Friday, May 18, 2007

my work (and why i love it)

If you're new to this blog, let me tell you about my "job." For the six glorious years I have lived here in Portland, I have worked at a transitional housing facility for the homeless mentally ill. I am a Residential Counselor.

What does all that mean? It means: I work in a big old building downtown that houses a program with ~thirty single-room apartments, twenty dorm/shelter beds, and a Drop In Center where people hang out. If I were Zuhn, I'd make a cool pie-chart to show how I allocate my time, but since I'm not Zuhn I'll just tell you: I spend a lot of time pushing the door buzzer to let people in. I also spend a good deal of time giving out medication. I answer the phone, I take messages, I run up and down the stairs letting people into their rooms when they've locked themselves out, etc.

Fortunately, I spend less time (but still *some* time) breaking up screaming matches, investigating mysterious loud noises, calling 911, talking people out of killing themselves, disposing of illegal drugs and paraphernalia that people find laying around (usually it's crack pipes and syringes, but one night it was a whole little bindle of crack which I considered taking and selling for ten bucks but then I realized I like my life like it is and I don't really need ten bucks that bad). Etc, etc.

But, when I'm not doing any of that stuff, what I'm doing is playing Skip-bo. This, for some reason, is everybody's favorite game at the Oasis. (FYI: the Oasis is the pseudonym of my workplace as seen in our Writing Group blog which can be found in my links list: The In Between Places.) Skip-bo has taken over and for close to a year now, Skip-bo has been the activity du jour for all our clients. So popular has this little card game become, we've gone through several decks and we now have at least three full decks at all times to accomodate the inexplicable demand for the game.

I spend most nights taking or avoiding offers to play Skip-Bo. Last night in particular was really busy, I was running around doing all sorts of stuff, and everywhere I went, someone was asking me if I wanted to play Skip-Bo. I was literally scheduling people for games and it became a kind of chore at some point.

But here's why I love my job: have you ever played a card game with people with schizophrenia? It's really, really interesting. I played last night with two people who are miraculously able to both pay attention to this complicated game of chance and strategy *and* attend to, what we call in the biz, internal stimuli, ie: "the voices."

The person to my left, in a very "REDRUM" sort of quiet, growly voice, kept up what might have been an unbroken narration of an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, breaking from this monologue whenever it was his or her turn. (I'm obscuring gender to better protect client confidentiality, thank you very much.) He or she carefully and cleverly took each turn, then returned to the creepy monologue.

The person to my right, deeply engrossed in something in his or her head, yet less vocal about it, took turns with only slight latencies. Watching him or her, it was obvious that he or she was listening to something very unpleasant that the rest of us couldn't hear. And before he or she could take each turn, he or she had to listen long enough to satisfy that myseterious voice. No matter how many gentle prompts I gave ("ok, your turn"), he or she had a process to go through before being able to snap out of it.

I can't explain it. I just sat there with those two and realized (for the hundredth time) that having schizophrenia is really fucked up, really painful, really complicated... and yet... here they are. Real people living real lives, playing cards, engaging socially, balancing something difficult and complicated and isolating (what can be more isolating than hearing voices in your head that no one else can hear?), against the simple tasks of daily life, simple interactions, games, etc. I love my job.

And then, on a completely unrelated note, I love my coworkers. Yesterday, I went into the med room to pick something up from the nurse, and she CHALLENGED ME TO AN ARM WRESTLING MATCH! AND SHE WON! She's fifty-four years old and suffers from some kind of chronic pain disorder, but by god, she beat me at arm wrestling. I had the audacity to try and show off my "guns" -- I should call them my "pea shooters" I guess b/c they obviously aren't that big yet. And she just said, "All right missy, come here." She literally flung some files off into the floor to make room on a stool for our elbows, and next thing I know, I'm having my ass handed to me by a woman who's older than my mother. But she's still strong. Stronger than your average 54 year old nurse, I'm sure.

I obviously need to keep lifting weights. Or just give it up. One or the other.

And last of all, I just found out that Gus Van Sant filmed a movie in our building called Mala Noche in, like, 1985. The guy who brought us Good Will Hunting and Drugstore Cowboy made a movie right there in my building where I work. I thought it was cool, I don't know about you. Almost as cool as that scene in Foxfire where Angalina Jolie climbs on top of the Broadway Bridge. If you're a Portlander, you will stop being annoyed with all the local inconsistencies in filming just for a moment during that scene and you'll think "Wow... I wish I could climb on top of the Broadway Bridge..." -- and then you will remember that it's totally not possible and you'll get annoyed with the film all over again. Yay!

Ok, the end.


Blogger heather said...

wow. all i can say is wow.

oh and that the residents are very lucky to have you. oh and, thanks for mentioning the writing blog! awesome.

11:46 AM  
Blogger zuhn said...

I make ONE pie-chart and I never hear the end of it.

Your job sounds incredibly interesting. Almost insanely so.

12:20 PM  

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