Don't Let the Door Hit Ya
There comes a day in the life of any place of employment when you come to a crossroads. You ask yourself a fundamental question-Is this job and the paycheck that it provides worth what I have to deal with on a daily basis. There may be a point at which you have a dark fantasy about revenge but those thoughts rarely come to fruition.
This job afforded has me many opportunities. First and foremost, benefits. A union. A chance to not eat cat food when I am old. Time off when I am sick. Holidays. Educational time. Stability. At my last job, we were told on more than one occasion to not cash our paychecks because they might bounce. I was encouraged to be on call 24/7. I was seeing clients through my non-existent lunch period. There were things here known as boundaries. I appreciated that. I appreciated feeling like if a client was about to assault me, a team of people would respond. And in my short time here, they had. Many times. If a person so much as farted loudly here, everyone knew. It was that intimate. In my last job, I was told if a client assaulted me, I should curl up in a ball. Yeah. Reason number 10247 why I quit.
In addition, I learned new things here. We had inservices, we could attend grand rounds, there was science. Secondly, I got the opportunity to network with other professionals in the field. Finally, I got to work on my grad school homework during lunch and breaks, even getting to interview the Deputy Director of Psychiatry for one of my projects. But I had reached a breaking point. Every time I heard the clip, clip, clip of those heels, I wanted to throw something across the room. It reminded me of when I used to hide in my room from my alcoholic father.
“She’s going to keep going in on you until you stand up to her,” Brandice told me. Have you stood up to her? No. “But she ignores me because I’m a lesbian. She’s afraid that she might catch what I have.” We both laughed uncomfortably. The truth was often stranger than fiction. Women like Helen didn’t mind gay men as long as their sexuality wasn’t “in their face.” But a lesbian- that was an against her beliefs. So was using drugs if it got right down to it. While she was polite in a fake way, she never wasted an opportunity to let them know who was in charge.
“Mr. Charles,” she leaned down, “You cannot sit here. You need to dose and go.” It did not matter if the client was tired, hot, homeless, or just needing to rest. She wanted “to keep the patient area clear.” That politely meant get the fuck out. Many times, we had multiple clients resting in chairs in our offices. This one was waiting to dose, that one was drinking water because they were too dehydrated to submit a pee test, another wanted to use the phone, the seat was filled by a man finally getting a bit of rest after a four day speed run. It was a community of sorts. Dysfunctional to the outside world perhaps, but driven by a desire to be well, whatever that meant for the person. I had a box of tissues on hand at all times for the young woman that was turning tricks all night long. I had a bag of new syringes on my shelf for anyone to take if they needed them. “I have that Hep C shit already. I don’t want to give it to my girl,” Totally reasonable and appropriate, I thought. But I was used to bending the rules.
Helen was chipping away at my self esteem but more than that, she simply enjoyed being a bully. On hot days like today when all the staff had their doors open, She would vocally scold you as if you were a child that had run into the road. Like the drill sergeant that yells at new recruits, at first I thought she was breaking me down to build me up. There had also been a persistent rumor that she had grabbed one of the admin staff by her shoulders in a fit of rage and had pulled her by her sweater to “show you your mistake.” It sounded plausible. I didn’t know if this was truth or institutional fiction. I can say that it was rather telling that this person came in when they wanted, left when they wanted, and frequently was asleep leaned back in a chair in the middle of the files. So you tell me.
A bureaucratic nightmare, a place like this fostered raging authoritarians. Methadone doses required paperwork from federal, state, and local authorities. There were generally four sets of signatures on any given document. If one thing was off, one of two things could happen. One- the client would be unable to get a change to their medication. So that meant, no extra take homes to see their child graduate. No ability to go to work early one day. No medication to save time on a day when an important medical appointment was taking place. It meant up to an hour each way on a crowded bus, fighting to get a space in line, waiting for up to another thirty minutes while holding on to canes or crutches. Clients rarely utilized available seating as they were worried a younger, stronger person would somehow cut them in line despite the watchful eyes of three nurses dispensing medication. The other disaster scenario was the state would come in, demanding repayment for services that had been rendered. Helen did not care much about the needs of the clients. But she cares about the upcoming audit from the state. And because she was good at making sure all the tiny details were there, the administration seemed to turn a blind eye to her tactics. Periodically, she would buy all of us fancy lunches like the batterer that brings you flowers after they give you a black eye. How could we refuse?
