70-90% of the population is right-handed. I’m one of them. When recovering from carpal tunnel surgery on my right wrist in 2013, I was confronted with complicated obstacles like . . .
- Negotiating all aspects of being on or near a toilet (I’m keeping descriptions G-rated).
- Zipping any zipper.
- Tucking in my shirt.
- Brushing my teeth.
- Washing my left hand.
- Putting on my dog’s collar.
- Taking a shower.
Many other commonplace movements became a chore, an hourly and daily obstacle course of once “thoughtless” activities. Fortunately, I have a wife willing to lend a hand. Unfortunately, I’m a stubborn guy. She offered to help with my shirt-tucking endeavors. No thank you. Can I help you zip that zipper? I’ve got it! I relented on the shower. There’s only so much time in the day and who wants to spend significant clock time air-drying rather than using a towel?
My ordeal lasted barely a week. After the surgeon removed the bandages and stitches, I began to reclaim (and rejoice in) my ability to accomplish simple stuff. I quickly returned to being privately stubborn, a two-handed guy who could take care of himself, thank you very much.
But this is not the case with many hospice patients. Unlike my brief time of dreading trips to the bathroom or adding ten minutes over the usual one minute of dressing for work, hospice patients arrive at a point where most of the so-called “daily activities” require help. But like me—and I’m guessing like you—hospice patients are frequently stubborn. Without doing any research, I’m confident that the percentage of stubborn people is higher than the percentage of right-handers.
Being human is being stubborn. I’ll do it myself! Leave me alone! If you want it done right, you have to take care of it on your own! I don’t want your help and, anyway you ______ (scrub, brush, clean, wipe, fold, tuck, zip) the wrong way! Being human is being independent.
But there comes that day . . .
I listened to a group of hospice home health aides (HHA) talk about their encounters with patients. One of the HHAs had a patient that really needed a bath. She hadn’t bathed in a long time. Yes, there were token “sponge baths” and other minimal efforts, but the patient resisted anyone doing anything to her. Finally, after several visits from the HHA, the patient relented. Slightly.
“You can wash my feet. I’ll give you six minutes.”
Was the patient stubborn? Of course. Did she want a “stranger” to help her? No way. Did she resent that her illness had made her so helpless? Yes, in every moment of every long day.
The HHA said she finished washing, scrubbing, and drying both of the patient’s feet in less than six minutes. The time test was passed. The next visit included the HHA helping a little more. And then, a little more. And finally, after many visits, the trust test was passed.
We are choosy. We are critical. We are independent. Our way of _____ is the best way.
But there comes a day . . .
Most home health aides I’ve met are like their hospice patients: they’d prefer to do everything on their own. But everyone whether recovering from a low-key surgical procedure or facing the literal limitations of a life-limiting illness, will need help even while loudly claiming they don’t need help. All good HHAs understand that, because they too are wonderfully, beautifully, stubbornly human.
However, if that time comes for a hospice patient when zipping a zipper rivals climbing Everest or taking a bath feels more difficult than walking on water, give your HHA six minutes.
(Hospice vigorously protects a patient’s privacy. I’ll take care with how I share my experiences. Any names used are fictitious. Events are combined and/or summarized.)by