I was talking to my girlfriend tonight about which country we should settle down in. I was getting a bit irritated because I felt like going to graduate school would be pointless if I’m going to live in Vietnam and teach English for the rest of my life, among other sacrifices I’d have to make. She mentioned the recent Las Vegas mass-shooting and the lack of gun control in the U.S. She’d be afraid of getting shot by a disgruntled employee at work, during a music festival, etc. I tried to explain to her why the government is so permissive of gun ownership in the U.S., pointing to the constitution. She said her government arrests anyone with a gun regardless of circumstances. I told her my government doesn’t take people’s guns because people are afraid the government will start taking political prisoners or a tyrant will take over. If I could wave a magic wand and change U.S. culture to be less gun-prolific, I would. I’m not a gun ownership advocate and I can’t have a gun because of my suicidal tendencies.
We got on the subject of nursing homes somehow. I told her if I ever become senile when I’m old, I don’t mind if she puts me in a nursing home. She began crying. I didn’t understand her reaction at the time, but it makes more sense thinking about the differences (that I’m aware of) between our cultures. She has this mental image of discarded, dysfunctional elderly people being thrown in an abusive nursing home like the Island of Misfit Toys. In Vietnam, they usually don’t send their elderly family members to nursing homes. I just didn’t want to be a burden on her. I tried to explain to her that some elderly people just need around-the-clock, skilled care, but I understand her perspective.
In the mental hospital at the VA, they keep geriatric patients with advanced Alzheimer’s Disease in the same ward with the suicidal patients. It’s not a pleasant environment at a mental hospital from my experience. It’s like sleeping in a school cafeteria. As someone who enjoys quiet, the banging of the payphone from an aggressive Alzheimer’s patient on the phone with his wife or the constantly shouting Schizophrenic patient is jarring on the nerves. I’ve never been to a prison, but I imagine it’s a similar experience with less crowding. Not an ideal place to send your dear loved ones when they’re ill. But the thought of my family having to run in terror when I mentally become a giant toddler isn’t pleasant either.
Maybe culture shock stems from not understanding the compromises societies make to handle complex social problems resulting from suffering that have no quick fix yet. When/if cures for Alzheimer’s Disease, Schizophrenia, etc. are developed and ways to make homicidal/suicidal/abusive people less dangerous to live around for their families are invented, these short-handed compromises are the only solutions. Hopefully, mental hospitals will become as outdated as leper colonies when I’m elderly, but I doubt it. And maybe I’ll invent some technology with my graduate degree education that will help speed along society’s progress toward developing robot nurses who don’t get irritated when you ask for water in the mental hospital or just burned out from dealing with sick people, some more difficult than others.