What Do You Do When
Your Caregiver Steals From You?
For a disabled person, a key element for survival is to have a good PCA --- a Personal Care Attendant. PCAs help us to do everything we need to make it through the day, things we couldn't possibly ask of our family or friends: getting up, bathing, dressing, getting about, eating, moving from here to there, and, finally, getting to bed at night.
An insensitive or unreliable PCA becomes a nightmare, and time with one can be a continuous civil war over what is, after all, one's own body. It is not uncommon in America to end up with a PCA who is sullen and not very gentle, who will add to the indignity of disability by, say, leaving one in bed in the morning long after one wants to get up. "I'll be there in a minute," he says, and in an hour, he finally comes and with great sighs, complaining constantly about his back, helps one to dress and get into the sitting position.
John Callahan, in Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot wrote a wildly funny, sad chapter on the Nightmare Attendant, the one who cares little for his or her charge, who is more interested in the television than in "caring," who comes late and leaves early and wants only to make it through the week and get paid and go out and get drunk.
For that reason, finding a gentle and caring PCA is not unlike finding gold --- and most of us disabled will do anything to hang on to such a one.
There is a wonderful Nabokov story about a man who was born blind, and who has just taken a new and beautiful wife. He can't see her, but everyone tells him she is gorgeous.
One day, the blind man is sitting out in his garden, listening to the crickets and the birds. His wife comes out there too, to a place about fifty feet away from where he is sitting. She brings her new lover.
The two of them take off their clothes, very quietly, and then, very quietly (trying hard not to breathe too loudly) start screwing.
When a Personal Care Attendant of mine takes money from me --- as they have, many times --- I feel like that blind man, when he finally figured out what was going on.
We disabled are always on the lookout for a good PCA, aren't we? One who isn't slovenly or snarly, who doesn't complain, who will come to work exactly when he's supposed to. One who doesn't drink, doesn't smoke, and doesn't stick needles in his arm.
One like Raul, who I found six months ago.
I think you'd like Raul. He's neat and pleasant and well-spoken. He is as good a PCA you could ever ask for. When we get to the store, he has my wheelchair out and around to me in seconds, gets me out of the van painlessly and quickly. He's very strong.
If I'm too tired to go to the store, he takes the car, and my list, and when he comes back, he puts everything up for me, washes the dishes and sweeps out the kitchen. Then he vacuums the house, puts my clothes in the washer, or in the dryer --- and then irons them, folds them, and places them in the dresser. When one of my orthopaedic corsets needed fixing the other day, he sewed it up for me.
He'll make me my favorite sandwich for lunch, and, in the evening, if I want to go out to a Japanese restaurant for supper, he'll gets me inside the restaurant, parked at the table, and then he'll talk to me cheerfully until the meal comes (even though he doesn't much care for gyoza or sashimi).
When it is time to go to bed, he helps me get my clothes off, handling me very carefully, almost tenderly. His one diversion, when there's nothing to do, is watching TV. He always asks me politely if it's OK. And he always keeps the sound down.
He's a dynamite worker.
And he steals me blind.
§ § §
It first happened after he had been here a month, while I was in the shower. He helped me take off my pants, and hung them on a hook, just out of my line of sight. He lifted me onto the shower chair, and pulled the curtain. The water was running, so I couldn't see my pants (or him). Anyway, when I'm taking a shower, I'm not thinking about my pants, or him, or the wallet in my pants.
When I finally got out, and got dressed, we went to Target to buy some shirts for me and one for him, too, because he's poor, and his clothes are a bit shabby. When we got to the cashier, I noticed I didn't have as many $20 bills as I thought I did.
I don't habitually count my money, but it seemed that for a couple of weeks there, I was always a bit broke, more than usual.
Then, more recently, I sent Raul to the supermarket, and he came back with a package of chicken, some vegetables, bread, milk and cheese --- and the bill was almost $50. "Did you get a receipt?" I asked. "No," he said.
The whole thing only came out in the open with Jennifer, who lives next door (we share the house, her kitchen is connected to my kitchen).
A few weeks ago, while she was at work, I sent Raul over to her place to look for some books of mine. When Jennifer comes home, she bangs through the door, steaming, and says to me, "Ask Raul if he stole my $35."
