Are you a Lawyer?
"Are you a lawyer?" The white haired lady in the back guessed.
"No, Tootsie. The category is…something you find in the kitchen."
I was beginning to get a little impatient with this game that I had thought would be fun for the residents to play. Another woman took a guess.
"Ants?" a slightly older woman with slightly whiter hair chimed in.
"No Miss Clyde…not Ants." Again…something you find in the kitchen…everyone's kitchen…not just yours. Miss Clyde sat back in her chair looking more confused then ever.
"I know…I know…," Tootsie was getting into the game now…her hands were shaking in the air to get my attention.
"Yes…Tootsie…you have another guess?"
The delicate, but feisty lady called out, "You're a dog!"
Working with the elderly was going to be harder than I thought.
When I was 26 I took a job at the assisted living community where my grandmother lived. I thought it was a divine appointment of sorts. My grandmother had just moved up from Fayetteville and the place she was moving into happened to be hiring. At this time in my life, I was in the throws of the, now ridiculous sounding, quarter life crisis. I was a few years out of college, working a job, that in hindsight I should probably still be at, but I was looking for something more. I was looking for a job with meaning. I was looking for a greater purpose. That greater purpose, for the time being, was going to be the elderly.
I bid my well-paying-for-being-straight-out-of-college, professional, on-a-path-to-something career job and took my big heart and my higher calling over to the assisted living where I would take a big pay cut so that I could fulfill a greater good with people who had absolutely no appreciation of the fact that I was doing them a great service.
Did I mention that I was a stupid 26 year old?
One of my jobs at the assisted living was to plan and execute field trips. This meant that I had to drive the resident bus complete with wheelchair lift. I have to hand it to my management, they did a great job convincing me that I needed no special training to drive something that could carry 20 plus people, no further lift training other than showing me the up and down buttons, no training in resident transfers (moving a resident from a wheelchair to a seat and back again). I wasn’t even CPR certified, but that seemed to be no problem to my boss.
Looking back I am amazed that I was trusted to take 15 plus residents on adventures all over the metro Atlanta area. Especially since my first experience driving the van for an Alzheimer’s patient’s Dr. appointment, led me to hit a clearance sign…twice. It’s kind of a difficult crime to flee from, too. Any blind, drunk man could have picked out this vehicle with the scraped roof, community’s name on the side in enormous letters and the young female driver having a complete meltdown in the driver’s seat while screaming into a cell phone that this wasn’t part of her job description. Yet, somehow, Ms. Effie and I evaded capture.
The residents were blissfully ignorant to my lack of experience and gladly hopped on that bus anywhere I went. I think some of them were secretly ready to die. We took scenic tours all over the area. I gave my scenic adventure rides names you might find featured in a Globus catalog. Every Thursday afternoon we would head on the “Magnolia Mile”, “Dogwood Day Ride” or I would take the residents on an “Old Atlanta Adventure” which basically meant, I drove them up and down East Paces Ferry to look at old houses. They half-listened to this one cassette tape I had of 1940’s music and half listened as I shared all the historical information I could remember. Of course, what I couldn’t remember, I just made up.
The first time I had to do a resident transfer was for a woman named Gertie. Gertie was in her early 80’s. She sat at Mamo’s table and at the end of every meal would ask where her bill was so she could settle up. She spent a lot of her time having confusing discussions with an 84-year-old who told everyone that she was 100. Talk about, lying about your age.
Well, Gertie wanted to go on one of our excursions one day. Up until Gertie, I had merely had the walking residents go on the excursions. The most that was required of me was a hand to help them on and off the rickety bus. Or sometimes if we were taking a scenic drive, one of the caregivers would assist in getting the residents on the bus. For whatever reason, on this day, there was no one to help me.
I was very nervous about this. I could see the headline, Nursing Home Worker Kills Woman During Improper Resident Transfer, and I didn't like the look of it one bit.
I carefully rolled Gertie’s wheelchair on the lift, secured her and hit the “up” button and watched it raise her up in to the bus. I ran inside the bus, unlocked the wheelchair and rolled her in. Halfway home, I arrogantly thought. I can do this.
Now came the transfer. I put her arms around my neck and grabbed her around the waist just like I’d seen the other caregivers do. It was like anticipating a waxing…JUST DO IT... I kept telling myself. Inside I was praying that I wouldn’t drop her.
ON the count of three…one …two…three. I lifted. I transferred. She was in her bus seat. The whole ordeal had taken four seconds. I bent over Ms. Gertie looking at her, stroking her hand and asking if she was okay. I believe I might have even been crying.
“I’m fine,” she said in her normal, dry tone - as if nothing had just happened.
She was unaware of the Rocky music of success playing in my mind.
That wasn't so hard. What was I so afraid of.
I turned to walk to the front of the bus.
“Hey, I got a question.” Ms. Gertie was looking at her feet as she made this statement.
I hurriedly came to her side.
“What’s that Ms. Gertie?” I smiled and gave my best flight attendant impersonation as I hovered an inch from her face. Apparently, I thought the hallmark of a good caregiver was to invade people's personal space.
Ms. Gertie sniffed and looked up at me. “When were you going to get the rest of my ass in this seat?”