Posts Tagged 'Help of Ojai'

Man’s best friend

Is it really man’s best friend?

I’ve been driving the Help of Ojai bus ever since we moved to Ojai twenty years ago, except for a couple of years when Ila was ill. My usual shift starts at eight on Friday mornings and ends a little after noon.

My clients are generally older and have given up driving. Being homebound is all too often a sad result. I pick them up at home and deliver them to physician offices, the grocery, hairdressers and other destinations which might otherwise be unreachable. For some folks, the bus is the only way they can get out of the house.

During my rewarding career as a bus driver, I’ve had my share of mishaps including varying degrees of bodily injury; to me, not to my clients. One that stands out vividly occurred several years ago.

Many of my riders are mildly incapacitated; some use a walker. Walkers come in various shapes, colors and sturdiness. Some are festooned with saddlebags and other accouterments. Some are simple in design while others require a degree from MIT to fold them flat in order to load them onto the bus. All of the beasts sadistically defy me as I try to lift them up the steps of the bus and through the narrow entry door.  I put them in a place that varies with my mood, so long as they can be safely stowed without the risk of them hurtling through the confines of the nine-passenger metal behemoth with which I deftly negotiate the streets of Ojai.

The walker folding process requires a certain degree of dexterity. The two sets of legs are folded using a scissors like movement that involves paying close attention to the location of one’s fingers, lest they become painfully pinched in the process. And that’s what happened to me.

My client that morning required the use of a walker as well as the lift. Being relatively non-communicative added to the challenge. Seating her went without a hitch, and I then began to flatten the walker. The scissor-like motion reached its high point when the tip of my little finger lodged securely between the two legs. Ignoring the searing pain for the moment, I attempted to open the scissors and free my finger. Alas, two hands are required to open the legs.

My client, comfortably seated and ignorant of the drama unfolding behind her, was of no use. Being the proud owner of two feet, I stood unsteadily on one of them and used the other as a wedge shoved between the walker’s legs. After what seemed like a fortnight of acrobatics, I was able to extract my pinky from the jaws of the monster. Profuse bleeding was the next cause for alarm. It was staunched with a box of Kleenex and the on-board first aid kit stocked for such mindless mishaps. Driving with one hand became de rigueur for the rest of the morning.  I can show you my scar if something like that excites you.

This Friday started out normally. Go to the gym at 6am. Treadmill for an hour while watching season two of the Kominsky Method on Netflix, shower and then head over to Help of Ojai. Have a quarter section, or two, of a yummy turkey sandwich made by Glenda, some surprisingly good coffee prepared by Meagan and then check out the bus for unwelcome critters, discover a nearly empty gas tank and a windshield that could only be cleaned with a Brillo pad.

Check out the manifest. The usuals…Melvia, Karen, Rosie, George, Betty…and one new name, Joyce. Going to the doctor, Joyce was to be picked up at 9:30 for her ten o’clock appointment. The early morning crowd delivered safely to their chosen locations, I headed over to Joyce’s mobile home park.

I arrived two minutes early, opened her gate and rapped on the door. A small, furry dog exited through the doggy door and took up a position close to my left leg. A cute little guy with a reassuringly mild disposition, he just begged to be stroked. And so I did, while waiting for Joyce to emerge.

I could hear Joyce calling for Charlie to come back in the house. Having none of that, Charlie sprinted away from me, ran through the gate that I had obligingly left open, and disappeared down the driveway. Joyce arrived and I pointed in Charlie’s general direction. Joyce called out. And, after what seemed like an eternity, he reappeared at the foot of the driveway. We beseeched him to come closer. He did but stopped short of the gate as though pondering his alternatives.

He moved slightly forward. I detected some misgivings in his tiny brown eyes. Seizing the fleeting opportunity, I reached down and gently cradled his ten-pound body in my two hands. What had once been a small, cuddly friend of man, became an enraged bull mastiff. He opened his jaws and clamped them on the root end of my thumb which had, prior to this event, been minding its own business. The pain took me back to my years’ ago adventure with the iron walker.

Charlie was intent on becoming a permanent part of my right hand. Perhaps he had second thoughts. Perhaps he felt that he had inflicted enough punishment commensurate with my indiscretion. He loosened his vice-like grip and bounded happily over to Joyce who said one or two “bad dogs” and without any further ado, deposited a newly cherubic Charlie in the place from whence he came.

