Wants vs. Needs



I do not want to do this. I AM TIRED AND I DO NOT WANT TO TACKLE THIS!…those were my thoughts as I tried to come up with the best way to explain to my client that it just isn’t possible to attempt a planned outing at five in the evening. It was hot. It makes me nervous to drive her car in rush hour traffic. Her mobility was off all day. She was having stomach troubles. A “politician” who’s name I will not mention because I adamantly refuse to give him the satisfaction of free publicity on our blog was having a rally in town, guaranteeing the nuts will be out on the roads in droves, plus I was on the last day of a long stretch of back to back twelve hour shifts and I was tired…at this point in the day it was just a bad idea all around…and then I saw the expression on her face. Sigh.
“Ok. Let’s DO this!”
We had made plans for the outing two days before, when we found out that her husband was going to the rally of “He who must not be named”. It seemed like the perfect opportunity for one of our “Girl days”. We’d go to Belks, and she wanted to try on some new orthopedics at the shoe outlet, maybe hit Starbucks and grab dinner at a restaurant nearby. We could spend the whole day out and still make it home in time to read a few chapters of Little Women (a book she has never read and we are both thoroughly enjoying)! I knew she had been feeling cooped up for awhile and this would be good for her.
I arrived at work prepared and excited for the day’s adventures! She called out a cheerful good morning as I got the coffee brewing and went in to get her up for breakfast. As I helped her transfer from the bed to her chair, I noticed that her mobility was a little off. That happens. Some mornings take more effort than others. I wasn’t too concerned. Besides, she was chattering happily about the day ahead. I pushed her to the table and set up her breakfast: Greek yogurt, Cheerios and as an extra treat on our special day, some fresh peaches…it was those damned peaches that started the domino effect that would threaten to ruin the day.
I lost count of how many times I cursed myself for giving her that devious fruit. Now ordinarily, I would be thrilled that her engines were running so smoothly. One of the side effects of her pain meds is chronic constipation, but on that day, it just wiped her out completely. I watched as the hours went by, counting the trips to the bathroom. Noon, 1:00, 2:30…still no end in sight. By 3:30, her pain level had flared up. She thought if she could just rest in her recliner for a minute, she would feel better, so I transferred her, elevated her legs, sat down next to her and folded the laundry as she rested. 3:45, 4:00, 4:30…Ah well. The best laid plans of mice and men. I knew any chance of fulfilling our goals for the day were shot, so you can imagine my surprise when I heard her say with great determination,
“I feel better now. I’d like to go out now. I’d like to try…”
I didn’t want to go at that point for the reasons I mentioned above. They were all valid concerns. Loading her car with the wheelchair, walker and various other sundries alone takes at least thirty minutes…I would be at work FOREVER and I was supposed to get off at nine. And it’s not as if we would be able to accomplish any of our plans. What’s the point? Besides, she would do better to rest…but one look at her face put all of that nonsense in my head to rest.
When an elderly lady who had a stroke in the prime of her life and manages to keep up her spirits says that she wants to paint the town red after a day of what could only have been hell for her, who am I to complain, even to myself, about a little heat and loading a car?! So we loaded up and off we went. And it WAS hot and there WAS traffic and it WAS difficult…but it was also wonderful. We went to the shoe store and she got shoes that may ease some of her foot pain and we sat in a restaurant and enjoyed a leisurely dinner, just the two of us. For a few hours, she felt perfectly normal and it did her a world of good. It did ME a world of good.
It occurred to me that absolutely everything that matters in my life has been a direct result of facing things I didn’t think I could and doing things I didn’t want to do. I didn’t want to put down the bottle but in doing so, my life was not only saved but put to good use. I didn’t want to be a housekeeper, but that job in a facility led to my caregiving. I was terrified of blowing the whistle on a terrible facility, but doing so taught me how to effectively advocate and eventually led me to writing for this blog and the remarkable experience with the Pioneer Network in New Orleans. I didn’t want to go out with my client so late after such a challenging shift, but in doing so I was able to make a wonderful woman happy and feel a sense of accomplishment that no amount of money could buy. Sometimes, we confuse what we want with what we need. It turns out that adventure is exactly what I needed on that day. I stopped watching the time and enjoyed the moments.
After we made it home and I tucked her into bed, carefully adjusting the pillows around her, she hesitantly asked if I would read her a bit of Little Women if I wasn’t “too tired.” I settled down in the cozy chair beside her bed, opened the book and began to read,
“Your father, Jo. He never loses patience, never doubts or complains, but always hopes, and works and waits so cheerfully that one is ashamed to do otherwise before him.”…and I quietly slipped from her room after she fell asleep.


2 thoughts on “Wants vs. Needs

  1. ilmcdp

    A beautiful and reflective post affirming the role of relationships in our work life as well as our personal life. Also a reflection of compassion and empathy in this work of service to an elder.

  2. donna

    What an exquisitely beautiful love story! Thank you so much for another extraordinary expression of what caregiving might be, Alice. (And how it enhances lives of both persons.) You exemplify that “It’s not about me. It’s about her. And if it brings her joy, I will go that extra mile.”


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