Hunting for an aide
They came in different kinds.
She was devastated. Not being able to move on her own and having to depend on someone for all the basic needs was the biggest punishment for someone who had been fiercely independent all her life. Through fighting, arguments and misunderstandings; the bond of a motherdaughter, thrives and survives. And just like this, their love, care, kindness and respect never dies.
Sheila waited for her mother to arrive from the rehabilitation centre. Her husband Satish was to accompany the ambulance bringing her. It was almost three months since her mother was admitted to the centre after hospitalisation for a week.
One morning as her mother woke up, she just couldn't walk. Years of suffering from acute rheumatoid arthritis had taken a toll on her bones. Her leg and knee muscles weren't strong enough to hold her tiny frame and so gave in. She was devastated. Not being able to move on her own and having to depend on someone for all the basic needs was the biggest punishment for someone who had been fiercely independent all her life. She even refused to move with them from her home in New Jersey after her father's demise until she became very sick.
Her mother Shyama often used to remark, “dependence is death”. She would add, "I should go the day my usefulness ends.” They tried to divert her mind with music, movies etc but, since she was an American citizen, the state provided an aide for her for 12 hours a day, seven days a week. Sheila's only brother had married an American woman and even though she was a gem of a person, her mother couldn't vibe with her. They lived in the west and even when her father was alive, Sheila's parents would just
visit them for a week. Sheila got busy with her sons getting them ready for school. Though Vijay and Vinay were only eight and six, she started training them to do small chores and learn life skills. Both Sheila and Satish held high positions with multinational organisations and were very busy. They had a Bengali woman as a housekeeper, who also drove the kids for their various activities.
"Asha, will you pack the lunch for the kids while I get my mother to brush and have her coffee?” she asked.
"Han, didi. Don't worry. I shall get them in the bus,” replied Asha. ‘She is a godsend,’ thought Sheila. Her mother Shyama was already up and was trying to get on the wheelchair.
"I know you are very busy. I feel terrible about troubling you. Where is the aide who is supposed to be here at eight?” she asked.
"Ma, you know how these agencies are. They keep sending different aides every day and they take time to locate our home,” said Sheila.
"What can they do, Sheila? There must be so many people like me. They need to cater to all of them,” smiled Shyama.
Just then the phone rang. Their new aide announced that she was on her way and would be there in 10 minutes. Their 10 minutes was always a half hour. Sheila smiled to herself. She got her mother settled in the bathroom and hurried to make her coffee. As the aroma of the coffee was pervading the house, the doorbell rang.
"Good morning," said the Amazonian woman.
Thank goodness! She is big and can easily move mama,” thought Sheila. "Come in,” she said. "My name is Edna. Where is the patient?" asked Edna. Sheila led her to her mother's room. Her mom was waiting to be shifted to the wheelchair from her bed.
"I am sorry. I have had back surgery. I can't lift her. If you shift her to the chair, I shall give her a sponge bath,” said Edna.
‘Oh blimey! You need not have come,’ thought Sheila. She just smiled and helped her mom to sit on the wheelchair.
Edna was reluctant to do any work. She took minimum 10 minutes to say "yes" to any chore she was asked to do. When Sheila tried to teach her to make oatmeal for her mother, she said, "I am not even sure if I would be coming tomorrow. So you better make it. If they make me permanent, I shall learn how to make it."
Sheila was shocked. Somehow the day passed and when the agency called to find out about Edna, Sheila was candid and requested them not to send her the next day.
The next morning, sharp at 8 a.m., she got a call from the agency and they said, "We are sorry. We are trying to locate someone for you. It might take time. We will definitely send someone by 10 a.m."
‘There goes my meeting,’ thought Sheila. ‘If mom comes to know that I had to postpone my meeting for her sake, she would feel bad. I must pretend that I can go late.’ She hurriedly made a couple of phone calls to her office and rushed to her mom's room.
"Mama, looks like the aide is going to be late today. I shall take you and finish all the basics and then she will take over,” she smiled. Shyama looked up.
"Are you sure? I heard you say that you had a meeting in the morning."
"Oh ma, that got cancelled,” said Sheila.
