Becoming Like Water Part 1

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Becoming Like Water Part 1

Before I met him, I had worked as a patient care assistant [PCA] as the VA hospital and then in private care for close to 3 years. Arnold [name changed] was kind, non-verbal and generally a happy kid. He was autistic. I had never heard of autism until that day but even reading up on it before my first day working with him didn't help much. Here's a brief story of my experience with Arnold over a period of 8 years.

With the encouragement from my best friend Marilyn, I agreed to interview with a family in New Jersey looking for someone to accompany their autistic son to a private school. It sounded simple enough and plus the twelve hour shifts 6 days a week plus extra shifts some weekends were taking their toll on me. When I got to the interview, I caught a glimpse of Arnold, in their upstairs window, staring down at me while listening to music on his cd player. Later I found out he was listening to Bruce Springsteen's 'Born In The USA'. But the thing that struck me is that he was standing up there in just his underwear.

During the interview, his parents asked me about my work as a PCA. Then they asked me about autism and replied with book definitions of what autism is. But my ace was my experience caring for people with several other mental and physical conditions, from dementia and Alzheimers to patients recovering from surgery or mobility issues. I was also in school to be a physician assistant at the time. These and other qualities gave Arnold's parents confidence that he would be under the care of someone they could trust. I started a month later. It was Fall.

On my first day, everything went smoothly. We got on the train to New York, transferred at Penn Station onto the number 1 and then finally onto a bus. The music helped keep him occupied, just like his folks said it would. But then on Thursday of our first week together, we were trying to make the rush hour train from Penn Station NY back to Jersey, like always. Suddenly, Arnold let go of my hand just as we were making our way down to the NJ transit train. He was lost in the crowd that was making it's way down to the train. Every one of them was oblivious to Arnold's condition. I was terrified, he could be anywhere.

This was no time for panic, I was determined to find him. Suddenly, I remembered his mom off-handedly mention that he gets 'ravenous' when his medication wears off. Then it came to me. I had a good idea where I could find him. One thing I had forgotten though was that the terror alert level that week was raised to orange. There were law enforcement people everywhere.

Check back tomorrow for the second part of two posts.


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