“Look at this Tracey. This is all wrong. Can you fix this while I’m here? I want to make sure it is done the right way.”
I saw heads all the way down the hallway tuck their heads back into their office like turtles. They did not want to be next to face her wrath.
The fix was easy yet time consuming. I had signed my name on the wrong line. Instead of being able to cross or white things out like normal humans, I had to recopy the whole thing as it required a wet signature in black pen. I told her “I can’t right now. I have a client sitting in my office. I just came out to get some crackers.” Helen was furious. She began to rant about my abiilites, about how she was always forced in to fix my fuck ups. The criticism veered from the professional into the personal. Why did I “always” late to the afternoon meeting? She knew it was because I preferred the company of the people we were there to serve.
For now, I’d take this abuse. My priority was getting back to my client. She was alone in my office.
Meredith had just found out that she was pregnant. I was bringing her crackers from the snack drawer. I had already gone into the refrigerator to give her the two yogurts I had brought in for my breakfast. It wasn’t unusual for the staff here to pick up premium snacks when they were on sale then give them out privately. There were also socks, a few toothbrushes left over from dental visits, a bar of soap, and new panties of various sizes in a container next to my desk. Women would start the clinic without having had a period in months, even years. After seeing a woman covered in blood in the lobby, a few of us started stocking up on supplies. The hospital had a charity program that had clothing which we could access when it was open. Oftentimes, we got sweat pants or stockpiled scrub pants we would pass to clients as they were leaving. We counselors did want to be seen as soft yet we all were slowly dying inside at the amount of need.
Meredith was one of the un/lucky ones who got her cycle back as a result of better health and decreased drug use. She just wasn’t aware it had happened. Clients were tested for pregnancy when they started treatment here so this pregnancy caught everyone by surprise. The nurse estimated that Meredith was four months along, too far for a simple abortion procedure. Meredith kept saying she wasn't sure how this could happen but she knew- a brief reconciliation with her on and off boyfriend Steve. Steve was tall, handsome, and dare I say a tad bit useless. The only thing he had to offer was a ride on his skateboard and a smile.
So here she sits. Homeless and pregnant. Still using heroin and pregnant. Strangely, the client was calmer than I was. I was nervous for her. It also was a bit close to home as I was hoping to get pregnant. At almost 36 years old, I was about to stop taking birth control pills. There had never been a right time to get pregnant. First there had been the drugs. Then, there was school. Being sober was great but it was not the end all be all of my life. I wanted more- a family. Meredith told me that is what she wanted too.
Meredith had gotten on methadone because she sincerely had wanted to stop using heroin. It just had not happened yet. This baby could be a “new start for her.” Meredith had given her first child up for an open adoption after getting pregnant in her late teens. This time, Meredith told me, things could be “different.” Meredith could get “clean”. Meredith Could keep THIS baby.
Sara, the nurse, stuck her head in. She needed to whisk the client away to her prenatal appointment. One of the perks of being on the hospital grounds is that we could sometimes fast track appointments. A pregnancy this far along with no prenatal care would initially be considered high risk.
“Have you seen the tree we got for James?” Sara asked.
I shook my head. “You mean the miniature lemon one we chipped in for when his mother died?”
“Yes!” Sara responded “it’s missing from the staff lounge”
In all my years of working with people with addiction issues, I can assure you no one stole a tree to sell for drugs. This was 100% an inside job.
“These dirty motherfuckers,” I whispered to myself. “Who would have the absolute gall to steal a Goddamned tree! A Memorial one at that.”
“Tracey, I need to see you,” Helen was on the warpath.
