Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The First Moment I Thought “What am I Doing Here?”

I suspect many case managers ask themselves this question at some point, especially in the beginning of their career. This is a variation of “What have I gotten myself into?” Today I met with Cynthia, the first client with whom I had experienced this question over a year and a half ago.

I was still pretty new to the case management job at that point, it was around my second month, and I had left my agency to go on my second home visit. I was going to meet Cynthia at her apartment after meeting with her a few times at my office. She had invited me to see her apartment after she shared with me that she had a few concerns about it, specifically the order in her home, as she called it. “I don’t want to lose my housing,” She had told me and said she was in a state program that covered her rent and that she was told by her case worker there that she wasn’t meeting the requirements for “organization in my apartment.”

As I reached Cynthia’s apartment I noticed a syringe lying on the carpet. I knocked on the door and Cynthia answered with a smile. We exchanged hello’s and I looked down to point out the syringe when I noticed a second syringe in Cynthia’s apartment. When I asked her about it, she said she was diabetic and kicked the second syringe inside the apartment before picking it up and throwing it away. Though it turned out she was telling the truth (and she didn’t seem under the influence of anything when I visited her), watching her carelessly deal with these used syringes unsettled me.

So as I entered her apartment I already thought, I’m over my head… Outside the comfort of my office, in another person’s home, the second home visit I had ever done. Seeing these syringes. And when Cynthia opened the door wider I saw heaps of newspapers, bags, and other household items lying on top of one another with a small empty space in the middle of the studio apartment. Yes, a studio. A friend of Cynthia's was sitting on the floor, leaning against newspapers, smiling at me.

Cynthia was indeed in danger of losing her housing for not complying with her program’s rules, specifically concerning the condition of her apartment. Because she had no income and was applying for disability losing the apartment meant she would become homeless. Odd thing was her belongings looked like they had been building up for years – I saw newspapers dating from 2 previous years. I don’t know how she had managed to get away with the state of her apartment looking the way it did.

Clearly what needed to be done was get rid of a majority of her dirty, broken, or unusable items, but of course this was extremely painful for her to do since she was attached to her belongings. At the end of the process, Cynthia needed to transfer to a different apartment and another case manager and myself spent a good part of a day working with her to go through her belongings and try to only take clothes, usable household items.

Just to add: In this context the question “What am I doing here?” doesn’t refer to burnout, but to feeling overwhelmed.

1 comment:

antiSWer said...

Neat little story. I like it. :)