Baby, sweetie, darling and honey
``What yah gonna have?” the woman behind the counter at the restaurant asked. I told her my order. She said ``It’ll be ready in a few minutes, baby.”
I turned around, took a few steps, and stopped in my tracks. Did I hear her say ``baby?” I turned back to her and said, ``Thank you for calling me ‘baby.’ It’s been a while since anyone called me ‘baby’.” The woman appeared to be stunned and exclaimed, ``What? What did you say?”
I repeated what I told her and said, ``You see, people call me an old man and I don’t feel old at all. But I know I am no longer a young man either. So when you call me baby, my old heart warms up.” She burst into laughter and we exchanged some more banter. Before parting I told her, ``Besides, I like to be pampered like a baby once in a while.” By then, the bystanders joined in and all of us had great fun.
Words of endearment are heard everywhere in this country (the U.S.). They are especially plentiful at a healthcare center. During the past several months when my wife was an inadvertent regular guest from one medical facility to another, I stayed with her day and night.
The unfortunate saga began in January when a vertebra was found crushed from osteoporosis requiring painful surgery. Within a month another part of her backbone had to be corrected through the same surgical procedure. Meantime, she broke her wrist and that required additional surgery. Her misery did not end there; a third vertebra was found halfway crushed causing constant pain in her abdomen.
When a spouse suffers, the partner suffers too. I know what ``living in hell” means. I have been there!
She moved from one hospital bed to another and ended up at a Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. At the center, I saw LPNs and nurses’ aides at work where I heard more words of endearments spoken than anywhere else I have been. The elderly and feeble patients were lying in bed. Some in wheelchairs or walkers slowly and painfully moved along the narrow hallways. Others were seen at the exercise room where physical therapists helped them with their daily routine. The atmosphere was gloomy and depressing.
But it was not all doom and gloom. A high-pitched voice rang out in the hallway. ``Hey! Look at you! You are doing much better than yesterday! You’re gonna run a race pretty soon, aren’t you, sweetie?” The LPN shouted this to a passing patient in a wheelchair.
Sweetie? The elderly patient was old enough to be her mother. Ordinarily, it would have been the other way around. But the Nursing & Rehab Center was not an ordinary place. The word sounded natural and befitting to the circumstance. Besides, the face of the elderly woman lit up and gladly accepted the compliment.
Mrs. H., in her late 70s, shared the same room with my wife. She was suffering from an advanced stage of arthritis and was lying in bed most of the time. Linda, a nurse’s aide brought in her breakfast tray. As she set it down next to her, she said in a soothing tone, ``You are gonna finish the breakfast this morning, aren’t you?”
The old woman had hardly eaten any food since she was brought into the facility. ``I am not hungry,” she responded weakly. ``But you must eat, darling, you are getting weaker day by day,” Linda pleaded.
Darling? I thought ``darling” was reserved for a lover; it is usually spoken in intimacy. But Mrs. H. did not seem to mind or didn’t care. The use of such an intimate expression that would have raised eyebrows elsewhere seemed normal when directed toward a resident of the facility.
Lisa, another nurse’s aide, called out loudly as soon as she walked in the room, ``OK, honey, I am ready to help you out of bed.” Lisa was at about the age of a granddaughter of Mrs. H. I thought ``honey” was stretching a bit too far.
As an afterthought, I believe those informal, warm endearing words have a therapeutic effect for the patients. It occurred to me that the center might have adopted the usage of those words in the premise as a policy. Their expression suggests that those who work there genuinely care about the patients. The place may appear depressing as its residents suffer from sickness, but the pain is made much more bearable because of caring people.
Where people care for each other is not far from heaven on earth. In my unqualified estimation, hell is nowhere other than where people don’t care for each other; everyone is totally selfish and no one cares for anyone else. For a while I felt I was in living hell but the warm words of endearment pointed me to the way out of it. I think I felt the therapeutic effect from it more than the residents at the center themselves.
The writer is a Korean War veteran and retiree from an American firm. He can be reached at email@example.com.