Finally around 10 a.m., an aide arrived. Sheila was disappointed. She was huge but looked as though she had shed litres of tears very recently.
"My name is Nikola. Show me the patient's room,” she said. She quietly performed her duties but refused any food offered by the family. "Are you okay, Nicola? Is anything troubling you?” asked Sheila. That is when she broke down and narrated her tale of woe.
"I have four children from three husbands and now the latest husband has left me. With great difficulty I brought up the children, educated them and now that the older children are working, I do expect some financial support from them. They refused to help me and refuse to leave the house to find their own accommodation. I am tired of waiting on everyone,” she cried again.
Sheila tried to pacify her. She prayed that the same woman shouldn't come the next day. The weekend brought an aide named Rosy who turned out to be a blessing. She was competent, smart and knew her job.
"Can't you come on weekdays too? I can talk to the agency,” said Sheila.
"Unfortunately I can't. I am a social worker and work for four days a week but I can come on weekends definitely,” she said. She made a couple of phone calls and finally turned to Sheila and said, "So it is fixed now. I shall be coming on weekends.”
"Thank you. I am very relieved,” said Sheila.
Monday dawned. Sheila had a conference call at 9 a.m. and she hoped that the aide would turn up on time. She felt happy when she heard the doorbell ring at 8.15 a.m. There stood a young girl with a phone in her hand. With one eye on the phone and another on Sheila she introduced herself.
"I am Jenny. I am the new aide."
"Come, Jenny. I shall take you to my mom,” said Sheila as she led the way to Shyama's room.
Jenny almost did dance steps as she moved. She looked so young that Sheila asked, “how old are you, Jenny?”
Monday dawned. Sheila had a conference call at 9 a. m. and she hoped that the aide would turn up on time. She felt happy when she heard the doorbell ring at 8.15 a. m. There stood a young girl with a phone in her hand.
“I’m just 23, but I have two daughters, three and eight.”
“You had a child at 15!?” Sheila couldn’t hide her shock. Jenny smiled a smile of great achievement.
When Shyama asked her if she would massage her knee with medicated oil, Jenny appeared shocked.
"See! I cut my finger while cutting the fruits this morning," and she showed a microscopic wound which required a magnifying glass to see.
She was wedded to her phone. She would constantly watch movies and Shyama had to make an effort to get her attention. She had her earphones on constantly, and could never hear Shyama calling her. One day, Shyama was trying to take a nap, as she did not sleep much in the night. However, Shyama was disturbed by the constant buzzing coming from a place in the room.
"What is that noise, Jenny?" questioned Shyama drowsily. Jenny stared up at her looking confused, as she unplugged one earplug from her ear diligently, as if it were her child. "Oh, I was just watching a video," she responded unapologetically, totally oblivious to the noise her phone was causing. Shyama then swivelled her head back to the other side the bed, annoyed at Jenny. It took her a great effort to block out the sound and finally go to sleep. ‘Surely this can’t go on,’ thought Shyama. ‘I must report this incident to Sheila. Something must be done.’
Sheila came to know of the incident, and called the agency to send somebody much older. Of course, they responded as usual.
"We are so sorry. Tomorrow we will send another aide. She is a good one. Her name is Mary. She can be your permanent aide."
Sheila rolled her eyes, and sighed heavily. She heard her son Vijay scampering outside the room. Vijay chuckled to himself. “So far, ‘permanent’ means two days,” he sniggered, and Sheila swatted him away with her hand.
When tomorrow finally arrived, a slight rapping at the back entrance awoke Shyama, and she shouted, "Come in," as she knew it was Mary. Sheila was also there to welcome her, and she opened the door. There stood a frail, elderly, lady.
"Hello. Is this Mary?" Sheila stayed calm on the outside, but seething inside. This lady was perhaps older than her mother! ‘I meant old but didn’t mean that old’, thought Sheila. Mary responded with a confident voice. "Yes. May I see the patient?" Without responding, Sheila escorted Mary to her room. "Wow, she's very professional!" whispered Sheila to no one in particular, after observing Mary help Shyama fulfill her daily needs. At 12 noon sharp, Mary came out from Shyama’s room, with a warm but stern look on her face.