Bleeding was becoming a habit of mine deserving of a Purple Heart. Charlie’s teeth had produced two punctures that appeared quite similar to those that might have been inflicted by a king cobra. My customary use of Kleenex seemed to only aggravate the flow. Thankfully, Joyce produced a large band-aid from her purse, and wrapped securely, I was able to deliver her to her appointment, drive one-handed back to Help and apply a vat of antiseptic ointment to calm my distress.

I had forgotten to ask Joyce if Charlie was up to date with his shots. Scary thoughts about rabies proliferated in my frontal cortex. Magnifying the possible implications of a frothing-at-the-mouth dog, followed by equally terrifying rabies shots, occupied my time until we were able to confirm that neither I nor Charlie would be appearing in a re-run of The Wolfman.

Walkers and dogs are often thought of as man’s best friends. But sometimes it might be better to remain more platonic.

Count your blessings

It started out like most Mondays.  Kiss Sweetie good-bye, hop into the truck, get some gas and pull into the Help of Ojai lot.  As usual, it was cold and damp.  Not just outside, but inside Little House where the aging heating system can’t keep up with the drafts and takes its toll on the fragile ones toiling at their desks.

Eyeballing the bus manifest revealed a pretty full morning.  Most of the riders were regulars but a sprinkling of new names promised a welcome diversion.  My first pickup was Shirley, a spry 82-year-old and accomplished pianist living in a mobile home park.  “And you are?” Shirley said as I opened the automatic door and went to help her up the steps.  The reason Shirley asked who I am is not because she has memory problems.  She is blind.  Living alone, she and I have been bus pals for several years. No complainer she,  I look forward to her bus trips. Bright and bubbly, she makes me ashamed of what a whiner I can be.

We arrived before Kristy’s Nails opened.  I helped Shirley find the donut shop next door where she was warmly welcomed and offered the delicacies of the house while she waited for Kristy’s to begin its day.

Rarely do I get two clients going to Kristy’s on the same day.  But my next rider, Myrna, was headed there too.  A pedicure was in the offing as she can no longer personally handle that chore.  Arriving at St. Joseph’s I once again stared at the open area where majestic oaks once held sway.  Having been cut down before they could injure anyone, I’m anxiously awaiting some miracle that will accelerate the growth of the saplings planted a couple of years ago.  Maybe St. Joes is the right place for that miracle.

Myrna needed the lift to get aboard.  After setting her walker where neither she nor I could be impaled, we got to know each other a bit better.  “I’m 91 and my husband is 90.”  A cradle robber, I said.  “He had a stroke about eight months ago.  I live in the cottage over there and he is in the nursing building just across the road.”  Noting her English accent, she volunteered that she was born in England where she served in the RAF as an ambulance driver.  Visions of a Hemingway novel flashed through my head.

“I was worried last night and this morning that you might not be able to get this big bus and the lift into the parking lot at Kristy’s.  Didn’t want to cause you any inconvenience.  I assured Myrna that it was my solemn mission to get her nails done.

On to At Home in Ojai where I got my first wheelchair client of the day.  Margie, who professes to be at least older than my bus, arrived with an aide.  Fastening the chair in the catbird spot in the van, I asked if everything was OK.  I meant the positioning of the safety belt but Margie had a somewhat broader interpretation of my question.  “I’ve been better.”  All in all, a mild response for someone plagued by any number of old-age maladies.

Cliff was in the usual spot, leaning on his walker at the Gables.  Pushing 90 and one of the youngest pilots in World War Two, he had fallen a few months ago and was still trying to regain his old stamina.  A regular at Swanner PT, he works out a couple of times a week.  My hearing is not as good as it used to be and the squeaking and drafts of the old bus make it even harder to hear what my clients have to say.  Bless his heart, Cliff rattles on regardless of my ability to understand what he is saying.  My occasional uh-huh keeps him motivated.  Arriving at Swanner, Cliff, his cane and his walker descend from the bus and he offers his usual “Thanks so much.  I’ll call when I’m done.  Drive carefully and fasten your seatbelt.”

Toward noon I retrieved Shirley from Kristy’s and began what is affectionately known as the “lunch bunch” pickups.  Isabel, who at 94 is one of the most loving and ripest of my clients, sat down next to Shirley.  Able to climb the steps of the bus without assistance, Isabel suffers from extreme hearing loss.  Shirley, who is blind, spent the better part of two minutes trying to relate this fact to Isabel.  Having successfully communicated, Isabel both apologized for her hearing loss and offered her heartfelt sympathy for Jeanette’s blindness.  And so it went.

The bus was filled to capacity as we arrived at Help’s West Campus.  My clients clambered down the steps.  Each said thanks and wished me a Merry Christmas.  It already was.


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