PLEASE NOTE: Even though this blog is now dormant there are many useful, insightful posts. Scroll back from the end or forward from the beginning. Also, check out my writer's blog. Periodically I will add posts here if they provide additional information about living well with Dementia / Alzheimer's Disease.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

When is Helping Not Helpful?

I still help too much. It is my nature to help. It is my nature to nurture. When confronted by a situation in which someone needs help, I will walk in and do my best to help. I will be sensitive, respectful, and take context as well as gestural cues to moderate and if necessary remove my helpfulness.

For example, walking down the street, woman in front stumbles and falls, purse empties. I will go into immediate action to make sure she is OK while at the same time making sure the content of her purse do not go too far astray. I will offer my handkerchief if her nose is bleeding or her hand got scrapped.

I will not only give physical comfort but also try to make sure she is not too embarrassed. After all accidents are accidental but we still seem to get embarrassed at our behavior. Sometimes people do not want help in situations like this and one must respect that. So after inquiring, I back off.

If someone looks like they are having a hard time, perhaps while sitting on a park bench, I will inquire about their needing help. Shall I sit with you? Shall I call someone? Can I help you home?

When we lived on Roscoe, Mary lived in one of the apartments. She was in her 80's, indigent, as close to being a homeless person as one can get while still having a home. She lived with her adult daughter who was developmentally disabled and prone to alcoholism and violence.

I would always say hi to Mary, who spent a lot of time sitting on the front stoop. Sometimes we would sit and talk. Once she had just returned from a neighborhood church that had free lunch and bingo on Wednesdays. She had won a flowered cup saucer as a prize and offered it to me. I thanked her but figured she could use it more than I, I now wish I had taken it as a memento, maybe that would have made her feel good.

One day, when I was leaving for work, I spotted Mary sitting on the stairs of the back porch. She looked very pale if not white. I sat down next to her and we were silent together for a while. "Are you OK."

"Yes, just a little tired."

"Are you sure. Can I help you?"

"No. Thanks. I'll be OK after I sit here a while." I left for work.

Mary died later that day. At least I was able to offer some comfort, if not unspoken love.

Even in very difficult situations, I am able to be strong and helpful. Once while living in New York City, my upstairs neighbor fell down the stairs from her second floor landing. She ended up on my landing with her face caught between the open door and the wall. I heard the crash and went running.

When I saw what had happened I called to Robert, my then lover, bring a blanket! I know you are not supposed to move a person but I did after assessing that she would possibly choke on her blood in this upside down, wounded position. I talked calmly all the time, inquiring about her pain, making sure my moving her wasn't complicating something like a broken neck, wrapped her in a blanket and held her in my arms murmuring comforting sounds while Robert called an ambulance.

We saw her off in the ambulance and waited for an hour until her husband got home (a little drunk on payday) and took him to the hospital. Afterwards I went into a little shock myself, but was OK in a short while. t is my nature to help. It is my nature to nurture. When confronted by a situation in which someone needs help, I will walk in and do my best to help. Interestingly enough, from that day on, the neighbor woman never spoke to me. If she saw me coming she would cross the street. Too embarrassed? Indebted? Never will know.

So all this "about me" and how good I am, is not to brag but brings me to my current topic. I help Gregory too much. If only I could wait and not rush in to help him, to lessen his frustration, to ameliorate his pain. For example, this morning he was getting dressed, I was at my computer, and he comes out of the closet carrying two shirts. One of them is mine. Often he forgets which side of the closet is his.

So I gently say, pointing, "That shirt is mine," trying to anticipate his actions.

To which he replies, "I know."

"Then why are you carrying it?"

"It was just there."

I might mention that he has problems getting dressed. Often he doesn't know the names of underpants or undershirt let alone which is the front. Once in a while he will forget he has one or the other on already and ends up wearing two or three undershirts or underpants.

When he comes out of the closet nude, not sure of what to do, I say, "You need to put on your underpants and an undershirt." Often I just say, "Underpants!" More often, I get up and point in the drawer where they are stored.

Even when I lay out his clothes, he doesn't always see them, or gets fixated on one or the other, or is thinking, "I need a shirt" so he goes back into the closet looking for a shirt, with the one I laid out still sitting on the bed, and can't find a shirt while looking through the area where the pants are hung.

So when I see him going off in these erroneous directions, I jump in with a suggestion for the correct action or behavior. This often serves to confuse him and then with his lack of active and/or passive language, i.e. speaking and/or understanding, we are not able to solve or explain the situation. Intermittently, my advanced comments do help, which serves to frustrate me more.

I get frustrated, he gets more confused. I get angry, he goes quiet. Sometimes, if I am tired, I get rude and very infrequently I "rage." My teacher self feels the failure. I want to disappear and my guilt sets in. One thing in my favor is that I am able to apologize pretty quickly.

So I berate myself with, "When am I going to learn. Why do I always jump in too soon. Why can't I just wait until he does wrong and then help. No babies are dying here so why not just chill and wait it out?" But I am helpful. That is my nature. Maybe next time I will be able to hold back and follow my new self instructions. I'll let you know if I get there!

Post Script (Disclaimer: Sometimes my assistance has to be very basic.)

In the middle of proof reading this post, Gregory was sitting on the "pot" making pain type noises. I asked, "Are you OK?"

He replied, "No. I think you might need to poke my butt." This is his way of saying that either his hemorrhoids are acting up or his anus area is irritated and sore because he is not always methodical in cleaning himself after a bowel movement. I check it out and if necessary begin a regime of putting cream on the affected area. I don't mind doing these personal things but try not to worry too much about the day when he becomes incontinent.

On checking this time, he had totally forgotten to wipe. So I cleaned him up and put on the cream. Then I had him sit on the toilet and asked him to kick off his shoes. He knew how to do it (this time.) Then I had to help him take off his jeans because he got confused. I also took off his underpants and showed him the mess, saying, "Looks like to forgot to wipe altogether." ME: Neutral, non-judgemental voice, he didn't feel too bad. HIM: "I can't imagine."

While I was away getting a clean pair of underpants, he decided to wipe. But he was wiping a clean ass on which I had applied healing cream, so I had to do it again. Because he already had on his sox, he didn't know how to put on a fresh pair of underpants. The order was wrong. I assisted. He was able to get his jeans and shoes back on. He thanked me, apologized for my having to do that. I assured him, "No problem. Happy to help"

So you see, sometimes it is obvious when and how to help. Other times it is not. Do you blame me (even though I blame myself) for getting confused, frustrated, angry, guilty, etc.

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