The long-term care Walk of Shame
I'm not aware of any formal, airline-style elite upgrade programs for long-term care residents, but when the time arrives, I hope they exist — and that I qualify.
Having experienced the walk of shame through dozens of first-class cabins, I can hardly bear the thought of adding that indignity to my nursing home admission. With dementia raging and fresh off my seventh hip, knee, elbow and skull replacement, I imagine hobbling through the lobby, trying to avoid eye contact with smug-looking MVP-status residents in silk bathrobes taking their meds from gold-embossed shot glasses.
In a world increasingly divided between the haves and the desperately-want-to-haves, and wishing to be the sort of person who doesn't remotely care about such things, I still find myself drawn to experience every possible moment of blissful privilege — apparently even if it means abandoning my favorite and only daughter three times in a single hour.
We were traveling together to a rare family reunion, and looking forward to non-stop chatter on a cross-country flight. Or at least that was the plan until I discovered I'd been randomly selected for expedited screening through TSA Pre. I looked at my boarding pass, then to her angelic face, then back to my boarding pass. Then I waved goodbye, kept my shoes and belt on and my computer in its bag, and breezed through security. Because I deserved it.
By the time she was able to rejoin me, I'd already finished a Bloody Mary, enjoyed a shoulder massage and had my shoes buffed. Glad to be reunited, we walked to the gate together — where I discovered that although I'd been condemned to a middle seat, a mere $50 contribution would buy me an exit row window. I felt a little bad about not only abandoning her again, but making her talk to a stranger for the next five hours, But a middle seat? Seriously? I'm not an animal.
At least we'd have some time to talk before the flight. Actually, not so much as it turned out. In a surprise twist of fate, my seat upgrade entitled me to priority boarding, and for the third time, I chose privilege over familial love and loyalty. In fairness to me, I felt a little twinge of shame and remorse to see her and the rest of the high-row numbers standing in line like angry cattle as I strolled leisurely onto the plane. But later as I watched her fighting for overhead luggage space with a woman carrying a baby stroller, a ficus tree and a stuffed armadillo, my decision felt entirely justified.
So what does this relentless pursuit of status and privilege mean for the long-term care business model of the future, and what are the moral implications for a society where wealthy-enough snobs like me are able to buy their way out of every discomfort and inconvenience, leaving the unwashed masses seething in their middle seats?
I have no idea. As I once patiently explained to an irate commenter after he took issue with one of my flippant, unsubstantiated pronouncements, this column is called “Things I Think,” not “Things I Research and Prove.”
But being a boomer myself with ever-burgeoning feelings of self-worth and entitlement, it's a trend that's here to stay, as suggested by the philosophical/economic tussle going on in the Chicago market. As facilities renovate, we could at least seek to cleverly conceal our VIP spaces like cruise ships do, so that lesser folks don't know what they're missing and won't get so angry about it.
And hide the gold-embossed crystal meds cups, of course.
Things I Think is written by Gary Tetz, a national Silver Medalist and regional Gold Medal winner in the 2014 Association of Business Press Editors (ASBPE) awards program. He has amused, informed and sometimes befuddled long-term care readers worldwide since his debut with the former SNALF.com at the end of a previous century. He is a multimedia consultant for Consonus Healthcare Services in Portland, OR.