Client histories never cease to be interesting and surprising. Although I know we should always view our clients as a “whole” person who is dealing with an illness, when you have only known a person while they are SICK it can be easy to forget that they also have/had a LIFE.
One client on my case load is a 50-ish man originally from Vietnam. In the time I have known him, he has been very stable but somewhat “low” functioning. He struggles with comprehension, insight, and ADL’s. On the other hand, he’s got incredible financial management skills, and exceptionally beautiful handwriting. He hasn’t been able to maintain employment for many years at this point, although we’re working on that.
In the late 70’s in Vietnam, he was a young man studying physics and math at university. I knew from his hospital records and his own reports that he and most of his family came to Canada in 1980, and he had to leave university without completing his degree. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia several years after immigrating, and eventually dealing with his illness contributed to the break-up of his marriage, and caused him to lose contact with his son.
Blame it on my youth, but I somehow never put it together that the time he talks about in Vietnam was just post-war. And he lived through whatever terrors that had brought. Obviously I don’t have any details, but this all came to mind when I was listening to a recent CBC Rewind broadcast about Vietnamese boat people. This was his experience too. I don’t know if he came on a boat or what, but I know he was sponsored by a Mennonite group, who were among the earliest supporters of the refugees.
Knowing this will not likely do much to change how I work with this person week after week. And I understand that this general knowledge doesn’t provide any insight as to his individual experience. But it does provide me with some new perspective when he talks about his past. And it’s a good reminder (for me) just to keep in mind that this guy has had struggles other than trying to keep his kitchen clean.