Thus far, in my last year of graduate school for clinical social work, I have spent approximately 450 hours working as a clinical intern “out in the field.” My clients have ranged from elders with Alzheimer’s disease to teenage girls operating under thick defensive armor in order just to survive, let alone thrive, in today’s middle schools.
I feel blessed for these opportunities, but it is hard to see what I am looking at.
What I have witnessed are elders who are alone, even sometimes while living with others. I see visually and hearing impaired women and men trying to cope whilst their caregivers lack the ability to “get” what lack of vision or hearing actually means. I am exposed to medical offices that, even though they have extensive records, don’t seem to know much about the patient who is calling. Some of these same offices have asked me, the advocate, what paperwork the client needs to get specific medical help; this when I have called them to find out; this after I have been kept on hold for over an hour. Yes, this has happened to me more than once, more than thrice.
I have had physician’s staff call patient’s with dementia (rather than the caregiver) to remind them of appointments and then been asked to help with the frightened fallout. I have come into someone’s home while a chicken pot pie was burning because she couldn’t smell the smoke or hear the timer. I have been told by an 89 year old woman that she slept with an aluminum baseball bat under her bed just in case of another break-in, because she couldn’t dial the phone; thankfully, she now has an assisted device to do so. Hopefully she will never have to make the call.
Trying to assist some of these elders with medical logistics is a full-time job. There is lost paperwork, hours on hold, lack of transportation, financial stress, but most of all there is a lack of empathy. And I am left to wonder, how we can as a society begin to repair the many breakdowns in communication between a loved one and their caregiver; between the family and an advocate; between everyone and the doctor’s offices.
As for the young folks, I now understand that they should: 1. Never send a text unless they are OK with it being screen-shotted to half the school. 2. Not expect to sit with selected friends in the cafeteria, because seats are assigned. 3. Not expect to vent or have too much fun in same cafeteria; and definitely not get up from the table without permission. 3. Prepare, and be ready to take a stand, even though they may not yet have all the information needed before taking that stand. 4. Not report someone for bullying, because if they do, they are subject, along with the person bullied, to be written up; this is firsthand information from two high school-ers this happened to.
Now, it is possible that I am getting misinformed, but from what I see, from what I hear, from what I encounter and from the kids (both young and old) who share their burdens, things are not working very well in our society. I asked one struggling young middle school girl why she thought she was so angry. She said, “because I always feel like I have to take a stand. I always feel like I am supposed to stick up for myself and because I can’t trust anyone.”
So, my dreams and goals to help others seem daunting. However, I am hopeful. Hopeful that there are lots of others out there who want to help too and who are willing to learn the best way how. Here’s my thought: Take a moment today, as soon as you can, to decide to understand a teenager or an elder. Know that they are up against challenges that you will not easily understand, either because you are not yet “there,” or because things were a helluva lot different when you were in middle school. But try to understand. Ask them questions. Make them put their cell phone down or in the case of an elder, teach them how to use one. Look them in the eye. Ask them what is hard for them. Find out what they love.
You can help right here, right now. Will you please work to try to do so? There are so many who need it. Spread the willingness. Spread the hope. Spread the love. By doing so, you can help to change the world.