Socks appeal to those in need of elder care

October 24, 2004|by Lyn Widmyer

I have not kept up with health care issues this election season. I have been too busy caring for my elderly father.

Dad lives in a retirement community in Virginia. He is quite a traveler, frequenting beach resorts, visiting my brother in Texas and enjoying fine hotels all over the south. These trips don't cost my dad a dime because he never leaves his bed. I call them "flights of fantasy" and must constantly remind my father he is still in his apartment.

My dad's mental lapses have increased as his physical health has decreased. Hospice has been called in. This means the doctors estimate dad has somewhere around six months to live. Keeping an eye on my dad, who is 90 minutes away, caring for my family and working full time have given me a new perspective on health care.

I now realize that the "white socks" of health care are just as important as the "white coats." Doctors, traditionally viewed as the white coats, are obviously important and my dad has been blessed with a caring family physician and a dedicated blood specialist. But equally important to me are the "white socks" of medicine, the health-care aides who make my dad's life easier.


In the world of fashion, socks are pretty much taken for granted. Socks get little attention, even though they are essential to our comfort. Health-care aides suffer the same fate. Day in and day out, they provide comfort to patients like my dad, but they just cannot compete with the accolades given those wearing the white coats.

White socks describe people like Petronella, a health-care aide who visits my dad's apartment every morning. She makes sure he takes his meds (that's pills for the uninitiated in the rites of caregiving), straightens his bed, cleans the kitchen, chats about the day's events and reminds Dad he is not at the seashore.

I may question the monthly bills some of the white coats charge for my father's health, but I will never, ever complain about paying Petronella.

The white socks also include desk workers at the doctor's office. These are the people who answer the phone in person (the emphasis being on the phrase "in person"), help set up appointments and deliver messages to the doctor. I have become best friends with those who answer the phone for my father's doctors. They have always been compassionate and informed and helped me through some rough scheduling problems. It is such a pleasure not to listen to a recording telling me, "If you think you are dying, hang up and dial 911; otherwise, please select from one of the following 10 options "

Now that I am my father's caregiver, I have little time to study the various options being discussed in terms of providing quality health care for all Americans.

Given my dad's prognosis, I expect this will change. I will then do my best to help ensure future health legislation recognizes the importance of white socks to our national health.

Lyn Widmyer is a Charles Town, W.Va., resident who writes for The Herald-Mail. Her e-mail is

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