It’s most impressive to see how you can get used to almost anything.
As a social worker I meet people living very precarious lives. My colleagues and I accompany them and see how they develop, take care of themselves, find a home, feed themselves, etc.
But despite this visible and measurable progress, changes remain utterly fragile. These people are often on the verge of losing everything: a home cluttered with the most improbable stuff, lacking hygiene blocking societal integration, a degree of apathy when faced with social procedures, etc.
You get used to this vulnerability and see it as something relative in nature.
Because in our social work we’re very much aware of the long road these people have travelled – and long it will remain. We get used to see how they get stuck in their vulnerability. It’s then up to us to help them as well as we can to get moving again.
Inside, we sometimes surprise ourselves thinking that the road these people have travelled is so long that further progress is no longer possible. You get used to it. But yet it’s up to us to help them move on.
Mr. B. has known the street for a long time; it’s where he spent dozens of years.
Leading a life his body could not cope with. Moving from one hospital to the next. He had no choice anymore. A matter of life or death.
At home, Mr. B. has some destructive habits.
He does no longer go outside, keeps all curtains closed, blocking any light. He drinks too much and invites a numerous ragtag crowd.
But he remains cheerful and refuses to contemplate any change. Although having a home, he must return to hospital again and again. These hospitalizations become ever more critical and, psychologically, we already prepare for his possible death.
With some degree of fatalism, we can even understand him.
His body is battered to the point of refusing to do what he wants, he cannot control his hands anymore, and is stuck in a wheelchair. Can that still be called “life”? At that point we understand him: at the risk of dying young, why deprive yourself and change your behaviour before departing?
And then…he had to return to hospital again, for more than two months. During that stay he undergoes spectacular change.
He’s no longer the same person.
He talks differently, develops projects, knows what he’d love to do, what he’d enjoy, etc.
We remain prudent and tend to think that all this will prove to be a vague memory once he’ll have left hospital. And yet: he left hospital and became a different person! His change, both physical and emotional, was incredible.
He walks again, stopped drinking, avoids toxic people, takes care of himself, accepts help when offered, allows himself some fun. He moved house and… opens the curtains.
In short, he wants to live!
This story shows how we can accompany people in their vulnerability by getting used to their situation, knowing that precariousness in a such a life is unavoidable – and that they already travelled a very long road.
In addition, this story confirms how much we are masters of our own lives. We certainly helped Mr. B. along, but he owes his success exclusively to himself. But our small contribution to his change makes our work meaningful and shows how fantastic and unpredictable it is to work with “human beings” rather than with “problem cases”.
(*) We do our utmost to respect the privacy of our patients and our professional secrecy. However, we want to testify to how they must survive and how we are working together to reintegrate them. As a result, the names of places and people are deliberately omitted or changed and real-life situations are placed in a different context. There is no direct link between the photos and the stories above.