Thursday, February 16, 2012

Consider (before commenting next time) Mr. I'm In A Hurry.

So, following up on the last post, I'm officially back at work (almost) full time.

And I remembered how much I do enjoy working there (I would still prefer to stay home; but, such is life). I work in a home for adults with brain injuries, emotional disorders and physical disabilities.

My coworkers are good people. The clients are, without exception, a cast of characters worthy of being written into any number of theatre productions. They are varied: dynamic; frustrating; hilarious; unstable; kind; loving; manipulative; and sweet. And they are all these things in rotation on any given day, for anywhere from 2 minutes to several hours. They are exhausting- in every way- physically, mentally and emotionally.

Some have the capacity for such bravery it would make you cry.
Some have the capacity for pettiness on a scale I've only seen in small children.
Some are so vulnerable that my heart breaks for them and their families.
Some are only able to communicate non-verbally.
Some never stop talking (even when you sometimes wish they would).
They are as different from each other as you are from me, or as Mickey Mouse is from the Jolly Green Giant.

They all wake up everyday, get dressed, have their meals. They watch T.V., go shopping, visit with friends and family, go to the doctor, hit the gym. Most cannot be in the community without assistance, so you see us together sometimes: walking down the street, talking, pushing wheelchairs, or holding arms.

Our clients come to us because we are a "high needs" company. We are touted as "specialized residential services" (previously "neuro recovery services") to the clients and their executors.

In reality, we do not deal in "recovery". There is no recovery for our clients. They are not going to: walk freely again; think rationally rather than emotionally; have short (or long) term memory come back. We deal with helping the clients adjust to their new situations and new levels of ability. We teach them patience with themselves and with others.

We teach them how to cope with being unable to cut their own steak, with the inability to make seemingly inconsequential decisions (what shirt to wear; whether to have a cigarette now or in 1/2 an hour). We teach them how to live with life as it is, instead of how it was. And since most of them led completely normal lives at one point, they feel the differences in their personal situations keenly.

 And, unfortunately, we're the last stop before most of these clients are put into psychiatric care homes. If our company says, "Sorry. We can't help you anymore"- a good percentage of the clients would end up sedated and tied to a bed in a pysch ward. If they ended up institutionalized, they might as well stop trying to live normally- because the institutions are not set up to offer hope, or to encourage small triumphs (putting socks on alone). Institutions are set up to maximize efficiency and minimize interaction with staff. These clients do not belong in a palliative care setting. They are not dying, they are trying to live.

I am thankful that I do not have to walk in their shoes (wheel in their chairs). But that does not mean that I think their lives are "not worth living". They require constant care, monitoring and supervision- but they are still individuals. They still have likes, dislikes, goals, complaints, triumphs and fears. I try my very best to treat them with respect- because they deserve my respect. They do something every single day that I do not believe I would have the courage to do. They wake up knowing life will never be the same- and they still aim to make it better.

Because of this, if it takes me 20 seconds or 3 hours to get someone to choose to take their medications, or to take a shower- then that is how long it takes. I won't force someone to do something they don't want to do (short of dangerous/ life threatening situations). I won't take even one more choice away from them.

So if you see me taking 5 minutes to find out what my client would like to drink- and that holds up your wait in line at Tim Hortons- too bad. Consider how you'd like me to treat you if you woke up one day with permanent brain damage from a stroke you suffered in your sleep, or after a botched surgery, a car accident, or even a genetic predisposition to schizophrenia.

Consider it carefully, then you wait those five minutes without comment.


  1. The people that you work with, for & help must view you as a saint for your very caring & respectful ways. You are one in a million & that is meant in a "good" way.

  2. LOL. Thank you. I doubt they see me as a saint though. I have no trouble telling someone who is being an asshole that they are being an asshole- and I'm sure most saints don't do that. But thank you just the same. :D

  3. I had no idea we worked in simillar fields....until i was visiting your mom on the weekend. Thats awesome Sarah....I can totally see you doig that! Good for you. The difference in what you do and what I do is that the individuals I work with have never lived a "normal" life so they know no different from what they are now living. Your job must be much harder and somewhat more heartbreaking.
    An establishment like Tim Hortons should be prepared for these kind of instances. Any customer could take "5" miniutes to make a decision and someone should be ready to jump in to keep their customers flowing through quickly and out of respect for all individuals who might need a little extra time and also out of respect for those who have entered a "fast food" establishment. This being said, we spend a lot of time where I work, trying to make our clients fit in to a regular community and not stand out. So...its really hard to say what is "right". Every day is a different challenge! Congrats on your re-entry to the work force :)

    1. Thanks! I do love being back at work quite a bit. :D The pictures from dinner turned out very nicely. You look wonderful and happy. XO.

  4. Hey, Sarah, your post got me thinking......

    I stood with a client at the bus-stop yesterday and he made this observation: “It’s fun to look at busses turn the corner”. I began to think about how this might be related to the idea that it is important to look at things, not in the context of their bigger significance (for instance, how a bus might cause one to think, “If we used busses more often, we’d pollute a lot less”), or how they’re related to oneself “I can’t stand busses. They’re so crowded”) but merely as busses, turning the corner in the sun. Now this may not seem like a beautiful thing, and for the most part I don’t find myself actually looking at things, but at the very least I stood there at the bus stop asking myself if I do, and if I don’t, why not? Perhaps it is fun just to look at busses turning the corner, I’ve just decided ahead of time that it isn’t, and therefore refuse to enjoy it. As this thought disappeared and reappeared in my mind throughout the evening, and touched the corners of my dreams as I slept, it became a meditation on the appreciation of different things in and of themselves: The reflection of the sunlight in the window of a bus as it turns the corner on a clear blue winter afternoon; the reflection of the sunlight off the snow beside a lamppost outside my apartment building. What I’m saying is that this job has changed me; has made me better. This is one example.

    I stood beside my client, who through misfortune, or bad luck, or bad decisions has ended up confined to a wheelchair for the remainder of his life. The more I think about it the less it matters to me how he ended up where he is; what matters more, now is helping him to figure out the answers to the question, “Okay, now what?” He has decided in turns to react with violence to this tragic turn of events, or to celebrate what he now has and to find out how he can enjoy this part of his life. I then look at both of these reactions and then look to myself and how I reacted to things which through misfortune, bad luck, or my own bad decisions, occurred in my life. It is easy for me to say, “Well at least I didn’t hit people, or damage property, when my misfortune happened to me,” but it is not job. My job is not to make a comparison between these two reactions, but merely to hold them up, together and see that we have this thing in common: that misfortune happened to you, as well as to me (though to a much greater degree to you); that you make bad decisions, as do I. My job is to hold them to the light, and to see them - not to compare, but to see.

  5. I agree completely. It's not for me to decide whether or not I 'like' a client, or even why they ended up a client. In the end, it doesn't matter one iota. What matters is that they deserve to be treated with no less respect than I expect to be treated.

    I think that "Golden Rule" should be applied more frequently, more liberally, and by more people. If each of us, collectively, treated each other better- can you even imagine what a wonderful world we could live in?


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