To Help Other People

By Corey Nicolaides - August 03, 2017

My eyes were fixed on the sidewalk ahead. To my left and across the street, in my peripheral vision, I see a ghostly figure waiving frantically. I look and see a fragile old woman perched on her front step. Her arm outstretched, she’s waiving her hand at me with the kind of excitement you’d expect from a relative or friend you haven’t seen in years. I answer her waive with a very timid waive of my own, and focus again on the sidewalk ahead.

I’ve been walking the perimeter of the neighborhood for years, and as I often do I’m making another lap.

My eyes were on the sidewalk in front of me and my ears were busy with a podcast, when I heard “Helloooo!” ring out. It was an expectant “Hello”, the kind that loosely translates to “HeY LoOK at ME riGHT nOw. NoTIce ME!”

I felt uncomfortable and I didn’t dare to look. I could see the old woman waiving again, but I wasn’t looking at her. I hadn’t even looked in her direction. I had waived just 35 minutes ago, what could she want? So with a very obvious hand and arm movement I reached up and adjusted my earbuds, thinking she would realize that I had earbuds in and that I didn't hear her. That way she wouldn’t be offended, but I wouldn’t have to engage with her. Win win.

I didn’t think much more of it.

The next day it happened again, almost the same way. Then another day and another. It was happening so frequently that I changed my route so I wouldn’t have to pass her house. It just felt awkward and I didn’t want to be rude so I just subtracted myself.

I thought about this as I walked my B route. I like my A route better and I know it well enough to walk it blindfolded. Route A is also better for calculating mileage as it completes an almost exactly three mile loop as I return to my house. Walking route B is forcing me to tack-on a little extra walk down this road or that road to reach the three mile mark, and I just haven’t found a combination that works as well as route A.

I’d like to walk route A again, but what about that old lady? I walk along considering the options and the possible outcomes. My brain does some augmented reality on the road in front of me, building a video billboard with scrolling text and it’s displaying the Scout Law over and over. I desperately try to shake this off because I know this law and I know it’s right, and I know what it will make me do.

You might be thinking I’m too old to be recalling the Scout Law, but it was imprinted on me at a young and vulnerable age, and I’m thankful for it, except once in a while I really want to forget that I know it and that I agreed to always abide by it.

“A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly… Ugh, friendly. Right.”

The next day, I decide to walk route A again. It’s a perfect early summer day, except it’s trash day, and the thing about walking on trash day is that every 75 to 100 feet is marked by the warm stench of whatever is rotting in the bottom of your neighbors trash can.

As I round this corner I’ll be able to see the old woman’s house. “I hope she’s not outside.” I think to myself. To my relief she isn’t out today. I’m on the other side of the street, but I’m almost directly in front of her house when I hear the click-clack sound of her front door.


My brain emits an emergency pattern of “Friendly - Friendly - Friendly”. I tense-up, but I look and waive and keep on walking.

I decide that one time per walk I will require myself to waive and smile. With that one waive and smile I will fulfill my duty to the law, and I won’t be rude to the old woman, and surely this won’t go on forever.

So each day as I walk by the old woman’s house, she waives and sometimes she says “Hello!”. One day she shouted “Do I know you?” and I definitely didn’t hear her and I tried to make that obvious by the way I adjusted my earbuds abruptly and with a very animated arm and elbow.

It’s trash day again… the smells. I round the corner and I can see the old woman carefully inching her way out to collect her empty trash cans.

I may have social anxiety, and I may feel especially awkward around other humans, but I’m not a monster. I can see she’s put herself in a precarious situation by walking across the tall grass in her sloping front yard, and she looks concerned.

“I should help her" I think to myself. "After all, a Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful…”

So I start crossing the street toward her. “Hello!” she shouts. She seems relieved to see me, but she looks back at the ground as if it’s shifting beneath her feet.

“Hi. Let me help you, Ma’am.” I say cheerfully.

I step along side her and offer my arm like an usher at a wedding. She grabs my wrist and says something about her trashcans.

“Don’t worry about those. I’ll get them.” I tell her.

“Do I know you?” She asks.

“No, Ma’am I don’t believe you do.”

“Are you sure? Did you work for Eyeema?”

I have no idea what “Eyeema” is. She’s mistaken me with someone else.

“No, Ma’am. I don’t believe so. Here you go. Why don’t you head back inside and I’ll bring these trashcans back up to the house.”

I ushered the woman back to her front steps where she could use the handrail instead of my sweaty forearm. I didn't dare move too fast for fear of knocking her over. Then I quickly moved her trashcans and I was on my way.

She sent a classic high-intensity waive and I waived back and continued my route.

I started to think about Eyeema, and I just couldn't place it. “Eyeema? I guess I’ve never heard of it. Ohhh, IEMA! That’s what she meant. I’m an idiot… pfft. ‘Eyemma’. Ha!”

Weeks go by. Everyday it's the same waive, same “Hello!”.

It’s trash day again. I’m rounding the corner and the old woman’s house is in view. I see her outside. It’s early though and the trash hasn’t been collected yet. She’s on the driveway today which is better than getting stuck in the tall grass again, and she hasn’t seen me yet.

I looked to my right where a retiree lives. He has a thing for cars. Not classic cars, just regular, everyday cars, but he keeps them very clean and often parks them in show-car positions with the hoods up, and he is always giving them attention. The pavement is wet; he’s been out early to wash the Taurus.

Across the street to my left I see a high-intensity waive happening so I look over and waive to the old woman. I look back to the wet pavement and step around a puddle. From the corner of my eye my brain registers an anomaly, the old woman has just disappeared.

I looked quickly. I see she’s laid out on the pavement; She fell.

I sprinted across the road and up her driveway.

“Hi. Take it easy, Ma’am. Let me help you up.”

I knelt down and started to help her up. I could see she’d hit her head and she’s bleeding pretty badly.

“Are you okay to walk? Do you feel like anything's broken?”

“What happened? I was getting the trash cans.” she replies.

“Well, let’s leave those, the trash men haven’t come yet so we don’t need to worry about that. Let’s get you inside, you’re bleeding a bit.”

“Oh? I am?” She seems really surprised.

“Yeah, you fell and hit your head there.”

“Oh? Thank you. What’s your name.” she asks.

“I’m Corey. What’s your name?”

She gives me her full name, but all I really caught was her first name, “Jackie”. She seems mostly okay, and her head wound is small but really bleeding. I’m guessing by her age that she’s on medication and probably blood thinners and maybe that’s why it’s bleeding so badly.

“Well Mrs. Jackie, let me help you inside. Is there anyone I can call for you?”

“Oh no!” she insists. “Don’t call anyone!”

“Okay, well don’t worry I’ll help you get this bandaged.” I assure her.

I’m feeling really uncomfortable, because now I’m in this woman’s house, and I don’t know her and she doesn’t know me. She doesn't want me to call anyone, and she’s dripping blood all over the floor and on her shirt. I helped Jackie to the chair in her living room. It’s a well-worn, light blue recliner and it’s obviously her “spot”.

“Mrs. Jackie, do you have any paper towels?”

“Yes. In the kitchen.” she tells me.

I go around the corner into the kitchen. There are a few dishes piled up, things are very cluttered and kind of dirty, and there’s a collection of boxed snack foods on the table, lot’s of duplicate items. Several boxes of store brand cheese crackers, cookies, that sort of thing. I grab a dozen or so paper towels and fold them a bit. I hand them to Jackie and raise her hand up so she can hold the towels on her wound.

“Hold this on your head so we can slow the bleeding.” I tell her.

“Why? Am I bleeding?”

“Um. Yes, ma'am.”

“Oh no! What happened?” she asks.

For a second I thought she’d hit her head so hard that she had temporary memory loss or something. Then, in high-speed rewind and again in fast-forward, my memory replayed every walk past her house for the past several months. The way she waived like she was seeing me again and again for the first time, sometimes within the same hour. Repeatedly asking me if she new me. Asking me about IEMA.

“Mrs. Jackie, my name is Corey, and you fell down outside. You’re bleeding and I need you to hold this on your head to help it stop.”

“Do I know you? Did you work for IEMA?”

“No, we don’t know each other. Is there someone I can call for you, Jackie?”

“Oh no! No, don’t call anyone!”

She doesn’t really need an ambulance, but someone needs to be here with her. I started checking for names or phone numbers. I checked on the side table by the lamp, the coffee table, I looked near the phone, on the fridge, but I couldn't find anything.

“What’s your name again?” Jackie asks.

“My name is Corey, and Jackie I need you to hold this paper towel on your head, okay?”


“Because you’re bleeding, Jackie. You fell outside and bumped your head. It’s going to be fine but we need to keep this towel on it.”

“Oh. Do I know you? You did work for IEMA, I’m sure of it.”

“No, that wasn’t me, Jackie. You must be thinking of someone else. Is there someone I can call to come help you, Jackie?”

“No no. Don’t call anyone.” she insists again.

I notice some pictures and I assume they're of her children. Maybe she knows a phone number.

“Is this your daughter, Jackie?”

She tells me all about her family and her deceased husband and his career. She’s reminiscing a bit so we're taking a break from the question and answer circle we've been stuck in. I have to keep reminding her to hold the towel on her forehead. I get some more paper towels and I wipe up the blood from the floor where it dripped as we walked in.

“Is this blood on my shirt?” she exclaims.

“Yes, but don’t worry about that right now.”

“Oh I can’t be seen like this! What happened? I can’t have blood on my shirt!”

Jackie wants to change her shirt and I stop her because I really don’t want to be the middle age guy in a house of an injured, shirtless old woman. And she’s just going to have blood on two shirts if she changes before this stops.

I think again about calling an ambulance, because I don’t really have any other options, but the bleeding has slowed down and if she’ll just keep the paper towel pressed on her head, this will be over soon.

“Do I know you?” She asks.

“I’m Corey. We met once before. I helped you with your trashcan's one time.”

“Did you work for IEMA?”

“No, I didn’t.”

I don’t know where she found it, but she handed me a Nutrigrain bar. She wanted to give me something to eat, a snack, like I was the neighbor boy who’d just done some chores for her. I put it back within her reach, thinking she might need it later in the afternoon or something. As I placed the Nutrigrain bar, I noticed a stack of folders and a binder on the lower part of her side table. The binder on top was labeled with the name of a home healthcare company.

I opened it up and found a schedule and a list of initials next to visit times. I was relieved because I recognize this kind of thing from our own home, and this is exactly the info I needed. I knew that the home health company could connect with family or send a nurse, so I just needed to call them.

I started to dial the number.

“Don’t call anyone!” She insists.

I pause, because I don’t want to offend her, but I need to do what’s best. I can’t leave her because she won’t keep this towel on her head, and it just doesn’t seem right to leave an injured old woman by herself.

I have an idea. My mom is visiting at our house, and maybe Mom could run over here to help Jackie change her shirt, because she keeps getting upset about that, and while my Mom helps Jackie, I can sneak out and call the health care company.

I did exactly that. My Mom show’s up to help Jackie just five minutes later.

I had a brief flashback of my mom caring for her grandmother years ago. My mom is always, has always, and will probably always be caring for someone. She’s really good at it.

I step outside. I could hear Jackie getting worried that I was calling someone, “Who is he calling?” she asks. My mom tells her I’m just calling work or something.

I talk with someone at the home health company and they're happy that I called, but they sound discouraged. The woman on the other end of the call has a tone that indicates she was waiting on this call, but hoped it wouldn’t happen. I give her my number and she says that someone else is going to call me back. I go back in the house.

“Did you call someone?” Jackie asks.

“Yes, I just had to make a phone call, nothing too important.” I tried to deflect.

“Don’t call an ambulance.” Jackie demands.

“I won’t, don’t worry.”

Jackie was repeatedly asking my Mom the same questions she’d been asking me: “Do I know you? Did you work for IEMA? What happened? What’s your name? Is this blood?”

My phone rings and it’s one of her relatives. They explain that this has happened before, and that everyone was on-the-fence about whether Jackie should continue to be at home by herself or not. They appreciated the help and the phone call, and they would be there in 20 minutes.

A week later and it was trash day again. As I rounded the corner Jackie’s house came into view. Stacked on the curb were 15-20 black garbage bags, a few odd’s and end’s, and her trashcan’s.

A couple of months later, I rounded the corner and Jackie’s house had a for sale sign in the yard, and someone had mowed the grass.

I can’t stop thinking about how I was there for Jackie’s last moments in her home, she’d been in that house for decades. She spoke so proudly of her husband and children, and the life they’d lived there. She didn’t want me to call anyone because she knew it would mean having to leave. She seemed to forget everything else, but she knew where she wanted to be.

I keep thinking about how confused Jackie was, and how tragic it is —for all of us— if/when cognition begins to fail. I think about how delighted Jackie seemed when I waived back, and that I missed an opportunity to make her day sometimes twice in the same hour with a simple waive.

Clearly, living in a safer environment is best for Jackie, and it seemed like a decision her family had wrestled with for a long time.

As I pass her house now, I think about the memories she shared with me on that day when I was there for an hour or two, and I wonder how she’s doing. I hope she’s doing okay.

Now as I walk the neighborhood, I gently waive at anyone who looks my way, because who knows what’s going on for them, how long they’ll be here, or when they might need a little help.


The Scout Law: A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.

IEMA: Illinois Emergency Management Agency

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