Thursday, May 24, 2012

Embracing Those Who are Different Than Us

Back to my blog home page:

I pull the chart to do a review prior to the evaluation. Embedded way back near the last page of the records sent by the hospital in the middle of the PMH (past medical history) is a diagnosis of mental retardation.

Hank has been in the building twice before  and has rehabbed home both times. I ask a coworker, "Do you know Hank? There is one little diagnosis mentioned once, but nowhere else!"

"Yep." He confirms the diagnosis. "He is married and they live in a community with a group of folks who are mentally retarded...but they get married, have kids, work and get support from the community."

My memory immediately reverses to 1993 when I was working with adults with developmental disabilities in group home and community settings while I was in OT school.

I absolutely loved working with these joyful people!

I also remember the discrimination they received. I remember the uncomfortable stares when I would lead a group of five or six adults with mental retardation to the movie theatre or even through the airport to pick up a fellow client who had spent the holiday with family outside of town.

There was not always a lot of this:

Why do people
have difficulty
embracing those
who are
different from them?

There are philosophical and ethical discussions all over classrooms and the internet discussing whether people with mental retardation should be able to marry and have children. When I was working with this group, there would occasionally be discussions on the rights of clients within our organization and about how to handle sticky situations related to dating, sex and marriage. There was not cut and dry answer. Every situation had its own set of complexities.

Anyway, in I go to Hank's room after lunch. I knock on the open door. He is sitting with his back facing me, a frail, thin man with sagging shoulders and a bony face, but I can tell he is absolutely precious the moment I lay eyes on him.

I hear rustling in the bathroom. The bathroom door is wide open. Someone is peeing! I don't have to ask who. I stand at the doorway so I give his wife privacy. I hear the toilet flush, but no water running in the sink. Out walks the sweetest little lady with a head full of messy gray hair and a cane.

"Hi, there!" After introductions, " Did you by chance wash your hands?"

"Sure did."

A few minutes later when I go in to set up Hank up for ADLs, the sink is dry. Oh, well...on come the gloves.

I spend the next hour learning about Hank and Marta. They have been married for 59 years, have three adult children all working jobs and contributing to society. They respect each other in their communication. They demonstrate the nuances of a couple who have taken care of each other for many years. They reach out with familiarity to finish what the other could not, like Marta instinctively buttoning Hank's sleeves.

We are talking about his medical history when Hank reveals, "...and they put in a spacemaker."  He is patting his collarbone area on the left side.

On my paper, I note, "pacemaker," all the while thinking, "I am going to love working with this man." He is so earnest.

Their daughter comes in before the treatment is done. Many years ago, people would have said that she is "not quite right."

You know what? She is just right. She is outgoing, funny, loving to her parents and contributing to a better society.

I have to admit something. When I was a senior in high school, our National Honor Society hosted a Valentine's Party for the state school students, students with severe retardation and physical disabilities.

I was terrified.

I had not yet come to understand they they are beautiful souls, just in a different body and mind than in what we arrived onto this Earth.

What I know now is how deeply we are all connected. We are all here to take care of each other. It doesn't matter what color, creed, religion, socioeconomic status or intellectual level.

Let me say it again!  We are all here to take care of each other. And that means encouraging every person to shine their own individual light, their I Am essence, as brightly as they can.

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