Operation Caffeination

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Death: less pearly gates and light-filled tunnels and more like the DMV.

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The intoxicated homeless man stumbles towards me, waving his arms above his head. My children don’t react to this common sight at all. I shake my head in amusement and greet him, “Hello, Jimmy. How’s Elizabeth today?”

“Oh, she’s doing well,” he slurs politely. “And how are my favorite kids doing today?”

“We’re just looking for ducks and squirrels,” my little son informs him.

“Ah, those are some tricky critters to catch, aren’t they,” Jimmy smiles congenially, absent-mindedly flicking some crumbs out of his whiskers as he slows his gait to match our rambling pace.

Darren sighs heavily. “I’ve never caught a squirrel before,” he confesses sadly, his shoulders slumped.

“I did, once,” Jimmy confides, “but it got away before I could show it to anyone.”

“That’s a bummer,” Darren sympathizes.

“Well, yes it was,” Jimmy laughs ruefully. “But it wasn’t the first, and it won’t be the last.”

Jimmy and Elizabeth spend most of their nights in the abandoned schoolyard by our house, and most of their time in the day is spent walking to and from the various churches and community centers in the area that host free meals for the poor.

Here is what I know about them: Jimmy is abusive, sometimes violent. Elizabeth is an alcoholic, and on her last legs. They have three sons who, quite understandably, refuse to have any contact with them.

Every time I hear someone trumpet personal responsibility as it relates to healthcare, gun safety, childcare, the minimum wage…I always want to tell them about Jimmy and Elizabeth. These people are not well. This last winter nearly killed Elizabeth.

Whatever has happened in the past that lead up to their current predicament, they are suffering now and need help, but who will help them?

Their children, who I’m certain have suffered decades of abuse and neglect at their hands? People who will be doing remarkably well in life if they are even able to function normally as adults when you consider the kind of start they had in life?

Or perhaps these generous community centers and churches should ban together to care for our city’s most vulnerable residents: the ones with cancer, HIV, the ones who left limbs behind in Iraq; the ones with dangerous mental illnesses, addictions and criminal histories, stress disorders, violent tendencies and perverted sexual habits? How do you see that working, exactly? Do the Sunday school teachers and front desk receptionists take shifts?

Jimmy and I both know who should be taking this responsibility on: it’s me. I am a CNA and I am completely capable of dealing with people like him. I am not afraid of him. Before I had my kids, I spent about 50 hours a week bathing adults, brushing their teeth, doing their laundry, literally cleaning their shit. And here’s the thing, I don’t just do it, I enjoy it. I connect with these people and sometimes change their lives. I have a unique talent that society desperately needs. I am the answer to this problem.

But I can’t do this work for free.

I can understand how people can look at the situation and think, you’re an alcoholic, you won’t go through treatment, you’ve done this to yourself…why should I pay for your mistakes?

But if there’s anything I’ve learned through providing end-of-life care, it’s this: we humans make way more shit than any of us can ever clean up on our own. Even if you have been a self-made island this far, I promise you that you will not die that way. You will absolutely end this life indebted to someone. You don’t get to be awesome and do it all on your own; nature prevents that.

The only choice you have is will you die indebted financially or spiritually. I probably won’t ever be able to prove this, but I believe that we rest easier in death when our debt is a spiritual one; the people I’ve cared for are just a little bit immortal, and I know that sounds silly but it’s real. I talk about them, mimic them, reference their stories, share their memories.

I remember their favorite colors.

I grieve their passings, even when we don’t particularly like each other or get along well, because we share a real human connection that can’t be defined or set down on paper.

When was the last time you experienced that kind of connection in our current medical system? Has your insurance agent ever remembered your birthday, or your favorite dessert?

Have they ever named their child after you, to keep your memory alive after you’re gone?

Our society needs change. Our president is fired up to tackle the healthcare system, I say let’s ride that wave and see where it takes us. It can not be made any worse than it is now. Don’t wait to find that out first-hand.

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Written by GRSeim

March 27, 2012 at 6:56 pm

One Response

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  1. […] to go to waste, we make a post on freecycle or Craigslist, or spend the afternoon hunting for Jimmy and Elizabeth. They always appreciate our […]


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