Thursday, November 19, 2015

Reminiscing - My Early Career Days

I spent most of my run this morning reminiscing about my college years, and my very first years in a real job (as in something besides fast food and retail).

I had just turned 20, and was in my junior year of college.  My friend and I wanted to get part-time jobs, and he found an ad in the paper for a part-time, $10/hour job with no benefits helping people with developmental disabilities at the 150-year-old state institution that stood on the outskirts of our small Missouri college town.

They provided 3-4 weeks of training before we ever spend time with the people we were hired to support.  They taught us non-violent crisis intervention, how to restrain people, how to communicate with people who don't use speech, and how to clock in/out and request time off.  Even with this long training, nothing could have prepared me for the work I would be expected to do.

Many of the people who lived in this institution had been there for most of their lives.  Many of the people who worked there did so after following the footsteps of their family members before them.  Here I was, a young college student tasked with the job of keeping myself and the people living there, safe from themselves and from others.

I was terrified.  I imagine they were required to prepare us for the times when the people living there would have behavior problems, and from the intense training we had to prepare us for that, I figured we would be in an unsafe situation the whole shift, every shift.

That, of course, wasn't true.  While we did need to address some behavioral issues at times, most shifts were geared toward supporting the people who lived there with all aspects of daily living.  I worked in the evenings, so we would prepare dinner, serve the meal, do showers, help with the bedtime routine and do data collection for programs.  My title was a DCA, or Direct Care Assistant.  There were often 2 full-time staff in each group home who were assigned 4 people each, then when I was assigned to a home, I would be responsible for 2-3 of the people on their lists, and would complete all of the tasks related to those people each shift.

There are so many stories I could tell about working in this environment.  Some great, some not so great.  I saw a lot there, and either in spite of or because of this job, I have dedicated my career to working with people with disabilities in a variety of settings.

The memory that came to mind today is a funny one.  Typically there would be 1 DCA in a group home with 2 full-time, and very experienced, direct care staff.  One day, I was assigned to group home 38 on unit 2.  I walked into the home, and found 2 other staff, but they were both DCAs like me.  We muddled through figuring out who would do what and thought we had it all covered.  Then we realized that we needed to cook dinner.  Here we were, 3 young and very inexperienced staff tasked with the chore of cooking a 2-course meal for 8 hungry men.  We froze up.

Not one of us knew how to cook for ourselves, let alone for a group of 8!  The kitchen sent up a box full of all of the ingredients we needed to cook the meal.  I cannot seem to remember what the meal was, but it included ground beef.  Somehow I ended up having to figure out this meal, so I did the best I could and remember serving a plate of bread with this ground beef concoction poured over the top of it.  I think the best part of this story is that one of the men who lived in this house rarely ate anything the staff cooked.  It was something the team had to address at each mealtime.  Not that night though.  He ate every bite!  I remember recounting this story the next time I worked with the full-time staff of group home 38 on unit 2, and they were not so happy to hear that he actually ate our ground beef whatever-it-was.

Reminiscence therapy is a tactic we use in my current work with people who experience memory loss.  It may seem odd to use reminiscence, or memories, as therapy for people with memory loss, but often a person experiencing memory loss cannot remember what happened yesterday, but can access memories in their long-term memory bank.  We use various items or materials to trigger memories, and it is very therapeutic not only for our participants, but also for those of us leading the activity.

I think that is why I wanted to write this out.  This was just one day, over 16 years ago, that has made a lasting impression on me.  I enjoyed thinking back to this day, which then led my memory to recall other memories from this time in my life.  It was like a small time travel machine took me back to those early days in my career.  I still have so much to learn, and have also come pretty far.