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Roger N. Meyer "...of a different mind "
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Roger N. Meyer

Copyright 2002 All Rights Reserved



      I called her.


     We had a strained conversation two weeks ago.  I told her I had my doubts about how the social security case was going.  I had my ideas.  She had hers.  I laid out a couple of options.  In the back of my mind, though, I knew she would decide the right thing to do.  She always has.


     I've been working with her brain injured adult son for over seven months.  He's such a brave young man.  Sweet, shy, innocent in the extreme.  Newly married two years ago with a six month old child.  A double wide up in the country with grandma backing up the mortgage.  With his father, he did all the digging, the foundation, clearing of the lot.


     He works hard.  Brain cancer when three, massive chemo and radiation.  School was bad.  The headaches.  Hard to learn.  Very hard to learn.  Mother's personal note shows her finally requesting the vocational track when he was fourteen.


     So much better.


     At 16 he started to work with his Dad in heavy construction.  He hung around and learned how to drive the special trucks with the placards for hazardous materials, and soon got a special commercial class license.  Been doing that for years.


     This kind of construction work is hard.  You go in there to break the ground, to dig the holes, to fell the trees.  You drive the truck and you grease and oil the machines.  The hours are punishing.  Sometimes sixteen hours a day, and hardly ever a day off.  The

construction season, you know.


     He's a slight man, fragile almost.  He says he chose the truck driving and the special equipment lubrication work because it doesn't involve any lifting and not much physical exertion.  He gets those headaches.  Always has.


     And the pay is great.  Some of the year always off, though, out on unemployment.  Seasonal work, but good pay.


     Great family.  Younger brother by two years, a sister older by four.  Parents the salt of the earth.  Rocks they are.  His father a rather taciturn man.  Intense.  Mother some background in business and government, but always there for her son.  They all are.


     Five years ago he started having terrible headaches.  And his gut had always been a problem.  All those medical records said he had problems with his gut.  But this was worse.  This was emergency room time.  At the time, he was living with a girl friend, and she was running up his credit cards, milking him for all of his earnings, having him sign ownership papers over to her.  She even got him to sign a power of attorney when he went into the hospital.  All his money.  All his possessions.  The family found out later

that her whole family was in this "line of work."  Mother was a foster adult caretaker.  Stealing the checks.  Abusing her elderly and disabled adult charges.


     Like mother like daughter.


     The headaches.  He came into the hospital, they took a few X-rays.  A tumor the size of a golf ball in his left hemisphere.  The radiologist knew this was the spot irradiated when he was a youngster, age 3.  Chemo too.  Cut it out, he said.  Wasn't going to go through what he went through between three and five, when he was declared "cured."  The operation went fast.  He went home to "her."  The hospital social worker said the parents were worried about that.  She would do a home visit. just to make sure.  She never did.


     After the operation, he wasn't the same.  The doctors never really told the family what to expect, and what they got wasn't the son who checked into the hospital.  His mood swings, his uncontrollable periods of sadness, of feeling helpless.  They watched him in the care of that leech, that woman, and finally it was too much.  One day, they swooped down on the farm home, gathered him up, took his few remaining belongings that his girl friend hadn't stolen or pawned, and that was the end of her.


     He began a kind of new life.  Returning to the construction work he had just before the operation, he got his bearings.  A man his father knew befriended him and showed him the ropes as one after the other, as construction companies folded, he followed this man, his supervisor, from employer to employer.


     He is a very hard worker.  He works harder than anyone else on the crew.  Reliable.  Dependable.  Needs special training.  Show him.  Repeat the demonstration.  Hands over.  Then shadow.  Once he learns something, he doesn't forget.  This supervisor, he can work anywhere he wants.  Great with people.  He gets a job, and then he calls my guy up.  "Hey, I got a job for you here.  C'mon over, we can make this work."


     All his life his mom and dad had interpreted the world for him.


     See, his memory is bad.  Real bad.  He can't remember what he just heard, and people have to speak very slowly and clearly for him.  They figure this is how he's been taken advantage of.  Well, his mom and dad said, never again.


     Three years ago he met this young woman.  She had a three year old son.  The son took to him naturally.  He's a natural with kids.  Doesn't expect too much of them.  Just loves them, and is kind and gentle.


     This woman, she was good for him.  He liked her.  Loved her.  They married and a year or so later, comes the baby.  He dotes on the baby.  When his wife was pregnant, her sister came to live with them briefly.  Something wrong with her, never quite sure what it was, but there was trouble.


     She said he did things.  He said he didn't.  There was a criminal trial and out of the eleven or twelve charges, he came out of it with a misdemeanor conviction.  The judge said it was wrong; he had a bad feeling about the conviction.  He'd help the attorney with the appeal any way he could  That's possible you know.  Small time community with the lawyers and the judges all having grown up together.


     The lawyer didn't know much about the brain cancer or the operation or any of that.  Just assumed this to be a young man who got into trouble, and he was an old family friend.  There are friends and then there are friends.  He never knew much about the young man other than to know he was somehow special.  Everyone in their small agricultural community, fifty miles from the big city, they knew he was special.  They all looked after him, they did.


