Sunday, August 04, 2013

The Butt of Her Joke

We were having a lovely lunch, on a lovely sunny day, with a lovely afternoon ahead of us. The food had just arrived, and closely following the waiter was a group of forty something friends. The took a table just behind me, a little to my right. They were a rowdy bunch, laughing heartily at stories that sounded oft told. I don't mind happy noises. People together laughing and having a good time, children whooping as they play, burst of laughter erupting uncontrolled into the air, these almost never bother me.

Suddenly I heard mention of 'spreading asscheeks' and my attention was called away, dog to a squirrel, without my bidding. I was hearing a story told by a woman, with great dramatic effect, about something 'disgusting' she had to do at work in her job with an elderly man. She was a gripping storyteller, no doubt, she was clearly using both the graphic nature of the story and the lunchtime setting to create the kind of discomfort that, used well, can lead to hilarity.


It was his butt.

And that's private.

She mentioned only his first name, which I'm not going to repeat here, so she probably thought that she was following the rules of privacy. However I'm sure he would have been horrified to know that he was the subject of such a ribald and, again, graphic story. Further, her story presented him as disgusting and dirty object and her the poor soul burdened with the job of cleaning up after him. Questions were asked, answers were given. She described a few of the things that she had to do for him, poor dirty soul that he was.

A couple of those things, I need help with.

I was sitting there.

Listening to how horrifying it was to help someone one with socks and shoes.

Listening to how disgusting it was to clip toenails.

Listening to how degrading it was to help another, older, person.

I need to be clear that the whole thing was told in a humourous manner, facts played for laughs. And laughs she got, along with gasps, along with 'oh nos' and 'how awful' regularly punctuating the story.

When we left they had move on to other topics of discussion.

I believe that there is honour in working in service to others. I believe that there is a place for humour and for letting loose. But I believe that there is also a place for privacy, and respect, and all times a consciousness of the  humanity of the people who need and who receive support.

She paid for lunch with the money she made from serving a man that she holds up to ridicule. I wonder if she ever thinks about the fact that his needs allow her to meet her needs and that his rights don't end when her shift does.


Anonymous said...

As a Client I really appreciate this post and its sentiments.We are human beings too and the lack of respect for that isnt fair.

But on the other hand,our western societys dont generally respect the privacy and confidentiality of each other do they? Its the norm to gossip and make fun of other people and elevate their own social standing by telling less-than storys about others.So we're expecting a lot of these 'normal' people to show respect to us a client group when they have no experience of showing that respect to their own peers or getting it back from them.The disconnect they suffer that lets them think its normal and ok to forget other peoples humanity is something we should class as a disability too. Maybe if we understood that talking like this about other human beings is a sign of inhibition problems and lack of insight it wouldnt be encouraged by the audience laughing and joining in and instead the audience would exchange looks and quietly explain to the storyteller that their story wasnt appropriate,the way workers do to clients who need help to learn about how to behave properly.

Tara said...

As a caregiver, I appreciate this post. I'm sure I needed this reminder as we all do, at times.

"I wonder if she ever thinks about the fact that his needs allow her to meet her needs and that his rights don't end when her shift does."

Amy said...

It's probably too much to hope that she remembers these moments when she is elderly and needs assistance...

Anonymous said...

Empathy is something that needs to be learned in childhood and worked on every single day of out life. Me included!

Thank you for the reminder !


Kristine said...

This was one of those that's painful for me to read, but I'm glad you wrote it. I get so uncomfortable every time I hear somebody either complaining or laughing about the intimate level of care they provide for another. I don't care how funny or how gross somebody thinks their job is, I can assure them, it's a thousand times worse to be on the receiving end. To have your dignity and privacy stripped away every single day by whoever is desperate enough for a paycheck that they'll settle for this one. (I know that's not a fair assessment of all support providers. I know there are good ones who choose this job for many different reasons, and many who read this blog. But that's how I'm often made to feel, that helping me is the world's most disagreeable job, to be done only when there's nothing else.)

I usually just end up hoping karma will take care of things, and that the other person will need similarly invasive care someday, and be treated with the same level of respect they gave. I shouldn't wish for these things. But, you know, only human...

Anonymous said...

That's so hurtful. And so is what Kristine describes: that's how I'm often made to feel, that helping me is the world's most disagreeable job, to be done only when there's nothing else.
It's an honour to be permitted to perform these intimacies. I wish for a world where caregiver and care receiver would experience this.

Jayne Wales said...

I would have been very put out to hear this mans position being laughed t abd ridiculed in public. I agree that to undertake this work is a privilege and that we need to bear in mind how that person would feel if they knew what we were doing. There is a time and a place to talk about tough days and maybe some things that were not easy or some humour shared but that's private. I think he problem is increasingly that people are being taken on just to do a job without checking their values. The second big problem is that really poor money is paid for a very important job and others rake off the profits. This is why employing a personal PA yourself where you can cut out that boss is the best way. This is hat I help people do and that way we get decent, well paid staff who have reciprocation and mutuality in their work.

Belinda said...

Within a lifetime either we or someone we love passionately, will depend upon "the kindness of strangers." The fact that this is not a governing factor in people's humour and hearts is so sad.

Shan said...

Anonymous at 17:33 says "it's an honour to be permitted to perform these intimacies". I don't agree - this is a job that someone is being paid to do properly. Because of the nature of the job, that person probably signed more than one paper stating that they would be confidential, and they haven't done that.

This person showed a lack of respect, integrity, and judgment. She also showed a lack of kindness and compassion and human decency, but those are less quantifiable in professional terms.

I once had dinner with a couple who were both nurses' aides. The husband was doing the exact same thing as you describe - making a funny story out of an elderly client eating his grapes. I called him out about it, but he just laughed at me. The wife was completely the opposite - describing to me how important it was that she respect her clients' preferences. I remember she said "You know how you hold a kleenex the exact same way every time you blow your nose? Well my clients can't hold their own kleenex and it must be so frustrating for them so I always ask how they'd like it done."

Anyway. Long comment with no real point. They're divorced now, by the way. Yay!