Thursday, July 8, 2010

Princeton - This Ain't No Ivy League

Aught eight was a hard winter in Missouri.  Even harder in southern West Virginia.  Harder still with a 2-mile bike ride to work every day for two months.  Hardest of all when the ride home was entirely uphill on a major highway without a shoulder (Who knew West Virginia had hills?).

West Virginia - Fun with numbers (courtesy of the 2010 US census):
#4 most obese state in the US
#2 for number of residents over the age of 65 (Florida is #1). 
#49 in personal income per capita (Mississippi is #1).
#50 - Dead last - for persons 25 years or older with a bachelor’s degree or higher.
These statistics, dear reader, were as novel to me at the beginning of 2008 as they are to you now.  Unfortunately, the knowledge would not have spared me.

Come with me now to the beginning…

It is January 2008.  I am a second year student in the University of Missouri Masters of Physical Therapy program.  In choosing my second clinical, I have submitted 25 preferred locations, by rank. 
#1: Columbia, MO.  Pop. 102,324.  Home of the Missouri Tigers, my friends, Shakespeare’s Pizza, the Blue Note, and McNally’s.
#25: Princeton, WV.  Pop. 7,652.  Home of John Denver.  Also, a bustling metropolis fueled by the coal mining industry…50 years ago.

Naturally, I get my 25th pick.  So, off to Princeton I go.  Not in my car, mind you.  No, no, that would be foolish.  My 1995 Chevrolet Camaro might not make it that far, and besides, its HORRIBLE in the snow, and everyone knows it snows a lot in the mountains of West Virginia.  I KNOW!  I’ll fly out there and FedEx my MOUNTAIN bike out for transportation (because FedEx-ing it is cheaper than checking it on the plane.  My street smarts astound even me)…

So here I am in the Appalachian Mountains with 2 suitcases, my laptop, and my bike.  No friends acquaintances for 1,000 miles.  That is, until I meet Jason…my roommate.  Actually, he owns the small house I’m staying in (we’ll get to the house later).  Jason is a flamboyant, opinionated male who cooks nothing but weight-watcher's meals and refuses to ever introduce me to his "friends" hospitable, laid-back, sensitive occupational therapist who welcomes me into his home with open arms  (As it turns out, my ignoble fear of being hit on is completely unfounded.  I think he has a boyfriend).  His only downfall is that he’s a one-upper.  Thankfully, even this provokes me to annoyance only once during my 2-month stay.  During this instance, I present the idea that poison Ivy is horrible in Missouri, and he insists that it is worse in West Virginia (C’mon.  Really?)  Overall, my lodgings are the most enjoyable aspect of my incarceration.  I describe it as such because of the cell of a room I call home and the only view through its window being a graveyard.

I’m settled in to my lodgings and now its time for work.  For information on the patient population at the lovely local hospital I am to intern at, please see the “West Virginia - Fun with numbers” section I have posted above.  One other notable trait of these patients is that over 90% of them have coal miner’s lung (ICD-9 code 500). 

On a side note, I am not making light of these afflictions, especially coal miner’s lung.  It is a very tragic situation, and, in fact, I care very deeply for many of those I treated.  I am merely expressing my lack of excitement for my banishment to pick #25.

When I report for work, frost bitten and exhausted, my supervisor Spain’s (Yes, her first name is Spain.  No, not like the country) primary complaint about her current pregnancy is that she can’t drink as much.  I can’t help thinking her main concern should be that the circumferential vine tattoo she has around her waist will look like something from a Tim Burton film in about 7 months.   Surprisingly, she turns out to be one of the coolest people I’ve ever met (I’m starting to realize I can’t actually be mean, even for the sake of comedy).  In the course of my internship I accumulate countless stories involving feces, senility, and the like.  Unfortunately, as they are not the focus of this blog, it would not be worth the breach of HIPAA compliance to share them.

Now to what stands in my mind as the highlight of my stay in Princeton, West Virginia:

Sunday, January 27th, 2008:

I wake up early with some measure of excitement.  There’s a light dusting of snow on the ground (as with most mornings here).  I haven’t been to church since I’ve been out here, and it’s finally time to try out the small community chapel down the road from my prison house.  It’s so close, in fact, that I won’t have to ride my bike, which means I won’t have to put on my wind pants, winter coat, sock cap, rubber gloves (an actual necessity if I don’t want frostbite) and bike gloves over those (which wouldn’t have been a big deal, since I do it every day of the week for the 20mph downhill bike ride to work).  I arrive just in time for the other 29 members of the congregation to find their usual seats. Those around me fit the same demographic as those I treat throughout the week.  All but one.  A young, blonde, mildly attractive female sits directly in front of me, but soon goes to work on her nails and I don’t see her head raise again for the rest of the service.  The elderly lady sitting next to her (presumably her grandma) introduces herself after several others of the church enthusiastically beat her to the punch.

“Jane Doe (not actually her name…or was it), glad to have ya.”
“Andrew Winch”
“Edgar?” (I immediately think of the life-long West Virginia native, Edgar Allan Poe, and intimately sympathize with his motivation to write on the disgusting, disturbing, and depraved)
“Andrew,” I repeat, adding a thick country draw so she can understand me.
“Oh, Andrew.”
“So where ya from?”
“I’m actually here on a physical therapy clinical.  I’m from Missouri.”
“Oh, ok.”
-she starts talking to another woman for a few minutes-
“So, what kind of church do ya go to where you’re from?”
“I was raised Southern Baptist, but I go to a non-denominational church now.”
“Well, that’s what this is, a Church of God.  Now, in the Baptist church ya went to, did they say that once you were saved, you couldn’t be un-saved?”
With a very serious stare, “Now you don’t go down that path now, ok?”
“Well, actually, the way they described it was if you lost faith, you were never truly saved in the first place.”
With a slight grin, “Yeah…well I can PROVE that Judas was saved.  He did miracles, see.  He could draw out demons.”
“OK, well, but does that necessarily mean that he was ever actually saved, or God just gave him the power to do his will?”
“It meant he was saved, cause God’s not interested in evil things, like the Devil.”
“I understand that, but Judas could have done God’s will and not actually been saved.”
“Well, why would the Devil try to tempt you if he couldn’t win you over?”
“There are lots of reasons.  Our faults could affect others around us.  He could do it to spite God by getting us to sin.” 
Leaning in and looking directly at me, “He can get your soul!”
“Well, agree to disagree.” I say, turning around quickly.
“Amen,” she says with a smile, “We won’t fall out over it.”

As the service progresses to its “praise” portion, an elderly woman screeches sings her version of a classic hymn that literally forces an audible laugh out of my pressed lips.  Immediately afterward, the pastor asks, “Brother Andrew, would you like to sing a song or play piano for the congregation?” (I made the mistake of sharing my humble musical endeavors with him earlier).  I furiously shake my head and avert my eyes. 

At the end of the sermon, the pastor asks me to come back next week for a potluck dinner.  I respectfully decline as I force my way out of the front door and run for the hills…quite literally.

“Country Roads,
take me home
to the place where I belong.
West Virginia,
Mountain Mama.
Take me home
my country roads.”

Downtown Princeton

The view from my house

Princeton's Pride: the longest single-arch bridge in the country