When VT Ends and Life Begins
It’s got to be among every parent’s worst nightmare, and for a mother of one of our Vision Therapy patients, the stress of it all can be seen all over her face. She’s living it day by day, hour by hour, and minute by minute.
My young friend Cody has been attending Vision Therapy for some time now. A nice kid, who clearly struggles with social skills and maintaining friendships, Cody views his Vision Therapy sessions both as an opportunity to plead his case for his most recent experience with the injustices of being a nine-year old, and to soak in the one-on-one attention he seems to so richly yearn for. Some of his interactions are positive, some negative, and sometimes he will just sit in the corner and wryly smirk in silent protest as he enjoys the therapists’ attempts to cajole him into participating in the next activity. He can be equal parts challenging and lovable, but most days the scale tips towards the former. Still, we are happy to see him as he provides a personal challenge to even the most seasoned therapist, and a positive session with Cody is the type of accomplishment for which any therapist can be proud. I like him a lot.
About four months ago, Cody came into the office quite disheveled (not incredibly uncommon for him) and it seemed he had recently been crying. Always wanting to be “the tough kid”, he denied our requests that he explain the reason he had been upset, but it was clear that the session ahead would not involve much cooperation from him – but we got through it. As his session ended that day, Cody’s mom informed us that she was planning to change Cody’s schedule from weekly visits to monthly visits due to financial constraints; a decision most of us understood. As a band-aid, per se, Cody’s mom asked that we give him as many home VT activities as we could so that she could try her best to maintain his progress. Although her efforts were beyond commendable, Cody’s progress slipped backwards, and everyone has noticed.
Cody’s dad died when Cody was very young, and his mom re-married a few years later. In the years since, Cody has welcomed two step-brothers into his life and revels in the light of being the oldest. Cody’s mom and step-dad both work two jobs, and despite their best efforts, sometimes there’s just not enough money to go around. Although, they surely stretch what they have as far as it will go, times are tough. Cody has been coming in for Vision Therapy less and less in recent months, and during this year’s three-month summer vacation, we’ve seen him only twice. His most recent visit was just this last week. As Cody came into the office, the condition of his clothing and stories of not being able to go school shopping “like all his friends” made it clear to the Vision Therapists who know him that things are not easy at home – which brings us to the nightmare portion of the story.
Money is stressful for a lot of us. As a single parent on a budget, there certainly are times when that bell goes off in my head signaling that things will be tight ahead. I think it’s a reality most of us have faced at one time or another. But honestly, how many of us can say that we and our spouse are working two jobs each, live in a two bedroom apartment with three kids, and on a weekly basis have been truly worried about keeping the lights on, keeping our kids warm, and putting food on the table? And on top of that, worry that our kids are failing in school, and perhaps will fail in life, mostly because we cannot afford the special services like psychological counseling and vision therapy that they so desperately need. That’s a whole different level of worry than most people ever experience.
Including myself, there are three Vision Therapists in our office and three in our satellite location. All but one of us are parents, or soon-to-be parents, and to say that Cody’s situation got our attention would be the understatement of the century. Without offending, or threatening the pride of Cody’s parents, we were determined to offer assistance. As we strategically worked with our respective patients within very close proximity to one another (Cody was my patient that day), we three therapists quietly concocted a plan. We would ask Cody’s mom if she would be interested in looking through a bag of clothes from our own kids that was destined for the Salvation Army, and if she obliged, we’d create and fill the bag with as many pairs of shoes, pants, socks, and “boy items” as we could get our hands on. It wouldn’t be the same as taking Cody and his brothers school shopping, but considering they all are wearing shoes with holes in the soles big enough to expose large portions of their feet, it would be a start. We asked Cody’s mom if she was interested, and without hesitation, she offered the clothing and shoe sizes of her three boys.
I spent a fair chunk of time this afternoon pillaging through my kids’ drawers of clothing, calculating what they can do without, and a few of my fellow therapists will be doing the same. We also have discussed mapping out a few second-hand stores within driving distance of our office so we can take a few lunch-hour trips next week to see what’s available. We will spend what we can, and with any luck, Cody and his brothers will have some reasonable additions to their wardrobes as school begins. Let me tell you, these co-workers of mine really take the cake.
Handling praise has never been my strong suit, so please understand that my intention in sharing this story is not for the virtual “pat on the back”; rather, it’s to remind everyone that no matter how high your level of stress, no matter your shortcomings, no matter your station in life be it chosen or not, things always could be worse. We ALL have the power to make a difference if we so choose, and to be a good therapist, making a difference is all that really matters.
One of my favorite quotes of all time, compliments of Mr. Forest E. Witcraft, took on an entirely new meaning this week, thanks to Cody and his visit to my Vision Therapy room.