Category Archives: Talking to strangers

The time I joined another world

The tangled web of emotions that come with Dementia would put most spiders to shame. I’m terrified of spiders but not Dementia and I don’t know why. The idea of having such a debilitating and confusing disease really should scare me more than something smaller than my palm (in Seattle anyway). My years in patient care taught me how to be more comfortable with Dementia. Yes, I’ve seen a man break a toilet. I’ve seen a woman experience grief over her husband’s passing, over and over again, every time she remembered. But there is more to the disease. When the mood is right, talking with a dementia patient can be like entering another world. I’ve seen the joy on a soldiers face when he talked about seeing his wife again after the war. I’ve been instructed how to properly fold laundry by the owner of a laundromat. I’ve even chased a purple cat through a house the size of a small mall. I really did enjoy that cat. I like cats. Most important, I’ve met people where they are in their mind while keeping them safe in this world.

When an elderly couple and their son arrived at my office for an exam they seemed like any other loving family. The wife immediately complimented the flower arrangement in the lobby. Multiple times. I just figured she was in to gardening and told her I appreciated her thoughts. She then approached the holy grail known as our candy bowl. “I think I’ll have two,” she said with a mischievous smile. I told her to go for it, only to have her son interject and take the candy away. He explained that she has dementia and often forgets that she’s diabetic. Oops, my bad. I listened as she told her son more about how much she loved my flowers and how she kept meaning to get in to gardening again. Though he was aware her health wouldn’t allow this, he suggested they go buy some seeds later. I instantly liked the son as I saw the smile spread wide across her face. A few minutes after their exam started, the woman emerged and made a beeline to the bathroom. I thought nothing of it until her son peaked his head out to look for her. We found her in the bathroom scrubbing the toilet. “You don’t have to do that,” her son said in a rather amused tone, “work is over for the day.” She squeaked with child-like delight and zoomed back into the exam room with her husband. The son turned to me and said, “sometimes you just have to live in her world.” Yes indeed, good sir, you do!

The time I was humbled by love

*disclaimer- I am touching on a delicate subject here, as I am a white woman discussing cultural differences. I love to explore and learn about other cultures. It is not my intention to sound ignorant or xenophobic in anyway and I apologize if I offend anyone. This post lacks my normal humorous commentary to avoid any misunderstandings.

I am flooded with a montage of indistinguishable emotions whenever I think about my former roommate, Banu (name has been changed), and her duty to her grandparents. As Persian immigrants, her grandparents spoke only enough English to survive. They needed Banu’s help multiple times per week for everything from doctor’s appointments, rides around town, and shopping. Banu was in her mid-twenties while trying to launch a new career and live independently. She would often get frustrated by her family obligations and how much more demanding they were than many American families. As a 20-something American-born human my conditioning spawned resentment towards Banu’s grandparents on her behalf. She always seemed so overwhelmed with school, work, and family commitments. However, when I asked her why she didn’t set any boundaries, she was appalled. She refused to consider any alternative because she loved and respected her grandparents with such a complex depth that I could never understand.

Fast forward to the present, to a typical day in the office, when an Indian couple and their son arrived for an appointment. I asked if an interpreter was necessary, and the son said he would be translating. He had taken the entire day off work to drive his parents to various doctors and translate for them. I smiled and said he was a good son for taking such good care of his parents. “That’s what we do in my culture,” he said in a friendly but absolute manner. The idea that he wouldn’t take time off work or would just set up a ride for his parents was just as unfathomable as me riding an elevator without anxiety. As in, it would never happen. We continued to chat for a few minutes about his large family and the connection they share living in a place who’s customs differ so much from their own. I was humbled and grateful for this perspective. I witnessed an unbreakable bond, which is hard to come by in the land of the Seattle Freeze.

The time someone else worried about elevators

Elevators and airplanes have a lot in common, mainly because they both involve cramming into tight spaces with strangers and hurling through space. Also, a malfunction with either one could mean certain death. Not that I’m being dramatic or anything. Contrary to what my rambling seems to indicate, I love elevators for saving me and my asthmatic lungs from climbing 8 flights of stairs every day. I’ve always thought of elevators as inoffensive since people can just choose not to use them. That is, until I met Mark and Steve (names have been changed).

