Phil is not his real name. And he isn’t around to tell his own story. But he had a big impact on me, so I’m going to tell it for him.
My name is Sheldon and I’m a health care case worker for WJS Canada. Being a case worker is a many long hours and lots of uncertainty. 9 to 5 goes out the window, along with most of the handbooks on helping. You follow best practices, but the biggest opportunity to really change things for someone who is faced with challenges is in the surprises and special moments that come your way. You learn to expect the unexpected and find the answers there. It can give you a lot of satisfaction, but it can also wear you down. And any good you do may not show up for years after the person you’ve set out to help has moved on or in Phil’s case, passed on.
Casework is really intense, and I’d taken a long break from it before I met Phil. Phil had Downs Syndrome. He also lived with some very limiting physical disabilities and quite a bit of pain. He hadn’t been given a fair deal. Phil was pretty disconnected and I felt sorry for him. I wanted to help him have some kind of regular life.
It took a long time to realize that Phil was seeing me the same way. He’d picked up right away on the fact that I had my doubts about the role I was supposed to play. The way I see it, he assigned himself to my case!
He worked his wonders in small ways. We’d watch him make his way slowly to the breakfast table looking tired from a sleepless night. He’d sit down, smile his off-kilter smile, squint his eyes and say ‘hey, hambone.’ No matter how bad he felt, he’d want everyone else at the table to be happy.
We’d stand by the road waiting for the morning pick-up to community access and he would insist on singing songs together. ‘You are my sunshine’ was always on the playlist. A special night out would take us to a local Karaoke place where Phil would take the stage for a crowd-pleasing rendition of you-guessed-it ‘you are my sunshine.’
Phil made progress, but not to the extent that his life would change a lot or that he wouldn’t always need help. He wasn’t well and he probably knew that he didn’t have a lot of time. And there were so many people to make happy. Including his friend in the hospital and the others he loved to play bingo and socialize with.
With all of the problems he had, Phil never complained and always put others before himself. He’d call you a funny name and stick his tongue out and try anything to get you to laugh and he seldom failed. His slanted smile was infectious.
As Phil’s body started failing fast and causing him a lot of pain, he concerned himself even more with trying to make others happy. Time with family and friends, laughing and caring were so important to him. Through my time working with Phil I had seen him go through highs and lows, have personal relationships and experience the same emotions we all go through. With less to work with than the rest of us have, he seemed to feel things more.
Phil knew what mattered and changed my own priorities. In the end, he helped me far more than I helped him. He showed me how a person who may not have a lot of the abilities that most of us get to enjoy is still a whole and complete person in every way. Phil helped me overcome my own less visible disabilities. My hope is that every worker in this field gets a chance to get to know and learn from someone like him.
I got a text a while ago that Phil had died. I guess he felt that he’d done all he could for me.