"I had $35 on my desk. Now it's gone. Ask him if he did it." Since no one else goes in and out of her place except her dog Blue and me, Raul is the obvious suspect.
"Now?" I ask.
"Now," she says.
Raul speaks only Spanish, which means she can't cross-examine him directly. I say, ¿Robaste $35 de la habitación de Jennifer?
I look at that thin pale handsome face of his, the small Cantinflas moustache (Cantinflas at 21 --- Raul just turned 21), his ruddy cheeks (just a little ruddier right now), and he says "No."
I turn to Jennifer and translate: "No."
So Jennifer now locks the door between her part of the house and mine, doesn't visit with me anymore.
I don't fire Raul. How in the hell can I fire the best worker I've ever had? I just start acting as if I am under siege. I never let my wallet out of my sight. When Raul goes to the supermarket, or puts gas in the car, or goes to the hardware store for me, I always have him bring a receipt with the change.
When I flew to Florida to visit my family a couple of months ago, I hid the checkbooks --- just in case he's a check-stealer and forger, too.
When I come back, I go through the checks, one by one, thinking, "I hate being a policeman." None were missing, not even from the middle of the checkbook. (That's where my last PCA stole them from.)
Then Jennifer tells me that Raul was using my car while I was in Florida.
Well, I think, at least he didn't part it out, or run into a tree, rob a bank, or run off to Mexico with it. Now --- finally --- we'll have to talk.
"Look Raul," I say. "I really like having you around. You are a great worker. You're willing, and you do what I ask, and you never complain.
"But I think there are two Rauls working here. One is clean and neat and a nice worker. This Raul I like.
"Then there is another who takes things from me and from Jennifer without asking. That one I don't care for."
He smiles -- his winning, shy smile, shrugs his shoulders, and looks at me innocently. He says nothing. My hands are shaking. I drop the subject.
Until I get the call from Dime Line long-distance telephone service. They're terribly sorry, but the have had to cut off my calling privileges. Because of the excessive number of long-distance calls to Mexico.
I say nothing to Raul, because in a few days, the telephone bill is going to be here. It will be, for the first time, proof, written proof that he is a thief. Proof that I really don't want.
In the meantime, I've just sent him to the store in my $12,000 van to get us some steaks for supper.
He and I will cook them, to celebrate the fact that he has worked for me for six months now.
When we eat together, we'll talk some. I'll have some wine (he doesn't drink, so he'll have Fresca).
He'll tell me about his family in Mexico City, his poor family --- the family with scarcely enough food in the house, not enough clothes for his eight brothers and sisters to go to school.
And maybe I'll tell him about the time when I was young, a kid. When I, too, was two people. When I used to steal from my family, driving them crazy with my thievery. I was good at it --- as good as Raul.
§ § §
But, you ask, what am I going to do about him?
It's easy. When the telephone bill comes, I'll show it to him, tell him I'll take the money out of his salary. We'll spread the payments out, so it won't be too much of a hardship for him. And I'll tell him he shouldn't do it again.
Because with him I've got a jewel. A jewel with just a few flaws. And I am not going to lose him unless he steals my computer, totals my car, burns down the house, or sells me into white slavery.
I have two songs going through my head. One of them is, A Good Man is Hard to Find. The other is, Accentuate the Positive.
He's young still. And if I accentuate the positive --- give him yet another chance --- maybe he'll figure out sooner or later that it isn't worthwhile to take me to the cleaners everytime he turns around.
I'm still going to be Fortress America. I won't leave cash around. I'll make him bring me receipts from the store. I'm going to treat my check-book like my dearest lover (it'll go everywhere with me, most especially to bed.) And when I'm not here, I'll put a Club on the steering wheel of the car. I'll even lock up the telephone if I have to.
Meanwhile, I'll try to teach him that it's better not to risk his security, and our future, for instant gratification. I'm going to try to teach him that self-pity --- and I am convinced that thievery is a rank form of self-pity --- may not be the best answer to his, or my, problems.
Just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages that you've had.... I'm going to send Raul to school, the University of Lorenzo, where I'll try to give him classes in humanity, try to convince him to treasure Raul the Worker, instead of Raul the Robber.
I'll work like mad to convince him that it will be worth it, for the both of us.