Lord it's been a couple rough weeks at the ol' law firm. I barely manage to drag myself across the parking lot at the end of the day, brain dead, muscles aching from tension, emotionally drained.
I think I've mentioned before that my version of hell is a place where phones never stop ringing... like they do now - from the time we arrive in the morning 'til we transfer them back to the answering service at the end of day. We've been busy with a capital B, swamped with new clients and bunch of hearings coming up. Needless to say, the paperwork is detail-oriented and endless, we scramble to keep from being buried under an avalanche of incoming and outgoing mail.
For me, it's not really about the paper pushing and the phones ringing, though both can drive me to distraction at times. What matters to me, is the clients we serve. I've talked about them here before. It can be so rewarding when we see a positive outcome for someone whose been caught up in the Social Security Administration nightmare for months and sometimes years. It can also be heartbreaking when the system doesn't work, and people who have critical medical issues end up getting denied for who knows what reason... like a case we had this week where an administrative judge actually denied disability benefits to a person who is terminally ill, citing insufficient proof of disability, despite the fact that medical records state the individual is dying. A hearing has been scheduled, and we are wondering what it will take to make the point, the man dying in the courtroom?
Then there are the people who come in with stories like the lady I visited with today who has moved from her small rural town to an apartment here in the city so she can be near medical treatment for renal failure. She is to begin dialysis this week, and is on the waiting list for a kidney donor. The SSA wants to stop her SSI benefits because she owns a property (her mobile home) but isn't living in it... because she can't live there and commute over a hundred miles several times a week for treatment. She isn't allowed to sign the property over to her children, she isn't allowed to see it for under market value, even if she could find a buyer in their small town. And if she does manage to sell it, they will take away her benefits for three months because she will have that money to live on. If she sells it, and then is blessed to receive a kidney in time, she may be able to recover and return to a normal life, but she won't have a house to return to in her home town if she's sold it. Craziness! Yes, there are rules, there has to be, but when it comes to human beings and their lives not everything fits neatly into the boxes.
Emotions run incredibly high in situations where people are dealing with medical issues and financial issues that compound until they reach the point of feeling hopeless... and we tell them we hope that we'll receive a decision on their case from SSA in three to six months... maybe, more likely it will be denied and have to be appealed... another long wait for a hearing. You get the picture.
Because I am the receptionist and answer phones, and also am the one responsible for taking most of the notes from clients who call in, I am the person they interact with first and foremost. They are sad, they are lonely, they are frustrated, they are bewildered - and more than anything they just want someone who will listen to their story. They know I can't fix their problems, they know I can't make the system move faster, or find money to pay for doctors or medicine or delinquent house payments or food, but they want someone... anyone... to listen and care.
I can listen, and I do care. There seems to be days, and weeks, when there are more than a few clients whose lives are in crisis, and where it feels like everyone who calls in has a story and needs my time and attention... and I listen. I sympathize, and I agree with them that the SSA system is screwed up and unresponsive to their plight. While I listen the paper pile stacks higher, the faxes and outgoing mail to be processed overflow their boxes, and I grow so very weary... and still I listen, because I am sometimes the only one they know who will. I know that's why God has me there, because I care.
But I've got to say that it's hard on the mind and heart. You do develop some emotional resilience, because I can't cry for every client or I'd be drowning in a lake of tears, but anyone who says they don't let it get to them is either far stronger than me or just doesn't give a damn. If you care, you hurt, and you are angry at not being able to change things, to help in some way, to do more. Some nights when I go home I scream at God for letting people suffer like this, even though I know it isn't his fault, he is not the one to blame.
On weeks like this one, sometimes I have the urge to clap my hands over my ears and say "I don't want to hear this, I can't listen to any more!" But I can't do that, and I don't , because I am the only outlet they have. If they are somehow enduring their own personal hells, surely I can endure the minor pain of a hurting heart.
So I drive home with the windows down, the wind scouring my face and making my hair fly. When I get there, my first act is to get out of my work clothes, slide into something comfy and cuddle up with Papa Bear and the furkids. Many nights we soak in the hot tub under the stars... it helps my muscles relax, it helps me remember to breathe, it takes the pain away... it restores my soul. Once in awhile, when I am really feeling stressed, I'll have a glass of Wild Turkey American Honey, icy cold. It's wonderful stuff, very smooth and almost sweet, it relaxes me. I don't do that often though, it could too easily become another bad habit, I already have enough of those.
Tomorrow, like all workday mornings, I will rise with the sun, shower, dress, and head down the highway to the city. On the way I pray for clients who I know are struggling, I pray for strength and courage to face the new day, peace of mind, and the patience to stop what I am doing and just listen... because, despite what the job description says, that's what my real job is. And every night I count my blessings, because I am already older than most of the folks who are our clients, and there but for the grace of God go I.