Do You Know What is Caring?


This morning’s pre-dawn reflection was about men and their boys.  I knew this guy—rich old guy—whose son went to college and then dropped out.  Came home, slept till noon, worked part-time delivering pizza and, when he wanted to spend a weekend in Chicago or New York City, he got his father’s car and credit card.  In exchange, before the son left home, he’d find his father and give him a hug and a kiss.  Nice.

The father says that he is giving his son time to find himself, as his dad had given him time.  The son is twenty-two years old and his father is still telling him not to drive after dark.  So I asked the father what he was doing when he was twenty-two years old.  He was a full-time graduate student working part-time, married and living in his own home.  And nobody was telling him not to drive after dark.

I know this other guy—also a rich old guy—who is having major surgery and does not want his children to see him in the hospital.  It seems he thinks they’re not ready to deal with it.  His kids range in age from nineteen to twenty-nine.  I’m not sure it’s his kids who can’t deal with his lack of capacity.

I also knew two families that each had twelve children and both fathers were wage earners.  By the time the kids were five years old, they were picking up their toys and carrying their dirty clothes to the laundry.  In a family of five with a similar mind-set, by the age of ten the children were “cooking supper,” i.e., popping corn and cutting up apples and cheese for Sunday supper.  By the age of sixteen, they could put a complete meal on the table.

So what are the issues?  Blue-collar workers versus rich old guys?  Children and responsibility?  Virility becoming infirmity?  I don’t know but when I got up, I discovered it was foggy outside.  We’ve had the rainiest spring in thirty-seven years and the illustrious vice president of one of our favorite hospitals says he’s going to blow his brains out if it doesn’t stop.

Well, here’s the thing:  we can’t stop the rain; neither can we stop the aging and ailing process.  You’re going to be in the hospital, flat on your back and peeing into a tube, and when is the right time to let your children know that Dad can’t hack it the way he used to?  When is the right time to face it yourself?

My demise probably began with fibromyalgia, the symptomatology of which has been described as far back as the Book of Job, which is the oldest book of the bible:  (Job 7:3-4) “I, too, have been assigned months of futility, long and weary nights of misery. When I go to bed, I think, `When will it be morning?’ But the night drags on, and I toss till dawn . . . And now my heart is broken. Depression haunts my days. My weary nights are filled with pain as though something were relentlessly gnawing at my bones.”

Florence Nightingale appears to have had fibromyalgia in the late 1880’s but the American Medical Association didn’t consider it a “real” physical condition until 1987.  I mean, how could it be real?  Physicians were men and fibromyalgia patients were (9:1) women.  Doctors didn’t get the disease and women were neurotic, right?  Fact:  fibromyalgia lies right in the middle of the psychoneuroimmunoendocrinology (PNIE) complex.

For certain, I can trace my fibromyalgia symptoms at least back to when I was sixteen, but my mother reported that when I was in elementary school I didn’t want to run and play at recess; I wanted to sit under a tree and read—fibromyalgia?  The point being that I kinda-sorta never have been physically strong, so weakness doesn’t come as a shock to me the way it does to men.  And, of course, I’m a woman and we are the weaker sex, right?  Need to be taken care of, right?

Here’s what’s currently very weird in my life:  I’m being taken care of.

The last time I felt taken care of was in 1973 when Bob Dobrow called from his military base a thousand miles away to hassle my landlord.  He was protecting me.  That was awesome.  Then he died and I went on alone for the next forty years.  Nobody took care of me.

For the last fifteen years I’ve had home health aides but, trust me, they don’t take care of you—they just do jobs for you.  What’s the difference?  It is simply ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’  Most women who work as aides do not care about their clients; they care about their paycheck.  They are not working for the good of others but for the good of themselves.

“Care” is about being other-serving, not self-serving, e.g., when I wanted to enter the ministry, I was “taken into care” by my church’s board of deacons.  When I became too sick to continue my studies or attend worship services, the board of deacons was absolutely silent; I never again heard from them.  So much for caring.

Now I am in an upper-class nursing home and trying to figure out what “caring” is.  Is it about class?  Is it about money?  Is it facilitated by money?  Are home health aides and nursing home aides paid the same?  The more you pay the help the higher quality worker you can hire.  Does that make caring a matter of class?  Does a doctor care more than a nurse or a nurse more than an aide?

Care more—what the heck does that mean?  Is caring quantifiable?

I’m going back to sleep.  If you figure out any of this, let me know.

About annecwoodlen

I am a tenth generation American, descended from a family that has been working a farm that was deeded to us by William Penn. The country has changed around us but we have held true. I stand in my grandmother’s kitchen, look down the valley to her brother’s farm and see my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Hannah standing on the porch. She is holding the baby, surrounded by four other children, and saying goodbye to her husband and oldest son who are going off to fight in the Revolutionary War. The war is twenty miles away and her husband will die fighting. We are not the Daughters of the American Revolution; we were its mothers. My father, Milton C. Woodlen, got his doctorate from Temple University in the 1940’s when—in his words—“a doctorate still meant something.” He became an education professor at West Chester State Teachers College, where my mother, Elizabeth Hope Copeland, had graduated. My mother raised four girls and one boy, of which I am the middle child. My parents are deceased and my siblings are estranged. My fiancé, Robert H. Dobrow, was a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps. In 1974, his plane crashed, his parachute did not open, and we buried him in a cemetery on Long Island. I could say a great deal about him, or nothing; there is no middle ground. I have loved other men; Bob was my soul mate. The single greatest determinate of who I am and what my life has been is that I inherited my father’s gene for bipolar disorder, type II. Associated with all bipolar disorders is executive dysfunction, a learning disability that interferes with the ability to sort and organize. Despite an I.Q. of 139, I failed twelve subjects and got expelled from high school and prep school. I attended Syracuse University and Onondaga Community College and got an associate’s degree after twenty-five years. I am nothing if not tenacious. Gifted with intelligence, constrained by disability, and compromised by depression, my employment was limited to entry level jobs. Being female in the 1960’s meant that I did office work—billing at the university library, calling out telegrams at Western Union, and filing papers at a law firm. During one decade, I worked at about a hundred different places as a temporary secretary. I worked for hospitals, banks, manufacturers and others, including the county government. I quit the District Attorney’s Office to manage a gas station; it was more honest work. After Bob’s death, I started taking antidepressants. Following doctor’s orders, I took them every day for twenty-six years. During that time, I attempted%2
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