We arrived every day at 6 a.m. to get the residents up and dressed for their day. Caring for children–which I’m used to– and dependent elderly people is very similar.
Diapers, bibs and potty for the little ones. Disposable briefs, clothing protectors and toileting for the elderly ones.
My days started helping Audra with her morning routine. She was patient and tolerant of us students as we gave her a partial bed bath, used a lift to take her to the bathroom and dress her.
She reminded us to have her seams straight on her pants. I made it a point to be sure I had them straight every time. Who wants to sit in twisted pants all day?
She’d laugh when I’d thank her for putting up with my bumbling around. I found that maneuvering a mechanical lift carrying a human being through bathroom obstacles takes some skill and muscle.
Audra spent her afternoons sitting by an old cassette player listening to tapes of scientific lectures. One was about molecular biology. She definitely wasn’t the soap opera type.
Then I moved on to Ella. She was a frail lady who spent her days in bed, getting up only for meals. She looked forward to cold milk, but wouldn’t touch her food.
For the most part she was hard to understand, but after a med round by the RN, she looked at me and said, “He gave me more of that shit.” She smiled and added, “Didn’t think I had that in me, did ya?”
Ed was ninety-five. He wasn’t able to walk on his own and a lift was used to get him from his bed to his wheel chair. When I asked if he was ready for us to move him to his chair he responded, “Anywhere but the floor is fine.”
He told jokes every day.
I stopped in to talk to Will, whose room was decorated with his landscape paintings. He told me about all his paintings and what inspired them.
But the smile on his face made me wonder. I’m sure she wasn’t just ‘anyone in particular’.
Will proudly showed me a certificate he received from having his paintings in an art show. I thanked Will for showing me his work.
Later, I passed his room and he was dosing in his rocking chair. An unused easel sat in the corner and the woman in the purple sun hat looked down on him from her place on the wall.
One morning I was assigned to help with Jerry’s shower. He could still walk on his own and I walked with him to the shower room. As I prepared his soap and washcloths, he said, “Get ready for nakedness.”
I said, “It’s all good, I do massage and I’ve seen hundreds of naked people.”
He said, “Damn, I spent my life in the wrong business!”
I spent a week caring for Audra, Ella, Ed, Jerry and Will: five people who led separate, interesting lives, but now share the common bond of aging. But despite the daily difficulties they face there still was a hint of humor that each one displayed.
The ability to maintain our sense of humor is one thing we can control. Aging may steal our independence, our senses, our ability to chew food, or even our ability to go to the bathroom on our own.
But this week, five people taught me that humor is one thing that aging doesn’t have to steal.