By Mike Peters

I walked into room 358. It was a private room like many of the others.  The occupant was a patient like all the others, suffering from emphysema or what is sometimes called Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).  This patient reminded me of my Grandfather Coleman.  Here was a small man with a barrel chest and having some difficulty breathing.  I never knew my grandfather when he wasn't breathless.  With COPD, shortness of breath is your constant companion. This patient was experiencing an exacerbation of his condition, worse than the normal and difficult to tolerate.  It would require a brief hospitalization.

The patient was very friendly and talkative. Another therapist in the hospital told me, in report, that he would "talk your ears off." She suggested that I "get in and out as quickly as possible."  It's true that we live in the era of overworked and understaffed hospitals and that there is less time to converse with your patients.  But I believe that the therapist, that gave me report that day, was more concerned with going out to smoke her next cigarette.  Listening to and talking with her patient was secondary. Her loss!

The patient introduced his daughter to me. She looked up from the conversation she was having with another family member on the phone, smiled, gave me a "good to meet you" nod and then returned to her conversation.  

The patient was growing more short of breath as he talked, as is always the case with his condition.  But there was an excitement in his voice, a pride in who he was and where he came from that overrode any shortness of breath.  He had something to say and wanted me to hear it.

The patient was proud to hail from Oak Hill in Fayette County, West Virginia.  His daughter interrupted, told Dad to relax and said, "The man doesn't want to know about the old days in West Virginia."  Boy, was she ever wrong!  I told him that many of my people were from next door in Raleigh.  He smiled a smile absent of teeth or dentures and cackled.  He was happy to have an audience with someone willing to listen to the old stories.

The patient was proud to have fought the Japanese in World War 2.  I told him that my uncle, Charles W. Walker from Kanawha Two Mile, had also fought in the Asian Theater and that he had driven an ambulance in The Philippines.

The patient told me that he was gonna go to the VA Hospital in Chillicothe. They owed him that. But Mt. Carmel East in Columbus was much closer and his daughter was driving.  Many of you that have studied the Mitchell Clay and Phoebe Belcher family know that Chillicothe, Ohio was where the Shawnees took Mitchell and Phoebe's son Ezekiel and burned him at the stake in 1783.  Chillicothe is in Ross County and maybe an hour south of Columbus.

The patient was proud to have worked in the coal mines.  Sure it was hard.  But it was honest and he was providing for his family. I told him that many of the men in my Stover and Peters family had done the same in Raleigh County.  He said he had worked in Kanawha County.

I spent extra time in his room, more than usual.  Maybe it was unfair to some of the other patients, but I enjoyed the down home atmosphere.  It had been a busy and stressful evening, like all the rest. I needed the tranquility and serenity that his room provided.  

On this night, I bonded with the friendly and talkative man in 358.  This came about because I had listened to him, because I had ignored my fellow therapist and because he had ignored his daughter.  I got to meet a man who was one of the 16 million Americans who served in World War 2.  I got to know a man who had worked in the coal mines.  I spent time with a man who wanted everyone to know that he was from West Virginia.

In room 358, for a short time, there lived a proud man and not unlike many of our relatives.

Thanks for listening and as my Grandma Coleman used to say, "Ya'll come!"


Mike Peters
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