Thursday, July 18, 2013

1985: Asthma Group Sessions

I don't remember group sessions as well as I wish I did.  Ric Donworth was my counselor, and he was also in charge of group.  Sessions were on Tuesday after school, so I imagine they were around 4 p.m.  All the adolescent patients admitted to 7-Goodman were required to attend, unless they were granted permission by a doctor for medical reasons, or if they were on a pass off the premises.  

I loved group.  I think some of the kids were like me and loved it, while probably half hated it.  I remember my room mate Eric usually sat slumped on the couch opposite wherever I sat, and he was sometimes defiant.  He was reticent to tell his story, and when he was the focus of the session Ric spent half the meetings trying to either coax Eric into talking, or allaying one of his concerns.  Yet for the most part he didn't speak much at these sessions unless it was to poke fun at someone, like me.  

I think there were a lot of purposes for the group session.  I think for the most part it was to make sure we were all getting along well, and to settle any conflicts.  I remember one of the conflicts revolved around me and, and I remember Willie gave me advice at one of the sessions.  He said, "Rick, I have good advice for you.  I think you get picked on because you are too girly.  I think you need to toughen up, and I mean that in a good way.  You can do simple things like... like the way you're sitting now."  He mocked how I was sitting.  "Your feel are aiming together, and that's how girls sit.  You need to slump back and spread your legs out.  You need to sit like a man.  Like this."  He showed me how men sit."  From that session on I always sat right.

Some of the sessions involved making rules for 7-Goodman.  I remember voting.  I don't remember what for.  I wish I did.  Yet I think most of the sessions involved conflict:  kid verse kid, kid verse nurse, kid verse doctor, kid verse parents, kid verse stress.  They also involved coping with asthma, getting to know other asthma kids, and that you're not alone.  Learning about the psychological consequences, and the fear of going to 2-may.  We talked about change.  Ric lead these sessions, and he always did so in a calm manner.  I always liked Ric.  

I remember sitting in the meetings for about two weeks before talking about myself.  I was the type of kid who needed to warm up to people before I got involved.  Finally at one session Ric told me it was time to share my story.  I told how I spent so much time in and out of emergency rooms.  Like many of the other kids in the room, I thought I was the only one.  Listening to the stories of the other kids made me realize things I experienced weren't experienced by just me.  

The two meetings I remember the most both involved Willie.  He was a black kid from Cincinnati. He was the kid who every time there was conflict said, "Later for it."  He was a break dancer, and twice the nurses held dancing competitions, and twice he won.  Once he came out of his room and stood in front of the nurses station in his long johns, and he wanted someone to take a picture.  I was the only one with a camera.  I still have the picture.  Willie was a good kid with a good heart.  

He was told he was going to go home.  He was afraid.  He told of alcoholic parents.  He said he'd have to live with his aunt, and he was afraid of her.  He said he wanted to stay here so he could be with his real friends.  He said, "I feel like I'm at home here. I really love it here.  I love all you guys." Really, before this session, Willie was always so calm and cool.  On this day he feared for his life.  

I met Willie at the tail end of his stay on 7-Goodman.  I never really had a chance to really know him.  But I did sort of during these meetings, and on 7-Goodman.  He did not want to go home.  And then he went home, and a week later Ric called me, Karl and Sean to his office so he could talk to us.  He said Willie was in the hospital again, and he wasn't doing well.  He told us about Willie, more than he probably should have.  He talked to us as though were pals and not patients.  And we were pals, because National Jewish wasn't a hospital, it was a home.  

So he called Willie and put him on the speaker phone.  We all talked to him as a group and then individually.  Then we said good-by.  It was the last time I ever talked to Willie.  I think thee was another similar session the next day, but because of a prior commitment I was unable to attend.  Willie was discharged to home, and we had a sigh of relief.  We knew his story, and we feared for his life.  Ric did too.  Yet a week later he was back in the hospital.  Ric told us that later that night we could call him.  Yet in school that day Shannon was crying.  I had no idea why she was crying. Mr. Rose tried to calm her down, but she left class.  

At about 1:00 that afternoon, or just after lunch on 7-Goodman, we returned to school only to have Mr. Rose tell us we all had to report to 7-Goodman right away.  A sudden silence stunned us all.  I remember feeling all shaky because I knew something bad had happened.  We all met on 7-Goodman in one of the back rooms on the south side of 7-Goodman.  We were all cramped in a room.  Ric was there.  He said, "There really is no good way to tell you this, so I'm just going to come out with it.  Willie passed away today."  

Yes, a cacophony of sighs and cries filled the room.  Ric told us we could have the rest of the day off.  The rest of the day was gloomy.  And at the next group session we talked about Willie.  There was a lot of speculating of why he died, and I don't think that there were any words that Ric could say to allay our minds.  Truly, there was nothing that could be said.  

So the most significant issue at these meetings was coping with life, and coping with asthma, and letting us know that we all share a common bond, and that we are not alone.  I can honestly say I am a better person today for having experienced 7-Goodman group sessions. 

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