Consider every little thing you regularly do each day. You prepare a bath or shower to clean yourself then dry off. You wash, dry, brush and fix your hair. You use the bathroom, number one and two, and all that goes with that task! You flush and wash your hands, hopefully! You clean your ears, trim your nails, floss and brush your teeth. You moisturize with lotion, clean your face, and ladies, put on your makeup, and men, shave. You dress putting on undergarments, pants, shirt, socks and shoes. Now imagine you cannot move your arms, have little to no mobility, no motor coordination, and no voice. Many individuals with developmental disabilities can do most of these tasks themselves. Others can voice decisions around their personal care but require assistance. Some individuals are completely dependent on another person for every personal and hygienic need. The task of intimately caring for another requires a patient, caring and compassionate individual. I also believe it requires someone who’s capable of unconditional love.
I returned to Owensboro in July 2009 to care for my mother in the last two months of her life. I had no idea what would be involved, or what I was capable of doing for her until I was in the thick of it. I fed her, brushed her teeth, and brushed her thinned hair. I saw to her toileting, which included changing her adult disposable and cleaning her after bowel movements. I cared for and cleaned her catheter to prevent infection. I did things for my mom I never believed I was capable of doing, because she couldn’t, she needed someone to do it for her, and because I loved her. This humbling experience taught me the meaning of unconditional love. Every little thing I did for my mom was a gesture of love. Yet, my heart ached because I knew she felt helpless and a level of humiliation in this process. We involved Mom as much as possible to give her dignity and personal power through choice, out of respect for her, until she eventually could not verbally communicate because of the countless tumors in her brain. Then, her care and quality of existence was left completely in our hands until she passed.
I remember this experience whenever I see our DSPs supporting our clients. Could I do this for another human being that isn’t my mother? I honestly don’t know, but a couple of DSPs have told me they didn’t believe they could do what they do either, and yet they do. The DSPs do it with care, respect, and with as much dignity they can afford to the individual. WFC policy emphasizes respect. Even if an individual is completely non-responsive, DSPs show respect by informing and involving the individual in whatever activity, regardless of that person’s level of cognizance. The effort facilitates a sense of acknowledgement and a feeling of humanization. Last October, an assessment reported our DSP team “illustrated a caring staff who appear to have positive relationships with the people they support . . . .” Off the record, one consultant shared our DSP program was one of the best they’ve observed in their work.
Being a DSP is not glamorous work, and not without challenges. Our staff quietly and willingly takes on their responsibility with grace, compassion, commitment and heart. If any staff member fails to do so, they do not remain a part of WFC for long. The individuals we serve on Campus trust and rely on our DSPs; bonds are developed, many that root deeply into the heart. The work is difficult at times, but I’m told for every challenge they face, the rewards far outweigh the negative, making those few tough moments forgettable.
In the Next Blog Entry: My Day with the Fellas - “Upon introductions, I offered my hand to Dempsey to exchange a handshake, which he took and proceeded to bring it up to his mouth. Unsure of where we were going with this . . .”
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