At the age of 18, all Israeli citizens are required to serve in the military or do national service. I chose national service over the army. I worked as a nurse’s assistant in a hospital for a year, and as a teacher’s helper in a school for developmentally delayed children for three months. These are my thoughts from these two positions.
Thoughts from working in a hospital #1 - Of Patients and Personal Relationships.
He’s about 70 years old, bald, huge blue eyes. He wears a big black Kippah that covers the entire top of his head. Every time I see him he has bits of red jell-o on his lips because that’s how the nurses get him to take his pills - by crushing them into red jell-o! (ew!)
Anyway, I used to give him breakfast and lunch during the day. Sometimes, on alternating spoonfuls, he’d say things like, “You’re pretty,” or “You’re a lovely girl.” I used to just smile and say thank you. I never really thought anything of it. Then one morning he asked me to marry him.
I guess you never really know how you affect people.
Thoughts from working in a hospital #2 - Racism
“Shalom. Thiss eez daa P’nimit?”
“Yes. Who are you looking for?”
“Eh, Farhoud Abu Taya.”
“Tank you, Shukran, Toda Raba.”
It’s 10:30. I’ve finished the morning round of vital signs and now I’m sitting next to the secretary alphabetizing stickers. She turns to me and whispers, “Damn them and their families.”
I look up, shocked. “What? Why?”
She doesn’t budge. “I hate them. Every one of them.”
I stare at her, lost for words.
She looks at me, confused. “Don’t you?”
I shake my head. “No.”
“You don’t hate Arabs?”
“No, of course not. Why should I?”
The secretary gives up on me and turns to one of the doctors. “Damn them and their families,” she whispers in his ear. He nods.
My jaw drops. Because now we are talking about intelligent, educated people.
What reason do I have to hate someone I don’t even know, I ask. So if his neighbor’s wife’s cousin-in-law’s father’s fifth-cousin-twice-removed murdered someone, I should hate him? Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think hatred is counterproductive. Yes, murder is a terrible thing. Terrorism is the worst thing ever and it should be stopped.
I’m at a failure to see how increasing the amount of hatred is going to help stop terrorism.
Thoughts from working in a hospital #3 - Adapting to Change
I am afraid of needles.
But when my boss at the hospital announced that it was time for me to learn how to take blood sugars, I didn’t protest. I learned that checking a person’s blood sugar level involves the tiniest prick on the tip of the finger and one drop of blood, which is inserted into a magnetic card that reads it. It takes ten seconds at most. The cut seals itself immediately. Often the patients don’t even notice it (you can do it while they’re asleep!).
However, some patients did notice, and some were just as scared as I was. If they jumped or flinched as I came at them with a needle, the needle was likely to bump into something and somebody was likely to get hurt. That’s how I felt about it. I was terrified of getting pricked by accident by a needle with someone else’s blood on it. (CHILLS)
Then one day a blessing arrived in the shape of hundreds of disposable prickers. The pricker had a needle inside a tiny plastic case, which meant that all you had to do was press a button and you got a perfect amount of blood. The needle was never exposed. It was safe. I converted immediately.
But not all the nurses did. Some insisted on continuing to use the old fashioned, dangerous way - exposed needles. My friend, who was also in National Service and worked in the department with me, was among those who refused to learn the innovative method of the pricker.
She got pricked one day taking a patient’s blood sugar and spent the afternoon in the emergency room, getting tested for hepatitis and HIV and other awful things that could have been in that one drop of blood. (She’s fine now, but it was scary.)
Thoughts from working in a hospital #4 - Of Patients and Personal Relationships
There was one patient I really developed a connection with. He was the father of a staff member, and although his body was not very strong, his mind was sharp as a tack.
I had gotten into the habit of singing songs from Broadway musicals while doing my round of morning vitals. When I got to his room, I would smile at him and say good morning, and continue the round as usual. He would lie still and listen to me while I took his blood pressure. I would sometimes go and sing to him if I had a minute to spare.
With time, his condition got worse. His ability to speak clearly was affected and eventually he could only mumble things most people didn’t understand. It must have been terribly frustrating to be thinking clearly, but unable to communicate properly. I usually understood him, if he agreed to repeat what he was saying 3 or 4 times. One time I went into his room, he had a song playing on the radio in the background. He mumbled something, looking directly at me, indicating it was very important. It took several tries until I understood that he was saying, “This song is for you.”
He passed away after over a month in the department.
This song is for you.
Thoughts from working in a hospital #5 - Of Patients and Personal Relationships
There was a man named Moshe. He was in his fifties. He had four grown up children. He breathed through a tube in his neck. His condition deteriorated over the course of nearly two months in our ward. He used to shake the railing on his bed to get attention because he couldn’t speak. I remember his face clearly.
The doctors and nurses used to address him as, “Mr. Cohen.” I always used his first name. I felt like he responded better if addressed on a personal level.
As his condition got steadily worse, he stopped reacting to certain things. The doctors lost most of the ability to communicate with him.
“Mr. Cohen! How do you feel today?” He kept his eyes closed and didn’t move.
“Mr. Cohen! Mr. Cohen!” Hand squeezing, brushing the side of his face. Nothing worked.
“Hey, Moshe, I need to take your temperature, can you open your mouth?”
