Today at work, you could hear the whispers of staff as they flipped a quarter in a coin toss, to decide who would tell Jimmy that his shoes were on the wrong feet. You see, Jimmy is a proud man who can still do most things for himself without any assistance from anyone. He prides himself in his ability to recall historical events, discuss world politics knowledgeably and provide insight to articles he has read in American Scientist. Jimmy is a very intelligent man, often using words I have to look up in the dictionary to follow conversation with him…….but yet, Jimmy has dementia.
Okay, so his boots are on the wrong feet…..which is better? Having him wear them incorrectly and possibly be uncomfortable or insulting his pride by pointing his error out? Or do we assume that he is having an ” off day” due to his dementia and monitor him more closely? Hmmmm…the right decision must be made here.
I passed through the living room and took note of his boots. Sure enough, left was right and right was left………oh boy. Sitting down at my desk, I was reminded of my own ” off day”….. For many years, I played the keyboards in my church during worship services. We had two services every Sunday morning, with seating capacity for 1500…pretty big crowd, eh?. I played two sets of keyboards, so I would stand the entire time, highly visible to the congregation.
After one extremely long service, the Pastor’s wife who was seated on the front row, beckoned me to the edge of the platform. She leaned in close to my ear and began to whisper quietly……
” Jessi, dear, I don’t know if you know this or not, but sweetie, your shoes do not match. I just wanted you to be aware.”.
Looking down at my shoes, they seemed perfectly normal to me. You see, I am color blind…..my world is a hue off from what yours is….blue and black are both black…...<a
” Oh thanks for telling me”, I replied. “What color are they? Are they off by much? Is one a shade darker than the other?”
The look she gave me was one of bewilderment. awe and possible wonder. She recovered enough to whisper, “One is dark blue, the other is black……but sweetie, if you are comfortable with them being like that,it is okay by me. Please don’t be offended. I know you younger girls make fashion statements all the time…….”
I interrupted her, offering to explain my mismatched shoes…….” Mrs. Ferguson, I am color blind, not a fashion guru……” I could see the relief in her face……After a chuckle and a smile, we began preparing for the next service. There was no time for me to dash home and grab another pair of shoes, so it simply was as it was……..
During the second service, I became so aware of my shoes…almost paraniod….feeling that all 1500 worshippers were staring at my feet. Any other Sunday, I could play for an hour without flinching….the music flowed effortlessly for me. I didn’t need sheet music….I didn’t need anyone to prompt when and where to come in…..I simply flowed. Not this service. I missed several intro’s, forgot one entire song and let’s just say….there was no flow….zippo. Nada. None.
After the conclusion of the service, I raced outside to my car and went straight home. As soon as I walked in the door, I began yelling at Jeff, my husband. (It was his job ya know….to make sure I looked good!)
” Look at my shoes! They don’t match! How could you let me leave the house this morning looking like this??????”
” They looked fine to me”, he mumbled as he continued to stare at TV. I wonder why men notice some articles of clothing but not others??????
Pride. My pride had been insulted simply because I had worn mismatched shoes. Embarrassed. I can still feel my cheeks radiating heat as they turn bright red at just the thought of it……
What about Jimmy and his shoes? Should we ignore the fact that he is wearing them on the wrong feet, simply to spare him the feeling of embarrassment? Should we force him to acknowledge that maybe his dementia is a bit more defined than he would like to admit to? Hmmmm.
I decided to tackle the problem with no game plan at all. I sat down beside Jimmy and sighed heavily.
” Hey Jess. What’s going on today? Looks like you are having a rough run at it.” He folded the newspaper and devoted his full attention to me; shifting in his chair to make direct eye contact.
” Well Jimmy, it’s too early to predict the day, but I am sure the sun is shining somewhere in the world….”
For fifteen minutes, we discussed the morning news, the modern war and nuclear bombs. We decided that we could solve all the world’s problems if we were out in charge for an hour……..As I got up to leave, I slapped Jimmy on the knee and whispered, ” Before we take on the World, you may ought to put your shoes on the right feet….”
He let out a belly laugh….” That’s why my feet are rubbing. I grabbed my boots in the dark this morning and dag-gone if I didn’t put them on the wrong feet. Glad you caught that!”
I smiled as I walked away, feeling accomplished. Sensitivity is the key in dealing with all situations, even more so with dementia patients. People often think that since they are cognitively impaired, that mis-matched clothing, disheveled hair or even misplaced shoes is harmless. I think not. Preserving another person’s dignity should always be one of the first and foremost concerns…….no disease should over ride an individuals sense of pride.
Shoes…..who would thought such a powerful lesson could be learned from one Sunday morning…and a pair of mismatched shoes.