuals who are vastly unwell; most have multiple afflictions, including morbid obesity, all of which must be factored in when the four hour, tri-weekly dialysis commences. Each is wheeled to the department on a gurney, where the line forms in the narrow hallway leading to the shallow bay of treatment cubbies.

But, unlike a hair salon, which effectively staggers multiple customers between wash, rinse, cut, set, dry, and style, each of these patients must be watched carefully. First, their vital signs must be monitored for sudden drops in pressure or heart rate; next, potassium levels must be regulated, these directly affecting heart rate. In short, each nurse must be ready to administer the safest, most effective intravenous cocktail of chemicals intended to maintain patient stability throughout the four hour procedure.

Imagine some fourteen patients, in the course of a shift, all of them in a long line awaiting treatment. Visualize eight of these, in active dialysis, at various stages across their four hours. Now, realize that several may be in significant discomfort. One may be thrashing about, yelling; another may be hovering at death’s door.

But, then, there are those patients who have been admitted to the ICU. These are critically ill, but in need of dialysis, perhaps due to drug overdose or sudden sepsis.

Now, consider how many nurses would make for secure, attentive coverage of fourteen patients plus ICU in a given fifteen hour shift. Would you be surprised to discover that the dialysis department currently employs only 5 nurses?

That’s five, in total. Scheduled across a six day work week. Covering a contingent of sick patients, patients who don’t get well. Not on dialysis.

Dialysis is extended palliative care. Patients on dialysis either get a kidney transplant, or expect to reach the end of their lives within five to seven years.

And, for their troubles, these get: five nurses. (There had been six, but the one most willing to work the longest hours tore her meniscus, and now needs surgery.) Has the medical center hired her replacement? Oh, no. Easier just to stretch the remaining five thinner than a dime.

Money. Money drives everything. Money is allegedly the reward for a job well done. At least, it used to be. Now, we have to ask “Who benefits?” Why? Because a job well done is no longer rewarded. Now, a good worker is exhausted, with little recourse against a killer schedule which, especially critical in the health field, renders most nurses chronically sleep deprived, socially constrained, and increasingly embittered.

Let’s require of our massive corporations that they use their equally vast resources to establish a department for accountability to devoted workers. Delegated supervisory roles only work as far as the individual assigned is willing to make the extra effort necessary to create scheduling which both serves and benefits those over which he or she has domain. On principle.

Principle used to represent that moral, conscience-driven act to which one adhered, in process and procedure, even when one stood to benefit nothing. Now, unless there is something in it for the “me”, nobody does anything.

Except the nurses.

The nurses will always do the hard thing. The dirty thing. The critical thing. And, they’ll be asked to do it all on four hours’ sleep, five days a week, irrespective of their advancing age or the responsibilities they maintain when they finally get home at night.

An army of these rising up would force a revolution.

.

.

© 11/2/18    Ruth Ann Scanzillo.   littlebarefeetblog.com