At my last job at a small non profit, the owner of the company was throwing her spouse and our Vice President, a surprise birthday party. A birthday cake was ready on the fifth floor. We employees, in pied piper formation, walked behind the co-worker with his ukulele and marched out of the elevator singing “happy birthday”. For the most part, any workplace that I have been a part of has had some sort of variation of that birthday celebration.
Then, there is Bellevue.
My colleague, Ross, came and got me. “Come with me Sandra; we are about to surprise Kim. It is her birthday”. As the newest employee, it was my first time celebrating someone’s birthday at Bellevue. I was very pleased to be included. The employee lounge was decorated and the table was filled with all kinds of food. Colleagues were signing birthday cards, there was a bouquet of flowers and also a bottle of wine. More and more colleagues were entering the room until it was standing room only and people were out the doors. The atmosphere was very happy and festive.
It started off as any birthday party would. After Kim entered the room and the “happy birthday” song was finished, everyone started eating the food. Conversation started back and forth. After a short amount of time, I heard Kim say that she wonders if she is allowed to open her bottle of wine and share it. She didn’t open the bottle; we work in a detox unit for people with Alcohol addictions. However, I piped up and said…well, it is your 21st birthday! She liked that and told us that actually, this year she can join AARP and is officially a senior citizen.
Everyone was enjoying the party. Kim was of course, the center of attention. Then she started talking about how if she could go back in time, there is a lot of things that she would change in her life. She would have had her children later in life. Then there is that trip she would have taken and she would have delayed her marriage until she was older. “It was because I had strict parents that today would have been defined as abusive. I wanted to get away from them”!?!
A second co-worker started commiserating with Kim and that her childhood was the same way. A third co-worker’s demeanor changed from happy to sad and he started relating about how he would have redone things in his life also. Another and another joined in. There were tales of growing up with strict parents and even abuse and how people would do things differently if they could coming from every direction of the room. Mind you, nobody opened the bottle of wine and this was happening!
This is a birthday party????
Yet, everyone seemed to have happy looks on their faces like all the other birthday parties throughout my career.
On the up side, can I look forward to this comfort level with this group of colleagues in the future? Eh. Probably not.
Or am I missing something here?
I guess I just need to chalk it up to…it is a Bellevue birthday party. LOL
I am not so sure if I am looking forward to the next one.
It was a cold Wednesday in January and two days before the inauguration of our now President Trump. It was also my day off from work. I finally reached the amount of time at my new job that not only could I have various health benefits but Walter could also. All we needed was specific paperwork for New York City workers that could be obtained at the courthouse. I realized that it was the same day as my trade organization meeting. That meeting is also held in the courthouse building. So Walter and I made a plan. Several hours before my meeting, we would go get the papers. Afterwards, I would go to the meeting in the other part of the building.
When Walter and I got to the courthouse, we were directed to the office that we needed. Interestingly, it was also the office that marries people, gives domestic partnership papers…and GUN permits. It made for an interesting crowd. We got to the office and the line was out of the office and down the hall. It was being run like Motor Vehicles with one major difference. It was FILLED with brides, grooms and their wedding parties. We couldn’t help but wonder if the Trump inauguration had anything to do with it. A lot of the bride – groom match ups did not seem to be couples looking like they are in love. I will say that much. Hours went by and announcements were made. “F17 to booth 1”. “G100 to booth 2”. More and more brides and grooms entered the room mixed in with very few gun permit people. What a combination!!! We were half concerned that some of these brides and grooms would re enter for gun permits!?!? Anyway…after many hours, we finally got to the front of the DMV type line. We told them what we needed, showed them the documentation that I am a City worker and were handed a bag of additional legal originals so we can follow the directions of providing original documentation. We rushed out so that I would not miss the rest of the meeting.
After going home, I asked Walter to get me the papers so I could bring them to work the next day. “Sandra, I want to show you something”. Walter was smiling. I looked at the first document. It stated that we were…MARRIED!!!! WHAT!!!! I felt my face turn pale as a ghost and we all know I am as pale as a ghost to start with. Every document stated that we were married. WE WERE MARRIED BY ACCIDENT!!!!
Walter went back on Friday to correct the papers. He was told that the computers were down and they could not fix anything until next week!!!! When Walter finally was able to go back, a different person helped him. She apologized profusely. She told Walter that the woman who made the mistake is one of those people who never asks questions when she doesn’t know something. Everything was corrected. The woman encouraged Walter to come and ask for her when it is time for Walter and I to get married. She would give us the right papers.
