Days in Brain Injury Health Care – Part I

“Remember,” a close friend of mine said when I’d just begun to work in the brain injury health care field around 1995, “This field attracts some of the most caring people and some of the most emotionally dysfunctional people you’ve ever met.”

My friend was right.  Some of the people I’ve met in the health care field over the years are the most selfless, hard working, compassionate, empowering and healing human beings walking the face of the earth. Others are some of the most controlling, selfish, heartless, greedy, demeaning, dishonest, self-absorbed and despicable people imaginable.

There are, however, some common pre-conceived notions that are not accurate. All people who work for regulatory agencies like the department of health are not heartless bureaucrats. I’ve met some genuinely caring people in the bureaucracy. Conversely, one cannot assume all people who work for advocacy organizations or health care providers are caring and compassionate.

It took me quite some  time, even with my friend’s rather prescient warning, to realize all this. I used to think that somewhere inside all people lurked a genuine sense of caring for others. Wrong. There are people who can come face to face with making a choice that will deny someone their right to heal, their right to the best possible treatment, not to mention their right to equal rights, and make the choice anyway. Choices like these can stem from several things, or a combination of several things: greed, the need to control,  hate, anger, and or the inability to realize the person or persons you are wounding are, just like you, full fledged human beings.

More than once over the years, twice actually, I’ve been taken in by charismatic business owners who convinced me they were oh-so-dedicated to helping people living with brain injuries gain or regain their independence. One such owner hired me and a friend of mine, Jimmy, we later realized, because I have  a brain injury and Jimmy has a spinal cord injury. We were, as Jimmy once put it, the token gimps, though neither of us realized it at the time.

I will not name this owner because I genuinely loved this troubled man and because he never did anything purposefully to wound my personal life, nor did he spread lies about me and seek to damage me personally and professionally.  Something that cannot be said for John Mccooey, owner of the Belvedere Brain Injury Program. 

Mccooey pretty much used me to help save a floundering program he’d inherited. We worked closely for years. I’d mistakenly thought we were friends. When Belvedere opened a substance abuse program and the program’s leadership began treating participants like dirt, I began advocating for the participants.  Not only were my warnings about the way participants were being treated dismissed, I would later learn Mccooey was calling DOH officials and others saying, Something’s wrong with Peter, something’s wrong with Peter, laying the groundwork for pushing me out because having an advocate around was no longer convenient for him. Never mind the way program participants were being treated.

Over the years I have met some amazing people too.

Judy Sandman, recently retired from the Brain Injury Association of New York State, was and is as committed to people with brain injuries as any human being on God’s green earth. Bruce Darling, the head of the Center for Disability Rights, is one of the most dazzlingly committed to equal rights human beings I’ve ever had the privilege to meet. Judy Purdell, a social worker who is a counselor for people living with brain injuries is the very essence of compassion, honesty and integrity. The same can be said for Dr. Maria Lifrak and her staff at Comprehensive Neuropsychological Services. Dr. Lifrak is  a neuropsychologist who, along with her staff and a former employee of hers, Kristen Weller, taught me more about the role my brain injury plays in my life than all others combined. 

Well, enough for now, there will be more to come about my days in health care.

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