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Caregetters Two

by David Westheimer


The good caregiver-caregetter team develops a symbiotic relationship, the one supporting and enhancing the other.  And there is an equitable division of responsibilities. This probably is not possible when the caregetter is profoundly handicapped but when he is only moderately incapacitated, as I am, it is attainable if the caregetter works at it, as I do.
     Consider the sharing of household responsibilities.  Dody, my managing partner-caregiver, takes out the trash from the kitchen, bedroom, computer room-gym and bathrooms, changes the light bulbs in ceiling fixtures, cleans the cats litter box and takes out the gleanings, brings in the newspaper and mail (which she sorts, opens and reads aloud to me if I dont have my bifocals handy), nourishes and grooms the cats (two) and sometimes dances for them, runs the dishwasher and runs the vacuum cleaner between once-a-week visits of a day-worker, keeps track of our appointments in a book, phones in prescriptions, makes doctors appointments, writes our checks, monitors phone calls and screens out excessive demands for donations, buys gifts for an array of honorary grandchildren, buttons the top button of my pants that are too tight over my paunch and tucks in my shirttail, buttons my left sleeve, coordinates my clothes when I dont wear a jumpsuit and tells me when its cold enough outside for a jacket.
       I program the VCR.
       Similarly we share automotive activities.  She does the driving, sometimes as far as the Navy base at Port Hueneme, 50 miles away, to get prescriptions filled and a $5.50 haircut; dusts the car with a large bush she bought especially for it, cleans the windshield, pumps the gas, takes the car to the carwash when it gets dirty, takes it in for servicing regularly, sometimes waiting up to two hours for that to be done, takes parcels that need weighing to the post office, always parks the car eighteen inches from the curb so I can put my feet on the street and stand up unassisted.  When shes too close to the curb for that and my feet are at curb height she has to plant her foot in the small of my back and give me a little boost.  She drives me to the doctors and accompanies me to his or her office where her second opinion is valued, and sometimes even her first, sees the insurance is paid on time, makes sure the oil is never low and makes helpful comments about the driving habits of folks in cars intruding into our space.  Mostly she calls them Nazi Bastards.
      I operate the little button in the glove compartment that unlocks the trunk.
      I am less helpful at movies and restaurants but that is part of our symbiosis.  Since she does all the driving and signs all tabs and buys the tickets I think it only fair she gets to pick which restaurant and which movie.   As luck would have it she prefers the same ones I do. So it works out agreeably.  At places where you order food at a counter and carry it to a booth, she sits me down and brings everything to me including my beverage of choice, Dr. Pepper if they have it, and when we are done busses the table. 
     I watch her purse while shes gone.
     She sometimes transcends the bonds of ordinary caregiving and gives me the benefit of her infinite folk wisdom.  (I must say in all modesty I deserve  this because of my superb caregetting qualities.)  Example.  I take six pills every morning but some time forget. Knowing this reflects on her caregiving she instructed me to put them out the night before in a place I cannot fail to see them and since that time I have never gone unpilled.  And her sock strategy has simplified my life.  Noticing that I pulled up my pants legs to draw on my surgical hose she said, Put on your socks before you pull on your pants.  Why, I demanded, thinking, "What eccentricity!  She said, So you wont have to sit down and pull up your pants legs to get them on.   By George, she was right!
     Another quality my caretaker has gained from close association with me is an ability to enter into my crystalline memory and supplement it.  Just the other day I was listening to old-time music on the radio and heard this voice I knew but couldnt put my finger on.   I say to my caretaker, Whats the name of that Italian singer whos not Sinatra?  It starts with an m.  Without a moments hesitation she says, Vic Damone.  And thats who it was.
     For my part I have achieved the heights of caregetting by learning one cardinal rule. The caregiver is never wrong.  I learned this while still a a mere husband some years before I became a caregetter.  Thirty five or 40 years into our 54-year marriage I realized that almost always when we argued I was in the wrong.  Once I knew that it was smooth sailing.
     We were driving some years ago with the granddaughter in the back seat  who is now a 26-year-old New Yorker, arguing about some minor point which at the time we thought important, when I saw that my wife was right.  I turned and said, Erica, your grandma is always right.  Her jaw dropped, her eyes widened and she said, awed, "Grandma, how did you get so smart?
     I knew the answer but I kept my mouth shut.
     It wasnt grandma who had got so smart.  It was grandpa.


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