Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Which one will you feed? By: Roger G.

Written by: Roger G., 4th Floor Supervisor

The problems of victory are more agreeable
than the problems of defeat,
but they are no less difficult.
Sir Winston Churchill

A Cherokee elder sitting with his grandchildren told them, “In every life there is a terrible fight—a fight between two wolves. One is evil: he is fear, anger, envy, greed, arrogance, self-pity, resentment, and deceit. The other is good: joy, serenity, humility, confidence, generosity, truth, gentleness, and compassion.” A child asked, “Grandfather, which wolf will win?” The elder looked him in the eye. “The one you feed.”

On Sunday night I spent a few minutes on the 1st floor [of the Drop-In]. The weather was cold; all the mats and floor space were full by 10:45pm. The staff spent the rest of the night keeping the peace among 223 clients, and turning away another 45 at the door. I don’t envy them. Turning people away was perhaps the hardest part of my job in the three years I spent working on 1st floor.

Instead I feel a bit guilty, as I make my way back upstairs where, much to my surprise 2½ years ago, I was made supervisor on one of the transitional housing floors. After making innumerable mistakes and learning from some of them, I’m still there. My 1st floor co-workers tease me sometimes about my ivory tower. A fixed number of beds, restricted to sober clients. I rarely have to deal with fights, shouting, EMS, or CPS. And I get to drink my coffee sitting down.

Back on my floor, I talk for a couple of minutes with R. at my office window. He’s had a rough week working with the temp agencies. He did have a steady job with a good company and friendly, supportive co-workers but, like many people, he couldn’t handle the night shifts. Getting a good sleep during the day at the Drop-In can be a hit-and-miss operation, especially having to balance it with the daytime-only availability of our meals and laundry facilities. He’s discouraged today, and nothing I say to him seems to come across as support. After he walks away I close my eyes and let it go, and I see a tiny 3-inch angel fluttering just past his right shoulder. He’s not alone, after all.

A short while later the TV and client computers are shut down. My own computer work of housing stats, logs and lunch lists are waiting, but I end up talking for 30-40 minutes with D. He says he felt so proud of himself being clean and sober for several months this year, and wants to hang on to that. D. has a complicated life. For that reason, and because he broke a few ribs this summer, I bring him back for a moment to that most basic life function; I walk him through a simple yoga breathing exercise. Just moving his arms up and out in a slow gentle circle is painful for him.
Half an hour later J. comes to the office for some Ibuprofen. On his third visit to a clinic in August he finally got decent medical care for the open wound and infection that was complicating his broken foot. He gets the last stitches out of his foot in two days, but he’s still limping badly and apparently has no physiotherapy or rehabilitative exercises forthcoming, so he’s left hoping his foot will just regain its strength and mobility naturally. We also talk at length about his efforts to wean himself off of the methadone program; the importance of going slow, and of planning ahead.

He knew M., who stayed on this floor up until 3 weeks ago. M. wanted to get off methadone too, and get his life back. Did he go too fast, at the end? Did he have a game plan for what to do next? A couple of weeks after his last dose of the methadone, his bed was closed after 4 days no show, no call. That was 10 days ago. If we get no word from him by our last night this week, then we’ll downsize the 9 bags of stuff from his locker that are now in our storage room. We’ll hang on to personal effects like letters or pictures for a year. The books will go to the bookshelf, the clothes will be washed and sent out as donations.

Which wolf will win? Which will we choose to feed, with our attitudes and behaviors? These are questions I ask the clients. I try to find creative ways of doing so. Will I ever manage to reach each of the 146 men on this floor with worthwhile questions? I doubt it. I’m sure, though, that there’s more than one guardian angel here, floating over people’s shoulders.

Monday morning comes, and we turn on the lights at 5:45 a.m. as always, and announce the day’s forecast over the PA. I walk the hallways to wake people up, and unlock their lockers as needed. I warn a repeat offender that if he leaves his dorm a mess again I will close his bed. I give bag lunches to guys going out to work. I try to make sure there’s a cup of coffee for everyone.

D.’s 4 hours of sleep seems to have done him wonders, and on his way out the door he thanks me for our talk.

Written by: Roger G., 4th Floor Supervisor

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