Mark entered my office in a stressed-out state. Due to a building-wide remodel, remnants of unfinished construction assaulted the eyes with bare, bright white walls and the ears with clanging, banging, and crunching loud enough to wake the dead. Among the chaos was an elevator covered only by plywood and a “pardon our mess” sign. This seemed to be triggering for Mark. A few years back, he had purchased an office building with plans to set up his practice and rent the other offices. He just had to make it ADA compliant with a ramp and elevator. Soon after the purchase, he discovered it would take over a year before an elevator could be installed. After that, it would be at least another year before he could get the elevator inspected. Also, the elevator would cost almost as much as the building to install. He held out for two years, unable to bring in any money from his investment, before selling the building at a loss. Lets just say elevators were a real sore spot for him. Steve, who had been silently listening from his chair in the waiting room corner, shed some light on the situation. The building he owns includes two elevators freshly built and ready for inspection. Well, they were fresh 3 years ago. Now they just sit unused because of a shortage of qualified elevator inspectors. Don’t worry though; he’s on the waiting list. The two men continued exchanging stories about the maddening process of building renovations and ended up leaving together. It would seem the cure for the Seattle freeze can be found in shared suffering.

The time I was helpful

I’ve worked in healthcare for years and I could pack a humpback whale full of paper shreds containing the names of people who have been screwed by the American health care system. And that’s really saying something because paper shrinks so much when it’s wet. I’ve spent hours fighting with insurance companies on my patient’s behalf. I’ll always remember the look on my coworker’s face when she walked in on me doing a happy dance because I got a treatment approved. In all fairness, the dance did involve “the swim.”

While waiting for an appointment, I struck up a conversation with the flustered woman next to me. This meeting seemed kismet when the source of her distress was revealed to be a battle with her insurance. L&I was using a loophole to avoid paying for an injury she sustained at work and her health insurance was refusing to pay because the injury was work-related. Her employer was now trying to force her into retirement because said injury was keeping her from doing her job. I shouldn’t have been surprised, but my face still contorted in a comical manner, causing her to choke on the water she was drinking. At least I was able to lighten the mood. She continued her story by saying she was afraid to retire because she didn’t know how to get health insurance. Cue my random but useful knowledge of Medicare and Medicaid. By the time she was called back for her appointment, I had helped her find a resource for free legal advice to battle L&I as well as contact information for a health insurance navigator.

I try to keep this blog humorous, but seriously I wonder how many people struggle with navigating our healthcare system without help from a random person who is socially awkward enough to break the ice and actually communicate with the person a foot away. A good question to chew on.

The time I shared an elevator ride

Construction sites are scary. Every time I drive under the mess of metal and concrete that will one day become the new light rail station in Northgate, I feel a tiny bit of relief when nothing falls on me. In my defense, I was traumatized when the kid gets crushed by a windowpane in Final Destination 2. While we’re on the topic, another character in the movie died in an elevator. This brings me to my highly anticipated first elevator conversation blog entry. Yay!

The office I work in is located on the eighth floor of a building with…lots more floors above mine. Yes that is an official way to measure the height of a building. You can also estimate its altitude by how many elevators it has. This one has four wonderful concrete shafts perfect for isolating strangers in small places, thus soliciting so many awkward Seattle freeze moments. To anyone who may have pulled an Ant-Man and became a fly on the wall, I hope you took a video of this particular elevator ride. That’s right, the elevator we took was a working construction zone, complete with dust and unfinished walls. So take my fear of construction zones, mix in my fear of confined spaces, and add 6 other people to make it cozy, and then I will need those deep breathing exercises people use to calm down. Thankfully I didn’t go too far into the rabbit hole before one of my fellow elevator residents broke the silence with “why aren’t the walls done?” Its part of the construction that has taken over the 8th floor…is what I should have said. Instead, I said “it smells good.” I meant the wood boards that were serving as temporary elevator walls smelled good, of course. Everyone was too busy looking at their phones to really notice my brilliant ramblings thus proving the Seattle freeze actually has an upside. So the big awkward elevator ride, my Seattle freeze white whale, happened. And it was fine. And I wasn’t swallowed by a giant mammal so that’s a win.

