“Lorraine, are you okay?”
The sound of my name and the concern in his voice pulled me back into consciousness. High fever and a severe kidney infection had made me sick for days, and when Matt came into my room that evening, I had been asleep for a long time.
As a wheelchair user, I have hired many people to help me with my day-to-day routine, getting assistance with everything from cooking and cleaning to transportation and errands. I have found college students work best for me. They tend to have the flexibility in their schedules that I need and for the most part, they listen to my way of doing things.
Matt was a relatively new caregiver. At 27, he was older than the students I typically hire but I liked some of his answers to my questions during his interview for the position as well as the fact that he had been a medic in the Army for seven years. I thought he deserved a shot at the job. For the previous few weeks, I had been impressed not only by how quickly he learned my routine but by how he learned my preferences as well. Matt checked in with me to see how I wanted my laundry folded and what I wanted to wear each day. When I told him while he was training that I thought overhead light was too harsh, he made a habit of lighting the rooms I was in with small lamps instead. It seemed like he was going to be a fabulous caregiver, but my hope was short-lived. Matt had given me his two weeks’ notice a few days previously. His school schedule was heavier than he expected, and he didn’t think he had time to work at a part-time job on top of his studies. The night he came in and found me so sick was supposed to be one of his last shifts.
He tried to ask me more questions that night, but I had trouble responding. After a few minutes he called the EMTs. A night of rest in the hospital, some fluids, and some IV antibiotics made me feel halfway human by the next morning, but the hospital was going to be my home for the next few days. I was about to turn on the television in my room when Matt walked in.
“Hey Matt, what are you doing here?” I was confused. My caregivers are paid by Medicaid funds and because of specific rules, they can’t get paid when I am in the hospital, so when I am sick, I am not used to seeing them.
“I had to see for myself that you were okay.” Hearing that made me smile. Matt was a nice guy. What he said next was unexpected. “I also wanted to tell you that I want to continue to work for you if that is okay. I know you don’t have a whole lot of people who check on you and I want to make sure that you are safe.”
“Why would you do this, Matt?”
“Because it is the right thing to do.”
Matt worked often over the next few months. As we got more comfortable with each other, he began to check in with me about my day and what kinds of things I was thinking. If I shared anything that was less than stellar, he reminded me we were in my house, and I was free to express any emotion I was feeling in any way I needed to. Over time, when I asked his opinion or sought his advice, he gave honest and helpful feedback. I had the privilege of doing the same for him.
We were on opposite sides of the spectrum on almost everything, from religion to politics to what tv shows are funny to the best ways to lose weight. But even when Matt and I were disagreeing about something, he never made me feel wrong for what I believe or that my thinking was flawed in any way. In fact, I rarely felt more consistently respected by anyone. That is a big statement. It is also a big truth.
In addition, I have witnessed Matt advocating for me in ways he doesn’t think are a big deal. When someone told him that he was “going to get his reward in Heaven for all he does for me” his response didn’t miss a beat. He simply replied: “Who said I was going to Heaven?” That situation captures perfectly who Matt is; humble and assertive all at the same time.
Matt went above and beyond for me in countless ways. One night, he went to a concert in Kansas City, which is about 45 minutes away from where we live. Matt loves music and he was still riding the high of seeing one of his favorite bands when he came to help me into bed at about 1:30 a.m. He’d had the night off, but he knew that I didn’t have anyone else to help me that evening. He would never tell me this, but I am pretty sure that was only one of countless sacrifices Matt made to ensure that I was safe and taken care of while he was working for me.
The magnitude of what was happening in March of 2020 did not hit me until one night when Matt and I were going through my stretching routine during the last part of his shift. When he got the text from the University of Kansas saying all classes were cancelled for the remainder of the semester, the first thing he did was tell me not to worry, but I could not take his advice. Fear and panic were rising within me like a tidal wave about to hit shore. All my caregivers were college students and if they had to shelter in place with their families, I didn’t want to think about what could happen to me. Sure enough, over the next 48 hours, my team of four caregivers dwindled down to Matt. He worked two times per day for several months simply because he wanted to make sure all my needs were met.
Most of the time, when my caregivers stop working for me, I never hear from them again. On rare occasion when I am lucky, former caregivers become friends. Matt became family. He is the Beaver to my Wally Cleaver.
Matt is in nursing school these days, so I don’t get to see him nearly as much as I once did, but he comes by every couple of weeks just to visit and check on me. He has assured me that he will be in my life for many years to come.
If I had my way, Matt would live close by for the rest of my life, but that is not what would make him happy. When he is done with nursing school, he plans to move across the country, back to where he is from. When that time comes, even though it will be incredibly hard, I will hug him, thank him for everything, and let him go.
Because that is the right thing to do.