Yesterday, I met with a 49 year old man receiving Social Assistance to discuss his situation and plans to re-enter the workforce. For the past three years, he has struggled with serious health problems, mostly related to his heart. Since his first heart attack, he has learned that he that he is a victim of bad heart genes. He has undergone two separate by-pass surgeries, and was told that he will have to live with his arteries clogging up.
Before this major turn of events, "Joe" was an actively hard working man. He had skills as a millwright, welder, and carpenter. He was always employed. He was married, had a home, and owned all of his trade tools. Life was good. One day, he was literally knocked down and couldn't take an unlaboured breath.
The downward spiral began in earnest.
He went home to recuperate. His health insurance from his work covered some of his salary, and he lived on that hoping to return to work. Then his insurance "responsibilities" were finished and he needed more time to recuperate. He was told to apply for "long-term disability" through the federal government. While he waited 6 months for his application to be processed; when he had no income or money coming into his home, his wife left him, his company laid him off, and he had to sell ALL of his tools to pay his rent and his bills, he had another heart attack.
Real person.....................unreal circumstances.
Then, he had a nervous breakdown. Small wonder. After a short stint in the hospital, he struggled to move forward. He now lives on $490.00 a month. His rent is $300.00 a month.
He decided to move into a cabin far away from the stresses of the city to recuperate. While moving his basic belongings, the transmission blew on his truck. Despite the distance he is to the community, he decided to stay in the cabin surrounded by beauty, nature and tranquility and sell his truck as is. He began to take long walks, breathe in the fresh air and marvel at the deer that visit him every evening. He is reading, sitting by the woodstove, listening to the radio and relaxing while he tries to process the turn of events.
This week, Joe's doctor told him that he will never be able to work in the construction fields that defined him. He will never be able to weld, build, or even direct a construction site. The doctor suggested that because he isn't "totally disabled" that he decide on a new career. So, as Joe recovers in his corner of the woods, he is thinking and analyzing and hoping as he gradually accepts his fate.
Throughout our meeting, one would have expected a broken man. He wasn't. His description and stories of his "streak of bad luck" was expressed with animation and humour. He always referred to "not giving up" and "being hopeful." I was so impressed with his outlook and optimism and his ability to look at the events and say............."can you believe that????"
Joe's biggest struggle right now, apart from trying to live on such a meagre amount, is redefining who he is. He stated that he wants to work so badly that there are days when he is willing to put his health at risk and go back to the construction site.
Next week, Joe starts working with a Counsellor colleague to explore new ideas, funding sources and educational options. He's nervous, but excited at the prospect of heading down a brand new path. My feeling is that he will find his way again, because he didn't give away the most important tools he needs; hope, optimism and the belief in himself.