Several months ago I was placed part-time on a very busy medicine unit at the hospital, to assist a coworker with her heavy caseload. As we started to become more familiar with each other, we shared the reasons we were drawn into social work. I indicated that I chose this profession because when I was a little girl, our family fostered a little boy from the reserve. This four year old boy came to our home with a soiled diaper, matted hair and cigarette burns. He was developmentally delayed and not toilet-trained. Although I was only about six at the time, I vividly remember he was terrified of the vacuum cleaner, and he loved it when my grandpa rolled him back and forth on the floor. He experienced his very first haircut while he was with us, exposing his big brown eyes. Even though he wasn't with us for very long, it was hard to say good-bye, and his memory led me to want to go into the helping profession. In fact, I wrote about him in an essay for my University application.
With my coworker on the unit full time, and myself half-time, we soon developed an easy method of dividing our caseload. I simply asked her to pass me the files she would like me to assist her with at random, since she knew the unit best. One day she gave me the case of an adult male. I went into his room and as I began my assessment and we started chatting, it was clear to me this man was cognitively delayed, even though there was no indication on the chart. I could sense something strangely familiar--just a "gut feeling." And it dawned on me that his first name matched the first name of my former foster brother.
I told my coworker I thought it might be him, and at her urging I phoned my mom that night to ask his last name. It was this patient! I informed my manager of the situation. I wanted the very best for this patient but at the same time didn't want to do anything unethical; he was my client. My coworker was reassigned the case and I knew she would take good care of his needs. He desperately did not want to return to the reserve, and he eventually ended up living away in an assisted living facility, away from his extended family and in our region.
As the weeks passed after his discharge, I felt a calling to be involved in my former foster brother's life. I couldn't believe the coincidence--of all the hospitals he could go to in the province, out of all the hospitals in the city, out of all the units in our hospital, and of the cases my coworker could randomly pass to me--it was truly a miracle. And I believe things happen for a reason.
I called the Alberta College of Social Workers to discuss this dilemma and asked if it was okay to disclose my previous relationship to the patient and become part of his life, especially since he was estranged from his biological family. They agreed and confirmed the hospital staff, myself included, conducted ourselves ethically. I went to this man and told him who I was. He asked why I hadn't told him sooner, and I explained to him that I didn't want to influence his decision on where he wanted to live--I wanted him to do what was best for him without my influence.
Over the last little while, we have shared some laughs and some short memories from when he was with us. I can't believe he remembers!--but the details he shared were undeniable. I spoke about this with another coworker who has extensive experience working in child welfare, and he said we can never underestimate the positive impact a healthy home has on a child, even if he was only there for a short while.
My former foster brother has the most infectious giggle and gentle spirit. I have helped him pick out winter boots, coat and mitts, we've gone for coffee, and he came for supper with my family to watch the Grey Cup. He calls regularly and we have forged a new friendship. Things happen for a reason, and I feel my life has gone a full circle--I am helping the person who has helped me become a social worker. I am truly blessed.
"Everything the power of the world does is done in a circle.
The sky is round and I have heard that the earth is round like a ball and so are the stars.
The wind, in its greatest power, whirls.
Birds make their nest in circles,
for theirs is the same religion as ours.
The sun comes forth and goes down again in a circle.
The moon does the same and both are round.
Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing
and always come back again to where they were.
The life of a man is a circle from childhood to childhood,
and so is everything where power moves."
~Black Elk, Holy Man of the Oglala Sioux~