Sunday, October 09, 2005
Hello, America. You fancy yourself the proudest member of the First World, and since you're reading this on your computer, you probably are. Got air-conditioning? Cable TV? A microwave? Congratulations, citizen, you're doing just fine. But, as some of you are learning, uncomfortably, there's another America, the Third World version. Dark and brutal, dimly lit by a faint flickering American Dream high up and far away. That's where I come from. If you could embody this shadow America in a single institution you'd be hard pressed to find a better candidate than Charity Hospital in New Orleans, where my mom was born. (read more below)
A cousin I never had a chance to meet died here. My uncle Sonny and Aunt Dusty had an infant here. After delivery he was taken away and placed on a bare table by the overworked staff. He had been low birth weight, probably due to malnutrition, and died that day. Being too poor to arrange funeral services, Sonny took his dead baby home with him, sitting on his lap in a little plain coffin, and buried his son himself. Three weeks later Charity Hospital called to tell him to come claim his dead son. They didn't even know he was gone.
Charity Hospital loomed large as a horror house for my family. They lost themselves there, literally. Eyes. Teeth. Limbs. Lives. All butchered, then forgotten about. Your cat or dog, First World America, was getting better health care than the poor wretched humans forced to decide between nothing, and Charity. And that was their only choice.
It's always been that way down here. Charity Hospital was founded over 250 years ago, which makes it about the oldest hospital in America. It was wretched from the start, because, after all, you get what you pay for, and this was literally a "Hospital for the Poor."
In 1815 someone wrote, upon visiting Charity Hospital, that it "served no purpose than to confine the wretched and compel them to die in a place contrary to their choice." Patients were found abandoned. Chickens wandered in, and their shit covered the furniture. The mattresses on which the patients slept were filthy with “the visible marks of the putrid discharges of those who had died on them of the most pestilential diseases."
This is how the other half dies, citizens. 1736. 1815. 1967. 2005. The years keep rolling by, a time lapse stream of lives lived hard and lost easy. Welcome to the new era, same as the old era. Everything new is old again.
I told my mom that after what happened at Charity last month, the flooding, the abandonment, the death, the bodies floating up from the basement morgue, the damage to what had been damaged its whole life, that they were thinking of tearing it down. She said she's been hoping for that since she was born.
Lord I Just Can't Keep from Crying
An Afternoon Of Forgotten Stories
Posted by clayton cubitt at 6:45 PM