Tuesday, March 16, 2010

John: Transcribed

Thanks to Tessa Armstrong, wonder neighbour, who transcribed today's YouTube video for us. I came home from work today and there it was in my email. I hadn't even asked her. How kind is that. So for all of you who need the transcript, here it is. Thanks Tess!

John lived on the same ward that Phillip did and as I was working there he is the first person, although I didn’t know the work at the time, that would be said now be suffering from reputationitis. He was the person whose file I had to read first, and the person whom everyone was most concerned about. He had this incredibly huge reputation for violence and he was an interesting guy because he paced a lot and he was never really comfortable in his own skin.

When others would come and sit and watch television or engage in other activities, John was interested in none of those things. He would just keep moving and he moved around the ward constantly, and as much as I knew that it was my job to make contact with him, as it was my job to make contact with all of them, I didn’t really try. The reason I didn’t try was that I was really really frightened of him. The file had all of these reports of all of this violence and all this staff that he had beaten up over time, and all these people he had hospitalized, and all these people that he had really hurt, and I just didn’t want to be amongst their number. I have never been particularly physically courageous and never ever would be mistaken for being brave. So I didn’t make contact with him, and the day that he had to go for treatment and that I was assigned to travel with him, I was very very concerned.

Well, we traveled in an ambulance from the institution and we went to the, I guess it would be the hospital for people with mental illness. And I didn’t know what they meant by treatment. They just said I was to be his staff accompaniment. And when we got there and we started walking down this hallway, accompanied by somebody wearing green, it became very clear that something medical was going to happen to him, that something psychological had been tried I guess, and maybe they just thought it would fail. So we brought him into this room where there was this bed, and they laid him down on the bed and he started just very quietly to say “No, Please, Don’t”. I still at this point did not know what was happening, so I asked somebody and they told me that he was a regular there, that he came and he got this “shock therapy”. So they strapped him down, and then they gave him this shot that made him go all limp and then they ran electricity through his body. And I remember that the only thing that changed in him was his toes. It’s such a weird thing to remember about such an act of violence, it was his toes. And they just bent, like that, and then they came back up.

When John was conscious again, he was very scrambled and very inarticulate, not that he ever spoke that much. And I got him back into the ambulance that had taken him there, and we drove him back to the ward. I always felt that I had been complicit in this incredible act of violence again this man, who I realized, all these years later, I never actually saw perform an act of violence. I never actually saw him hit anyone, break anything. All I saw him do was walking around the ward and be uncomfortable in his body and have angular shoulders and a strong, jutting jaw. And we were all afraid of him.

What makes this interesting I think is that there was one kind of person who wasn’t afraid of him, but he wasn’t somebody who was on the team. This was a guy who came, I don’t remember what the routine was, but every second or third morning, he came very very early in the morning. He had those machines – he worked for the janitorial crew -- and he had this big machine and it had all this stuff that polished the floor. And he went in this circle. You see these television programs about people who walk mazes in churches as a means of doing something spiritual. It was kind of the same sort of thing because he very slowly and methodically walked around the ward and polished the floor. John would get up very very early in the morning when this fellow was on and would just walk with him, and the two of them would chat.

John had this thing that really disturbed all of us and that was his wallet. You see his wallet was huge, it was the size of a Whopper. He would take it out and he would look at the wallet and he would talk to the wallet, cause he had all these pictures in there, and they were pictures of people. They were people who had been ripped out of magazines and newspapers. They were all characterized by having very pleasant faces. These were people who were paid to look nice and to look friendly. John would looked at these people and he would rip their pictures out of the paper and he would put them into his wallet and then immediately forgot that he had ripped them out of a newspaper and that he didn’t know these people. He would talk to them as this one is my mother, this one is my family, and this one is my brother and this one is my cousin, and he built this whole family. His family was incredibly important to him and that wallet was with him at all times, even when we went to the hospital and that act of violence was perpetrated against him, he had that wallet with him and he carried that wallet very carefully back to the institution with him. He loved that wallet and he loved those pictures. He wanted to talk to us about the people in those pictures but nobody would talk to him about it because we were all told that we were encouraging delusion, forgetting of course, that in life delusion might be one of the most sane things that you can do, when you don’t have a family or the family that you do have doesn’t visit and doesn’t care and is afraid of you. So he would talk to these pictures.

