Joining a New Herd

By: P.K. Beville

When we became parents, we joined the herd of other parents who gave helpful advice, told hysterical stories about their children and even at times commiserated. Being a part of this herd helped the journey through parenthood and most people in the herd with us learned valuable lessons from each other.

I also had a work herd along with a few other herds but nothing as helpful and valuable as the parent herd. That is, until now. I didn’t even realize I needed a new herd and just kept caring for my aging dad as though I had all the answers. He is MY Dad after all and I have vast experience in geriatrics and specifically dementia so why would I need anyone else?

The fact is, Dad is almost deaf. He was a gunner in WWII and lost the hearing in his right ear and now has very limited hearing in his left even with the help of his hearing aide. His sight has been failing for several years and is now unable to drive. I won’t even get into his bouts with cancer and radiation treatments except to say, he has the spirit of a 17-year-old and the fortitude of a 30-year-old trying to get the bills paid. Add to that dash of confusion just to make it interesting.

Last week I took him to the eye doctor and as with any doctor visit we get into the whole sign in thing. He wants to do it himself and he can’t really see or understand what he is to do. I have no idea why they have computer sign ins for geriatrics when they don’t have the familiarity that we do. I assume some 20-year-old decided it was a good idea to have computer terminals for patients use at doctors’ offices without the due diligence necessary to determine if that was good patient practice or not. Anyway, I delete and restart the sign in process and it goes about as well as it usually does. The whole driver’s license, insurance card, verifications etc. means he must hear what I need, find all these things and the frustration begins.

Finally, some sweet receptionist pipes up and says, “I’ll take care of you over here”. I start trying to move Dad in that direction because remember, he can’t hear. The nice lady asks very patiently for all the info. and we come to find out that since Dad didn’t confirm the appointment, it was automatically cancelled. Go ahead and picture in your mind the cartoon figure whose face is turning redder by the second and then smoke starts coming out of its ears and finally, BOOM, it blows up. That’s Dad at this point. I finally get him seated, told him the receptionist messed up and headed back to the desk while keeping one eye on him.

My phone rang for a conference call I thought I would have been able to take by then and my eyes pleaded with the receptionist as I rescheduled the call. That’s when it happened.

In a soft caring voice, she said, “it’s all right. My Dad was like that.” Then she started handing me two small pieces of paper and said, “I made an extra copy of his driver’s license and also his insurance card for you to keep discretely in your wallet. It may come in handy one day.”

There it was. She got it. She has been there. She has valuable information that no amount of education can bring. I imagine a world where we are all in the gero herd. We lean on each other when we need a break like we did when we had kids. We give a helping hand when there are two strollers and the door won’t close. I see grocery lines where we ask for someone to save our place while we run back into the isles to get more depends and pharmacy’s that don’t make elders sit there so long that they wander off. They are attentive and hurry the meds through and provide some water during the wait.

I’m sure support groups are helpful but this is completely different. It’s a willingness to jump in and help. This is what support looks like and I’m thrilled to be a part of a new herd. I feel safer somehow.

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