I have always worked in a "social worker" setting, meaning that when I explain my job to people, I usually get one of two responses: "It takes a special person to do what you do. God bless you!" or "That is so great; I really need to start volunteering too!" Although they both are true-it does take a special person and you should volunteer, it makes me feel like they don't get what I do.
A day in the life is usually pretty mundane. I am the same person at work that I am anywhere. I usually make jokes, I try to make people smile, I question the unknown and I try to learn more about my participants. On most days, when I don't have to do paperwork or get yelled at, I love my job. Many participants become confidants and friends. I care about them and I feel that most of them care for me-The ones that call me back anyway.
Thursday started out like any other day. I had my coffee and began to plan my day. In order to be most efficient I decided to get a form for services signed at Grady Hospital before heading to my participant's house. Grady sits between our homes and I could get it signed faster alone than with my participant. It took some time but I ended up getting to the participant's house at the perfect time to leave and go to her dentist appointment across town. She came down and got in the car in her usual fashion- she gives me a hard time about not knowing if it's me in the car, she never wants to put on her seat belt unless I tell her to... she asked how I was feeling because the day before, I was home sick. She thought it was stomach issues but really I had a panic attack dealing with my doctors and insurance company. I reminded her we were going to the dentist and she got excited and started checking herself out in the visor mirror, flattening her hair and checking her profile.
I checked the GPS and it has us getting there in 21 minutes. I checked the clock. It was 10:41am. I started to pull away. I left her parking lot and made the first right turn. I drive especially careful with participants in my car. I would never want to cause an accident at all but especially on work time with a participant. We were stopped at the light. I knew she would not like signing the form I had half completed with the doctors earlier because she gives us a hard time every year. I began to tell her, "I'm sorry I was sick yesterday and had to cancel our appointment but I was able to get the form filled out earlier this morning..." She did not appreciate this. She began to get her bag and open the car door. All I was thinking was that she was so upset and when she gets upset it could lead to a seizure. I didn't want her to get hurt on the street alone. I convinced her to get in the car and I will take her to the doctor so we can talk about this.
I can't remember exactly what she said then, but I can still hear her yell, "Don't you EVER!" as she lunged at my throat with her right hand and pulled my head back by my hair with her left hand. I screamed her name. I asked her to let go and began to convince her that I could not drive like this. She would need to put on her seat belt and we will go to the doctor to talk to them about this form. It seemed like she held me over the center console for minutes. I know it was only a couple seconds. I felt like it was someone else. Not me and not her. This is not how our relationship was. A few days earlier our intern noticed how "protective she is of" me.
We sat in silence for the four minutes it took to get to the hospital. My entire body was shaking. I sat as far to the left of my seat as I could get with my right shoulder close to my ear to fend off any more attacks. My mind was so calm and rational. I remember just thinking as if this was another part of our day. It was like my body and my mind were disconnected. My body trembled in fear while my mind was still at work, thinking methodically what to do next.
She would not let me drop her off in front of the hospital to go up alone. She would not go without me. She saw this as my fault; my wrong doing. I never would have thought my meticulous planning would have lead to such a violet reaction from my "friend". I told her I would park and go with her while thinking, "Once I get her out, I'm leaving." She knew this.
That is one of the most misunderstood things about my job. People hear "developmental disabilities" and "low IQs" and think they are dumb. But make no mistake, they can be logical, methodical and manipulative. Survival is inherent and when one feels that they are at risk, that trait kicks in. The problem I experienced was that she saw what I did as putting her at risk. She lashed out irrationally but it was all very logically executed and intended.
She knew I needed her out in order for me to get away. She sat in the car and motioned for me to turn off the car. I did. She went immediately for my keys. She grabbed the bunch of them but I could see my car key swinging above her fisted hand. I told her to give me my keys. She would not. I remember looking at the man standing on the side walk just over her shoulder. He saw my eyes. He saw her. I called her name again and she went to hit me with her fist of my keys. She just missed my face but caught my lip- probably with my boxy Prius key flailing about! I focused in on my car key and went for it.
Two months ago when we bought the car we were given two keys. One had a sturdy key ring and the other had one of the cheapy, flexible rings that you get at the mechanic's. I was handed the latter and thought, "Eli won't notice but I'll switch it out later. I want the 'real' key not the secondary key!" Thankfully I never got around to that. When I grabbed the key from my participant's hand it was only because the ring was weak that I could separate it from the rest of the keys and from her.
With key in hand, I jumped out of the car and hauled ass down the street toward the hospital and crowds of people. She can't walk as fast as I can so I knew I would be able to out run her- yes, even me. I was across the street and waited for her to get out of the car. I tried to call 911 but my hands were shaking so much it kept coming out 611 or 922. She got out of the car but stood there with the door open for a few seconds. Once she shut that door, I was going to hit the alarm and just keep running. She did and I did. She started walking toward me and the hospital. She continued to follow me until she realized that I was going to stay well ahead of her. She turned and disappeared behind the building.
The next few minutes I hid in the adjacent parking structure looking for any sign of her. I didn't know if she would go wait at my car or go in to the doctor's office. I just hid behind a van with my back to a fence hoping that she wouldn't find me.
I called the office so many times. When I wouldn't get an answer at the front desk I just started dialing three digit extensions hoping I would get someone. No one answered! I finally called my sister and all I could say was, "I need help! I'm at Grady and 'she' attacked me! Please come got me. She has my keys. I don't know where she is! No one is answering at work!" In a heart beat, my sister headed down to get me.
