Today I turned in my badge. I handed off my parking decal. I had lunch with co-workers. And as I fed my baby from the seat of my car on Coca-Cola Avenue, I stared up at the Gradies. This huge, amazing, ugly green hospital has been my work home for four years this month. Four years ago, I excitedly took a job as an HIV/AIDS social worker, happy to be in Atlanta and happy for this new leg of my social work career. I never in my life imagined...
I never imagined that one of my first patients would be among my most memorable, that I would beg a judge to grant him mercy to keep him out of jail. I didn't imagine that I would help him get clean and sober, get him contributing to society, only to too quickly watch him fall back into his addiction. I never imagined how hard it would be to help him die in peace.
I never imagined that most days I would pass a girl my age with spina bifida and HIV on the street, a girl who would become my patient and who challenged every morsel of me. I never imagined the breakthroughs we would have together and the prayers I would say for her as she sat in her wheelchair, panhandling money for her pimp. I could have never fathomed the abuses and wrongs that got her to that place.
I never imagined a job that would introduce me to the most amazing group of women, the Missionaries of Charity and how that would change the trajectory of my life so profoundly.
I never imagined that I would get to hold the hand of a little girl and explain to her what was happening as dementia took over her young mother. Helping her understand this awful thing was an honor.
I never imagined how much of a priviledge it is to work with a team of young doctors, nurses and social workers who care for the poorest of the poor, the most addicted of the addicted, the "least of his brothers and sisters."
I never imagined the amount of days where I would put my head in my hands and say I could not watch one more person suffer, could not prepare one more person to die. And then I would wait, knowing the Holy Spirit would send me something to keep me going- a young man living a great life in spite of his HIV, a kind priest saying a Mass for a patient- giving her the dignity in death that she never got in life.
I never imagined the inspiration I'd gain from people living wonderful lives despite a crazy regimen of pills, therapies and pain. I never imagined how much they would fill my heart with awe and love.
I never imagined the quality of people I would meet in doctors who forewent the hundreds of thousands guaranteed in procedural specialities and instead committed their lives to an $80,000 salary when that amount was a fraction of what they owe in student loans. I didn't imagine the nurses who could have easily gotten into a higher tax bracket but stayed at Grady, committed to Grady and it's special patients.
I never imagined how much better a social worker I would become from those days, good and awful and how thankful I would be for that experience. I never imagined how amazing it would be to work with a small team of people who would become like family, who care for these special people so well and who cared for me so very, very well.
I never imagined how valuable I would feel learning about the medical aspects of HIV while I helped teach the physicans about the many, many other aspects of HIV that would affect their treatment.
I never imagined the memories that would be burned into my heart of the patients, of each of their stories and how each of them changed my heart forever.
I will miss most parts of my work at Grady. I am thankful for every part of it.
May God bless every one of the Grady family, the employees and the patients. Our city and our state are so much better because of that crazy place!