The only one that would actually look at the pictures with him was this guy who walked around the ward, polishing the floor and this guy who wasn’t paid to work with people with disabilities, who was paid to care for them. He would stop and they would look at the pictures together and John would tell him stories about this wonderful father who loved him, and this wonderful mother who cared for him and his brothers and his sisters and his family who were in the wallet and they didn’t’ need to visit him, because they were there with him, all the time. And then when the floor was finished and it was all done, this fellow would thank him for spending time with him and say it’s kind of boring doing these floors all by myself, and it’s kind of nice that you walk with me, John. I really appreciate it.

I spoke to this guy, and I asked him whether or not he was afraid of John and he said “Of course not”. He wasn’t afraid of John at all because he had never seen any violence from him and he had never seen anything that would cause him fear. But I guess that’s because he hadn’t read the file, and he hadn’t been trained in the ways of wariness around people who are lonely and people who carry wallets full of pictures of people who matter to them.


Andrea S. said...

Thank you, Tessa Armstrong! I appreciated being able to read the transcript since I was unable to watch the video.

It is a sad and moving story.

Christine said...

It's unfortunate that this is the way we treated people with disabilities. I am hoping this type of 'shock'therapy doesn't happen anymore, however I can not be certain. I have worked with highly aggressive people (mainly the clients who are so aggressive that no one will take them except for gov't agencies) who for 12 years, being 5 feet tall and a female requires the use of clinical skills/counselling and de-escalation along with common sense to keep myself safe. I am fortunate to have a multidisciplinary team who are invested in making positive changes for our clients. this story makes me very sad and John I have to say I appreciate all of your stories and today I was not sure at first break (10:30) if I was going to be able to keep a dry eye as it is very provoking to here your stories. The difficulty in hearing your stories is because of things I have seen happen, possibly things I have done (not made a huge effort at times to figure out what a client wants because your busy) and know that we can all continue to do better to increase the quality of life for persons with disabilites in care.

Christine said...

Sorry Dave I called you John in my earlier post........I am thanking you for all your stories and sharing them with us.

Colleen said...

Dear Dave:

Thanks to Tessa! I could not hear your you tube video but am not sure if it is my equipment or the video. I can hear other you tube videos but then other people can hear you - so who knows! but thanks to Tessa for her transcription because now I know the story about John.

What a powerful story! The janitor treated John like a human being. I love that you share your teachers with us Dave.


Anonymous said...

Thank you, Tessa.
And thank you, Dave. There's a deep truth in there. Staff train staff to be scared... Of what they think they know about people, which over-rides all they could know.

Kristin said...

Wow, what a powerful story.

Anonymous said...

As usual, thank you, Dave, for sharing a story that makes a person stop and think. This story puts me in mind of the movie, "Lars and the Real Girl". If you have not watched it, please do. It's the penultimate example of accepting rather than judging. AND it's a delightfully quirky movie as well. Ryan Gosling did an amazing, respectful job playing the part of Lars. You can check out out at: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0805564/

Thanks, and Happy Friday!
Karen Gerety
Aberdeen SD USA

Mary said...

Thanks for transcribing this, Tessa!

I cried when I read this. It makes me regret leaving psychiatric social work, but reminds me that I can volunteer in psych units till my dying day. Just knowing what it was like to be locked in a psych ward, unable to leave, unsafe outside it even if I could walk out, made a difference in the way I treated the people I worked with.

I didn't read files first. It's not as if even small children recognize aggression quite accurately. This annoyed a few people, because they were tired of repeating themselves. And I understand that about medical care. But I wanted to do my best to listen to the person, to have an unformed opinion and to be as free of bias as possible. And to be open to their needs - for most of the people I worked with, the psychiatric disability was the least of their worries. Poverty, bureaucracy, lack of dental care, shitty housing in dangerous neighborhoods, betrayal, stigma, discrimination, family problems...these issues were usually much more pressing.

I think the most important qualities for health care providers are kindness, trust and accuracy. Without the first two, the third is seldom achieved.