A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Second Childhood

Hospitals and nursing facilities are grown-up places, where things like prudishness and modesty have to be left behind. I overheard two nurses laughing about the persnickety patient who requested that no men, not even aides or orderlies, be allowed to enter her room. Of course, nurses have seen and handled things that would have most of us fleeing or throwing up. There aren't many professions that get more respect from me than nursing does.

Still, it bothers me to hear a 90-year-old man say things like "I need to go potty" or "I have to wee-wee." And the nursing staff encourages it. Instead of "urinate" and "defecate," they say "pee-pee" and "poop" or even something I hadn't heard since third grade: "No. 1" and "No. 2." (No one uses the most familiar four-letter Anglo-Saxonisms.)

At first I thought this was an example of the infantilization that some critics decry in our culture. But then I lightened up. These twee euphemisms are the ones that almost every parent uses so often during the toilet-training years that it shouldn't be surprising when they become second-nature to us.

But something in me still thinks that being sick -- or just very, very old, as most of my roommates have been -- should be treated with frankness, not cutesiness.

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