It is twenty years now since I started working at the Deaf Society in Adelaide. In those twenty years I have seen a few things. I had a drug crazed client throw up on my shoe and scream at me that the Aliens were coming through the roof to get him. I have had clients kill themselves by burning down their house. I have assisted clients into work and families to understand and accept and communicate with their deaf kids. It is funny because some years later a few old clients have sought me out on Facebook, just to say hello and thank me. It’s always moving to know you have had some sort of impact and assisted a family or a person to achieve something in life. The positives keep you motivated. And just as well because the negatives are often hard to bear.
Generally in my work people work well together. Most of us strive for positive outcomes. Sometimes we succeed and sometimes we do not. Sometimes we are dealing with controversial and difficult situations. I once witnessed a deaf child using signs that could be interpreted as disclosure of sexual abuse. He was using signs that suggested that he had witnessed or experienced penetration. He was an otherwise happy child. His parents were lovely but rough around the edges. Under the law any sign of sexual abuse must be reported to the authorities. The child may have seen his parents having sex or watched a pornographic movie, this is still classified as reportable. You make such reports with a heavy heart because you know that the report you are about to make will turn the child’s family life upside down. It is sometimes hard to remain positive.
I was looking back on my work life on the weekend. Primarily because I heard a tale that was among the most appalling I have heard in my 20 years. Allegedly an organisation was left a vast sum of money by an ex-client. The client left this money to the organisation as a way of saying thank you and enabling the organisation to continue to support others as they had them. Unfortunately the client used the wrong business name in his or her will. An old name that was now owned by another organisation. Allegedly the other organisation claimed the money for themselves which was against the spirit of the bequest. It seems that this is not the first time that this has happened either. If true this is one of the more appalling situations I have ever heard about in my time. Not quite the worst but right up there.
Back in the Nineties I worked as a Case Manager for people who had physical disabilities. My primary role was to assess the care they required to live independently in their own homes. It was often simply organising for them to have someone come in and clean the house or cook meals. It was sometimes more complex requiring transport, intensive care, transition from hospital to home and training in the use of assistive devices. Mostly the solutions were very simple to implement – all they needed was money – something that is not always forthcoming.
I had one client who was a Bikie. A huge mountain of a man. He had tattoos over the best part of his body and the mandatory beard and earrings. He was from the Northern Territory. He had come off his bike there and his injuries led him to being a quadriplegic. In the Nineties the Territory lacked the facilities he required for his rehabilitation. He was sent to Adelaide for treatment. He later received a compensation payout and bought a home in Adelaide to be close to his rehab provider.
Over a period of time he became home-sick. He wanted to return home to be near family and friends. He asked me for assistance in arranging this. In Adelaide he lived in his own home. A carer came in in the mornings to help him out of bed, bathe him, prepare his meals for the day and so on. He naturally needed all of this arranged if he was to move back to the Territory. It seems a fairly straight forward request … But money was involved .. and money is something that many support organisations either take at will and give out very sparingly. Human dignity is expensive. Money must be retained and dignity goes the way of the scrapheap!
I was determined to assist my client. I did some research and found out the relevant authorities to contact in the Territory. I called them and explained the situation. They point-blank said they did not have the funds to care for my client. If my client was to return to the Territory he would have had to live in a nursing home. There was no funding for him to live independently in his own home. They suggested that if the funding he had in Adelaide could be transferred then they could budget for my clients needs the following year and he would be able to live as he had in Adelaide.
Here it gets distasteful. I approached my organisation with the view of seeing if funds could be transferred. We are, after all , one nation. The money had already been budgeted for my client anyway. I reasoned that any other person could just pack up and move as they pleased. My client should have the same right. Of course, because money is involved and money has a value far greater than life in the eyes of many, the answer was NO! My client was understandably devastated. Both South Australian and Territory officials refused to deal.
But the client and I, we fought the authorities tooth and nail. So hard did we fight that my boss actually took me aside to remind me, and this is true, that the client was secondary and my primary focus was to protect the organisation and the Government Minister in question. I recall my reply to him was something along the lines of, “@#$# that!” My client paid me the ultimate compliment, he said to me, “.. Gary, why is a guy like you working for a bunch of c**ts like this?” I offer no apologies for the language. He was a Bikie after all and what he said to me remains the the most profound compliment that any client has ever given me.
Unfortunately before we could progress anything my client died. He developed a pressure sore which became infected. My last vision of this wonderful character was lying on his back asleep in hospital in full view of everyone. Just a sheet draped over his groin. His dignity and privacy not even considered. It was and is the most shameful way I have ever seen anyone treated.
So when I am depressed, when I hear of organisations swindling another, when I hear of clients going without while the bosses indulge I go back to the question of my client, ” … Gary why is a guy like you working for a bunch of c**ts like this?” I never answered him. But the answer is clear .. Because if we don’t who will? Besides as old clients on Facebook remind me, positive outcomes do occur. It isn’t all bad but sometimes it’s very hard to stay positive!