Waking Walter

It’s 7:45am. In the assisted living facility where I work as an aide, that’s late morning. I’ve been on the job for over an hour, and most of the residents are already down in the dining hall eating breakfast. I always save Walter for last.

I pick up the newspaper at my feet and knock on his door. It’s the rule, even though most of the residents can’t hear it anyway, at least not before they get up and put their “ears” in. I know my residents, and know which doors I should knock on before entering, and for which it’s pointless. Some of the residents have told me not to bother knocking – “just come on in.” But if a state inspector was lurking they’d ding me for not respecting privacy. So I try to stay in the habit of knocking, and waiting long enough for a response before walking in, although not long enough to make anyone feel they have to try to get up and come open the door for me. It’s a balancing act.

I pause for a moment, then open the door, calling out as I do, “Good morning! You awake, Walter?” There’s no answer. I didn’t expect one. I switch on the light and walk across the living room. Putting the newspaper beside his chair, I open the blinds and turn toward the darkened bedroom. I can see Walter’s slight figure burrowed under his blankets. “Walter!” I feign surprise. “Are you still asleep?” I switch on the wall-mounted fixture, so it won’t shine directly into his eyes. Walter groans and burrows deeper, turning away from me. “You’re a sleepy head today!” I tell him. Walter groans again, and mutters, “Yeah… I’m a sleepy head.” He sighs. “Ohhh, it feels good.” “I know,” I tell him. “But it’s time to get up now.” Eyes still closed, more than a hint of annoyance creeping into his sleepy voice, Walter complains, “I’m an old man, remember?” Then he tells me, “I’m out of everything.” Thinking he needs supplies in his room restocked, I ask him what he’s out of. “They’ve retired me from everything,” he replies. “I am totally retired – I’ve got NO responsibilities.” “Yep!” I tell him. “Except for getting up in the morning, huh?” He sighs. “Apparently.” If his eyes were open, I’m sure he’d be rolling them at me. I laugh.

“Oh, golly,” he murmurs, groaning again. “I love to sleep.” “Well, once you get up, then you’ll have all day to look forward to going back to bed again,” I tell him, trying to keep him talking so he won’t go back to sleep on me. “Huh?” He sounds sleepily surprised. “Oh, come on now.” Suddenly he laughs, and I laugh with him. “You don’t like my logic?” He groans in response, muttering “Oh, my gosh…” as he tries to pretend I’m not there and go back to sleep. I pat his shoulder through the covers as I walk around the bed to the closet. Selecting a shirt and some matching slacks, I grab a pair of disposable briefs from the open package on his shelf and pull his belt from the hook where the night aide hung it. Depositing them on the bed, I go to the dresser and find a t-shirt, then dig through the socks for a pair that look comfortable. I hate uncomfortable socks.

Walter is still burrowed into his blankets, ignoring the light and my chatter. “Here, stick your feet out here,” I tell him. “I’ll put your socks on while you’re waking up.” He ignores me. “Walter? Can I have a foot?” His eyelids twitch. “C’mon Walter. I have a sock, I need a foot!” He stirs a bit, and groans. “Ehhh?” “I said I need a foot to put in this sock.” He still hasn’t opened his eyes. “Oh, come on, now.” He’s annoyed again, but I pretend not to notice, and tease back, “Yeah, come on!”

Finally he opens one eye and looks sleepily over his shoulder at me. “Then you’d just want me to put the other sock on, and then…” his voice trails off as the eye closes again, his head sinking back onto the pillow. “Well, of course,” I tell the back of his head. “I can’t stop at just one sock, can I?” With an exaggerated sigh, he asks rhetorically, “I wonder what you’d do if you didn’t have me to harass to get up.” I grin. “Well, I have to get up really early to come to work, so maybe it makes me feel better to come in here and make you get up too.” “Yeah, but why?” he asks, plaintively. “Why pick on me?” “‘Cause I’ve got nothing better to do,” I tell him, pulling the blankets up at the side of his bed so I can get to his feet without uncovering him all the way. “There must be something better to do,” he mutters into his pillow. “There must be.” He groans again. “Maybe you can help me think of something,” I tell him, trying unsuccessfully to capture a foot. Walter curls up tightly, crossing his ankles and pulling his knees up toward his chest. “Hey, I’m getting cold!” “That’s why I’ve gotta put your socks on,” I tell him. “I don’t want my socks on,” he tells the pillow. “You’ve gotta have socks on,” I reply. “Why?” He raises his head again and looks at me defiantly. “Well, you can’t run around barefoot.” “Why?” he repeats. I laugh. “Because then you’d be cold! Here, let me have this foot.” “Oh, come on,” Walter grumbles. He sighs and turns over, finally sticking his feet out for me. “Oh, golly. When a gal gets something in her head, you just can’t win, I guess.” “That’s right,” I agree. “We’re just contrary creatures.” “Oh, my goodness,” he sighs, and groans again.

