Ok,so I promised some stories about my volunteer experience at the Utah State Hospital for the mentally ill. I just finished a paper with some of my favorite stories, so I thought I would just put some of them there. In a lot of ways, working at the hospital has been life changing. It is such a good environment for the mentally ill, and I've learned more about dealing with people of any situation, diagnosed or otherwise. I volunteered in the physical therapy department, which means that I helped patients one on one with their workouts. Names have been changed for confidentiality.
1. On my first day at the hospital I worked with the children, and was assigned to be with a young boy I will call “Luke”. Luke was talkative, would tell jokes to the staff, and generally very easy going. I was informed that he was only about a month away from being discharged. As Luke and I talked he told me that his favorite sport was basketball. After we were finished the work out, we went outside to shoot some hoops. Luke had informed me that he was really good at basketball, but once out on the court, it was clear he enjoyed it, but probably wasn’t the best of his peers. I asked him if he could do a lay-up. He asked me what that was. I, who is not very athletically coordinated, taught Luke how to do a lay up. I then taught him a couple of the other things that I knew about basketball, and he practiced what he had learned. At the end of the day I was still thinking about my experience with Luke. How, at eleven or twelve years old, when your favorite sport is basketball, do you not know what a lay up is? I thought to myself that at the very least, when Luke begins attending school again, and he makes friends, he will know how to do a lay up when they play basketball. It might not be much, but perhaps it can be one small step toward a normal childhood.
2. Two patients stand out my in my mind in lessons about mental illness. One is a boy youth I will call “Steve”. When working with Steve I found him to be more like a child than a youth, he was antsy and talkative. He was always trying to pull tricks on the people around him. He couldn’t walk straight on the treadmill for what seemed to be more than two minutes at a time. He followed no particular order with his work out, and he took a lot of encouragement to be on task and complete his work outs. While we do not see the diagnoses of the patients, at the very least I feel it is safe to assume he had severe attention deficit disorder. It was plain to see why Steve could not attend regular school at this time in his young life. Working with him opened my eyes to how debilitating something as common as ADD can be. Another patient who comes to mind is a young woman I will call “Linda”. Simply put, I have never met anyone like Linda in my entire life. The simplest term to describe her is “spacey”. She was in the adult unit, but was probably no older than thirty. She needed constant reminders to be productive. While walking to a new workout, she would simply stop. Or while on the bike, she would stop pedaling. I would need to tell Linda to continue doing her task, almost every minute or so. Once again, this experience showed me how very real these illnesses are and how they over take an individuals life. I believe in Linda’s particular situation, one explanation for her behavior could be medication as they try to stabilize her disorder. While I am sure the medication will help her in the long run, they are so strong it is hard to believe she could live a normal life while taking medication that intensive. I believe that Linda and Steve are currently in situations where they could not lead normal lives outside of the hospital, and their mental illnesses are in need of serious treatment.
3. Lastly, working with a senior patient I will call “Janet” was very informative. Janet seemed to be having a particularly difficult day, and started to get very tense when the song “Thriller” was playing. She asked for it to be turned off. At one point she shouted at me to “just leave [her] alone”, and mumbled to herself incessantly. When an intern came to help me, Janet kept asking her why she was wearing a red shirt, and kept saying that the familiar intern was “the devil”. After Janet went back to her unit early, the intern invited me to look at her file. Janet was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and is a prime example of some symptoms that disorder contains.
I am so glad I got the opportunity to volunteer at USH, it is such a good facility, it gives you hope for those with severe mental illness.
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