Through Someone Else’s Eyes


Yesterday I went for a blood test and from 4 stories up in a building looking down I watched – voyeur that I’ve become – a woman who was preparing to take someone out of a car. There was the oh-so-familiar wheelchair pulled up to the front passenger side. The woman looked at least middle aged, a little heavy and strong with good shoulders. I was concerned about how she was going to maneuver the person out of the car, hopefully she knew how to protect her own back. She stood patiently as, I assume, the person in the car prepared themselves. I was curious, is it a man (a husband like mine), a woman, a mother maybe or a handicapped child? Suddenly the caregiver bent over, reached into the car, pulled out and plopped a very old and sickly looking woman down into the wheel chair. Plunk! One fell swoop. It was startling, especially for the old lady, poor thing. Even from 4 stories up I could see that the old woman had to recover herself, gather her breath.

The caregiver wasn’t doing this out of love. She seemed to be a hired assistant who was working very hard herself. Even if the little old lady only weighed 90 pounds, do you know what it takes to reach into a car and use every muscle in your body to pull someone out? And oh, yes, I think she may have hit the woman’s head on the doorframe as she pulled her out. Now that I recall, the old woman was touching her forehead with her right hand. There was no apparent concern by the caregiver, not a touch on the shoulder or a stoop down to address her pain in the head. I felt sorry for both actually.

My sister works in a nursing home. I know something about how it must be caring for people physically day after day because you need the paycheck. It’s very tough on the body and frustrating because you’re always tired. Love or at least compassion for the person you’re caring for is crucial. You’ve got to be intelligent and thoughtful; find efficient ways of doing things. You might seek professional help or ask questions of nurses in the hospital: “When you were trained did they tell you to lift from a certain place or how did they tell you to do x-y-z?” Don’t be shy. Trained people are usually happy to answer your questions. People like to share what they know. I would have saved a lot of strain on my back had I known that I needed to be using my stomach muscles as well as my back and leg muscles when lifting my husband. I learned that after-the-fact from my chiropractor.

As I watched that scene I was thinking to myself, you can’t be sure when your time comes if there’s going to be someone who can keep their cool and is strong, caring, patient and intelligent enough to find a way to make things go easily for both of you. Ideally there would be enough money (LTC insurance, if necessary) so the person who loves you can afford to be there while the hired person does the physically hard part when necessary.

Watching the scene was surreal in that it told it’s own story of what is such a common occurrence now. So many aging people need a lot of help. It just occurred to me that maybe the patient was nasty, rude or bigoted. Karma? This is the advantage of the voyeur, you get to make up your own version of the story. My sister tells me that some of the words that come from people with dementia are very hurtful. She heard one old woman say to her nurse while laughing, “Look at you with your false teeth and wrinkly face!” Do you think your compassion would wane after a few of those experiences?”

It’s so nice to have the time to observe humanity now, like when I watch the people who live in the tower next to my apartment complex. There’s a huge parking lot. I stand at my kitchen window doing dishes and see people going to their cars – singles carrying too many things like I do – couples walking together hand in hand, or not. Kids playing ball sometimes. My favorite was a young woman walking – waltzing actually – with her baby attached by a front pack to her chest, she must have been singing to the baby while waltzing in the fresh air for both their sakes…so sweet. I feel like Jimmy Stewart in the movie Rear Window and a little guilty at the same time, not enough to stop though. Oh, yes, the couple who had walked together every weekday morning to her car – he opened the car door for her and handed her coffee when she was in, then closed the door. He didn’t kiss her goodbye. Interesting. Now I see her walking alone carrying her own coffee. Why doesn’t he walk with her anymore? Was she demanding that he walk her to the car? Were there better days when he enjoyed this routine and did kiss her? Human behavior is fascinating.

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