The Risks of Street Social Work

I’ve disarmed people. I’ve put myself between two people who wanted to take each other’s head off … But that’s not the worst of it.

By Raymond Viger 

As a street social worker, I’ve said for a long time that in my line of work the most traumatizing experience is to try and separate two girls fighting in a bathroom. Maybe because I’ve often had to do this with two guys, I underestimated the fighting power of two women in a small area like a bathroom.

It’s not common practice to put yourself between two people who want to destroy each other. You have to know the two people involved, and enjoy good relations with them both.

With men, you can envision the punches and hits to come. You can sense them. You can guess at them. But when the fight between two women begins… The scratching comes from all over the place and out of nowhere at the same time. They pull hair.

I got the impression that they were fighting with their eyes closed, blinded by the violence. They were grabbing on to anything they could, me or their adversary. I even had the impression, at one point, that all four of their claws were clawing me!   

A Different Sort of Violence between Men and Women

I’ve already put one guy on my shoulder while holding the other combatant back with my other hand. The man I held back didn’t try to beat me up. That wasn’t his objective. He simply waited for another opportunity to get at his adversary.

But when I intervened between two women, maybe I was overconfident because of my size, my weight and the fighting experience I had in comparison to these two frail ladies. I wasn’t expecting so much destructive force blowing up in all directions, and all in a tiny space, in a bathroom. Not a lot of place to step back. So I stayed, and caught a lot of scratches intended to tear away at flesh.

Since this traumatizing experience, I’ve thought twice before putting myself between two women fighting.

The Worst Violence

I’ve personally encountered even worse violence and risk. I work with a lot of marginalized people with sometimes troubling mental health woes. AIDS doesn’t scare me that much. As long as I don’t try to revive someone swimming in their own blood, the risk is zero. But what about all the other illnesses transmitted through the air, such as tuberculosis?

I could always talk to my family doctor if I have any worries. Except that I don’t have a family doctor. Despite my problems with diabetes and cholesterol, I’m forced to renew my prescriptions at drop-in clinics. And if I don’t verify myself when I have to take blood tests nobody will do it for me. Not even the pharmacist who continues to provide me with pills a year after my prescriptions have passed their expiry dates!

The Right to a Family Doctor

Every citizen has a right to a family doctor. This is especially true for a social worker who has to deal with people with all sorts of illnesses and health problems. As a citizen as well as a front-line worker at risk, I should have a family doctor.

Despite this I’ve been on the waiting list for a family doctor for maybe a decade. What do the work standardization and safety people think about this?

Long live Québec’s health care system!! Vive le système de santé du Québec!!

First seen on Raymond Viger’s blog, July 25th, 2012

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