Monday, April 29, 2013

Night shift: toothpaste (part 1 of 2)

These are stories from a previous job. For the privacy of those involved, names and details have been changed.

Summer 2008


I'm standing on the sidewalk, in front of a grocery store. Next to me is Walter, a client from the psychiatric facility. He has been out of toothpaste for days, I finally talked him into a store-run. Before leaving I said, "Walter, I'll need you to speak quietly at the store, okay? If you yell, we might get into trouble."

He nodded. And he'd been having a good week. And you can't avoid store-runs forever, they go with the territory.

We loaded up, hit the store. Toothpaste: acquired, then purchased. As we were leaving, Walter stopped, placed his right hand to his mouth and began yelling. He barked, "Hey now, drop it! You fellas stop the bitching!" Hallucinating, interacting with voices. I couldn't get him to lower his volume or follow me to the car. Staring off into space, hand at mouth, he continued, "They found copper wire in Nixon's attic! Check it!"

So that's where we are now. Just standing. Me urging Walter to walk quickly, to follow me. Walter barking odd phrases into his hand, which to him is a communication device. Customers openly staring, give us a wide berth. Through the front door, I see one elderly woman speaking with staff, pointing at Walter.

I say, "Shit." Take my cell phone out, call Marcy, my supervisor.

She answers with, "How bad?"

"I don't know, Marcy. Medium bad. I'm at the store with Walter. He just deteriorated- out of the blue- started yelling into his hand. And I can't get him to move at all, he's just standing there."

"You're in the store?" Marcy asks.

"We're in front of it. And he's just too psychotic right now to hear me. You know, it's the usual stuff, he's not agitated or anything. It's the usual harmless stuff. He's just loud, and I can see people kind of freaking out."

She sighs, says, "Yeah, I can hear him. Jeez. Have you tried pulling him along at all?"

"No. You know, we tend to be hands-off, policy-wise, I didn't want to risk it."

"I'm giving you permission. Just lightly tug his elbow, see if he'll follow."

I try it. Walter gently pulls his arm back, continues yelling.

"Nah, he's not moving," I say. "And I see more than one person on their cell phone now."

"Well, M...shoot. I would send staff out to assist, but to be honest, I think this'll be resolved one way or another by then."

"I agree."

"Basically, continue to ask him to leave. If he hasn't moved on in the next few minutes, it'll be out of your hands."

"Yep. Okay. I'm sorry about this, I thought we could be in and out."

"No worries. Like I said, this is out of your hands now. All I can do at this point is reinforce privacy law: no disclosure of a client's personal information. Of any kind. Police get there, you're not to provide information about Walter...and you're not permitted to identify yourself as staff."


"Just say what you can, observe, then document afterward."

I nod to no one in particular, reply, "Okay." Walter begins laughing, stamping a foot. Into his hand, he says, "He fired that one up! It shot plum through the chimney!" He laughs more, till he's red in the face.

I see two police cars pull into the parking lot. I say to Marcy, "Yeah, they're here. I'll call back."

"This happens; don't worry. It's out of your hands at this point." I put the phone away.

Customers now begin to stop, spectate. They keep their distance, but slowly form a semi-circle around us. Walter yells and laughs and stamps his feet.

The police cars stop about 20 feet away. Two officers stay in their car and watch as two officers from the other car get out, approach.

Walter laughs, yells, "They found a copper wire in his asshole!"

I fake smile and say, "Morning, officers."


Tanya Savko said...

Was it difficult for you, as staff, to not let the police know that he was not, as they probably assumed, drunk or on drugs? I know there was the privacy policy so there was nothing else you could do, but it just seems like it would be an easier time for Walter if the cops had some awareness of what was going on with him. I have a friend whose brother has paranoid schizophrenia, and his family made it a point to let all the local law enforcement know about him for that reason, and for his safety. I just wonder about privacy policies sometimes.

M said...

yeah, not being allowed to pass along info make it tough. i get the laws...i know they protect, not just privacy, but peoples safty...their strictness can prevent people who mean harm from finding their targets...but it made things pretty awkward at times, increased the chance of misunderstandings

i like that your friends made police aware of their family members condition. if the person is okay with it, it's just a very good idea to notify in any way you can, before things happen, go bad. for those who aren't able to understand privacy issues, give consent, it's a very tough, complicated issue.