Thursday, January 26, 2006

A Ladies' Man

In the late seventies, I was a part-time home care nurse. I often got called in to work at the last minute when one of the other nurses called in sick. I'd get my visits for the day over the phone: Patient, address, phone number, diagnosis, brief history and treatment or procedure for the visit.

Mr. 'Smith' was an eighty-five year-old man assigned to me in this way. I was to check his vital signs and help with bathing. He had heart problems and high blood pressure. But mainly, he was just old and needed assistance getting safely in and out of the shower. His frail wife was unable to help and there were no other family members willing to take on the task. This was the only basic information given to me.

It's always a challenge walking into a patient's home for the first time. You never know what to expect. Will they be nervous having a stranger in their house? Will they be relieved to have help? Will they be resentful that they need help? Will they be friendly or hostile? You never know until you actually get there.

I rang the doorbell and Mrs. Smith opened the door. She said a brief, "Hello, you're new aren't you," and pointed me downstairs; indicating that her husband was waiting, his chart and other information downstairs with him. I proceeded down, but she didn't follow.

Mr. Smith was sitting on a sofa in bathrobe and slippers. I introduced myself. He was at least six feet tall and moderately overweight (I'm five feet, nothing), so I made a mental note that I needed to be extra careful in case he lost his balance. He was distinguished-looking - at least as distinguised as you can look in bathrobe and slippers - and you could tell he would have been considered handsome in his youth. We chatted a bit and he looked me over while I read his chart. After taking his vitals, he showed me the bathroom. No problem. I turned on the shower, checked the water temperature and made sure the shower seat was okay. I asked him if he needed assistance getting undressed and taking off his slippers. No, he was fine. He only needed help getting in and out and with washing his back and feet.

Things were proceeding smoothly and matter-of-factly until he was standing and about to get out of the tub. He turned, looked me straight in the eyes and said, "Well, what do you think?" I didn't know what he was talking about. He looked down at himself, took his penis in hand and said, "This. Do you think it's big enough? Would it do a good job?"

I was still young, but by that time in my career, I'd seen my fair share of all shapes and sizes of penises - a body part is a body part. But still, I was flabbergasted. No patient had ever made a remark like that to me before. I didn't know exactly how to respond. I think I said something like, looks fine to me.

Nothing more was said. I helped him get dressed and he acted as though nothing untoward had transpired. My visit ended, but I was very curious to see if this had happened to his regular nurse. The dispatching nurse hadn't mention anything when I was given the assignment over the phone and there was nothing on his chart that would indicate he was prone to making sexually provocative remarks.

A few days later, I spoke to the nurse who usually visited him. She was fifty-ish, friendly - a very good nurse. She laughed and said nothing like that happened to her and not to worry about it.

I didn't think about it again, until some months later. He was on my call list again. When I arrived at his house, he recognized me right away. I thought, well this is going to go one of two ways, but this time I'm prepared. Sure enough, after he got out of the tub and was drying himself, he made the same remarks. This time, however, I responded with a smile and, "I bet you were quite the ladies' man." He nodded his head and laughed. Nothing more.

I visited him a few more times after that, and we'd go through the same ritual. There was nothing more to it. You see, I think all he wanted was to hear some young female recognize that he was still a man. He needed to know that he was more than an aging, old geezer who needed help with his shower. He treated it like a joke. But I know it meant more to him. He needed to feel like the young ladies' man he once was.


Anonymous said...

Not a man alive that wouldn't love a comment like that on occasion...great story, and great response on your part.


Anonymous said...

Thanks, Ed.

It's a memory that's stayed with me over the years and a reminder that the elderly want to be recognized for more than their old worn-out exteriors. In a youth-oriented society, we tend to dismiss the elderly and forget that they were once young and vital, too.

Anonymous said...

What a great story.
And what great handling on your part.
Reassuring, adaptive and professional.

Anonymous said...

I think you handled the situation remarkably well, especially for a young nurse.

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful story.

More than anything, I am impressed with how well you handled the situation. Plenty of people wouldn't have been that mature or reflective.

And I love what you said in your comment: "the elderly want to be recognized for more than their old worn-out exteriors." It's a shame how we treat our elderly. Thanks for sharing your story!

(And thanks for your kind comment on my site. It meant a lot to me!)

Anonymous said...

Compassion. It makes all the difference in how we see and tell the story, doesn't it, and in how we impact those we witness. I like this piece a lot.