I want to write more about my experiences working at an emergency shelter and supported living facility-about the effects of poverty, mental illness, drug abuse, mental and physical abuse, all these things I see around me every day at work. But something has held me up for a long time- it’s because I wrote this- where I wrote about advocating for a client till she got the care she needed.
I phrased it that I did it because I loved her. What a bunch of bullshit. Now I read that post and think what a stupid thing to say. I did and do love her, but what about all the other clients? The ones I don’t know that well, the ones I don’t like, the ones whose mental illness has robbed them of their personality? The ones who smell so bad I have to run away and dry heave over the nearest garbage can?
I don’t just help the ones I love. Or do I?
This past month I’ve questioned myself a lot because of two tenants.
The first tenant I call Uncle Bobby*. He’s the next on the list of people who need more care than the Lighthouse can provide. He carries on a conversation with himself out loud pretty much all the time. He’s often out ‘picking’, teetering on his long, worryingly thin legs because he’s had some toes amputated. We’ve never had a full conversation-I’m sure he has no idea who I am.
Uncle Bobby’s main vice is binge drinking cleaning fluids once or twice a month, which results in him defecating himself. He doesn’t have the presence of mind to clean up or change his clothes, and sometimes wears his soiled shorts for days on end. You can imagine why this is tough when 80 people have to eat eat together in a dining room.
He’s not lovable. Yet I still need to work on making his life better. And it’s going to be just as tough, or tougher than the last one. So far we have the baby step of having a scheduled sponged bathed twice a week for him with Home Care. Although he won’t stay home for the appointments, so it’s not really working out.
The other tenant whose forced me to question my whole “I love my clients therefore…” motto was a wonderful lady, I’ll call Grace*. A very nice, pleasant lady in her early 50s, who lived at the Lighthouse. She has a very serious hoarding problem; her washroom was so full of stuff she could not use it. Grace was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor sometime in late winter and was given six months to live. Unfortunately it progressed very quickly and the pain became unmanageable, and she spent her last two months at St Paul’s hospital in the palliative care ward.
My co-workers went and visited her. “She asked about you,” they said, “she wants you to go visit her. “But prepare yourself,” the other said, “it’s pretty bad.” Her tumor had spread and had become very disfiguring.
And I stalled and I forgot. I hate hospitals with a “I may have a panic attack” fervor. And I didn’t want to go because it’s hard to find parking.
My “love” for my clients obviously doesn’t cover the fact I may have to inconvenience myself.
About a month ago I finally went. Stopped in quick, brought her a word search book. Her room smelled of rotting food and infection. Her family was there so I only stayed briefly to ask how she doing. She said she was experiencing very little pain and smiled.
She passed away the next week.
It’s not “love” that’s going to keep me going at this job-the people or the circumstances are just too unlovable sometimes. The post about loving my client so much I’d call agencies and tell-off managers, bathe her myself, move her myself, buy her cigarettes at her new home so she would get along with others, double and triple check her first month’s rent was paid- damn, I did that. But I need to do that not just for the lovable ones.
*Not their real names