Monday, August 07, 2006

Help for the Elderly

An encounter I had, this weekend, really got me thinking about the needs of the elderly - especially the poor, Black elders:
I contacted Comcast, our cable tv and internet provider, the week before we were scheduled to move to arrange a transfer to service. (This is a story in itself, but I'll try to stick to the main topic.) They told me, among other things, that service couldn't be connected in the new place, for x-amount of time. What they didn't tell me was that in the interim, I'd continue to be charged for services I wasn't receiving... until I returned the cable modem I rent from them.

Of course, this means they've been charging me for nearly a week of services they know I wasn't receiving. Anyway, I head to their local office, modem in-hand, to resolve the issue. I was hungry as heck and so was my lady, who was waiting in the truck.

When I got back outside, I saw an elderly, Black gentleman using a walker to cross the parking area verrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrryyyyyyyyyyyy slowwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwly.

No, really. Those of you who remember Tim Conway's super-slow-walking character on The Carol Burnett Show should have some idea of just how slowly this man was moving.

I'd guess that he was covering about a foot of ground every thirty seconds.

That's right. At any given moment, he was about twelve inches away from where he was thirty seconds, before.

When I was in line, there were two people ahead of me and maybe one person behind me. It was taking him so long to get inside that people who'd showed up minutes after he did were running around like roaches with the light on. The line was going to be SERIOUSLY long before he'd even make it to the front door (a distance of about thirty-five or forty yards).

Wanting to help, but not wanting to injure his pride, I casually asked if everything was allright and if I could do anything to help. He seemed to be saying that all was well, then changed his mind... and, between gasps, asked if I'd pay his bill, for him.

I walked over to him as he pulled his wallet out and counted about seventy dollars in cash. He said the bill was sixty-four dollars and change. I asked if he had the bill with him, but he didn't. I asked for his phone number, so that they could credit the right account. He couldn't tell me that, either. He told me his name and said that'd probably be enough. I figured he'd done this before and took his word for it.

After getting him out of the way of parking lot traffic, I took the money and ran back in the building, trying to avoid being in the very back of a very long line.

Once I made it back to the counter (and to the clerks I was glad to have had a relatively positive interaction with, earlier), I was told that there were quite a few Comcast customers with that first and last name. After running back outside, I asked the gentleman, who was JUST making it back to his vehicle, what his street address was. He responded with something I had a hard time understanding, so I asked him to spell it. He informed me that he couldn't read, which meant he couldn't spell anything for me.

I ran back inside and gave the clerk the information I had. After asking around in the lobby, we came up with a decent approximation of what he might've meant and she was able to identify his account.

She said the amount of the bill was greater than he said. She figured he must've looked at the pre-tax total. I wanted to follow his instructions and pay no more than he requested, so I told her I'd pay the eight dollars or so, taxes so he could get his change back. The clerk said she'd handle it, though, which apparently meant that she'd just let the remaining balance... remain.

After taking care of that, I thanked the ladies at the counter, wishing them an enjoyable weekend, and ran back outside. When I got to the gentleman's car, I gave him his change and told him about the remaining balance, which didn't seem to concern him that much. To be honest, he seemed to be struggling a bit.

I asked if he needed me to close his door for him, which he did. After closing his door and getting ready to walk away, I noticed his breathing was quite labored - moreso than before. He was trying to say something...

"G... G... God gon' be... good t'you."

That almost broke me the hell up. In that moment, I wanted to hug this old man, who already reminded me of my own family members. I thanked him and resisted the urge to embrace the stranger, as I walked away from his car and returned to my own.

While talking with my lady about the situation, I figured that he probably had an easier time driving than using that walker, but I wondered if anyone was taking care of this old, infirm, and illiterate gentleman.

He certainly seemed to need some assistance. I felt like I should stop there, though, because if I went too far out of my way, it could result in one of those "no good deed goes unpunished" situations, later. Basically, someone might think I'm trying to swindle this man in some way.
So, that's that. Experience and self-interest lead me away from the old man, who drove out of the parking lot quite well, apparently, and I just kept thinking about the many older people, in this world, who probably need someone to help them out - once in a while or every single day.

