Nurses and doctors are surely life savers and have things covered on the front lines, with their gifts of knowledge, experience, and ability to use their intellect for our benefit in times of crisis. Many of them also offer their time and counsel when we are distressed, and help us sort out the things we don’t understand. Therapists in all disciplines – physical, occupational, speech, psychology – come together as a team to help people rebuild their lives from the ground up after an unexpected event takes so many things away. They have patience beyond imagination and their specialized skills are a necessary component in any recovery program.
But I had a general idea that social workers helped make sure children had safe and healthy homes, handled adoptions, and did some counselling on the side. What I had no knowledge of before this experience was that from start to finish, they would be there beside me, to advise, to advocate, to listen, to encourage, to support, to provide me with necessary information I didn’t even know enough to ask about, and finally to make sure everything that needed to be done was done. I think they are often unsung heroes in the battle for sanity and some sense of safety in the midst of tragedy, quietly working, often behind the scenes, to help all the other parts come together smoothly. They are perhaps as close to the front lines as anyone else, but sometimes not as easily seen or appreciated because their work doesn’t always produce the clearly visible results and progress that we notice in other areas.
Obviously, this was all new to me. Not only was my husband unable to be present to me – the one who always kept me calm when I was scared or worried, assuring me everything would be OK – but I was now literally responsible for his well being, and for all decisions to be made on his behalf at a time when I myself was most vulnerable. There is no training for that moment when you find yourself in a situation that you could only responsibly prepare for ahead of time by signing paperwork and filing it away safely, hoping you will never need it.
Thankfully we had taken care of all that the previous year, trying to anticipate what might be necessary in the event of an unexpected tragedy. It was all in place and I just had to enact it. But you don’t think ahead of time about what that’s going to feel like, because you can’t know the desolation of actually handing over a personal directive, or enacting a power of attorney including a statement certifying that your loved one is now incapacitated and no longer able to do anything for themselves, until you have to do it. You just can’t know the daunting tasks that you will face at a time when you are least emotionally equipped to face them, when they are real and your life as you knew it is over.
Right from day one there was a social worker there, approaching me to offer help. She wanted to meet with me to make sure that I was getting any help necessary, and she had lists of things that needed to be taken care of that she went through with me to make sure that I had either prepared to do them, or was already doing them. She offered insight and counsel and helped me with forms I needed to sign. She answered questions and was a liaison between myself and the doctors in the I.C.U. She checked up on me every now and then if I didn’t approach her, just to make sure of how I was doing.
When Pat was transferred to Mayerthorpe hospital, it wasn’t long before a social worker came to his room to talk to me, offer me support information, and encouragement, and in this case the person had actually worked at the Halvar Jonson Centre for Brain Injury in Ponoka himself, so had a lot of experience in brain injury rehab and family related issues. He gave me hope and options available for possible future circumstances and assured me I could contact him any time I needed help with anything and that he would check in with me on his regular trips to Mayerthorpe.
When Pat was eventually transferred to the Glenrose hospital, the social worker was a member of his rehabilitation team. She double checked on our previous paperwork, made sure things that weren’t able to be done early on because of date requirements were then put into place, she was a liaison between myself and the rest of the rehabilitation team, she was our advocate, and she became my counsellor, offering guidance, encouragement, and a safe place to fall at those times when things were just too much to bear.
In Ponoka, I again found solace and comfort in the help and guidance of our social worker. She triple checked our paperwork, and fulfilled many of the same duties as the others before her, but as our stay there was the longest of all, she became a friend. Successes were shared and many tears were shed in her office, which was open to family members and patients any time, and I know without doubt that I wouldn’t have made it through with my mind still in tact, if it hadn’t been for her presence there.
She brought together the necessary arrangements when it was time for Pat to be discharged, and even once we were back in Mayerthorpe for the final leg of our journey, she was still helping with the transition from a distance, making sure that Pat and I had everything we needed. When we left Ponoka, the goodbye I had to say to her was the hardest one of all. I still miss her.
Prior to this experience, I wondered how anyone could be a social worker, dealing with broken families and suffering children every day – my original idea of that job – and by the end of it, having known her, I felt that if I ever had the inclination to go back to school, I would want to be a social worker like her, in a place like that, where every single day just her smile or a kind word could make such a difference to broken hearted people.