One of my private clients asked me if I ever write about my caregiving experiences. I was surprised when he asked me to write about him. He wants people to know his story.
I asked why he doesn't write about it himself but he just smiled and said that he was past those days. Talking yes, writing no.
"Write about me when I am gone. Or almost gone. But write about me as if I mattered."
The client asked me to refer to him as Jimbo. He said it with a laugh. I am not in on that particular private joke that gave him such pleasure. Jimbo is from a very small community north of here. He is of aboriginal descent and is a very beautiful man. Jimbo is 33 and in the last few weeks of his life. A battle with alcoholism began for him at the age of 8. He remembers drinking before that age but considers 8 the age at which he became addicted. For a time, Jimbo was a resident of the Downtown East Side of Vancouver. During that stint on skid row, he contracted HIV. For the past decade he lived with HIV until this last year when full blown AIDS hit. Jimbo has little anger for his lot in life and much insight. Now that this life is drawing to a close, he requires someone else to help with his ADLs. The reason Jimbo is a private client has to do with the way he perceives people treat him. We met by chance when I opened a door for him at he local thrift store. Once inside he walked directly to the furniture section and sat down and coughed for a good long time into a handkerchief. I got a glass from the shelf, threw a dime to the cashier and washed it thoroughly before filling it with water. He was still coughing when I sat down beside him.
As it turned out, this was one of the last times Jimbo was able to go out on his own. I had given him the phone number for the Island Health Authority but he could not get past the idea of strangers helping him. One day I came home to a call from a woman I do not know. Amazingly, I had actually answered my telephone! The woman had gone to a considerable bit of trouble tracking me down as she knew where I worked. She knew a co-worker and a client or three and somehow managed to figure out my last name. She wanted to ask me if I could possible manage to consider a part time job checking in on Jimbo. " He doesn't have more than a few weeks but he can't stay home without help."
Jimbo is now hooked up with Hospice and has the right equipment to stay at home. Typically, this is happening much past the time it should have or could have. He has a friend (the caller) who is staying with him but cannot do his care. He is conscious but refusing food. He calls his friend "Vespa" and they laugh. I am thinking there was a scooter involved somewhere along the line.
The reason Jimbo wanted me to write about him is so simple and so sad.
"You are the only person who was ever truly kind to me without being more afraid of me."
I cannot believe that is true but it is his perception at this time.
Jimbo has a face that looks 100 and has writ on it every battle he has fought. He was obviously a larger fellow most of his life. He looks like he could have gone a few rounds with Mike Tyson. He also looks like he lost about 100 pounds. But he is human same as us all.
This will be the last week of Jimbo's life. A Nurse checks in, sent by the Band Office. She is wearing more than just the apron, mask and gloves. She is wearing almost a moon suit. She looks at me in horror as I hold his hand. As far as I know the HIV virus cannot live outside the human body unless a blood or much more rarely, saliva host helps out. Even then, the virus can only last a microsecond. My fingers do not have any orifices, or open sores last time I looked.
Jimbo asked me to bill the Band Office. He has no money left.
He is more concerned with me "working for free" than he is with his imminent passing.
I told him that I work with Hospice and that it is quite all right. This is true. Not current, but true.
A month from now, I will still have the option to work privately for those in this area who have lots of ready money or veteran's benefits. I will still have my little job that I love so dearly. Jimbo will be on the winds, and in the memory.
Is this kindness on my part? I think it is just humanity.
When my time comes someone will hold my hand. I know it.
Why are people afraid of their fellow man when circumstance brings tragedy?
Life piled on life?
Perhaps it is the brain injury I carry with me. I know what it is like to feel shunned labeled and alone. I know what low is.
Aww Jimbo. I did write about you. Sparingly.
You see, this is all I know about him. He told me "You know all the important stuff." what's that I asked. "You see the real me."
And he is beautifully human.