Many years ago I worked briefly in a residential unit for severely physically challenged people. Now, I say “briefly” because my employment lasted exactly one day and 90 minutes. The first problem arose one day one from my candid conversations with a small group of 16-19-year-olds about how exactly sex is possible when one’s body is severely contorted with spasticity and lacking any overt conscious control.
Some people in such situations have a number of problems. One is that nurses and care staff rarely see it as part of their duty to assist their charges in having sexual intercourse with each other. Another problem is that a person with such severe disability may well have the same attraction strategy as anyone else – i.e. attraction to fit and able-bodied people. Now, in terms of attraction and integrity, which self-respecting cripple would knowingly date a person who is sexually attracted to, and aroused by, people with serious physical deformities? By the very nature of the problem, some cripples are destined to only ever date perverts.
These were the issues comically put to me by my teenage charges, and the conversation was interrupted by my boss who clearly wasn’t happy. Clearly, sexuality amongst these teenagers was a subject to be institutionally ignored or there’d be trouble. That was the first indicator that there was a problem. The second and biggest problem, or at least, the problem that was written down on my dismissal notice, occurred on the second morning around 7 am when I found myself at variance with the manager over exactly what “residential unit” actually meant.
For all I know I might be a pedant over such semantics and be unaware of my own pedantry. So this is of course quite possible, but when I was told to enter a room at 7 am, turf the “resident” out of bed and bath him whether he liked it or not, I found myself questioning a few things. After all, I was aware that some of the residents, including the one I was to turf out of bed, were up until about 2 am watching all three of the Omen movies.
And today was Saturday.
“You will do as you are told,” my manager barked. She was disturbingly good-looking, blue-eyed, blonde and about 4 years older than me. She pointed her finger at me and fixed her stare. The previous day, some of the resident cripples had told me, with much-hushed mirth and laughter, of her nick-name. It was quite appropriate given her general demeanour, attitude and the place in which she was in charge.
“Get on with your work.” She demanded. Now, personally, when I get up in the morning, I like to take my time. I usually begin with a cup of tea, catch up with the news headlines, another cup of tea in the bath and then onto breakfast. Apparently, in this “residential” unit, things were quite different.
The finger continued to be pointed at me, and as I had a rudimentary understanding of Bateson’s work at this point I knew that “the pointed finger denotes the fist, but does not denote that which is denoted by the fist” – so I pointed both my forefingers and middle fingers back her as though they were pistols and grinned, saying, “Ha! Outgunned! Now whatcha gonna do, call the sheriff?”
Well of course, what she did was sack me on the spot. The reasons given on the paperwork I received later were “inappropriate attitude”, “inappropriate conversations with residents” and “unwillingness to perform the required duties of the organization” which I guess in their own way were all quite accurate.
Before I left though, I did let slip to her what her nickname was. I had to. I’m just that kind of guy.
How weird it was though when about four years later I found myself sat opposite her at the dining table of an Army friend’s wedding reception. Trapped for over an hour opposite someone nicknamed “Margaret Mengele” who, on sitting down next to her rather frightening looking husband, looks over to me and says, “Oh hi! You seem really familiar, where do I know you from?”
Oh happy days…