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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

In Case You Didn't Know By Now: I'm Retarded

I got called "retarded" at work yesterday. Fortunately, it was by a patient, and not a coworker.

During orientation, we were warned that the patients would call us all kinds of names and slurs. As I believe I've mentioned before, "motherfucker" is the most frequently utilized moniker in Zombieville, a perennial favorite of both staff and patients. I've only been on the unit for two weeks, and I've already been called lots of names, and I'm frequently asked if I'm Jewish ("And why is that important to you?" is usually my reply) but it took being called "retarded" to really stop me in my tracks for a moment. It's easy to know how to respond, or to choose not to respond, when someone calls you a motherfucker, or a fuckhead, or a cunt-bitch, but I have to admit that, yesterday, I was temporarily stymied as to the appropriate response to being called "retarded."

Because I was called "retarded" by a young man with mental retardation.

The patient -- we'll call him "J" so I don't get fired before I'm ready to quit -- was sitting with me at a table that is bolted to the floor to prevent it from becoming a non-aerodynamic though dangerous projectile. I was on a 1:1 watch with J, because he was caught having sexual intercourse with another patient last week. Patients are not permitted to have sex on the unit, rather making it like the Lutheran college I attended, where those who were bold enough to purchase condoms at the school store were looked at by the clerk as if they were buying a magazine featuring pictures of dildo-bearing black chicks ass-raping squirrels.

So, "J" is being monitored for having sex on the unit. "J" has mild mental retardation, along with a host of other mental maladies. He perseverates endlessly, asking what time it is approximately every two minutes, asking when he is going to see his social worker every minute-and-a-half, and every five minutes, asking you what your name is. Today, I sat on a 1:1 with "J" for two hours straight. "J" barely moves his mouth when he speaks, and, because he does not articulate, it is extremely challenging to understand what he is saying. The psych techs who have been there for years are obviously better at decoding "J" than I, but I'm getting there. However, when Q-102 is blasting in the activities room and a 6'7" leviathan is doing a spontaneous rap about needing "a white girl with extensions in her hair" it makes hearing "J" that much more difficult. So, I asked him to repeat one of his monotonous requests two or three times, and he blew me off in frustration saying, "You retarded."

Which I did understand, thank you very much.

Just as I was about to remonstrate "J" for calling me retarded, I caught myself. If I say to "J" that it is wrong to insult somebody with a term like that, aren't I insulting him? Doesn't that vilify "J" and his condition?

"You know, J, it isn't nice to call people 'retarded'."

Hmmm.... Didn't sound right to me.

When I discussed it last night with Mrs. Apron during one of on-the-elliptical debriefing sessions, she said that addressing "J" for the inaccuracy of the statement would have been the way to go. But that still didn't sit right with me. Does that mean it's okay to call a gay person "gay" or a person with mental retardation "retarded"? Or to say, "Jew!" to me? I mean, it's accurate, sure, but is it right? And, furthermore, would "J" have understood the distinction?

I made my choice as to how to proceed, but I wasn't sure it was the right choice. Are we ever? I let it go. I let it go for ten minutes until "J" and I were sitting together in a relatively comfortable silence and I waited until the moment was as right as it was going to be for this kind of thing, and I leaned over to him and I said,

"J, do you remember, a little bit ago when you called me--"

"Sowee," he said.

"Thank you, J," I said, "I really appreciate that."

"I sowee," he said, looking through me.

"I would never call you a name," I promised, visualizing my coworker who had called J a queer in front of me just a few days ago, as I watched and said nothing. The new guy. The coward.

"I know," he said. "Wha you name?"

1 comment:

  1. A) You're not a coward. You're trying to keep your job until you find another one.
    2) I've known you were retarded for a long time.


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