Thursday, December 04, 2008

If I had a hammer

There's a gentleman, we'll call him Kenny, who comes into the clinic for massage. He's developmentally disabled, with a combination of autism, mental retardation, and possibly other conditions of which I am unaware, and stands 6"3 with a heavy set physique. He's been coming here for years, infrequently, for massage, and looks forward to his visits. Lately, he's not been able to make it, so today was something he was looking forward to with extra expectation.
He comes in and needs a hug right away. Usually this is fine, but I'm a germaphobe, and last time he had just finished with some cheetos and left that incandescent yellow, slobbery powder on me. In the past, I've brought a change of scrub top just in case, but wasn't able to today. So this time, I had vowed I wasn't going to hug him, especially since I'm so slammed with the end of the year paperwork.
I was bouncing around, trying to work as fast as I could, and he took it in stride. And then he went to the restroom before his massage. He made a few strange noises, and I was so very alarmed; what was he doing in there? I told the massage therapist to double up the sheets in case he's not well and vowed I would clear him for massage by asking if he was sick. It's not a good idea to get a massage when you're ill, not only because you are undressed in a room for an hour and can't easily return to the restroom if needed, but also because it pushes the toxins through your system which amplifies the illness.
He came out of the restroom after washing his hands (germaphobes always listen to make sure that handwashing is complete - I've sent grown men back into the restroom if I don't hear that water. Sick, isn't it?) I was typing away, entering billing into the system that is way past due, and asked him if he was okay. He said no and looked away. I focused on him and his eyes were red and began to tear up.
"What's wrong?" I ask him and give him a hug like I should've done when he came in. He told me "these guys were mean to me - gave me a hard time" before he just turned his head into my neck and cried.
He rides the bus and rings the bell for Salvation Army, and is aware that his functioning in society is a testament to better social acceptance of the disabled. But right now, he's just wounded to the core because a group of kids thought it would be great to make fun of him.
"I'm so very sorry, honey," I told him, and rubbed his back during the hug. "You just forget about them, okay?" He nodded, still unable to speak. "You know how your phone message says that you'll be able to overcome all of this?"
He nodded again, as he lives in an assisted living home, he has his own apartment and advocates for better treatment of the disabled. He speaks and gets out there every day, doing his work, going to appointments, and riding the bus everywhere. So he's a representative of the cause and is all too aware that he's doing what he can to make this kind of thing better.
"Well, it will happen, okay? You just have to keep going. And I was too busy to give you a hug today..." He pulled back, and I smiled into his teary blue eyes.
"Yeah, I didn't want to bother you - you were busy."
"Were you crying in the bathroom?"
"Yeah." His eyes teared up again, and I gave him another hug.
"If that ever happens outside the clinic, you come in and tell me, okay? I'll talk to them -"
He pulled back again, standing up straight. "But I need to have an appointment to come here, don't I?"
"Yes, you do. I just mean if you're coming in to your appointment and that happens, you tell me. I'll be sure to tell them not to do it again." He came in for another hug.
"It's okay. It'll be okay. Right now, you just go in there and have a wonderful massage. Okay?"
"Yeah. Yeah, okay." He wiped his eyes and smiled, went to give the massage therapist a hug, and went in to his appointment.
But I'm caught out here, unable to do the work that took precedence over a person, on the very day he needed a hug most. I'm angry and disappointed with myself, recognizing that the work was an excuse because I let my phobia overcome me to the harm of someone else. I'm always so self-congratulatory about loving everyone and then I fail so abysmally that I'm consumed with self condemnation.
I'm going to be lucky to muster the time and energy to volunteer with Kim at the Union Gospel Mission, and this terrible emptiness which I used to fill with volunteering has been filming over and hardening. I'm sick of questioning whether or not to donate to this or that, or to give that person on the side of road some cash because I know that the odds are against them actually needing it. I used to be angry at people abusing the system, and I still am because it means one less person who really needs it getting the help that can get them out of the cold. But I'm starting to see that this perspective keeps me from sharing, and hardens that core of my soul even more.
I need a shiny hammer and the guts to break things like complacency, fear, sloth, and the self indulgence that has been glazing me over before I get so hard that I can't move anymore.

No comments: