On an occasional visit with folks in a county welfare office, Irving’s dilemma was offered for my consideration. Irving had contacted them because of trouble he was having on his job, and they were concerned that he might develop into another welfare recipient. This particular county was known to have about one in five of all county residents on assistance. The welfare office was happy to refer all folks with an impairment to rehabilitation.
Calling on Irving shortly thereafter, the following experiences were explained in some detail. Irving had been employed full time as an attendant at a nursing home in a neighboring town several miles away. Because of his difficulty the employer suspended him from further work with advice that he should get on top of his trouble before coming back to work. It was this suspension that caused Irving to contact the county welfare department.
Irving was in his mid-thirties and was living with his common-law wife of several years. They had no children. He explained that on the job he would vomick a lot. Irving had no alternate terms for vomick, and pronounced several other words in somewhat peculiar ways. After I identified vomicking as a malfunction of the gastrointestinal system, he explained that at first his vomicking was just now and then, but it increased in frequency until it became a problem for the nursing home. It was expected that staff would clean up after patients, but cleaning up after staff, regularly, was an unwelcome burden on the other employees.
Irving understood that his suspension was temporary, and that he would be able to return to work as soon as this problem was resolved. He explained that he rarely vomicked at home, creating a second dilemma, as he would not know for sure his problem was cured unless he was back at work. This type of “work related” difficulty was not at all unusual for folks who migrate into welfare and rehabilitation offices.
Following general medical and upper GI series tests, the reports returned that Irving was suffering from a psycho-physiological gastro-intestinal reaction. His upper GI findings were reported as within normal limits, and no further suggestions or recommendations were offered. The functional meaning of this diagnosis was essentially as described by Irving.
On subsequent visits, a more complete picture was developed of his work-related circumstances. Irving had not previously indicated, nor had I understood, that his wife was also employed by the same nursing home. His wife was a licensed practical nurse, a status given more respect than Irving’s attendant status. As a general rule they both worked the day shift, and commuted between home to work together. They arrived together, and they left work together, a convenience which kept the cost of the commute to a minimum. The interactions at work between Irving, his wife, and the other staff members were taking on importance as the plot thickens.
An additional complication was the joint commute to and from work daily. Irving and his wife were employed as independents, carried different last names to work every day, and most likely were a topic of private conversations among the other employees at the nursing home. The issues of group insurance, worker’s compensation, unemployment, and other job benefits may have contributed to the emerging picture of Irving’s dilemma.
In response to these work-related items one explicit remedy was suggested. Irving and his wife could minimize future worksite gossip and job-related benefits issues by converting their marriage from common law to a legally recorded marriage license. With this they could officially share the same name at work and in the process address both the work-related and perceived moral issues that surrounded their cohabitation.
Irving and his wife had no difficulty with this proposal. The license could be presented to the employer as evidence that they had taken serious steps to lay all issues at work to rest. It was speculative that presenting common last names and a marriage license would effectively treat Irving’s job related vomicking, but it was the last step in the process.
Irving’s return to work at the nursing home was successful, and surprisingly was without further incident. Exactly what-all may have been going on at work was not thoroughly explored, except through Irving. Considerable attention was given to this couple, both of whom wanted to work in a county where not working was common. The presence of a psycho-physiological impairment, manifest through vomiting on the job, was deemed to be a substantial handicap to employment at the outset. Exactly what all may have contributed to solving the issue can never be known with much certainty.
On occasion the statement “I am from the government, and I am here to help” is all that is needed. Strange, but true.