Monday, November 29, 2004

What Would Miss Manners Say?

I saw more flaccid penises Saturday than any girl needs to encounter in one day.

I know that some who read that will think that I’m not being very professional about my work at the AIDS hospice, that a professional would never divulge such tidbits and make the observations I’m about to make.

All I can say is . . . I’m a VOLUNTEER!!! This is not normal to me, this is not something I see every day. This is still – even after eight years – an oddity for me. My volunteer team is not there every week and additionally I spend the majority of the time in the kitchen or the laundry room and there are absolutely no penis sightings in those locations.

So pardon me if this is all still rather new for me.

My overexposure came by way of diaper changes. Though we’ve probably had an exhibitionist or two come our way, I’ve never had to deal much with that side of things. This was strictly the human body in need of care.

The nurse took the lead, so for the most part I just had to be at the ready . . . ready to roll the man on his side, ready to shift the diaper into place, ready to grab an extra pull sheet, just ready. But what I’m never ready for is what to do with my eyes during the down time. The seconds tick every so slowly when you are dealing with a complete stranger’s genitalia and you’re unaccustomed to the practice. So what is only taking minutes seems to go on for days.

First there’s the unveiling. . . Ok, now we know what we’re dealing with. Then there’s the battle to not evaluate . . . That settled there’s the shifting of positions to remove the diaper. Now comes THE moment. While the nurse cleans, what does one look at? The act of cleansing? The wall? The dying plant in the corner? Certainly not the face of the resident! That would be too personal, don’t you think?

Finally, the cleaning complete, we get back to the flurry of activity where you can imagine that you are on ER and shifting the new accident victim from gurney to bed as you place and secure the new diaper.

Inevitably, I’ll tape my gloved finger to the diaper at least once during this process but, hey, it’s all downhill from here so who cares? I shrug, tug and soon enough we’re all safe and secure.

Maybe some day it will seem completely natural. Maybe someday I won’t see anything at all.

But if I’m truthful, I kinda think I don’t want that day to come. These moments are the moments when I see the resident’s humanity, when I’m reminded that before they became a statistic, a hospice resident, a person with AIDS . . . they were human. Some of them were not too kind, some of them would have scared me if I met them on the street given that they are often criminals or junkies. But nevertheless, they were human.

And -- I pray -- at some point, shared an intimacy with someone that went beyond simple caregiving by an anonymous volunteer who can't seem to focus.

No comments: