I am first and foremost a problem solver. I love solving problems. I have very definite opinions about what is good for anyone who has a problem. If I could solve everyone’s problems and save the world, I would. So when I learned about Carmen’s recliner, I sprang immediately into my most intense and dedicated PSM (Problem Solving Mode).

My sister-in-law Carmen was several years older than I was, and time had left her legs uncertain and her movements slow. She had a chair, a rose-colored recliner that she loved. The problem, hanging like a golden apple in front of me, was that it was difficult for her to get up and out of the chair.

(I’m baffled why manufacturers continue to think that we are a race of midgets with their couches and chairs barely off the floor, but that’s a rant for another time.)

I too find it difficult to get out of some chairs, and discovered that if I put a cushion in the seat, it raises me up enough to ease my struggle to my feet. Well, I reasoned, if a cushion helps me, why wouldn’t it help Carmen keep the chair she loves and still be able to get up and down.

You’ve heard the old saying, “No good deed goes unpunished?”

We were in the process of clearing some items out of our home, and in with the “Occupied Japan” ceramic dogs and the Depression glass, I had some large floor pillows. “Perfect,” I thought, laid one aside that would coordinate with Carmen’s plum colored recliner, and made a flying trip down to her home to give it to her.

The cushion fit perfectly in the bottom of her recliner. Carmen sat on it and was able to get up with very little difficulty. I left with a warm glow in my heart and a smug smile on my lips. Mission accomplished. Problem solved.

At that time, my brother-in-law no longer drove, so we picked them up every Sunday afternoon for an outing, lunch and ice cream. On the Sunday following my pillow delivery, while we were enjoying our ice cream cones, Carmen laughed and said, “You know that pillow you gave me?”

I knew I wasn’t going to like what followed.

Apparently Carmen, seated on the pillow, had reclined her chair the way she’d always done. The pillow, unfortunately, had changed her center of gravity and the chair toppled over backwards. Carmen was trapped flat on her back with her feet in the air. My brother-in-law pushing his walker tried to help her—an image that will remain with me into the foreseeable future.

Through the years, I’ve no doubt driven my family crazy with my eagerly offered solutions. After this episode, however, I finally got it. My good intentions without full understanding of the situation could have harmed Carmen. Also Carmen was good at solving her own problems.

So I’m now hard at work on a Twelve-Step program for problem solvers. The initial step to be mastered? First, do no harm.




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