My friendship with a Special person who met my Needs
~ Melody Nolan, M.S.
It began one afternoon during which I suddenly became ill and needed a ride to my physician. I couldn’t afford a taxi and didn’t want the chaos of an ambulance. I wandered the halls of the independent living facility in which I resided, half-heartedly seeking someone with a car. Because all of the tenants were elderly or disabled, most of them relied on others for transportation, as did I. In the lobby, I saw a flyer: “Need transportation? I will give you the ride of your life! Call Samuel.” So, I called Samuel. Samuel not only gave me the ride of my life – he changed my life.
About 20 minutes later, I heard a knock at my door. I opened it to find a tall, clean-cut man wearing white jeans and a large t-shirt. With the belly of Santa and the grin of a Cheshire Cat, Samuel led me to his noticeably clean car. A complete gentleman, he opened the door, politely waited for me to buckle my seatbelt, and then closed it. I felt like a queen in a limousine. I gave Samuel the address of our destination, and off we went. For the next year, he drove me to and from appointments, labs, and x-rays where he caught up on his sleep in the waiting rooms. Coming out of an exam to find him slumped in a chair snoring softly always gave me the giggles. Samuel’s company made those days more bearable…dare I say even enjoyable. A bonus was that I swear he has a GPS installed in his brain.
Having worked with people with special needs, I recognized some unique things about Samuel: He has a quiet simplicity about him, he takes everything literally, and there are some basic social skills of which he was unaware – such as knocking on the door before entering an occupied room. Before attempting a task, he needs it to be broken down into small steps and explained slowly, thoroughly, and repeatedly. Once he understands, he never forgets.
I am not a licensed therapist, and I did not work with Samuel in a clinical setting. I also view labels as confining, so I’m not going to give him one. What I will say is that Samuel is Special. Then again, aren’t we all?
After a year of driving to and from appointments, I also needed assistance running errands. Samuel accompanied me to the bank, the Social Security office, the grocery store…everywhere I needed to go. Once, when at Safeway, he noticed the name tag on the clerk at the check-out counter: Samuel. “Samuel?” asked Samuel. “But I’m Samuel.” He couldn’t comprehend that there could be more than one Samuel. Then again, as I would come to learn, there isn’t.
Eventually, I needed someone to run the errands for me. “Samuel?” I asked tentatively. “If I gave you a grocery list and some money, how would you feel about going to the store alone, buying the items, and then bringing them back here to me?” “Melody! I go to the store all the time!” I don’t know what I had been thinking, and I felt so badly for having underestimated him: He also makes bank deposits, picks up prescriptions and does the same general tasks as anyone else who lives independently.
At my request, Samuel signed on as a caregiver with In- Home Supportive Services so that the County would pay his wage. He took advantage of all the free classes they had to offer – from fall prevention to nutrition. With the allotted hours came more opportunities: cooking, cleaning, laundry…the basics of caregiving. It took a little training. I often fell asleep during Samuel’s shifts and would wake up to notes: “I put all the laundry away like you said.” I then found socks stuffed in with my silverware. Over time, he began taking initiative: “I made you a cheese sandwich for lunch. It’s in the refrigerator.” A cheese sandwich it was – a single piece of cheese sandwiched between two pieces of dry bread. It must be true that love is a spice, because I can honestly say that was the tastiest sandwich I’ve ever eaten.
In time, a trusting friendship developed between us. I learned that Samuel belonged to “The Tall Club,” “The Men’s Club,” “The Lunch Club” and even “A Ukulele Club.” He sang in a choir and volunteered at activities sponsored by his religious institution. Samuel was also in a long-term relationship: “I’m divorced; That’s why I have a girlfriend.” Janice was severely ill with diabetes. He was present when a hospital social worker had her sign a living will; He drove long distances to various care facilities to see her on a daily basis for over a year prior to her passing. One could not have asked for a more dedicated and caring partner.
One day completely out of the blue Samuel said, “Melody? I need someone to talk to.” Once I ascertained that he was inquiring about counseling services and that he was safe, I facilitated an intake appointment via telephone at the Center downtown. Samuel drove a good 45 minutes for his weekly 20-minute therapy sessions which he cherished: “Guess where I’m going on Friday at 2:00? I’m going to the Center to see Dave!” After the weekend he would exclaim: “Guess where I went on Friday at 2:00? I went to the Center to see Dave!” I later learned that Samuel had lost his home and was living in a motel. He had been too embarrassed to tell me at the time, but he took it in stride: He asked for help, and he never stopped smiling.
I called Samuel a few months ago to let him know my mom had passed away and to see how he was doing. He “is very busy these days,” has a new girlfriend, and “has many people counting on him.” Thank you, Samuel, for honoring me with your trust. Thank you for being special and for meeting my needs. A dynamic duo we were indeed.
*The names of the people in this entry have been changed to protect their privacy.