Finishing with his socks, I look up at him. “Do you need to go to the bathroom?” “No,” he says, tugging at the collar of his pajama shirt. “I’ve gotta scratch.” “Where, back here?” I give his back a good scratching, and he moans appreciatively. “Oh, yeah… but… oh, dear…” He pauses for a moment, then looks at me, puzzled. “What am I supposed to be doing?” “Getting dressed,” I tell him. “Why?” he wants to know. “‘Cause you can’t go to breakfast in your pajamas.” “Why not?” “Well,” I tell him, “it’s just a rule they have here. If you did it, then everybody else would think they could go to breakfast in their pajamas too.” “You mean they couldn’t?” He sounds surprised.

Unbuttoning his pajama shirt, I help him take it off and put on the clean undershirt. He’s silent for a moment. Then as I pull his shirt over his head, he asks me, “Does it stand to reason that the harder you pull the trigger, the harder the gun will shoot?” “I guess so,” I tell him. “But what does that have to do with pajamas?” “Well, they say for every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction, and all that sort of stuff,” he explains. “Yeah, that’s true.” I zip the front of his shirt. “But what does it have to do with pajamas?” He looks at me knowingly. “The shadow knows.” We both laugh.

“Okay Walter, now you have to stand up.” “Huh?” “I need you to stand up,” I tell him. “Why do I have to stand up?” “So we can put your pants on.” “But I’ve got pants on,” he protests. “Those are pajamas,” I point out. He studies them. “Is it ‘puh-JAM-mas,'” he asks, “or ‘puh-JAHM-mas’?” “Hmmm. I don’t know, what do you think?” He ponders this for a moment, then with a twinkle in his eye he informs me, “I prefer ‘nightgown.'” We laugh together. I’m still standing, waiting to help him up. He looks up at me, and says resignedly, “Oh, me. I guess I’ve got to get up. A woman gets her mind set on something…” “There’s just no way around it,” I commiserate. “Nope,” he shakes his head sadly. “Nope,” I agree. “Do you need a hand?” “Huh?” “Do you need a hand?” I ask again. He frowns. “What for?” “For standing up,” I tell him. “I’ve already got two hands,” he says, holding them out for me to see. I laugh, and he looks smug for a moment. Then he shakes his head sadly, and groans. “I say, sleep for me is such a treat…” “And we want to keep it that way,” I say. “Huh? Why?” “If we let you sleep all the time,” I tell him, “you’d get tired of it, and then you wouldn’t have it to enjoy.” He raises an eyebrow at me. “You wanna bet?” I laugh again. “I bet. Come on, you can do it,” I prod. “Stand up.” “I guess I can, but I don’t know why,” he moans. “Ohhhhhh, boy.” He’s finally on his feet. Steadying him, I pull his walker closer, saying, “there, you hang on to that while I get your pajama pants off.” Walter groans, and suddenly sits back down. I barely manage to snag his pj’s and get them pulled down before he lands with a thump on the bed. “Oh, my,” he complains again, then asks “Pajahmas? JAHM, not JAM?” “I say pa-JAM-mas,” I tell him, “but that doesn’t mean it’s right.” I pull his pajama pants down over his feet, fold them, and put them on his night stand.

