|By Jack Cawthon 2002
Over the past several months I have spent considerable time in the waiting rooms of our excellent Ruby Hospital and its clinics here in Morgantown. Not for myself, mind you, as I am a perfect specimen of physical health; fortunately for my macho thinking, the mind has been the first thing to go.
I have accompanied various relatives to the health emporium, not minding the wait and thankful that I am not on the agenda myself. I fill the time quite nicely alternating between the two excellent cafeterias with cheap food, feeling I am dining in elegance over my usual fare of the Golden Arches and some establishments with fallen arches. Some folks might think it strange that I go to the hospital for its food and luxury, but those of you who know me well will applaud my upward mobility.
The waiting rooms aren't all that bad either with air conditioning on hot days and plenty of out-of-date magazines to occupy my mind, which has been called out-of-date, most notably by liberal leaners.
From time to time an angel of mercy will swing by causing me to contemplate what heaven might be like, a religious experience of sorts.
The major hazard of the wait is the gabber, and there is usually one or more hanging around. They wish to talk about their malady or that of an acquaintance and describe the condition from the top down or vice versa.
When I see one about the zero in on me I hide behind my magazine, or if that doesn't work go into frenzied hand motions which I hope they will take for signing. This may be a little cruel, but I am sure there are others who want to talk and I'm not a very good talker. Those among you who are also cruel have complained that I'm not a very good writer either but they said the same about Ernest Herringbone.
On one particular day when I was seated in a fourth floor anteroom off a main corridor which offered an excellent view of the jock entertainment center across the way the thought entered my mind that it and the West Virginia Legislature offer us the best entertainment money can buy. Deep in this realm of constructive thinking I vaguely heard the fellow next to me talking.
I had just had the brilliant thought of how to dispose of old coaches. You know, the kind who is now useless because he can't win. As reality TV brings us ever closer to the Roman way of life, why not stage a halftime show by bringing the old coach out into the center of the field and there amid the boos and thrown objects have him stand dejectedly as suddenly four lions charge into the arena. The fans would grow wild, the lions would be satiated, the disposal of the coach would be complete and as the band strikes up "Hail West Virginia" we would be ready for a second half win. If not, there is always another coachâ¦.
But I digress. Through the haze of my reverie I heard the two words that always gain my attention: Preston County. I equate those words with "Almost Heaven" and along with the angels of mercy already at hand I was certainly having a spiritual day.
Gabber or not, I turned my attention to the man sitting next to me. If he was from Preston County he had to all right. We began talking about coal when he told me had worked in the mines. I had been curious about the mine accident in Pennsylvania and the trapped miners and I asked him if they shouldn't have been drilling ahead of the mining machine since they were so close to old workings. He agreed and said such a mishap wouldn't have happened in West Virginia. I hoped he was right as we here on the state line often take a lot of ribbing from Mr. Penn's neighbors about our perceived backward ways.
The fellow told me he had worked 37 years in the mines, some of that time in 34-inch coal seams. I shuddered at the thought of my 6 ft., 3 in. body contorted into that space, in the dark at that, but he added that wasn't as hard as the 48-inch coal. He worked the narrower coal on his knees but the higher seam he worked stooped over, which had done a job on his back.
I commented that he must be happy to be out of the mines, but with a faraway look in his eyes, he said, no, he liked mining, it was in his blood, and he regretted not relocating to another state when his mine closed.
He had worked non-union mines in the beginning, with no benefits and poor safety conditions. He had been in water that the pumps barely were able to handle. But his last 20 years had been spent in a union mine and now he had pension and medical benefits. "My wife's hip replacement cost $45,000," he said, and it was covered by the insurance.
I asked if he had ever been hurt on the job, and he spread out his hand. "Crushed my hand once and busted up my foot," but I could tell that this was no big deal to him. I could have pointed to my head and told him mine didn't show outwardly, but I've found few people who have sympathy for desk-bound enrollees on The Payroll. Sometimes I just limp a little and pretend it's an old war wound.
Anyway, I had been diverted from the magazines and the sports reverie, and if it hadn't been for a practitioner of mercy who just happened to bounce by and the appetizing aromas coming from the nearby cafeteria I would have forgotten why I was in the hospital.