There is nothing like a life-changing experience to adjust your attitude toward life and people. I didn’t make my column deadline last Saturday because a freak accident landed me in MaineGeneral Medical Center with a fractured hip.

A friend called it “Rocco’s revenge.” That’s the name of my daughter’s dog that I took out at 9:30 at night so that he could do his business. I tripped over my little buddy while trying to avert an unleashed dog. This type of accident, according to hospital staff, ranks in the top five.

Following surgery and a stint on the third-floor orthopedic unit — I got lucky! I applied for and was admitted to the outstanding rehabilitation center inside MGM. Both the orthopedic and rehabilitation staff, I discovered, are world class.

By now you are wondering what any of this has to do with politics. Let me explain.

We all have opinions formed over time, but this hospital experience greatly modified some of my views on immigration. It seems real-time exposure to people from other countries goes a long way to understanding the value of each individual in the tapestry of diversification that is our great country.

I was amazed to learn from many of my caregivers where they came from and how they got here. Some of the people who served me came here the hard way from Brazil, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Hungary and elsewhere. The old reporter in me caused me to search for their stories. In most cases the stories were dramatic, full of flight to freedom from tyranny, dictatorship and war.

One of my favorite nurses, Karina, in answer to my questions, told me how corrupt her country of Brazil had become. That country’s leader has just been impeached. She got out some time ago with the help of relatives already here in America. A marriage ended when her spouse seemed to change his attitude towards all immigrants — after 9/11.

Her hard-earned nurses degree enabled her to make it to MGM after starting at area nursing homes. She is concerned about her new country becoming politically corrupt like her nation of birth.

This woman impressed me with her courage and perseverance. She sincerely loves America and the invaluable job that she performs. Nights at the hospital were made bearable by Karina, the Brazilian diva, who was a concert pianist in her other life.

Some of my excellent hospitalists included Dr. Simon, a Hungarian. Some of my physical therapists were also foreign born. They are all here among us for all the right reasons, foremost among them a desire to be free and to serve others.

My unexpected journey into another world at MGM began with introduction to a magnificent orthopedic surgeon who among other things works with an international soccer team. Two hours before my surgery, I asked Dr. Wexler where he had acquired his accent. As he left the room to prepare, this Brit, educated in London, turned and said in a charming English accent, “Millinocket.” (He had given prior service there.) A guy in a very serious business with a sense of humor. I instantly liked him.

The point of all this is that my new exposure to those who came here from elsewhere, often at great personal cost and hardship, has shown me the value to all of us from so many courageous and talented people. The other part of this story is the large number of rookies: ambitious, many young, and some not so young nurses, including one in her 50s, who just earned her degree from Kaplan University. On the orthopedic floor, young Brady, who commutes daily from Portland is a shining example of an excellent male nurse, while Stacy is a terrific young gal filled with love and compassion.

Downstairs in rehab, Kim, Melissa, Michelle in physical therapy and Debbie my discharge nurse were standouts. Even a nursing assistant, young Gracie, was a gem.

The orthopedic and rehab units at MGM are establishing themselves as the signature service of our local regional hospital and are earning recognition far and wide. The folks at MGM turned my misfortune into a positive learning experience about hospitals, the value of immigrants and the vibrant ambition of youth to serve their fellow man.

Thank you to all my new friends. I will never forget the caregivers at MGM. You truly exemplify the diversity and goodness of America.

Don Roberts is a veteran broadcaster, writer and political consultant. He has served Augusta as a city councilor at-large, charter commission vice chairman and utilities district treasurer.


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