And he did.
Thoughts from working in a special needs school #1
Perhaps it’s the prolonged innocence that makes them so, or maybe the spaced-out expressions they so often wear. Or is it the way they take you by surprise when they communicate so clearly, even without the use of words? Once you get past the dirty diapers, the spit-up and the constant sideways flopping out of the stroller, it is impossible not to love them. They are tiny little worlds waiting to be discovered.
Thoughts from working in a special needs school #2
How strange it is, every morning when I greet the kids, to be reminded that they don’t speak. It’s something that escapes my notice. I mean, they talk to me, don’t they? They do speak, they just don’t use words. They use body language, they make sounds. Some use facial expressions, and most common is the use of crying and laughing. The kids laugh a lot. It’s truly wonderful to hear such a clear expression of happiness from a child who appears to have so many disadvantages. Some kids use sign language. A kid in my class is learning how to sign, but so far he only knows one sign: ME.
Thoughts from working in a special needs school #3
Now that the regular school schedule has been instituted, I work until 4:00PM every day. I spend the afternoons with a different class. Two of the girls in this class can walk, and one uses sign language fairly well. I’m not very fond of the afternoon teacher, who is cold and wrinkled. She doesn’t smile often. She barks orders at the kids and often threatens to withhold snacks if they don’t behave themselves. Yesterday she gave showers to two girls. I helped her with preparations but not with the showers themselves. After showering one girl, she wheeled her back into the classroom without bothering to dress her. I made to close the classroom door but was instructed to leave the door open for air! When I protested about the girl’s privacy, the teacher replied that no one comes down to our end of the hall anyway. I found this very disturbing. At the hospital, actions like showering or changing were always done behind a curtain, even if the patient was in a coma. I thought, but what about the six other kids sitting in the classroom? They may be retarded, but they’re certainly not blind, or deaf, or stupid, or unaware of what is happening around them. They have feelings. They have told me so themselves.
Thoughts from working in a special needs school #4
All babies put things in their mouths. They get to a developmental stage where every new object must be tasted. It’s what they do.
Naturally, retarded kids get to this stage later on in life - sometimes around age 6 or 7. A seven year old might be found crawling around the room inserting every object within reach into his mouth. This doesn’t seem like it should be a problem, assuming the objects are not small and easy to choke on.
But what happens when said seven-year-old is putting his hands in his mouth all the time, and it becomes increasingly difficult to feed him? Special needs teachers have plenty of difficulty taking care of the kids without extra challenges, so they have a miraculous solution for this problem - tying down their hands! 0_0
There was one kid who had a big problem with hands in his mouth, particularly at feeding time. he had pink plastic tubes that prevented him from bending his arms so that his hands couldn’t go into his mouth. I personally refused to use the little pink bubbles; instead, I repeatedly yanked his hand out of his mouth in hope of teaching him not to put it back in. Eventually it only took two or three yanks for him to stop eating his hand while I was giving him breakfast (he did it for other people, though). I would like to think that I actually taught him not to do it, but the thing about retarded kids is, you can never really know.
My question is why not take the time to teach him not to put his hands in his mouth? Why jump immediately to handcuffs? What if his mouth feels weird and he’s looking for new sensations? How about teething toys?
But there’s no time. There’s no patience. Salaries are low. Budgets are low. Parents are uncooperative. There isn’t really much we can do about that. We can just hope that these children run across one or two people who really care - who will take the time and give them what they need so that they might, someday, reach a basic level of independent functioning.
Thoughts from working in a special needs school #5
Michael is a developmentally delayed seven-year-old who is in the process of learning how to walk and how to use a spoon. He uses a little walker every morning for half an hour. He yells the entire time, but he walks.
The teachers have a special diagnosis for him: lazy syndrome. He doesn’t feel like it, he’s lazy. He doesn’t want to learn to walk. He wants to be fed, rather than learn to feed himself.
On the one hand, I can understand why a person would prefer to be spoon-fed than to learn to do it themselves. However, I don’t think that’s true in the case of this child, or most children. Don’t children usually try to control whatever they can? Don’t they try to grab independence at every opportunity? Why on earth would one assume that a child is naturally lazy? Naturally Lazy, listen to that! It even sounds absurd.
And here we are back on the subject of labels. Contrary to common belief, calling a person lazy will not motivate them further. In fact, attributing negative qualities to children and calling them names usually just drains their will to learn.
So what good does it do? Regular kids don’t like being called names. Neither do retarded kids. They’re not that different.
Michael has blond hair and, in my humble opinion, a very sharp mind. I think his mind is so far beyond his physical capabilities that he becomes very easily frustrated by simple everyday limitations. There’s food on the table, I want it, Damn it, I can’t walk. I’m no professional, and I could be completely wrong about that. It’s just what I think.
Thoughts from working in a special needs school#6 (20.9.10)
At a school for developmentally delayed children there are various levels of functioning and skills. Some can walk, some can’t move across the floor. Some can use sign language, some can barely move their heads. But there is one thing they all have in common, without exception; even the most severely disabled kids can smile. They can all smile. They don’t always feel like it, but they can. And they do. It’s so refreshing to see a child who sleeps all day and gets fed through a tube suddenly look up at you with an enormous grin on his face. =)