“Okay, stand back up now.” “Why?” “Because you don’t have your pants on yet.” “Oh, my,” he observes. “It’s terrible.” “Yeah!” I agree. “Ready?” “Oh, yeah, I guess I’d better put them on,” he says. He doesn’t move. “All right,” I tell him, “I’m ready.” “What am I supposed to do?” he asks. “You’ve got to stand up,” I remind him. “Stand up?” “Yup.” I help him to his feet again. “Hang on to the walker. There you go.” “Then what?” “I’m going to get these off, and put some clean underwear on, then we’ll put your pants on.” I deftly slide the disposable briefs off from under his shirt tail. “Hey!” he says, indignantly. “You’re disrobing me!” I chuckle. “Oh, my.” He shakes his head. “Oh, my!” “It’s just shameful, isn’t it?” I say sympathetically. “I come barging in here and drag you out of bed and pull your clothes off.” “Yeah!” he moans.

I’ve managed to get his feet into the fresh briefs now, and pull them up over his hips. “There you go. Feel better?” “Oh, my,” he says again, and starts to sit down. “Wait wait wait!” I say, trying to catch him. He stops, looking puzzled. “What wait wait wait?” “Don’t sit yet,” I tell him, “we still need to get your pants on.” “Ooohhhh, my golly.” He nods, and sits down anyway. I kneel down and get his feet into the pants, pulling them up to his knees. Retrieving his shoes from under the night stand, I start putting them on. “How do you spell that, ‘wait’?” he asks. “W-A-I-T,” I tell him. “That doesn’t seem right,” he mutters. “Why?” I ask, as I slip the second shoe on. “How would you spell it?” “I don’t think that works,” he says. “The shoe?” I ask, “Or the spelling?” “I thought it was W-E-I-G-H-T,” he says. “That’s the ‘weight’ for seeing how heavy you are,” I tell him. Finishing his shoes, I say, “All right, now you’ve gotta stand up again.” “I do?” “Yep.” “Oh, goll-leee,” he groans. “No rest for the weary,” I agree, as I steady him against his walker and start to pull his pants up. “I know,” he says. His pants are still around his hips, but he begins fumbling with the button. “That’ll never reach,” he says. “It doesn’t work.” “You might have to go on a diet, huh?” I tease. “Here, hang on here and let me see if I can do it.” “I don’t think you can get it,” he tells me. “I bet I can. I’m a stubborn woman, you know.” I pull the waistband up to its proper location, fasten the button and zip up the fly. “My goodness,” he remarks as I buckle his belt. “It worked!”

“All right. Let’s go brush your teeth.” I wait until he has his walker going in the right direction, then walk ahead of him to get his toothbrush ready. Behind me, I hear a grunt, and another “oh, my.” Walter’s on the bed again. “Hey! You sat down!” I fuss. I let him sit while I get his toothbrush ready, then call, “okay Walter, come on, let’s brush your teeth.” “Why should I do that?” he wants to know. “So I can go eat?” “Yep. And then you can brush them again!” “That sounds like a waste of time,” he grumbles. “Well, since you’re awake anyway, it will give you something to do,” I tease. He retorts, “Who says I’m awake?” We laugh, and I say, “well, then maybe it will help you wake up.” “Ohhh, my,” he moans again. Veering off course, he heads for the window instead of the bathroom. I follow his gaze to the sweater draped over a chair there. “Do you want your sweater on? Are you cold?” “I think so,” he says. “I don’t know.” “Well, it will look good anyway. It’s a nice sweater,” I tell him. “Yeah, that works,” he agrees. I help him put the sweater on, and steer him toward the bathroom again. “All right. Let’s go brush your teeth.” “Oh, boy.”

When he’s finished with his teeth, I guide him to his wheelchair and get him settled. “There you go. Want your glasses?” “What do I need those for?” he asks. “So you can see who’s picking on you!” I tell him. He doesn’t reach for the glasses, so I set them aside and start combing his hair. He mumbles something I can’t hear. “Hmmmm?” “I’m trying to figure out what glasses are for, anyway.” “Well,” I say, “they’re good for reading the paper. And watching TV.” “You need glasses for that?” He sounds dubious. “Some people do,” I tell him. “Can you do it without glasses?” He doesn’t say anything. “There, all set,” I say. “We’re ready to roll.” He groans. “Is it really all that bad?” I ask him, as we head for the dining room. “What?” he asks. “I don’t know,” I say. “Everything.” “Is it that bad?” he repeats, and shakes his head. “I don’t know. Is it that good?”

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