by Robert Lanz, LCSW
Sometimes they show up again and bring something so unexpected that the pain and pleasure begin to intertwine in a way that defies description. The simplest request brings on the heaviest flashback. There’s a mom down in Room Fourteen who needs admission and she’s worried about her kids at day care and who will pick them up. The social worker’s job doesn’t get any more basic than that. Make a few calls. Make a few arrangements. Done deal. Five minutes max.
Any of our social workers could do the same. Just walk into the room, introduce yourself and make the calls. Pretty simple.
I walk into the room and I see the attractive 30-year-old mom under the covers. She peeks out, makes eye contact, says, “Oh Bob, it’s you,” and starts crying. I draw the curtain around the bed to give her a little privacy and to give myself a minute to try and connect with who she is. She obviously knows me and I don’t have a clue about her. She obviously has very strong memories of me but I have none of her. This is a common problem that all of the staff, at one point or another, are confronted with in the ER. In their whole lives, the patients may interact with only one of us and that might be on their worst day. Their worst day is just another day in our lives. It has to be that way to protect us from emotional overload. But these encounters don’t just go away, they get tucked away in some emotional hot zone in our brains, waiting for a memory stimulus to bring them back.
Still crying, she asked “Do you remember me, Bob?”
“I remember your face but it seems like it was a while ago.” A safe statement to make.
“I was here 18 years ago and I remember you. You were so kind and I felt safe.”
What’s been going on since then?” I asked her.
“I got married and have three great kids a good husband. All that other stuff is behind me but I always remember you.”
“Wow, that’s great and I’m utterly flattered that you remembered me so long.”
“I was a scared little girl and you protected me. I wasn’t scared anymore. I told the police everything.”
“And everything is okay now?”
She wiped her eyes and smiled big.
“Everything is okay now, Bob.”
“How can I help you today?”
It was easy to call a friend and contact the day care and reassure the docs that everything was okay.
But I wasn’t okay. I have no idea who she was other than to assume that eighteen years ago, a scared twelve-year-old was most likely the victim of some sexual molestation, possibly incest, and didn’t know who to trust. Something I said or did got her through all that, whatever it was, and I was embarrassed that I didn’t remember it. I was also a little embarrassed to be remembered so fondly. Part of the job, I guess. Part of the job that doesn’t happen very often. But it happened that day and one thing I will never forget is how that made me feel.