I told the story to one of my very best friends since the 2nd grade (Kelly Tighe-Viscosi) and she said that something like this happening in my life does not surprise her one bit!
For legal reasons, you can not speak any language other than English at my job unless the language department clears you as being fluent. A patient came in and told me in broken English “I no understand I talk Spanish”. “Okay”, I said and nodded my head. One moment please”. Many of the people who work in my department speak Spanish. However, I do not know who is cleared to speak Spanish and who isn’t. I went into my work area and asked everyone in the room, “does anyone speak Spanish”? My colleagues said that “no, we don’t” why do you ask? I explained that all I wanted to do was to introduce myself as an Addiction Counselor and would the man leave the room to come with me to the telephone so we can speak through a phone interpreter. My colleagues know I would never impose on them to explain legal documents or anything like that. I simply wanted the man to know who I was and why he should come with me to the telephone. A lady that I work with stated…”that’s all? Well I will come with you”. I felt relieved and grateful to her. We walked over to the man’s hospital room together. She knocked on the door, called his name and we walked in together. She lifted up her pointer finger, pointed at the patient and slowly said…”YOUUUUU….then she starts flailing her arms half like a bird and half doing the “come here” motion with her hands…”cummmm herreeeee” and she slowly started walking backwards towards the hallway. She did NOT speak a word of Spanish. It was all I could do to not burst out laughing. The man got out of his hospital bed and he followed us. My colleague turned to me and said, “there”. “I got him out of bed” and went back to what she was doing. I was dumb founded and just did not know what to say. I guess I better pick up my pace when it comes to learning Spanish. Until I know it fluently, I now know that…flapping your arms like a bird is the universal language.
This year I experienced Christmas day like never before. I was at work in an alcohol and drug detox. Due to there being a skeleton crew, I was the only Counselor working for a good portion of the day. For many reasons, there is one phone and all Patients take turns sharing the phone. In addition to that, long distance phone calls must go through a live Operator and assisted by a Counselor who has an authorization code. To be expected, a Patient approached me and asked if I would assist him with making a long distance call. “Miss Sandra, would you help me call my Uncle Otto? He lives in Alabama”. I would answer YESSSS Mr. So and So, I would be happy to help you call your Uncle Otto. In the back of my mind, I was a little bit concerned. In the initial interview, this very laid back, easy going gentle giant of a man told me that his Uncle Otto was the reason he relapsed in the first place. I helped get an Operator, completed the code information and told the Patient to give me the high sign when he gets through to his Uncle Otto. I waited to make sure he wasn’t disconnected and could get through. After getting the high sign, I was nearby assisting another Patient. I suddenly hear this man shouting at the top of his lungs SHUT UP !!!! SHUT UP UNCLE OTTO!!!!! Then he slammed down the phone. This was not good. “Miss Sandra I feel like leaving this detox and going to get high”!!!! NO NO NO you don’t want to get high Mr. So and So. Thankfully I was able to talk him down to his low key self. Then when the next Patient started in with “Miss Sandra, could you help me with a phone call?.” I asked each and every Patient if they were absolutely 100% sure that they wanted to call said family member. The “Ma” phone call sounded like this. MAAA…. but MAAAAAAH…I don’t think the mom let him get in a word edgewise. MOMMY! But…but…MOMMY…and he slammed the phone down and freaked out. During our initial meeting, he told me that he didn’t have any contact with his family. I asked him, “is everything okay after your phone call with your mother?”. He replied “oh, that was not my mother; that is what I call my girlfriend”!?!?!?
Some phone calls went well. Others did not. Another Patient sitting on a couch near the phone area looked sort of down. I asked if everything was alright. “I feel sad because there is nobody for me to call today and I wish there was”. Another Patient came around the corner. “Miss Sandra, I know it is the fourth time I have asked since yesterday but could you help me try and call my girlfriend? I am going through to voicemail every time and I have a feeling that she broke up with me”. YESSSS Mr. So and So; I will be happy to help you call your girlfriend. Again.
It was a long day. And an experience I won’t ever forget. I must say it is an honor to stand beside people who want to stay clean and sober so badly that this is what they are willing to do over the holidays.
