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by David Westheimer


You're always reading about caregivers, what a noble tribe they are, all patience and concern and hard-working. Good caregivers deserve all the praise they can get, but what about caregetters? You ever read a kind word about them?  Or any word at all? Do you think caregetting is a walk in the park?  Being a good caregetter is just as hard as being a good caregiver, maybe harder.  A caregiver gives care because she can. A caregetter gets care because he has no choice.  A good caregiver is proud of what she does. A caregetter is embarrassed by all the care lavished on him, at least until he gets used to it and learns to like it.
     I'll tell you what its like, being a caregetter.  And it ain't easy.  For example, before my stroke more than four years ago I did all the traditionally husbandly duties.  Cheerfully.  Felt good about it.  Took out the trash, brought in the mail and the morning paper.  Cleaned the cats litter box.  Now my wife has to do it all.  So you can imagine how it makes me feel when, sitting in my black leather easy chair with 1940s dance band music on my remote controlled radio, I look up from my doze or the pages of a Lisa Scottoline novel about hardboiled lady lawyers to see that fine woman trudging out the front door burdened by a huge brown paper sack of kitchen discards (nothing organic, we have a Disposal).  Terrible, that's how I feel.  Takes me minutes and minutes to get back to sleep or to the next page of  Scottoline's novel.
    Or going out in the car.  I can't drive because my right arm and leg are a little weak and not too flexible.  So my good wife  has to do all the driving.  Of course she had been doing all the driving for some years before my stroke but that was from choice and now she has to do it.  Sometime she scares me half to death.  Mostly when we are on a narrow street with cars parked along both sides and she has to drive way over to the right to make room for cars coming from the other direction.  I just know she's going to sideswipe the whole row.  But I am an experienced caregetter and do not distract her by grabbing the steering wheel or crying out in alarm.  No.  I just close my eyes and hold my breath until the danger is past.  (Anyway, she has perfect depth perception and never scrapes another car.) 
      Being a practiced caregiver, she sometimes takes me food shopping to get me out of the house.  Before my stroke I never went food shopping with her except at military commissaries because food shopping was not on my list of traditionally husbandly duties. After the stroke, though, my physical therapist said it would good to go to the market with her because I could use the shopping cart as a walker and get some valuable exercise.  But in recent years I have graduated to a cane and get  my exercise at home on a treadmill or on machines at a gym.  I go to the market with my caregiver because a conscientious caregetter should give his caregiver all the support he can.  I just don't go in and follow her around.  She is quick and impulsive in most things she does but is a meticulous food shopper, taking her time and examining the merchandise carefully.  And that wears me out what with my handicap and all.  So I wait in the car, patiently, because patience is what I have a lot of.  She always tries to park in the shade and at one market we both like there is a place next door that sells towering cylinders of ice cream in a cone.  She buys me one to make the waiting easier. Pistachio is my favorite.  And often after I finish the cone I doze off.  Did I mention I am a very capable caregetter?  And I always hold the back gate open for her when she lugs in the groceries.  The least I can do.
      And my caretaker derives certain benefits from me as caregetter. Parking, for one thing.  Often parking space is at a premium but she can almost always find a handicapped parking space my handicapped placard entitles her to.  And when she has to park on the street she doesn't have to feed the parking meter.  Just hangs up my placard.
       And when we fly I am wonderful to have along.  Though I can walk almost smartly on my cane, for long trips to a boarding gate airports provide me with a wheelchair.  My caregiver piles all the hand luggage in my lap and away we go.   And it gets better.  I'm allowed on the plane first, along with babes in arms, and of course she gets to board with me.
      Sometimes situations arise that might be embarrassing to caretakers and caregivers less experienced than we are.  On our first trip after my stroke, about a year after Id had it, we went to Boston for a granddaughter's graduation from college.  We got a hotel room with a bathroom equipped for a handicapped occupant.   The handicapped bar over the tub did not look adequate to me so I got in the tub with my clothes on to test it.  Id been right.  It wasn't  adequate.  I couldn't climb out.  So my caregiver called the desk and said, 'My husband is in the bathtub with his clothes on and can't get out.  Can you send someone to help him?'
    After the lady on the desk stopped laughing she sent up a security gentleman about seven feet tall in a coat and tie who plucked me out of the tub like an infant from a crib.  He didn't start laughing until we did which, being a perfectly matched caregiver - caregetter team, we did before I was all the way out of the tub.


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