She helped herself to a cup of water, and collected the various things needed for Shyama’s lunch. When Shyama requested her to have some lunch, she said, “All that I have is a heavy breakfast and dinner. I don’t have any lunch. Nothing will tempt me.” Shyama was amused to notice her impassive face . When asked if she would give Shyama a shower, she showed the list of chores the agency had sent them and said, “No means no, Shyama. This paper says only a sponge bath should be given.” She sounded so stern that Shyama burst out laughing.
“I am 66 years old. I used to lift people when I was young, not any longer,” Mary added without smiling.
“To safeguard your back, you might not want to come tomorrow.”
“All right then. Today shall be my last day. I hope you find someone that can lift you up. I’m sorry.” Shyama knew what it was like to not be able to complete tasks that she used to be able to do. For the rest of the day, Shyama had to put up with a sponge bath, and she could not go to the bathroom as often as she needed. Ωwhen it was finally time for the aide to go, Mary gathered her bags and said, “I’m off, now. I hope you find an aide that suits you.” Shyama nodded, and waved her goodbye.
By now, the agency knew the drill and they said the same thing to Sheila again. “We are so sorry. But in our defense, Shyama recently came from the rehabilitation centre, and it will take a week or two to settle things.”
“All right, all right,” sighed Sheila, “Who will come today?”
“Another woman. She’s pretty good also. Her name was Martha.”
Martha was very peculiar. She could sit for hours staring, doing nothing. She was a reluctant worker pretending not to hear when she was called. She constantly argued with Shyama about which god was more superior. Shyama herself was somewhat religious; she did simple prayers every day, and she watched people going to temples on the TV.
However, Shyama came to realise very quickly that Martha was a fanatic about her religion. She brought the Bible to work with her every day, and she would sit on the dining room counter, reading it again and again. She would even refer to books as to how to interpret the Bible.
This was going on for weeks, and even though Sheila came to know about it , she could do nothing, as she could not risk losing another aide. One day, Sheila was working from home. Vinay was reading a book after breakfast when Martha came in. She gave the Bible to Vinay and
However, Shyama came to realise very quickly that Martha was a fanatic about her religion. She brought the Bible to work with her every day, and she would sit on the dining room counter, reading it again and again.
insisted that he read it. Vinay was looking for a means of escape.
“I am an atheist . I don’t believe in god. So there is no sense in my reading this,” he said.
Shyama was watching the whole scene without commenting. The next day marked the end of Martha. She called the agency and told them.
“I don’t want an aide who would try to convert my child’s religion.”
Finally they sent an aide named Melanie. The moment Shyama laid her eyes on her, she knew that this woman had come to stay. Melanie didn’t disappoint her. She was extremely capable, patient and possessed a great sense of humour. She handled Shyama with great professionalism.
“You both seem to vibe very well,” smiled Sheila.
“I am surprised that the physical therapist said that she may not be able to walk. I have handled worse cases and made them walk,” said Melanie.
“Wow! If only you could do that , I would be eternally grateful,” said Shyama.
Melanie started small exercises and massages with Shyama to strengthen her knee muscles. Within a week, she made her take a few steps with the help of her walker. The walking distance gradually increased. Within a month, Shyama could walk to the toilet, dining room and living room. They were thrilled. When the physical therapist came on the next visit, he was pleasantly shocked and couldn’t help expressing his surprise even though his prophecy about Shyama’s ability to walk failed.
Melanie made their life a lot easier. She was prompt and punctual. She became a part of their family. Shyama was walking now without the walking stick , slowly moving around , doing her own chores, of course with an aide. Days rolled by. One day as Sheila waited for Melanie to come so that she could leave for work, the doorbell rang. Sheila was all ready to leave for work . She took her handbag and laptop and went to open the door.
There stood Jenny with her landmark foolish grin. “Melanie had to rush to Florida to attend to some family emergency. She won’t be back for a few weeks and so the agency sent me as a substitute,” she said. Sheila heard a big thud and rushed to attend to her mother who had fainted from the shock. Do your work with your whole heart, and you will succeed - there's so little competition.