Recently did a pretty intense shoot for the New York Times. I work for the paper probably once a week, as they seem to have a love affair with Portland, OR. And while I enjoy shocking people with how low their day rate is (don't ask) they do give me amazing assignments that take me all over the Northwest. Last week I spent a couple of days with some folks in danger of losing their home aid service. As states are trying to balance their budgets anyway they can, it has come down to slashing care givers for the disabled and elderly. Unfortunately, the result is that many of the folks who could get by with 20 to 40 hours of help a month are going to end up in nursing homes once that help is gone. It's a pretty sad and ironic tale of dealing with budget cuts in a no-win situation.
Enter Ken Poe, a former pilot who suffered from Polio as a child and as a result has trouble walking and standing. His house reminded me of a episode of the TV show Hoarders. Boxes, papers, and books formed a maze while a 25 foot oxygen tube snaked throughout the room. Ken agreed that while it looked like a tornado had touched down, in reality everything had its place and it was his way of "wall surfing," using the stacks to help him navigate around his house.
Throughout the day Ken told me bits and pieces of his life, how he got sick, what he studied in school, his escapades flying around Mount St. Helens right before it blew. Everything was told in a matter of fact manner, and Ken remained upbeat while I clicked away as meals on wheels delivered his lunch and old Perry Mason episodes played in the background.
At one point Ken wanted to move to his bedroom to lie down and needed my help. He could rise to a standing position but because he can't raise his arms more than waist high he needed me to take his hand so he could stand up right. It was almost like a dance, with both of us bowing and then rising at the same time.
I think Ken had fun that day. He had someone to listen to him, someone to pay attention to him. It makes me feel like I've given something then, something to Ken who allowed me into his fragile life where being able stand is reliant upon a pile of papers being placed just so. I love the work I do, I just hope that it makes some small difference and that I leave things a bit better than I found them.
After our time together I thanked Ken and went to my car to smoke cigarettes, cry and remind myself to always be grateful.