Recently, a new Patient named Ken came in and wanted help with his addiction. We were filling out the required intake forms and I asked about Ken’s marriage status. Ken perked up with a gleam in his eyes. “My wife and I have been married for over forty years and together for almost fifty years”. I was very impressed and asked if he didn’t mind a question that wasn’t on the form. What is their secret to staying together for almost fifty years? Ken explained that over the years they have been through so much. For over three years, up until a few months ago, they were living on the streets. “Matter of fact, when it was time to go to sleep, we shared the front steps of the church for the last three years with other people who were street homeless”. Ken went on to explain that they gave the couple names that are terms of endearment…Ken the Kind and Barbie the Barbarian!?!?!? Ken explained that he is known to be kind and would give the shirt off of his back to a stranger. His wife, however, is the opposite and is often embarrassing because she will use racial slurs when people irk her. Ken said that at one time, they had everything. They had a home, they raised their children there and then disabilities struck. Barbie could no longer be a Nurse and Ken could no longer be a Master Locksmith. Ken explained that no matter what, they love each other and they just stay together through thick and thin. Ken told me that together, they can endure whatever has happened in their lives. However, there is one thing that hurts them both. After everything that this couple has been through, I couldn’t even begin to guess what he was going to tell me. Ken’s eyes welled up with tears. He explained that people look down on us like we are the dirt under their shoe. All Ken wants is for people to be… kind. Wow.
It is often said that kindness goes a long way. Homelessness and the addiction lifestyle often strips people of their dignity. I will often think of Ken and remember how kindness may be the only thing that a person has left. It is a crucial gift that we can all give.
Each day, my commute to work involves using the subway. Recently, I chose to get to work using the “E” subway; an “express” train that runs out of Queens and into Manhattan. At first the train was moving. Then it decreased its speed. Then it was a snail’s pace until the train stopped completely. This train did not move for approximately 15 minutes when an announcement came over the loud speakers. “Due to a medical incident, subways on the E line are moving at slower speeds”. SLOWER SPEEDS! This EXPRESS train had not moved in almost twenty minutes. If not moving at all for 20 minutes is a slower speed, I don’t want to know what they would consider a slow speed! I suppose that moving the train backwards might be the slow speed as opposed to slower speeds in their eyes!!!! I said this to the woman standing next to me whose look of frustration matched mine. Her answer was…oh please, if anyone from the MTA hears you they may adopt your yardstick of what slow means. Got to love public transportation and their explanations of things. “Slower speeds!”. We had a good laugh because what is the alternative.
I just came back from walking my dog, Mimi, for her final walk of the night. A man was walking his dog also. They were coming towards us. Suddenly, the man who looked to be about my father’s age, was clutching his heart. His walking slowed down. He stopped, held on to the tree and kept walking forward with his hand clutching his heart. I asked him if something was wrong half expecting him to ask me to call an ambulance. He replied that he was NOT okay. I asked him how I could help him and he started to cry. He said, “my wife passed away”. I told him that I was so sorry and then I asked when she passed away. “Today”. ” I came home from work and she was lying dead on the floor”. He seemed to want to talk. He told me about how they were married for 20 years, she was the love of his life and now he doesn’t know what to do. The tears were streaming down his face. I reached out and gave him a hug. “We finally had money. Next month we were going to Cancun because my wife loved the beach. We bought homes in Florida and PA. Now, they all mean nothing without her. She was so beautiful. She had just washed her hair before I left for work. She wasn’t sick. I thought she was healthy”. I asked him what his name was and he asked me mine. His name is Mr. Walsh. His tone changed and he spoke to me sternly. He said, “You look like a young woman. I don’t know if you have a husband or children. If you do, make sure you spend as much time with them as you can. It is important that you know that. Take it from me because I will never see the love of my life ever again”. Mimi went up to the other dog and was being very friendly. Mr. Walsh told me that his dog is a rescue and his wife is the one who adopted her. He told me that it is now his job to take good care of the dog. Mr. Walsh kept apologizing for “bothering me”. I assured him that I was really glad to meet him and also his dog. He said that he hopes that he remembers me and my dog and that he sees us again sometime when he isn’t feeling so upset. We parted ways and kept walking the dogs. I do hope that Mr. Walsh will be alright. Just as important, I hope we can all be reminded to make time for the people we love and care about.