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Walter and May: A Love Story (Part 4)

July 25, 2009

I remember driving out to Woodlands on a sunny spring day to pick up Walter in my old Toyota Corolla.  He was uncharacteristically pensive.  He seemed to know something big was about to happen, and I think he could tell I was nervous, too.   He settled into the back seat of my car with all his treasures, calm and collected, as if to say “I’m game to give this a try if you are.”  We made the drive from New Westminster to his new home in East Vancouver, the car windows open, the fresh air and sunshine on our skin, and he seemed utterly content, happy even.  “This is going to be alright,” I told myself.

Unfortunately, my optimism was short lived.  Walter’s adjustment to the community did not go smoothly.  The outbursts that had been a mainstay of his time at Woodlands continued in his new home, but now there were neighbours on either side of us who objected to the noise.  Walter was terrified of being in a room with closed doors, and he actually ripped his bedroom door off its hinges to make the point.  He often did not sleep at night, but instead wandered through the house making a loud, persistent “hooting” noise that kept his housemates (and our night staff) awake.  He destroyed most of the furniture in the house.  He refused to use the toilet – perhaps because the small bathroom more closely resembled the side room of the ward than the large communal bathrooms he’d been used to – so instead would strip his clothes and relieve himself wherever he happened to be, whenever the impulse arose. 

We sent our best and brightest staff to work with Walter.  We consulted with social workers, doctors, behavior therapists and psychiatrists, planning what we believed to be the best possible supports for Walter, but he confounded all our best laid plans.  Staff requested transfers to other homes, they quit and moved on.  Outside of a core group of dedicated staff, we literally could not pay people to be with Walter for more than a few weeks; some lasted no more than a single shift.  I remember working many long, sleepless nights at his home, filling in as the relief overnight staff because there was no-one else to work. 

While Walter’s family never saw him, his step-father continued the tradition of leaving gifts for Walter at birthdays and Christmas.  Staff would find carefully wrapped parcels on the doorstep of Walter’s home, a silent gesture of a mother’s enduring love for her son.

To be continued…

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