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.