My legs felt like jelly. Again, my body was weak but my mind was racing. I called a co-worker's cell phone and told the same story. He would come and get her and suggested I call the police right away. A call came in on the other line. It was her nurse. She said, "she is up here with me... she wants me to tell you that she doesn't want you around her again." Really!? "I can do that. Is she up there with you?" The nurse repeated at least two more times that she was up there with her and I knew it would be save for me to make the half block sprint for the car.
I checked the back seat like an axe murderer was chasing me in a movie. I don't think I even checked traffic- I just pulled out and headed to the office. Every street on the way to the office was where one client of another lived. I checked my door lock probably three times. Of course when I pull into the parking lot it was like a space invaders game dodging around all the people, construction and vehicles through out the tiny lot. I nestled my car between two SUVs hugging the line, slammed the door and ran inside.
I knew all the "higher-ups" were in a meeting but I didn't expect them all to be in the front office and I didn't expect a stranger in there. I walked right into the meeting room to find familiar faces and one unknown man who, no doubt, was important financially or politically to our organization. I took a step back to shield him from the trauma pouring down my face. I mouthed, "I need someone!" I sat in the chairs for intended for our guests and waited for anyone to come and comfort me. When they approached I couldn't contain myself and started telling my story through short breaths of anxiety. I'm sure the VIP I tried to protect from the story heard the whole thing once I started exclaiming the incident in the front office.
They escorted me to a more private room. I could hardly walk. I felt like my body had no bones; I was just a jelly mass. I asked for water. Holding the mug in my hands, I had to concentrate so hard to not drop it. I couldn't control my hands; they shook uncontrollably. By now, my mind and body had connected again and my thoughts were as frantic as my hands.
We agreed that I should file a police report and get checked out at the clinic. My sister arrived and drove me to find a police station. Even with two iPhones, we couldn't find one so we headed to the clinic. Of course when we called my husband and told him everything was ok now and he didn't need to come down, he was not ok and needed to be with me. My sister filled out the forms as my hands were still shuddering as we waiting for Eli and the police. Office Huntely met us in the waiting room and took my statement. He was compassionate and authoritative. The nurse called me back as we were finishing up the interview. The police have her name, her address and a description. I could tell them how she walks, how she talks, where her doctors are, where she banks. I was a major part of her life.
In the exam room, after waiting the obligatory 30 minutes to been seen, the doctor came in. I told the "short version" of my tale and he assisted me onto the exam table. I sat eye to eye with the doctor as he looked at my neck. "I can see some discoloration and bruising here... Does this hurt?" As he examined my neck, inside and out, I could feel the air conditioning blow across the scratches left behind from the attack. He suggested I stay out of work today but can return tomorrow. "Take some ibuprofen for stiffness."
Unfortunately, I did not have the wherewithal to stop him and tell him the fear this materialized. The anxiety I had on a daily basis before this attack! That there are days when I am afraid to get the mail from my mailbox just 50 feet from my front door. That I stay up nights thinking that someone might kick in my back door. General anxiety comes and goes. Some days, I'm normal. But most days I am secretly strategising contingency plans if something should go wrong. That may be what got me out of the car and out of her grips.
Before picking up a new client I always think about what I would do if something went wrong. It's not always personal attacks or even scary things. For my deaf client, I work on sentences in sign language while driving to her house. I think about car accidents or tires popping on the freeway. I've thought about personal attacks but I never thought I'd have to live it.
That night I laid close to my husband. When the house got quiet, I could hear the day over and over in my head. I heard her yelling demands at me. I heard me pleading for her to stop. The ceiling fan still swept air against the scratches reminding me of the feeling of her hand on my neck. "Only six more hours until I see my doctor."
I had originally set up this doctor appointment as a routine visit to get a refill on medication and get referrals to my specialists. I checked in as routine. I met the nurse as always. When we went back to the private room I had reached my breaking point when she asked gently and with a smile, "What's the reason for today's visit?"
Tears welled up instantly, "I am supposed to get referrals but... I was attacked at work yesterday..." She didn't expect it. I could tell she wanted to get what information she could without offending me or making things worse. As she was getting up to get the doctor she said in the sweetest voice, "I'm gonna give you this box of kleenex, and this hug because I know you need it!"
The doctor explained that the referrals will be taken care of but wanted to know what happened yesterday. I told her the story and she immediately began to propose a healing plan. She was aware of my general anxiety and knew this attack alone would deeply affect anyone. She prescribed klonopin, a fast acting anti-anxiety medication, to get me through the weekend until I can see a therapist. She suggested I see someone who specializes in trauma or PTSD. She also suggested I never go back to that job.
The medication has certainly made it easier to talk about the attack. I have been able to sleep. In the car I still check the door lock as if she is standing outside trying to get in. After a year of working with her, there are still everyday things that remind me of her; A song on the radio, a store we shopped at. Happy memories have become an alleyway back to the attack.
I am on leave at work and am not sure when or if I'll go back. For years my doctors have been urging me to get out of the disability/social work field for my own mental health. I don't know if that is even possible in this economy. How do you find a job outside of a field that your resume was built on?
I have strong support in friends and family who love me. I know this is yet another obstacle we will get over. At times I think about if it happened to someone I love and I thank God it was me and not them. If I was taking life one day at a time before, now I'll have to take it one hour at a time.