Negotiating a Clean-Up Plan for a Garbage House
Posted on: Tuesday, March 30, 2010Early in my career, I made one of my first solo visits to follow up on a garbage home. It was mid-August and I pulled up at 8 a.m. to a home that stood out from all the rest on the block. The car in the driveway was filled to the roof with clutter. Peering through the garage windows, I could see things like old broken-down cars, TV sets, cardboard boxes and bags of broken glass, which I later discovered were being saved for potential art projects and thus could not be thrown out under any circumstances.
I was not able to enter the home itself due to the enormous amounts of clutter stacked nearly eight feet high in almost every room. The front doorsteps and walkway were also filled with boxes stacked six feet high, and later I even found a tent in the backyard that was filled with more things.
I eventually located the owner of this home who had just returned from work and was napping in her car. She was a single woman in her late fifties who was appeared neat and attractive, but also had an eccentric personality. She was upset and angry regarding her recent visit from the environmental health officials and expressed her anger about their requests of her to clean up the property. It took some time to settle her down and gain a level of trust with her. I was offered a bath bench as a seat in her driveway, since entering the home was going to be next to impossible. I was very grateful for this opportunity to sit because my legs and feet had become tired, hot and weary. As I sat there, I thought to myself, who would have imagined this morning when I got up I was going to end up in a driveway on a bath bench assessing a client in this heat.
Well, the bath bench became my throne for the next three-and-a-half hours because not only had I been sent to do my public health nursing assessment, but I had been asked as a special favor by the environmental health department to negotiate a clean up plan for this woman and her home. So as the day went on, I shifted back and forth from one numb buttock to the other as I was frying in the sun, and I wished that cushions were made for bath benches.
After about five hours of assessment and negotiations – and even a few incriminating pictures taken of me on my bench, taken as a precautionary measure in preparation for a law suit if necessary – we agreed on a clean up plan and I was able to return to the office. Of course by then, my coworkers and supervisor were worried about me and had even driven out to the home to find me, but had just missed me. They may have been wondering if I had just skipped town and gone to the lake or something, but when I strode in the office with raccoon eyes and a deep farmer’s tan (or rather, sunburn) they just laughed. They still occasionally laugh about it to this day.