Love and the right hand of Osie Davis
One of the first job’s I ever had was in a nursing home. I was an orderly. My job was to get the residents out of bed, into the bathroom, showered, and ready for breakfast.
The woman in charge of supervising me my duties was named Osie Davis. Large-ish, her gray hair up in a bun, cat-eyed glasses worn on the bottom of her nose. Her hands were like catcher’s mitts. As she reached out to welcome me on my first day of work, she smiled and said only one sentence: “Listen to what I say and watch what I do.”
I followed Osie throughout the noon rush. Men and women, sitting at the lunch table, in chairs and in wheelchairs, were served their trays one after another. Osie told me, then showed me, how to place a tray in front of a resident. “One hand, and you slide it in front of them. Never drop it. The idea is to be as quiet as you can. And always use your left hand, and serve from the left.”
We moved the trays away after lunch, and were transporting the residents back to the activity room. Some walked back to their rooms, but most were needing a push in their wheelchair. “Always steer the chair with your left,” and she showed me how to move a wheel chair up and down the hallways, navigating between the other residents on their way to the afternoon card games.
At the end of the day, before the evening crew came on, Osie took a minute or so with each resident under her assignment-about thirty people in all-to let them know that she’d be back in the morning. “Follow me, if you like,” she said, “but I do this on my own time. This is my “good night” offering, It makes them feel better. And, if you want to do the same, kneel down, and make sure you steady yourself on the chair with your left hand.”
I noticed that Osie had continually put such an emphasis on doing everything from the left: Left hand with the trays, left hand steering their chair, left hand anchoring yourself as you kneel. So, I’m figuring she was left handed or developed a habit of approaching everything from her left side.
The next day, when it got to be time for me to hand out the trays, I was watching Osie and looking at her technique. As I put my first tray down in front of on of the residents, Osie was across the table.
In her left hand was carrying a tray, but with her right hand she was patting an older woman on the back of the neck.
When it came time to steer the wheelchairs for the afternoon TV time, her left hand was on the wheelchair, and her right was on the resident’s shoulder.
And when she knelt down in front of the residents before she went home, her left hand was on the arm of the chair, and her right hand was holding their arm, smoothing over their hair, or touching them on the cheek.
As we were leaving, I told her I’d noticed her “touch.”
As she put on her coat, she said, “In here, the people have two things in common: they’re afraid, and they’re never touched with love. The second helps get rid of the first.”
“I always keep my right hand free to touch every one of them, whether I’m serving them lunch, steering them down the hallways, or saying goodbye. It reassures them, it settles them down, and it let’s them know that everything is going to be all right. It takes away their fears, even if only for a little bit. Just a hand on the shoulder gives them a moment of peace, away from their fears, away from their loneliness.”
This past week, I watched a video by a renown psychologist stating that recent neurological studies show that touching someone helps lower blood pressure, balance pulse rates and, in particular, significantly lowering anxiety.
I wish he had the opportunity to watch the great Osie Davis at work. She could have told them that forty years ago.
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