One of the most powerful lessons I learned from my time as a Certified Nursing Assistant was from an elderly woman who called me Fuzzy Wuzzy.
For the purposes of this story, we’ll call this woman “Edna.”
Edna called me Fuzzy Wuzzy because I had recently started shaving my head, and the first time I came to work without hair she put a hand on my head and said I reminded her of the poem, “Fuzzy Wuzzy was a bear. Fuzzy Wuzzy had no hair. Fuzzy Wuzzy wasn’t really fuzzy, was he?”
Edna was an easygoing and good natured person who had very poor vision and almost no mobility, but was very pleasant to care for most times of the day.
Except things were very difficult for about an hour every night, because that’s when Edna saw spiders.
The spiders that she saw every night covered her ceiling in a great black moving mass. This was caused partly by the confusion she experienced, and partly because her poor eyesight caused false shapes to appear and move in very dark lighting. It was terrifying for her.
She would scream and holler for someone to get rid of the spiders until one of the CNAs would go into her room and try to loudly convince her there were no spiders. Sometimes she would get so worked up that they would have to turn on the light in her room, which greatly bothered her roommate.
One night, I was working down a different hall in the health center, but I could hear Edna’s shouting from the other side of the facility. The CNA working her hall was occupied with helping another resident use the bathroom, so I went in to Edna’s room and claimed the call.
I knew there was no way I could talk loudly enough for Edna to hear me without waking up half the hall. Plus I didn’t like shouting at residents.
So instead, I took her hand, leaned in very close to her ear, and in the deepest, most reassuring voice I had I said, “Edna, do you know who this is?”
She recognized my voice and immediately stopped shouting. Then she brought a shaking hand down on my head and gave it a little rub.
I’ll never forget the sound of relief in her sigh as she took a deep breath and said, “Oh. Fuzzy Wuzzy.”
I told her she was safe and that things would be alright, and she believed me. I asked her if I could sit with her for a bit and she said yes. She closed here eyes and I held her hand until she fell asleep a few minutes later.
After that, we made a habit of me visiting her room each night I was on shift. I didn’t wait for the screaming to start because I got to know when it normally would. After a couple weeks, Edna no longer saw spiders at night. She never stopped calling me Fuzzy Wuzzy.
And more than a decade later, I’m still blown away by that experience. What an immensely powerful thing it is to be someone’s Fuzzy Wuzzy!
What a difference it makes to listen to someone, get to know them, joke with them, love them, show them respect and learn to laugh with them. And then, when they are going through a crisis, to be there. To say their name and let them hear your voice, to hold their hand, to let them feel your presence.
Even without the power to solve their problem, just to BE THERE. To remind them of brighter times and sunshine and jokes and promises of good days that can return again. To just assure them they’re not alone.
It doesn’t take a lot to be a Fuzzy Wuzzy, but OH, WHAT A DIFFERENCE IT CAN MAKE.
And I will always be grateful for the opportunity I had to learn that lesson from that special and sacred experience.