The Something-for-Everyone Channel

I wish the act of writing was more like curling-the Olympic sport, not the hairstyling ritual. I would just pick up a word, stare at it for a few seconds, and send it sliding down a sentence. Then I’d stand back and yell, “Verb! Verb!” while two attractive English majors swept it into position. Alas, writing is not at all like curling.

The truth is, I’m experiencing strong feelings of resentment toward the Olympics. For two weeks, I was seduced and obsessed, pulled with spiritual fervor into a daily viewing ritual that culminated in the defeat of the invading American hockey team by my Canadian insurgents. Now it’s all over, and I can’t seem to move on. It’s like the beautiful astronaut I thought was my soul mate abruptly ditched me to run off on a four-year spacewalk. It’s deflating to be so callously jilted.

Once upon a time when I was a wee boy, I remember watching the Olympics on our first television-a black-and-white little beauty encased in a wooden box on four spindly legs. It was controlled not by a magical clicker, but by actual knobs that had to be twisted by actual people. Yes, my children, we were forced to rise from our seats and walk across an entire room to adjust the volume. Life was primitive and sad.

In those days, programming was received via a rabbit ears device that sat on top of the TV like, well, rabbit ears. Or rather, it was received via my sister, who would hold a finger on the antenna while standing on one foot with a pile of tinfoil on her head for better reception. Since the television’s malfunctioning tubes would flicker out after only about 30 minutes of use, we had to pick our programs very, very carefully. But with only two channels in Canada, it wasn’t a terribly difficult decision.

Many decades and televisions later, I’m now staring glassy-eyed at a wide-screen constellation of programming choices. While most seem gratuitous, I’ve grown particularly fond of the Rolling Tumbleweed Channel and the Girl Endlessly Knitting and Unraveling a Sweater Channel. I’m not as fond of the Hysterical Angry White Person’s Channel, otherwise known as FOX News. But that’s probably because I’m a mild-mannered socialist Canadian without a legitimate birth certificate.

The plethora of options is just further proof that from TV programming to gluten/sodium/taste-free snack crackers, everything’s become a niche these days, as marketing hucksters slice and dice us into ever smaller and more focused target segments. I struggled in vain to open a bag of chips yesterday, then realized I’d mistakenly purchased one designed specifically for left-handed men. So it makes perfect sense that the same trend is blossoming in long-term care.

Take Thailand’s Pang-La Nursing Home for Aged Elephants, for instance. Hundreds of members of the elephantidae family apparently wander the 400-acre premises and bathe in the stream-an approach to care that would raise regulatory eyebrows here in America. I assume the medical director is a qualified pachydermatologist, but the article is silent on that question.

Then there’s the Japanese nursing home for dogs. I’ve already written about it in this very magazine-how aging canine residents receive round-the-clock monitoring by doctors, specially fortified food, and a team of puppies to help them stay fit and younger. It’s basically an intergenerational Eden Alternative-though in reverse. I’m surprised this business model hasn’t caught on yet over here, as one year would be reimbursed as seven.

Back in this country, I knew listening to National Public Radio had finally paid off when I heard the story about Florida’s Center for Great Apes. It’s a nursing home for chimpanzees who’ve acted in films, performed in circuses, or been used in research. They get to swing their afternoons away in patio forests, catch their favorite soap operas on big-screen TVs, or complain amongst themselves about the facility’s demeaning name. Perhaps the Geico cavemen occasionally stop by to show their support.

Speaking of performing monkeys, let’s not forget the California nursing home for aging movie stars. Unfortunately, it was losing $10 million a year and last I heard was about to close, a step that seems highly unfair. The movie Gigli lost almost $50 million, and I don’t hear anyone talking about shutting down Ben Affleck. Actually, I don’t hear anyone talking about Ben Affleck at all, so maybe it amounts to the same thing.

It’s too bad it couldn’t survive financially, because running a Hollywood facility should carry no regulatory or litigation risk. If a mistake is ever made, they could simply write the attorney out of the script and reshoot the scene. Water pitcher touched the rim of the glass? Cut! Take two. Medication error? “Great job, Bernie. I smell an Oscar. But this time, give the pill to Mrs. Jones, not Mrs. Smith. Med cart rolling and…. Action!”

That movie star facility may be gone forever-I’m not sure, because that would involve research-but at least it inspired a sequel. According to a news release I received from one of my several readers, a long-term care community is now being created near Nashville to care for aging country music stars. I hear the rooms are single-wide with a gun rack over every sink, and each admission gets a copy of Conway Twitty Sings the Blues.

Someday on the performance stage in the activity room, I imagine an aspiring med aide will belt out a powerful rendition of “Stand By Your Diazepam,” and a Johnny Cash impersonator will dedicate “Walk the Line” to the visiting survey team. But from a customer service perspective, I’m not convinced a business can succeed when the standard response to every complaint is, “I beg your pardon? I never promised you a rose garden.”

So now that we have long-term care settings for dogs, monkeys, movie stars, elephants, and country musicians, I can see where we’re headed. Nursing homes will become just like cable channels-one for fans of vampire movies, maybe, or another for bald, antisocial accordion players. I also expect to see one without any government oversight or reimbursement at all-exclusively for Ron Paul supporters and Tea Party members.

But in this burgeoning senior care utopia, the ultimate niche facility will be created for politicians of both parties who have prematurely aged while trying to achieve or undermine healthcare reform. At mealtimes, they’ll all sit together at a massive bipartisan conference table, and a 60-vote majority will be required to pass the salt.

Just like the Founders intended.

Gary Tetz is a legendary long-term care commentator based in Walla Walla, Washington.

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Long-Term Living 2010 April;59(4):42-43

Topics: Articles