In the middle of the pregnant client, the lemon tree heist, and the clinic about to close for lunch my phone rings “Hey Tracey, you better come out here. Your client Batt is going off in the waiting room.”
As I push past Helen, I sprint down the hall, and up multiple flights of stairs. There is a crowd building in the hallways as the last minute dosers lineup before those two heavy double doors close. I see John Batt, in all his glory, in the waiting room. John, at a year younger than me, was no stranger to controversy. In a normal world, he could’ve been the captain of the football team or class president. He was always reading, always wanting to learn new things. He credited his time spent in youth authority with his thirst for knowledge. He was in and out of institutions from the age of ten after his mother died from a drug overdose. “I raised myself” he frequently told me. His crystal blue eyes that changed colors according to the drugs he had in his bloodstream. There were sober moments. There had been many drug treatment programs. Nothing seemed to stick. Today must be a refill day- the day he got his script for his anxiety medication. I am quite sure the medication worked perfectly fine when taken as prescribed. Unfortunately, there might have been a few too many valium on this particular morning. His pants were halfway down his legs. He was holding both a stuffed teddy bear and a child size BMX bicycle. I whisper to the person handing out the dosing cards “Can you tell me what the fuck is going on here?”
She shook her head.
I take a risk. I decide to head over.
“Hi John. What’s going on here?”
He aimlessly reaches to pull up his pants a few times before quitting in disgust. In his defense, it is hard to do with your hands full. “I’ll tell you what is going on HERE.” Here was pronounced for extra emphasis. “These people are saying I have to leave my bicycle downstairs. They want my bike to get STOLEN.” This was an ongoing issue with clients. It was true that bikes frequently got stolen from the bike rack downstairs. It was also true that it was against clinic policy to bring them upstairs.
Crazy loves an audience. So does angry. He was a bit of both. “Oh, here we go. You had to go snitching to my COUNSELOR. You couldn’t talk to me like a human being. I thought we were friends!” He tried to pull up his pants again. Again, he was unsuccessful. “Here Trace, I brought you something.” He hands me the Teddy Bear.
“I heard it was your birthday.”
“It’s close to Valentine’s day!”
That’s a month from now.
“Well it is someone, somewhere’s birthday. Help me with this bike.”
I now have the Teddy Bear in one hand. A child size bike held up in the other.
“Batt, John Batt.” He tells the woman handing out the cards.
The truth was I liked the John Batts of the world. They kept life interesting. For whatever reason, he saw me as a role model. We bonded over shitty tattoos and our love of vegetarian food.
“But do you like it with Cilantro? It tastes like soap to me…”
John turns to get in line.
And just like that, there is another crisis averted. With the exception of Helen on line two. I think I’d rather carry around this funky bicycle for the rest of the day than deal with her.
“MR. BATT,” that voice cut right through the both of us.
“Here we goooooooooo,” he says under his breath.
“Mr. Batt, this is the third time this week we have had to talk to you about holding up the line…” She looks me up and down. I am sure I looked like a mutineer on the USS Crazy Train.
“I’ll need to see you both tomorrow in my office. For now, I have to go to a meeting at the main hospital. And just like that, the wicked witch of the west clicked her little heels together and she was gone. She pulled the double doors closed on her way out signaling that it was officially lunch time. I waited as Mr. Batt got his dose. I carefully talked him through the belt adjustment that was required to raise his pants to an acceptable level of exposed ass. I took the elevator down with my nondescript holiday bear in hand. Mr. Batt smiled as he rode off on his tiny bicycle like a bear from the circus.
It wasn’t even noon yet. What would the rest of the day be like?
Too close to home. Good read, but I've been John Batt one too many times.ReplyDelete
That would make two of usDelete
This is a good readReplyDelete
Thank you I appreciate it. I haven't been writing that much but this is material for a book I was working onDelete
I just love you Tracey. I can relate to you and mr. Batt. Thank you paving the way for folks like me.ReplyDelete
Thank for stopping byDelete