For a long time now, I've been feeling like I need to start giving back. You know: volunteering time, helping people, at least THINKING about others (who aren't my patients or my family). Not like I have alot of free time, as a primary care doc, mother of two little kids, loving wife, and caretaker for two large spoiled cats...
But, it's like a weight, a constant nagging wagging finger saying "YOU ARE SO FORTUNATE. WHAT ABOUT THE REST OF THE WORLD?"
I don't think doctoring counts, either, because it's my job. I try to be caring, and I try to go above and beyond (within reason), and I like my job, but it doesn't count. I get paid to do this.
Yeah, we go to church, but that doesn't count either, as we get more out of church than we give. I really, honestly, or perhaps predictably, don't do a hell of alot for others.
Not to get all religious on people, but honestly, my family, we're blessed. Or, you could also very agnostically say, we're very lucky. We have so much: good education, jobs, beautiful healthy children, a safe home and plenty to eat. Last time I prayed, I thanked God for all that we have, and promised to TRY to do more for others. TRY.
So this week, when my elderly neighbor called us out of the blue to say hi, I ended up asking her if she needed anything, like, say, a trip to the grocery store? She can't drive anymore, and as I chatted with her, it occured to me that our neighbors who usually take her food shopping are away on vacation. I suspected that her call was a way of reaching out for help.
She jumped at my offer, said she hadn't had some basics in some time, and we agreed that I would swing by and pick her up after work, yesterday. I offered up my offer to God as proof that Hey, I'm trying!
Well, yesterday I barely got out of clinic in time to make it to her house at the appointed hour. Then there were torrential downpours and flash floods... The sky dumped on me as I ran to my car, and of course I was wearing a long skirt, and the hem got soaked, and then it got all caught up around my legs, and then I tripped and slipped and cut my heel against a curb. I made it to my car, but only to sit in a massive traffic jam as one lane of the expressway was closed due to flooding. It was the worst traffic jam I had ever been in. I called my husband to say I would be late and asked him to call our neighbor.
Long story short, I was over an hour late to her house, and I saw her tiny, frail face peeking out through the lacy curtain on her front door window. I called out my apologies.
Not to worry, she said, I expected traffic would be bad with all this rain!
I (of course) had to pee, but she was all set to leave, and I was too late to go use my bathroom, and too embarassed to ask to use her bathroom. As she fretted with her umbrella and her house key, I decided to just deal with it.
I noticed that she had done her hair neatly, put on lipstick, and a nice blouse with a flowered brooch at the neck... This may have been her first foray out of the house in some time.
We got to the strip mall where her favorite small grocery store is, and she asked if she could also stop at the pharmacy there as well... Of course I said yes, and we agreed to meet up at the cash registers at the small grocery next door.
I figured I would be moving faster than she, so I dawdled and lingered over the fruits and vegetables. I checked out the gourmet chocolates and the imported Italian foods in jars. I tried not to think about how badly I had to pee, and thought about asking to use the grocery's bathroom, but then was worried it would be gross, or that my neighbor would come looking for me in the interim.
Time passed. I called my husband to let him know I would be even later than expected. I decided to check out with my groceries and put them in the car and then go looking for lovely neighbor.
I found her in the salad bar aisle, packing up this petite salad in an itsy little container, and she couldn't get the top on. I helped her and accompanied her on the rest of her shop. She actually needed help with alot of things, with reaching up to get things higher up on the shelves, to lifting a bag of discounted corn on the cob, to picking out appropriate sweet potatoes and finding the bread she likes (she can't see that well). We realized that we both love vanilla soy milk. I realized that life must be very hard for her, and my heart went out to her (even as my bladder was about to burst).
We made our way to checkout and then to the car and then to home, and I helped her with her bags. She said Thanks, I really appreciated your asking if I needed groceries, since I didn't have bread, and if I at least have bread, I feel so much better...
She has no family nearby to help her, and is completely reliant on neighbors and folks from her church. Again, I thanked God for all that we have, and especially for our family.
I made it home, and finally, after big hugs to my kids and a peck on the cheek for patient hubby, I got to thankfully, and gloriously, pee. I thanked God for that, too.
Next stops: our town's food pantry and the local animal shelter...