Another lesson from Iraq

When recently surfing the Web, Assistant Editor Douglas Edwards came upon an article telling the forlorn story of the one nursing home in Baghdad.

That’s right, one nursing home for a city of five million people. The article, by Sylwia Kapuscinski of Knight Ridder Newspapers, tells of the Shamayea Nursing Home, a 70-year-old, 27-room facility located on the dangerous outskirts of the city. It houses 117 residents, most without families and cared for by one nurse and one administrator. The halls smell of gasoline, Kapuscinski writes, because gas mixed with water is used as the cleaning agent. One woman (with seven roommates) notes that she is alone in the world because her husband and children were killed in the Persian Gulf War. The area around the facility in which she lives is considered “insecure,” so much so that would-be staffers won’t go there.

Reading this piece provoked several responses in me. One was a feeling that I’ve had many times in traveling the world, from Scandinavia to Mexico to Japan: Thank God I live in the United States, where the telephones work quickly, the plumbing functions in ways I’m used to, and I don’t feel linguistically challenged or culturally isolated-or worse. (I’ll never forget, during a visit to Japan, having to pantomime the workings of a locomotive when trying to purchase a ticket at the Kyoto train station, with the ticket agent eyeing me suspiciously and occasionally casting glances at a nearby security guard before finally catching on.) Another response I experienced in reading about the Iraqi home was more somber: No matter how bad we think we have it in this country, there is always someone else in the world who has it worse.

Amidst the trials and tribulations of running an American nursing home in the early 21st century-and there are many-we should nevertheless count our blessings. And, knowing how tough life can really be, we should accept that we’re all in this together-owner/operators, staff, residents, and yes, editors alike. If an administrator, a nurse, and 117 Iraqis occupying 27 rooms in a world-class danger zone can make it through life, we can make it through the challenges we face.

“We have worked really hard to make this place better,” the article quotes the nursing home’s director, Enaam al Badrey, as saying. “I wish we had a place in the center of Baghdad. I wish we could open a home for the handicapped.”

I wish that their lives could be better, and hope that all our wishes come true.

To comment on the editorial, please send e-mail to peck0504@nursinghomesmagazine.com.

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