Livin’ in an Amish Paradise

Amish country near Arthur, Illinois“We been spending’ most our lives living in an Amish paradise…” Weird Al

It’s getting close to lunch time at my clinic, but I have no hope of wrapping things up for a break any time soon. Why not? The waiting room looks like a call back for extras for Witness. Women in sturdy blue polyester dresses and enormous black bonnets, de rigueur for every Amish lady, are shushing children in blue shirts and black overalls, their bowl haircuts shrouded with enormous black hats. Men with springy gray beards sit silently nearby, dressed in their identical Amish uniforms. Probably only one of this cast of thousands is actually scheduled for an appointment. Yet in the course of the visit, I’ll start with one and end up seeing three or four, as they think I might as well see the daughter with a “little” cold (pneumonia), the diabetic grandma (blood sugar over 400), and their cousin’s farrier, who happened to come along for the ride. And could I please hurry it up, because the neighbor who gave them all a ride has to get back in time for dinner. Yes, just another day of Amish Hell at the office, and I’m smack in the middle of it.

The Amish are a sturdy sect of traditionalists who live simply and eschew modern technology. Originally members of a church schism in Switzerland, the Amish community left to settle in the Pennsylvania area, and eventually migrated to other parts of the US, including Michigan and Indiana. The Amish community is truly off the grid, living free of silly government entanglements such as Social Security numbers, government IDs, and therefore, health insurance. So just about any day might be Amish Day at the free clinic. The Amish folk are for the most part lovely, delightful people who would do anything to help a friend or neighbor. So why do I feel like I’m in the seventh circle of hell whenever their group darkens my door?

They come in large swarms, with no concept of anyone’s time, except their own. They want everything done at once, because they came all the way to town, darn it, and they’re busy people with things to do. The women wear two-piece dresses held together

Amish clothing hanging in the bedroom at The A...

by straight pins, and more undergarments than Scarlet O’Hara. Nothing strikes fear in my heart more than to think that I might have to ask one of them to get undressed – a 20 minute ordeal at least on each side of the operation which will tie up one of my two exam rooms for the next 40 minutes. Every Amish patient expects me to solve their problem, without their giving me any information about it. “So how has your blood sugar been, Rachel,” I ask, already knowing the answer. “Oh, I can’t really say. It’s high.” Then we begin the game we play every time, which I always lose. “Is it higher than 200?” I’ll ask, hoping this time I might get an answer. “Oh it’s high. I can’t really say.” “Can’t really say” is the Amish polite way of saying “you are an English woman, an outsider and I’m not giving you any information no matter how many different ways you ask.” And so I jump in, treating a pain they won’t describe, or a cough that has been present for God knows how long, listening to lung sounds through industrial polyester,  and expected to do it in record time because, really, don’t I know they still need to get to the store and be home in time for milking?

Later, if we have to call them about test results or an appointment, a new kind of hell begins. Their emergency contact person is listed only as “Bruce,” a non-Amish neighbor who has a phone, and has somehow become trusted enough to take their messages. I always hope that we never have to contact them for anything urgent, because Bruce might be busy with the plowing and not get them the message right away. Plus, he’s handling messages for every Amish family up and down the road, and with each family boasting 8 to 18 children, that’s a lot of Amish. There’s never any point in calling them to reschedule an appointment, because they’ll just show up anyway. After all, they went to all the trouble of getting a ride, and they’re not going to redo it just for my convenience.

Yet, in many ways they are endearing. They represent an earlier time, when neighbor trusted neighbor, when it was possible to be happy and connected to one’s community without having a phone permanently attached to one’s palm. Despite my frustration, I love most all of my Amish patients. They remind me of goodness, community, and simpler times.

© Huffygirl 2013