It was around four in the afternoon and for some reason Susan got mad at me for emptying out her trash and vacuuming her room.
At that exact moment, a fire started in the kitchen and I knew I had to put it out before it got out of control. However, Susan wouldn’t let me; she was threatening to hit me if I did. I knew it was my job to keep her and her roommate safe, but at that moment I froze and was unsure on what to do.
Luckily, another staff member arrived and was able to put out the fire.
This wasn’t the first time I was threatened with bodily harm. In fact, I often had my hair pulled, was yelled at, hit and scratched every day.
I worked as support staff at a residential program for individuals with mental disabilities. My job was to pick up these individuals from their work (day programs) and take them home and help them with their daily self care tasks.
Sounded simple, but it wasn’t.
I wasn’t warned about certain behaviors, I wasn’t trained to defend myself, and it seemed that I was always the bad guy. They viewed me as their enemy for addressing daily showers and proper hygiene.
Sadly, most of the staff didn’t want to deal with the behaviors, so they would never address them.
So, how did this lead me to become an occupational therapy assistant student?
I would say that Erick was my main motivation.
Erick was in his 40s, but if you were to ask him how old he was, he would tell you five years old.
I used to call Erick “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” because at moments he would attack and at other times he would say sweet things such as “I love you” or “I missed you.”
On one very stressful day, after picking up Erick from his work and dealing with my usually afternoon beating from him, I realized I was working with him for the rest of the night. I did not want to deal with any additional stress that day, so I pulled out my tablet and played some songs to keep Erick occupied.
However, at that moment I knew that this activity wasn’t very productive for him and I had remembered that my husband had recently downloaded a new piano playing app. For some reason, something told me to try this app with Erick. I wasn’t sure if he was able to follow, but I had to try.
We started playing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” and to my surprise he did extremely well.
Best of all, he was smiling and did not have any behaviors with me for the rest of the night. It went perfect and that is when I realized that I wanted to do something similar to that for the rest of my life. I wanted to help individuals become independent and live with dignity and happiness.
I had barely heard about occupational therapy about a month before. In fact, a friend of mine suggested I look into it. He thought it was ideal for me.
I wasn’t sure on the specifics, but after finding out that I could help people every day and be creative, I knew it was my future. Now I am here and I’m learning more ways on how I could help a variety of people every day.
Would I come back to a similar setting? That I am unsure of. All I know is that when I graduate, I will be prepared to handle similar situations.