Each September when the kids go back to school, I have an absolute heyday of writing energy. Last year, that's when I queried a bunch of agents with my edgy YA novel, The Shadowgrove Group Home for Girls. By January, I had signed with CK Webber Associates Literary Management. I have been very pleased with their representation.
This year, I had several other goals, and I'm well on my way with most of them. I spend most of my writing days revising, editing, plotting, and researching my novels. But I like to keep my writing fresh and versatile. So I decided to enter some free contests. I use the themes and contest topics as writing prompts.
To my delight, I have won some of the contests. I already posted some of the wattpad wins. Surprise surprise, it feels good to win.
And...here is another contest that I won!
I am thrilled because not only is it a true essay, it is about something important to me. Also, the prize money was a nice boon. I flapped the check around the house...for about a week.
This essay won first prize in A Better Way to Work with People essay contest.
The Best Medicine
I’m old so my story is old. Back when I was twenty six, I got a job as an Adherence Specialist for people living with HIV and AIDS. I was fresh out of grad school. I had no experience. I barely understood the job title. I was lured the idea that I could help people who were really in need.
My passion to help others is part of who I am. It’s how I was raised and how I want to live; it’s what I teach my kids, and how I want to be remembered. I took the job to help people in need…but the problem was that they did not want my help.
This had not occurred to me when I took the job, but it made a lot of sense when I thought about it. As Adherence Specialist, I was to go to all the public clinics, look at the records of med pick-ups, and determine who was not on track taking their meds. I was supposed to identify, reach out to, and problem solve with those individuals. The key to HIV/AIDS drug therapy is adherence. If you skip doses the meds become less and less effective. And at that time, there were only so many options for meds. If you wore them all out, then you had no options for treatment.
I tried a lot of intervention styles to reach out to my clients. They were a tough bunch because they were the noncompliant. They missed meds, and often appointments. It was hard to get a working phone number and harder to meet up. Once I’d get someone on the line or in a meeting room, I tried to explain the importance of the meds. I tried to identify barriers to their picking up meds: transportation, privacy, time off from work, mental and physical health problems. The lists were long. Progress was slow and difficult. There was a lot of backsliding.
I knew they saw me as a young whippersnapper who had no clue what they were going through. I think some met with me out of pity and others were bored. It was hard to break through this perception because it was mostly accurate.
Then I had a brainstorm. I was really worried about a client who had kids and was living in an abusive home situation. She had no job, money, or car. It seemed like some of those things needed to be helped before I could really expect her to pick up and religiously take her meds. She needed a safe place. Yet she would not listen to my practical suggestions. My brainstorm was when I realized who she would listen to.
She didn’t need me. She needed peers. While I had sincere love and compassion for her situation, and for all of my clients, I wasn’t able to connect meaningfully. Once I could admit that, I worked hard to get approval, funding, and cooperation for what they did need.
They needed each other. A safe place to complain about: side effects, lovers, the counselors, the system, the cruelty of fate. They needed to hear each other out and then offer reality checks. Their reality. Not mine.
What I did was connect the dots. In their lives, where was the money? The drug companies had the money. I wrote a simple grant to the pharmaceutical company that made the most popular of the HIV/AIDs meds. It was in their best interest to have clients take their meds accurately, thereby showing the efficacy. With the funds, I lined up a meeting place, staff (to be in the background providing info and security), and incentives like the occasional raffle, or attendance prizes.
I won’t bore you with the stats, but just having a place to go and talk helped their adherence rates rise. The correlation was strong. The more meetings attended, the more accurate the med pick ups were. Meds, a support system, education, and case management were important to helping these individuals improve their adherence. But it was the love and compassion of their peers that made the biggest difference in their overall health trajectory.
As I mentioned, I’m older now and I haven’t had a paying job in a while. But the lesson learned has stayed with me. Being heard and understood with love and compassion can sometimes be the best medicine.