I hate the idea that such people are being left behind - especially when accepting help means trusting an absolute stranger with seventy dollars that he could easily run off with.

Anyway, that's been on my mind all weekend, so I thought I'd share it and see if it sparks a discussion or if anyone had their own stories to share.


While I'm talking all this yang, I really need to call my grandmother.

5 comments:

chele said...

I know this is a post about the plight of the elderly but let me just say that you are one heckuva nice guy.

Also, the guy on Carol Burnett ... Mr. Tudball. hehehehe

When I see the elderly in situations like that I always wonder where their people are. Is he all alone in the world? Have his children forgotten about him? It makes me think about my father. He's in his 70s and not in the best of health. My mom is there with him but she's old too. None of us kids live in the same state as Mom and Dad.

They are both fiercely independent which is why they won't move to be closer to any of us, even though it would make life a little easier for them. It's hard for some folk to ask for help or even admit that they need it.

West said...

It's funny that you were responding here while I was commenting on your blog.

re: "I know this is a post about the plight of the elderly but let me just say that you are one heckuva nice guy.

Also, the guy on Carol Burnett ... Mr. Tudball. hehehehe"


Ha! Thanks for the compliment and for the info. I had no idea what his name was (and my g.f. doesn't get the reference; you're the first person who has).

re: "When I see the elderly in situations like that I always wonder where their people are. Is he all alone in the world? Have his children forgotten about him?"

That's just what I was thinking. I'm hoping that this was the exception and not the rule because he had a hard enough time just thanking me. I really hope he has someone there for him.

re: "It makes me think about my father. He's in his 70s and not in the best of health. My mom is there with him but she's old too. None of us kids live in the same state as Mom and Dad.

They are both fiercely independent which is why they won't move to be closer to any of us, even though it would make life a little easier for them. It's hard for some folk to ask for help or even admit that they need it."


That reminds me of Granny (and so did the elderly man). She needs stuff, but often won't ask. And the folks around here, don't always respond to her or check up on her as much as I might like. I'm not saying I'm perfect, AT ALL, but it does make one concerned.

My aunt moved from Cali, though, and has moved in with Granny, to keep an eye on her. So, I think that helps us rest a bit easier.

I hope there are some really good organizations out there looking out for these kinds of folks.

Remnants of U said...

Yes, I agree with Chele, you are a very nice guy.

Oh, Mr. Tudball was my favorite Tim Conway character.

I have 2 friends who's fathers are retired, in their late 70's or early 80's, and can't read. But both are from large families, and live near their dads. I guess southern black men in that age group weren't necessarily able to go to school. I remember actually talking to Mr. G, and he talked about picking cotton.

I do wonder sometimes when I see an older person, if they have anyone to help them.

viperteq said...

Ok, This was sooooo funny, yet sooooo serious all at the same time. Wish i was gifted like that.

Anyway...

When my great-grandmother was alive I used to do all types of errands for her. Other than my mother and grandmother, she really had no one else doing for her...which speaks volumes about the rest of my family. Anyway, I never thought about how my granny would've been able to make it if the three of us weren't there for her until I read this post.

The African American elderly have it so much harder than their white counter parts because we sit lower on the economic ladder..we can't fford many of the very services that we need in order to live properly. I wonder what life is going to be like for me when I get that age....

West said...

*waves to remnants & viper*

Precisely.

Now, I *know* there's a expensive and expansive network of providers and provider monitors in place for children and for the developmentally disabled in the state of Florida.

What I don't know is if there are similar networks and agencies in place for the elderly.

Meals-On-Wheels serves a purpose and I'm sure there are other groups that do what they can to make people's lives easier. I just hope there's a larger (government?) organization with a elderly-focused mandate and mission.

It seems kind of ironic that people could live so long and through so much just to end up unable to provide themselves with basic care.

My co-worker suggested that I contact Elder Affairs to find out more.

*fingers crossed*