Mike’s Zest for Life
Recently, I was reviewing referral packets for the Dungarvin Oregon Supported Living Program when I found myself starting to smile. Mike A. had been someone very close to my heart, and I had always wondered what had happened to him. While I was working for another agency, Mike had been the first entry in their supported living program. The day I initially met him at his apartment, I ended up taking him to the hospital for a high blood sugar reading of 612. My experience then, working with Mike, was that he was an extremely likable guy who desperately wanted everyone’s approval. However, the powerful need for a girlfriend, friendships, freedom, and the family atmosphere he was getting through the small social group he had acquired, proved to be too much for Mike to engage in any additional supports. He eventually chose to leave services and try life out on his own.
The Mike I was reading about on the referral packet pages in front of me was a different person than the one I had known. He was a sick man who was taking insulin five times a day and had late stage kidney failure. He was living in a foster home that he often stayed away from. Mike was frequently hospitalized, up to several times a week, with symptoms related to low blood sugar. He very much wanted to be independent again and have his own apartment.
Everything about his situation was telling me to run away. No other agency had been interested. When I received the referral that Mike’s case manager had sent out on his behalf, I started remembering the man that I had once known. That man had a zest for life, a desire to please others, and how no matter how hard things were, he always stayed a happy guy. However, due to the many obstacles he had encountered, often created by his own choices, it appeared that life had not been kind to him over the years. I wanted to meet with him again and see for myself if he was truly ready to commit to do what it took to be in supported living, including being financially responsible for an apartment that would be in his name. I wanted to share with him the opportunity for a part-time job, with our growing landscaping crew. There was no doubt that this was going to be an uphill battle. In the past, when work had been brought up as an option, Mike had made it clear he did not want a job, he wanted to be retired. He felt that his social security income was like winning the lottery!
When I met with Mike again for the first time, I proposed to him what needed to happen in order to meet his goals of living in an apartment and being independent. I clearly remember Mike’s words, “That sounds good. You have known me for a long time. You know what’s good for me. The last time I was happy was when I had my own apartment.” This surprised me because Mike had once been a man full of arguments. He did not allow ‘because I said so’ thinking. Mike had been broken down by his poor health, and he just wanted to have some dignity and to feel better. We made the decision to enter him into supported living.
In less than a year his life has taken a 180-degree turn for the better. Mike has been living in his own one bedroom apartment in the very fashionable Holgate neighborhood for almost a year now. He needed to lose 60 pounds to qualify to get on the list for a kidney transplant. As of today, he has been added to the transplant list and proudly boasting a total weight loss of 82 pounds. Additionally, his diabetes is now being managed solely through diet and exercise. He has been taken off of insulin completely! Employed for almost a year, he has won crew member of the month twice during that time. He has been able to save enough money to buy new furniture to decorate his apartment in the manner that he desired.
Furthermore, for the first time in his life, Mike has been able to explore his desires to wear female clothing and to identify as a woman. He had his first counseling session after Christmas. He was more excited about seeing a counselor to talk about these feelings than any gift he could have possibly had under the Christmas tree. He was excited, and it has led to a community of people whom have loved and accepted Mike for who he is, and that in turn has meant the world to him.
Finally, he fulfilled his lifelong dream to be a dog owner. He purchased Jack from the shelter less than a month ago. Jack and Mike do everything together, and Mike does everything he can to be a great owner to Jack.
When Mike had his annual plan meeting coming up, I asked him what his goals would be for the next year. In true Mike fashion, he said, “I don’t have any goals. I already had all my dreams come true. I just need you to find me my wife, and then you will be done with me.”
I will have to get right on that Mike!