The time I was frozen

I am not a morning person. When this first became apparent during my elementary school days, my mom gave me a t-shirt with a picture of a kitten sleeping in a coffee mug with the words “I don’t do mornings” written above it. Ironically I have been known to hiss at people who try to wake me up. But I am technically an adult and therefore must do my adulting, which just happens to involved getting up around 6am for my new job.

I silently cursed the rising sun as my weary body forced itself to walk the two blocks to the bus stop. I wanted to be that kitten happily slumbering in the cup, not the human version of grumpy cat. And of course I woke up too late to make coffee. As I climbed aboard the bus I was aghast to find my only seating options were to sit sideways or share a seat. In my desire to shield any unsuspecting seatmate from the wrath of un-caffeinated Tanya I reluctantly sat in a sideways seat and awaited the nausea. At least that’s what I told myself. Really I was just Seattle frozen.

By the time I got on to my transfer bus for the remaining few stops, I was content to take one of the reserved seats in the front. I was just returning to the workforce after a severe hip flexor/left lower back sprain left me unable to walk or even stand for more than a few minutes at a time. This wasn’t just my first time commuting to a new job; it was the first time I had been able to walk those two blocks to get on a bus. And I was sore! So yes, I sat in the reserved seating. Next to me there was a man with a walker. Across from him was a woman with a cane. Next to her, a young woman with her baby fast asleep in a stroller. I was the only one that didn’t have an easily visible disability, which became a problem when a man in a wheelchair boarded the bus two stops before I got off. Of course I would have moved because it was the right thing to do. However, before I could manage the woman sitting in the first non-reserved seat started pointing at me and loudly proclaiming that I would need to get up. Keep in mind I still haven’t had my coffee. Before I could process what she was saying, she repeated herself, then pointed at the man rolling onto the bus ramp, then pointed that damn finger back at me again. I suddenly wished I was grumpy cat, and then I could bite her and get away with it. Apparently I wasn’t moving fast enough while I was fantasizing about assault with a toothy weapon, because there it was again, the scolding finger judging me. Then the rest of her fingers got involved and she progressed to full on gesturing. And I still hadn’t had any coffee. So I looked her straight in the eye and sternly said “just because I don’t look disabled doesn’t mean I’m not injured. I have a severe hip sprain and I need a seat.” She looked mortified. At this point the bus driver asked if I was okay and made finger lady get up so I could have her seat. That was the first time I truly smiled that day. You see, sometimes its better to stay frozen then be caught wishing you could melt into a puddle.

The time I wasn’t bored at the Fred Meyer check-out

I love all things pumpkin spice. Well except those fake scented candles. They give me a migraine. Once fall begins, I make it my personal mission to eat as many pumpkin flavored things as possible. This is my first October since going gluten-free which has put a real damper on my pumpkin pie consumption. So when the cashier at Fred Meyer asked me if I found everything okay, I mentioned I was bummed but not surprised that they don’t have any gluten-free pumpkin pie. I expected some sort of negative reaction since I didn’t respond with the traditional “yes.” Instead, she told me how complicated it is to safely operate a gluten-free kitchen. Turns out, she grew up working in the bakery her parents owned.

A look of pleasant nostalgia lit up her face as she talked about getting up at 4am during the Missouri summers to start prepping the dough. I should have known by how friendly she was that she wasn’t a Seattle native. During her prep time, flour soared freely around the kitchen, giving the illusion of a light snowstorm. While a little wheat flour wouldn’t hurt me, it could cause harm for celiac patients. In order for her parents to provide gluten-free options they would need a second kitchen stocked with its own dedicated pans and utensils. For small business owners like her parents, this just wasn’t feasible. This was brand new information for me. I’ve had flour poof and spill a little on my kitchen counter while baking, but I had no idea it could fly. Before leaving, I thanked her for teaching me more about being gluten-free. She thanked me for indulging her trip down memory lane. I bet she gets so bored when all the Seattleites fail to acknowledge her ability to speak while she bags their groceries.