Thursday, September 17, 2009


Today I finished my first full week of my placement for school. What can I say ... wow! It's going to be an intense 13 weeks to come!

You may be wondering what a typical day of my placement is like, or you may not give two hoots. Here's one of my days in short... (For the record I've decided to forget about editing and worrying about being a writer while I am blogging on the fly. I realized today how much I miss sharing my thoughts about my regular old days, so I figured rather than worry about perfection I'd just whip out what I could and if people want to read it, it's there).

Hmmmm which wacko day should I tell you about? Thinking, thinking, thinking ....

Yesterday is fresh in my mind, why not it? (I may share a couple of other first days too, but we'll start here).

I started my day later Wednesday because I would be going pretty late in the day. The first person of the day for me to see was a lady named Vivvie. She's 54 years old, crippled up pretty bad in a wheelchair because of an accident when she was 5 that left her non ambulatory, non verbal, and unable to do much at all with her one side. Vivvie has a clear mind but has refused to use any method of communication created for her which leaves her to only use her own sign language, moaning, and some pointing - leaving those initially working with her (aka me) ready to pull their hair out (not because of her, but because of me not able to understand). Vivvie cannot read but does manage to do a few things for herself like heat food in the toaster oven, however with much work and challenge.

On my first visit I was 'shadowing' a worker named Bill who is younger than myself, soft spoken, carries a somewhat nervous laughter but a gentle and caring way in all I saw him do. I walked in and met Vivvie, who had began preparing her lunch in the toaster oven and Bill quickly took over for her, getting her food ready, then busily cleaning up the cat litter, some other odd jobs, then proceeded to work with Vivvie on a grocery list.

Ok so when I heard Bill say that they would make a grocery list I thought 'This will only take a minute or two'. Boy was I wrong. I was wrong because if it were me the grocery list making would've consisted of me peeking through the fridge and the cupboards for what was needing to be replenished. Instead it took Bill a good half hour to forty five minutes. Why you ask? No, not because he's a man. Because Bill had Vivvie participating in the chore completely. Bill carefully and considerately went through the fridge, looking at each shelf and asking about any potential items that Vivvie wanted. Remember Vivvie is non verbal so to guess what she was asking for beyond what you were asking her about was a tedious and intense process of actions, moans, points and A LOT of guessing.

I watched as Bill was able to guess yogurt, bread, bananas, and the one that shocked me when he got home: a specific sandwich spread she hadn't asked for in ages. Like how did he do that?!!! Seriously he started with sandwich meat and figured out sandwich spread and the flavor and brand and everything!! I was beyond impressed.

When Bill was done making the list he said that he would have to pop out for a few minutes to get the groceries (in reality I think it was an eternity, or an hour and a half - whichever). He said I could get to know Vivvie better. Off he went and I sat while Vivvie went back to her meal. I realized quickly that her food was cold and she wanted it reheated but didn't want to ask me. I allowed her to try on her own to do it and when I saw that it was difficult I intervened and asked if she wanted help. She nodded yes. I helped her out while trying to chat with her all the while. It wasn't long and the food was ready.

As she ate I noticed Vivvie trying to reach for napkins a couple of times so I offered help and she accepted - I never knew how good it could feel to have help accepted. We're taught in school to allow and encourage as much independence as possible, that's what I was trying to do. Some people refuse any sort of help, when Vivvie accepted mine I was glad.

As time passed I was able to sort of chat with her a bit and she tried to chat with me. At one point she was desperately trying to tell me something and I was trying to guess. She was motioning as if she was opening a bottle with the side of her leg (popping the top off) and then drinking it. Then she'd tap on her chair. I would ask 'Are you thirsty? Do you need a drink?' and she would shake her head. She did it a few times and then gave up. I told her that I was no good for helping and that I was sorry. I was able to understand a few things (which I was overjoyed about).

A while into our alone time a couple of VON ladies whisked into her room to change her brief and prep her ventilator. They obviously had an awesome re pore with Vivvie and did a fabulous job connecting with her and giving me ideas on things we could do together in the future (Vivvie and I). Not long after they whisked in Vivvie began doing the same drink and tapping signs she tried with me (to no avail) and one of the nurses responded with 'You want some hard liquor eh?' They chuckled, I laughed. She was just trying to joke around! Ahhh. At that point I told Vivvie that maybe we'd go out for drinks when I was off. She then made signs of being sick to which someone interpreted them for me as she can't drink much anymore because she gets sicks. Apparently she was a partier back in the day.

The VON nurses also shared Vivvie's secret crush on Bill the worker and her affinity towards Antonio Banderas (sp?) - I loved it. Her sense of humour also came out when she was having difficulty breathing and was coughing pretty bad. She made some signs pointing to a hook in her kitchen and Bill knew she was referring to hanging up her doctor and then she'd pretend she was the cat (her catch is a bit evil) clawing at him. After which she showed her fist and then flailed her middle finger. Obviously her doctor isn't her favourite person. Obviously Vivvie had an incredible sense of humour (and perhaps some pent up anger).

In the end I came out of our visit together excited about the opportunities I would have to get Vivvie out and about while I was doing my placement. I will have 3 hours a week with her to do social activities and outing. Something she doesn't get really at all because all of her support is wrapped up in taking care of her daily physical/medical needs. Don't get me wrong, I'm a bit overwhelmed at the idea that I need to learn how to book the para-transit system, call VON (her health care staff)to organize help pre-outing and take Vivvie (who'd be relying on me for her communication - eek!) out into the community. However at the same time I'm so excited to be a part of giving someone the opportunity to live a fuller life out in the community and to experience all those things we take for granted. A simple trip to the dollar store, a meal at a restaurant, trip bowling or to the movies would make Vivvie's month. What a privilege I have. When I get frustrated (which may be often) I need to remember this.

Well, This wasn't my whole day, in fact it was only a third of it but it was one of the many interesting people I will be supporting for the next 14 weeks. I hope you enjoyed meeting Vivvie. I think I will try and maybe share a bit about each person I get to spend time with through my week. I don't think you'd be disappointed with any of their stories. Perhaps I will try and get a couple posted over the weekend.

I have to say it again - I love my job and I love the people I support even more ... and it's only just begun!