Friday, March 16, 2012

Riches in the mentally disabled

Tired of hearing about recessions and the economy? Lets talk about a different kind of riches.

There is a mentally disabled man who works in the lab at one of the hospitals in my hometown. It is his job to circulate through the hospital, visiting each floor and checking for lab samples that need pickup. He stops at every nurse's station to check their lab outbox, and takes any specimens back to the lab with him.

I met him when I finished my phlebotomy certification as a sophomore in college. He never forgot his job, but would stop and talk to me occasionally. His two topics of interest were the train schedules and my hair. Like many mentally disabled adults I know, he would talk for an uncomfortable length—not a truly agonizing length, but just over normal...just enough for me to try to break off the conversation because I had to go draw a patient's blood or had to follow my preceptor around.

This week (almost three years later) I shadowed in the same hospital and I saw this man in the hallways. I recognized him instantly: his dark blue uniform, the red plastic case he carried (always in the same hand) for the specimens, his glasses slipping on his nose, his rumpled hair, his slight slump, his determined gait. He high-fived the MA, and said nothing to the OB/GYN (he sees them often, probably several times a week).

Then, he came to me, and without an instant of hesitation, he hugged me and said "It's good to see you! It's been a long time!" The hug was an uncomfortable length—not a truly agonizing length, but so long that I tried to stop the hug three times before we actually came apart.

But think about it: what an incredible moment! He recognized me! I was an extern phlebotomist for three weeks and he must've seen thousands of people in the intervening thirty-two months. I felt so special. After being the newcomer and learner to an office for a week, I drank in how he established me.

People with mental defects, special needs, etc are so valuable. How can we abort them or undervalue them? This man enriched my life today and I would be a little more impoverished without him. We can't afford to lose these lives.

No comments:

Post a Comment