     When the family called the ADA coordinator at a local center for independent living, they were desperate.  She couldn't help because her job isn't to advocate.  But she knows I stick my nose in all kinds of business, and it was a done deal.  I accepted the case, and the family.  Can't separate the young man from his whole setting.  Trouble was, right now the family was "getting in his way."  He had to go through this probation program by himself, without family member interference, and they couldn't get the distance to let him do that.


     I could, I said.  And I have.


     These are strong, immensely strong and simple people.  Like folks say, good stock.  Solid.  Something about them.  They've been through so much.  And their son.  He wasn't supposed to make it through any of this.  He amazes people.  He just plunges in there and does things that someone with his history of organic brain disease isn't supposed to be able to do.  He does it.  Doesn't know the meaning of "no."  They have never held him back.


     You can do this," they say.  They've interpreted the world for him, but they've never told him, "No."  They trust him to find his way.


     And he has.


     He's a piece of work this young man.  You love him.  You have to.  There is this innocence, this softness to him, and those eyes.  Set deeply in his plain face, they look at you with such trust.  He puts his arm around you after you have befriended him, and you feel as though he's holding you up.  That's the kind of magic there is in this young man.


     The stress was getting to him.  He was on probation and the probation officer and all of those other people, they don't understand cognitive deficits.  They think he's being crafty.  He says "no" to their questions.  He can't remember.  He really can't.  They don't believe him.  I work with him, helping them understand that they have to take it slow and easy.  They have to speak clearly and use simple words, and I make sure he is able to tell them what they just said to him in his own words.  It's hard just being a clear channel like this.  I want to say things "for him" but that isn't my deal with him, his family, his attorney, or my legal consultants back in Washington.  They've never heard of a case like this.  We'll back you all the way, they say.  Unusual role, this.


     Cognitive interpreter.


     Finally, the specialists in this probation program give up.  They call him "non compliant."  His probation officer has had all of the reports, the special neuropsychological evaluation, the forensic report that documents his almost non-existent memory, his visceral, physical response to being verbally pushed and harassed.  The headaches have gotten real bad and the plate in his head hurts and the screws feel as though they are biting through his tongue from the top of his head where they took out the tumor.


     Three months ago I sat in the family living room and interviewed the mom and the wife.  We got his story, and then he talked with me for an hour.  All for the social security application.  A few weeks before I had gotten him a "quit for health" discharge from his employer.  His employer was great, and the unemployment was good, and solid.  No trouble.


     We talked about the problems with school and early work and how he gets tired and confused.  The mom went down to his school and found the records.  Great documentation, and with what she had kept at home, a solid basis for a disability claim.


     But I sat on it.  Something wrong.  I sat on it.  I was ready to go two months ago, but I sat on it.  It bothered me that I had told them that in order to get on to social security we had to make him look like a total basket case.  Something wrong.


     He isn't a basket case.  He wasn't supposed to get this far.  Nothing he's done he'd been expected to do.  Marriage?  Ridiculous!  Fatherhood?  Out of the question!  But great Dad he is.  And gentle.


     No, something wrong here.  He isn't like the other adults I've helped.  Never seen anyone quite like him.  The neuropsychologist says that what he has done with his life with what she measured is utterly incredible.


     And so it is.


     He is.  His family is.  His community is.  Everything is incredible.  Everything says, "Strength."  Says, "Hope!"  Says to him and his wife, and his baby, and his stepson, "Yes.  Yes, you can!"


     I talk with my colleagues.  I've never run into this before.  I talk it out.  I've been stuck because I know that social security thing is wrong.  It would consign him to a kind of death, like a moth suspended on a silken thread in a jar of formaldehyde.


     No.  Something wrong with letting this young man become a victim of the bureaucratic cynics.  Those whose grey lives see "cases" like his sit on their desks.  They expect nothing of him.  Look at those reports.  Nothing they can do with him.


     You know why?


     They don't understand how he's been able to do what he's done with his life up to the point of his application, but they know they can find him "eligible."  And then he can start on the downward spiral like the rest of cases in fat folders on their desks.


     But I can't do it.  I won't do it.


     I finally get up the nerve to call his mom.  She's been the primary family person all along.  He usually comes on the phone after we talk, and we talk for a bit.  I want to tell the mom I just can't.  This isn't right.  He's so strong.  Everything about the family is strong.


     I'm a city guy.  I've had a hard time understanding what this is.  I figure if there's an angle to getting help, you go after it.  You work all the levers and find the buttons.  But he isn't a city guy, and his isn't a city family.  Everything is so OK with them that there's no way my city ideas will work.  They are all wrong.


     You can't buy strength like this.  It isn't in the agency offices, or the forms, or the plans, or the "staffing meetings."  It's right back there on that hillside in his double wide with his wife and his stepson and his baby and his mom and dad and his brother and sister and the congregation and the whole community.


     I start out right.


     "I have to tell you...."


Copyright Issues


This article is copyright, all rights reserved by the author, Roger N. Meyer.  It may be reproduced in single copy once for personal use, and in no more than ten copies total for educational purposes.  Fair Use is authorized for all purposes and under conditions established by US Statute and the International Copyright Convention, to which the United States is a signatory nation.  No person shall publish, distribute, copy, or by other means make this material available to others for purposes of personal gain or professional self-aggrandizement.  Individuals wishing permission to exercise other than fair use or limited distribution as outlined above must contact the author, in writing, and receive explicit written permission from the author prior to engaging in further use of this material.

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