Ministering to the Disabled

Many people ask me how I can be so patient with the elderly and crippled. They are frustrated because the elderly and crippled do not move very fast and they have work to get done and time is money. In addition, they have to take time to help the elderly and crippled with things they can’t do themselves. The elderly and crippled are often viewed as excess baggage, something that gets in our way and takes time we can’t afford. At age two, I had Polio and was crippled from the waist down. My legs were strapped into steel braces, held in place by leather straps and I needed crutches to get around for several years. I know what its like not to be able to run in the park or hop on a bike and ride like the wind when other kids your age are doing it. Though I got to where I was able to walk for a while without crutches, I am having more trouble as I get older and must now use a cane.  If I have much walking to do, I have to use crutches or a wheelchair. I know what its like to have caregivers constantly pushing you to move faster when you are going as fast as you can. I have also been in charge of caregivers taking care of those who are elderly, trying to schedule enough hours to get the work done without exceeding the budget, so I have seen both sides.

Many workers wondered why their clients refused to cooperate or got so mad when the worker tries to get them to do something. When I worked for the Area Agency on Aging, they made the workers put stones in their shoes, band aids on their fingers, and yellow cellophane over their eyes to help them understand what it is like to have difficulty walking, feeling, or seeing and I think it helped them understand a little, but 15 minutes later they took them off and went back to life as usual. The elderly and crippled may have to endure it for years or even a lifetime. The workers often told me they felt frustrated in doing simple tasks like reading a book, going to the kitchen for a glass of water, or simply putting on a shirt but it was a one-time frustration. The elderly and crippled have to endure it every day. They can’t tell themselves that when they get done with this exercise they can go back to life as usual, because they can’t.  Many don’t know if they ever will. The elderly and crippled often don’t want to ask for help but they have to when they can’t do things themselves. It is either ask for help or do without. They would love to be able  to do it themselves, but sometimes that is not an option.

Those who work with the elderly and crippled need to understand what the person can do and what they can’t do. The worker needs to recognize where the person needs help, but do only what the person can’t do. The worker should not do everything for them because then the person will give up trying, but they should push them to do what they can, while at the same time, realizing that the task may take time to complete and may involve a lot of pain, frustration, and failure in the process.  If its frustrating for the worker, think how frustrating it is for the person. Often those who are elderly or crippled become frustrated and angry because they can’t do what they need to do, especially if their disability is recent and they remember what it was like to do what they now can not do and often that anger is turned against the one trying to help them because the helper is pushing them to do something they can’t do or can’t do as well as the worker wants. The worker has to understand when that anger results because they are pushing too far and when it results from the person’s own frustration and is not because of what they did. Recognizing the difference comes naturally to me and others who have been there but is hard for someone who has never been through it.