Tuesday, November 13, 2007
On How I Became Freshwrestler
Back in the day, I worked as an outreach case manager for the Mental Health Corporation of Denver (an unfortunate name for a publicly funded mental health center, but every community mental health center seems to end up with an unfortunate double-speak name, board of directors love to rename things). My work partner, Nurse Ike, and I would go out into privately-owned boarding homes that provided three hots (sometimes) and a cot. We would try and ensure our clients had access to medications, benefits and consistently show them that someone still cared. These places sucked. They were dirty, dark, dank, dehumanizing, crowded and not conducive to any sort of health. The people who owned them worked hard, but the whole system wasn't about caring, it was about the money. They were something we should all be ashamed of.
My caseload which hovered around 60-80 clients included individuals who had severe/chronic mental illnesses. Severe schizophrenia, mood disorders dominated. Others in the facilities had traumatic brain injuries, strokes, developmental disabilities and substance abuse issues that cognitively impaired them. It could happen to any of us and will to some of us.
A lot of these people had spent their adult lives living in institution, but with the advent of psychotropic medications, it was decided that the mental hospital should be emptied out and people could get more humane treatment in community mental health centers. But they forgot to follow up with funding to make these center really work and what little was provided, was being cut in fits of “fiscal responsibility”. That was back in the early 90’s and I am sure with the advent of compassionate conservatism it is better now.
The first month I worked there, I came home crying as dealt with what I had seen and stories I had heard from my clients. The suffering was overwhelming and chronic. But I got some emotional callous’ and keep showing up because I was drawn to the situation and I needed a job. But I gained a deep respect for how people dealt with and were able to cope with the insane situation and keep some modicum of humanity in their life.
The story of the “Freshwrestler” came from this one instance when my boss Lerese came our to supervise Ike and I. Which meant as usual she would get out of the big office and catch up with us somewhere and tell us we needed to get our treatment plans up to date and increase our billable hours. (Another blogging subject could be “How Come Human Service Agencies Are the Worst at Supporting/Managing Human Employees?”).
The Vern Valdez’s Personal Care Home facility is located right on Colfax Ave. near downtown Denver. When Lerese arrived, outside the facility there was a resident standing on the curb, almost in flow of the early morning traffic. He was huge man, must have been 6’6” and weighed 350 lbs. and he wasn’t doing to well at the time, maybe not in the last 10 years. We didn’t have much information on him. He spent most of his time pacing and trying to deal with his demons/symptoms. He was dirty, he hadn’t changed his clothes in who knows how long and that morning had shaved all his hair off. He had blood on the side of his head.
There he was at this busy intersection and in front of him he held a big piece of cardboard that had “FRESHWRESTLER” written on it. There was this man huge man, with a bleeding stubbly head, beaconing the morning commuters maybe to a test of strength. Or did he have some wrestlers back in his room he was willing to part with? Or was he looking to purchase a new wrestler. I never got to find out. By the time we reviewed all our late treatment plans and saw how we weren’t billing enough to cover program costs and went to look for him, he had either been engaged or he moved on. I never really saw him around again.
Although I actually never saw the man standing out there I frequently tell the story like I did, which pisses the wife off to no end. I think it is seared in my mental flesh as the sadness, absurdity, humor and surreal nature of that man just sums up the whole experience there. That is S/V Freshwrestler hanging in the slings.