Monday, July 30, 2012

Taking the Long View

I remember when I interviewed for my current job and was asked how I would handle transitioning to providing “long-term supports” - I was already working for this agency doing short term and crisis response work.  The director who was interviewing me stressed how challenging it can be for both worker and client to maintain hope, focus and direction over a long time.  I hadn’t really thought about it before, but must have come up with a reasonable answer, since here I am as a long term case manager.

I’ve now been in this role three, almost four years.  Some of my clients have been with me as long.  One of my very first clients has had problems with her housing situation since before I began working with her.  She also had mental health and physical health problems, family and financial issues amongst other challenges.  Basically, we both realized that until she had more suitable housing, it would be difficult to focus on her recovery, and I could basically only help her to “get by” in all the other areas mentioned.  Right from the get go I got heavily involved in working to address the housing problem.  There were family members, multiple agencies and her own issues to consider in this work.  What she needed was a first floor apartment (safety and accessibility issues) with three bedrooms (two kids of disparate ages and genders) in a particular area of town (so one child could attend a special needs school) with no carpet (severe allergy problems) and that would be eligible for the rent subsidy she receives (landlord would have to agree to work with that program, program would have to approve it and have the funds for it).  Like finding decent housing isn’t hard enough!
I won’t go into detail about all the ups and downs in this process over the past few years.  I will just say that a couple weeks ago, I got a call from a staff member at the housing agency.  I could hear excitement in her voice as she told me that she was looking at an apartment that she thought would fit all my client’s needs and criteria.  She could arrange a viewing in a couple days. 
The client came, kids in tow and looked around.  She couldn’t have been in the place more than 3 minutes.  It wasn’t going to work she said.  Why, I asked, as it had everything she wanted.  Did she want to take the kids to the park so we could sit and talk about it?  No, she wanted to catch the next bus, everyone was hot and she wanted to get home.

That was Friday, and on the Monday I met with her.  It went back and forth, she could see the advantage of the place, but there were certain problems…could she view it again?  I made the call and set this up.  My hopes were high, because I hadn’t even expected this much.  This time she came alone, left the kids at home.  Took a little more time looking around.  In my head I’m making plans about how to apply for grants to help cover the moving expenses, when I’m going to fit in an appointment to take her to get the key…the housing worker tells her she will need to know by the end of the day if she will take it.  I will call her in a couple hours to see what she has decided. 

When I do, she’s not ready.  Can I call later?  Of course I can.  This happens a couple times, until finally I tell her I can’t wait any longer and give her the housing worker’s number and tell her she will have to call directly.  I try to put it out of my mind as I go home that night.
Come the next morning, there are no messages for me.  It’s not until halfway through the day that the housing worker calls me to say that she will need a signed letter of refusal from the client, because she didn’t take the place.  The reason she ultimately gave was that the bedroom furniture wouldn’t fit.

I spent plenty of time that afternoon debriefing about this situation with my supervisor.  It’s times like these that it is difficult to remind myself of all those social work-y truisms – about client directed service, and individual right to determination and all that.  I will still be there to support this client either way, but I have to say I was mad.  As much as I can rationalize about her reasons, and empathize because of her history, I was mad.  Four years of work, for what?  I gave this woman my best and felt like it was totally disregarded that day. 

I know it’s not about me.  But this was one of those situations where BECAUSE I care, I couldn’t just forget about it.  It’s hard to think about possibly several more years of working with this client after this has happened.  This is where the long-term gets really tough.  This is where I start to feel tired and stuck.

The fact is, that what I need in order to keep going here are the same messages we use when talking about recovery.  Patience...hope...a willingness to fail in order to learn.  Finding the small successes that mark our progress.  Letting go of the things we cannot change.  Moving forward, because you can’t go back.  This is what will get me through the next four years of trying and trying again.  I can only hope that I will be able to inspire the same in my client.  After all, she is the one who must continue to live in her current situation.  And ultimately, she will be the one who determines when and how it changes.  Maybe I will even be there to cheer her on.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Newsflash: Stubborn Man Defies Death

What do you get when you forget your insulin daily, and subsist on a diet of cookies and Ensure?  A blood glucose level of 55!  Along with a panicked call from your doctor telling you to go to the hospital RIGHT. NOW.

But do you go to the hospital?  No, of course not.  Because nobody is going to tell YOU what to do.


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Back to the Usual

So I'm back this week from some stay-at-home summer holiday.

Everything on Monday was running smoothly and over all it was a nice welcome back to work.  By the afternoon I was marveling at how calm I felt and I wondered how I'd ever let myself get so stressed about work!

So it's near the end of the day and I had pulled over on a quiet street in a shady spot to make a couple quick notes.  Just then, I hear a giant "THUD" and feel the car move like something heavy just got thrown at my passenger side window!  I turned my head quickly and saw a black blur near the bottom of the window before it disappeared.  Thoughts ran through my head - did some kid just whack into my car on their bike/skateboard/wheeled apparatus?  Was someone so upset about me parking in front of their property that they threw something at me?  Did a tree branch fall?

I stretched up and peered  over the (half opened) window to see the biggest, dirtiest black cat I have ever seen.  Scraggly would be an understatement, and you guys - he had a RED eye!  *shudder*

Needless to say it was the creepiest, meanest looking cat I've ever seen.

So, did he jump at me?  Fall out of the tree?  Was he TRYING TO GET IN THE CAR?  I closed the window slowly until he finally sauntered away.