Saturday, February 14, 2009

My Friday the 13th

Some days it's best to just stay in bed, pull up the covers over your head, and just avoid life in general.

Yesterday was one of those days.

By now, most constant readers of this blog have an idea that my real job is in social services. Usually it's just a lot of paper pushing and mind-numbing meetings and what have you. But some days, it bites you in the ass and reminds you that you are dealing with a huge bureaucracy that holds the life of less fortunate people in it's clammy hands.

So I get to work yesterday and discover that almost everyone in the office has taken the day off to make the three day weekend, a four day weekend.

Be that as it may, I planned on a quiet Friday the 13th; tackling paper work and progress notes with little or no interruption.

What do they say about god laughing at your plans?

The first phone call comes in around 8:30 and a social worker informs me that one of the young boys on my caseload sexually molested his three year old sister ... over a month ago! Horrible news like this includes documenting everything you know about the alleged incident and preparing a report that will be sent to almost everyone. It takes an hour to get most of the facts, and even after that, most of the story remains murky.

Then, a second phone call comes from Children's Hospital in Philadelphia where yet another social worker calls to inform me that a very young girl on my case load has been hospitalized with a major heart condition. Said social worker wants to know what my agency will do for the family if the child manages to go home. It turns out she will need a host of nursing care. I explain to the social worker that frankly, I don't have much to offer, and inasmuch as there are not all that many people in today, I can't even bounce any questions off of anyone. In the meantime I strongly urge the social worker to have the child's family contact their medical insurance to see what can be done.

Stunned over the first two calls of the day, I make my way to the break room for some coffee when I am accosted by one of the few supervisors that have come in today and asked if I could help move a middle aged, dually diagnosed women from a hospital emergency room (where she'd been languishing for about ten hours) to an, as yet, undermined, alternate living arrangement. It seems that the boarding home she'd been living at, would not take her back due to her behaviors.

Fuck me.

Long story short, it takes pretty much the entire day for the powers-to-be to arrange a placement for the woman. So, something that we knew about since nine thirty in the morning is not acted upon until almost three.

Fuck me.

So at around 3:30, I am in a state car with a fellow employee maneuvering the back roads of south Jersey. Our fist stop is the boarding home to pick up the personal belongings of the woman we have to move.

Oh the boarding home! A sprawling one story maze populated by the flotsam and jestom of humanity ... it smelled of disinfectant, cigarette smoke, and bacon grease...sitting around crowded folding tables was a sea of sad, scary, peculiar faces ... there but for the grace of god, go I.

We followed a stout woman through one of the narrow hallways of the rickety structure and were handed a bag full of medications as well as two large trash bags full of clothing.

Two large trash bags ... this is what passes for matching luggage in the world of social services.

Back in the car, my co-worker (Let's just call her "A") put the pedal to the medal as we zipped on down to the hospital to pick up our passenger.

The hospital, one of those sparkling new suburban joints that looks more like a hotel than an infirmary is where we were greeted by a perky young woman who led us to the room of the woman we were here to fetch.

The door was locked. They had to unlock it to let us in.

When asked why they had locked her in, we were told, "Oh, she tends to wander."

There she sat, a middle aged, mentally retarded, as well as mentally ill, woman. Dressed in a ski jacket, hospital pajamas and a pair of shoes that were torn and frayed. This frail little creature, the cause for today's so called emergency. The woman looked up at A and I and mumbled something.

We got her discharge papers and walked her out to the car.

Since we were told that this woman could be physically aggressive, I sat in the back seat with her and expected the worst.

It was all for naught. The poor thing was scared and hungry, and even if she did get aggressive, I could not imagine what this woman, who maybe weighed 90 pounds, could cause any damage to anyone.

She did seem to have a cold though.

About five minutes into the journey to her new home, she let go with a rather juicy sneeze that showered me with a spray of god-know-what-all in the way of germs and microbes.

"Roll the windows down", I pleaded to A, "maybe the cold air will kill whatever I've been exposed to".

Wishing that I had some Airborne or an IV filled with vitamin C, I tried to engage our charge in conversation. It was tough, she mostly mumbled until I brought up the fact that she would have her own TV at her new living arrangement. Suddenly, her eyes lit up and she became very animated ... we connected, and for the next few miles she babbled on ( incoherently) about what shows she enjoyed watching. I nodded my head and smiled and wondered exactly what she was saying ... whatever it was, she seamed enthused and happy about it.

Meanwhile, we got lost and ended up on the expressway ... A ran two toll booths as neither of us had any change ... we expect to be reprimanded for this indiscretion at some latter point in time ... you'd be surprised at the pains that the department of roads in the Garden State will go through to recoup eighty cents.

Finally we found the apartment complex that our passenger would be staying at. Of course, when we got her belongings in the house and discovered that we had no copies of her prescriptions or insurance cards, drama ensued. We'd been told at the boarding home that all of that was in the bag with her meds. It was not, of course. Finally, a hastily made call back to the boarding home, and some faxed documents cleared that up.

As we sat waiting for all of the correct papers to be signed, I fished through the woman's belongings and found a pair of sneakers. I asked if she wanted to wear them and take off the ratty pair she was wearing. She agreed and gently placed her leg on my lap as I removed her old shoes and put on her new ones for her ... I fancied that we looked like a John Water's version of Prince Charming and Cinderella.

When we were done, she said, Thank you, and it was the first thing she uttered since I'd met her that I fully understood.

We finally finished up at around seven-o-clock. As we drove back to the office, A and I started laughing over the entire mis-adventure, the scary folks at the boarding house, the sneeze-shower I'd been treated to, the toll both runnings ... yeah, like always you laugh to avoid going crazy.

Finally, I got into my own car, some eleven and half hours after coming to work, and started home ; once again Friday the 13th lived up to all of it's promises.

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