Friday, February 27, 2009

You can get all A's and still flunk life. ~ Walker Percy

What a week. I'm not looking forward to doing it again any time soon. I worked three 10 hour days, filling in for Big D while he was on vacation. I hated it...every minute, every second after 5:00pm. I don't like working hours like that, even if it is only three days. My head hit the pillow at 10:00pm last night and I completely missed a 30 minute thunderstorm...heavy rain, thunder, lightening, the whole nine yards. I didn't hear a thing until I heard Tom snoring this morning at 5:30am.

What I also did not appreciate about Big D's whole vacation thing was that no one...not Big D...not Boss...even asked me if it was a bad time for me to fill in nor did they even ask if I could. It was just assumed. And, of course, I just did it. So, it was my bad, too. I admit it.

Okay, so I learned a lot. I learned more about reading the charts, setting up equipment (like for Interferential's that for a freakin' phrase??) and helping patients with their ice packs, hot packs and exercises. It would have been kind of cool if I didn't feel like a complete fish-out-of-water and I hadn't been so tired and ticked off at them and myself.

So, why did I choose that specific quote for the title?

In the blur of these last 3 long days, I encountered my first illiterate person on Wednesday morning; a new patient. I don't know why I was so stunned and saddened by it. Stunned that this grown woman, just 10 or 15 years younger than me, had never learned to read a word. Stunned that she was able to find a job (housekeeping in the dorms at a local college), make a life for herself, raise children and function in this world. Saddened that she'd never read a newspaper, magazine or book, not even the Bible, the staple text for Christians and she was clearly deeply Christian.

When she came in, I reached out to hand her the new patient forms to fill out and she said, "Honey, you're gonna have to help me with these." I thought at first that she might be in pain and unable to hold the pen or the clipboard, but then I noticed her referral was for lower back pain and I felt a little confused. But, I took the clipboard and a pen into the waiting room, sat down next to her and asked her if she wanted me to read the questions to her. She nodded and I began reading off the general info, address, phone numbers, blah, blah, blah...and filling in the blanks. It really didn't occur to me that she really couldn't read until we were through with the first form and I asked her to sign it. She could barely write her own name. Unlike you and I signing our names with a flourish of comfortable, well-practiced capital and lower case cursive letters, hers was a laborious, slow task, each letter formed with a tentative, deliberate hand.

The next form was her medical history. I told her I had to ask some very personal questions and asked if she wanted me to continue. She said simply, "Yes, Ma'am, that's okay." She answered every question directly and completely, divulging illnesses, surgeries, injuries and medications for "stress." If she didn't understand what something meant, she would ask me to clarify. After each explanation, she would think a second, then answer, then we would move on to the next question. If she was embarrassed by any of it, she hid it well, but I don't think she was embarrassed at all. She handled herself with a dignity and grace that I just would not have expected. She had accepted her illiteracy long ago and my own prejudices and stereotypes were blown away by her.

I was walking to the back of clinic when she came out of her therapy room to leave. She walked over to me, gave me a big hug and said, "Thank you for helpin' me, honey. Maybe I'll see you in the store or somethin'."

"Hey, if you give hugs like that every time, I sure hope so," I said. "Take care."

"Thanks, honey. You, too," and she was out the front door.

I felt so blessed to be working there that day. Not all week, mind you. Just that day.

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