Choice, Control, …and asking lots of questions

image of multiple doors in a room

My grandmother, Dorothy, had recently moved into a nursing home at her own choosing.  She was having some shifts in life and decided to sell her house and move.  It was a incredibly hard choice that she made, but she seemed to be settling in pretty well.

One morning she had a medical appointment at a nearby hospital and I agreed to meet her there to go to the appointment and support her.  The nursing home drove her over and met me outside the main doors.  The CNA helped her to get out of the van in her wheelchair and said she could meet us up at the appointment if I wanted to get her up there while she parked the van.  She never spoke directly to my grandmother during this time…  she deferred the question to me.  This wasn’t my appointment.  I leaned over and ask my grandma, “Do you want to go up to the appointment now, or do you want to wait for Julie (the CNA).”  Dorothy replied, “Let’s go up.”  

Julie pulled away and we were on the sidewalk.  I turned to my grandma and said, “Ok!  Are you ready?”  

She replied, “Yes.”

I asked her, “Which doors do you want to enter through?”

She paused and turned her head around to look at me quizzically… “Why are you asking me this?”

I replied, “Well… this is your appointment and all your call.  I’m just here to be with you if you need me and help you to get from point A to point B.  Everything is your decision.  I thought we’d start with the doors.”

She chuckled a bit and said she appreciated it and that at the nursing home no one really asks her what she wants much at all.  She asked if I was going to be asking her a lot of questions… “Oh yeah!,” I said. “…and you might get annoyed with it all.”  She again chuckled, “Oh Jessey… I could never get annoyed with you.” 

So we began…

Which door do you want to enter through?

Do you want to go up to the appointment now or wait a bit?  

Do you want me to push your wheelchair slower, faster, or at the same rate?

Which elevator do you want to use?

Which desk in the reception area do you want to go to to check in for your appointment?

Which pen do you want to use to sign your name?

(do you even want to sign your name?)

Where do you want to sit in the waiting room?

Do you want to sit near the windows or away from the windows?

Do you want me to go into the appointment with you?

…and then again as we were leaving…

Do you want to go back directly down to where we met to wait for the van?

Do you want me to push your wheelchair slower, faster, or at the same rate?

Which elevator do you want to use?

Which set of doors do you want to exit through?

There were probably many more questions I asked her, but these are what immediately come to mind as I’m re-remembering that afternoon.

Why was this important?  She went from a very independent person to needing to rely on others for most everything.  And these others, certainly well meaning, didn’t really ask her a whole lot of what she wanted.  This all may seem like little stuff… “Which door do you want to enter through?”  I was pushing her wheelchair.  She did not have physical control of the chair.  She was essentially at my (or whomever was pushing the wheelchair on her behalf) mercy that I was going to get her where she needed (or wanted to go)… but there are choices involved, aren’t there?  

Think of a time when you went to an appointment.  You decided a million different things, that while seemingly inconsequential, were important.  

Were you going to leave early?  

If you were driving yourself, which route were you going to take?  

Where were you going to park?  

If it was a huge parking lot, were you going to park and walk, use valet parking, park & then take the shuttle bus?  

Which entrance were you going to enter?  

If you arrived early, maybe you wanted to use a different entrance to do some extra walking?  

Or is there an entrance you avoid because it reminds you of something difficult?

All of these are choices and all of these opportunities for choice matter and are taken for granted.  

My grandmother had control at her appointment and in her life in those moments because she was freely given choice.  It matters. -Jessica Stover