Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Poop House Chronicles (Part Five): Into the fray...

I apologize for the lengthy break... Shit has been going down lately, and I just couldn't deal with the poop house in addition to everything else that's been going on. I hope that you haven't given up on getting all the gory details, because we're about to delve into the real heart of darkness.

When we left off, I was standing on the front porch of the poop house, talking to the resident male. He'd informed me that the mother and child were not home at the moment. I knew I was going to have to go in anyway, and I was dreading it.

I stood there, trying to deal with the stagnant sewer smell, and trying to figure out how I was going to deal with the worse smell that I knew lurked in the house.

I asked him a few routine questions to determine the best way to shape my services for this family.

"Ok, Mitch, are you working at the moment?"

"No. I hurt my wrist at work a few years ago, and haven't gone back to work since."

"I see. Are you on disability?"

"No. I've been trying to get it, and I've talked to a lawyer but he thinks it will be a year or two before my case goes through."

"Ok, so you're not generating any income. I know you've been working with Julie up until now, did she put you in touch with any of those other resources that you can use so that you're able to get by while you're not working?"


"Ok, what are you currently using?"

"Well, I go to the food banks. We can't get welfare because the case is still open from when they took 'Millie' (psuedonym for the child) away. I go to the community outreach clinics when I get sick, and when I go to group."


"Yeah, I go to group for depression."

Mentally, I simply thought that if this was my life I'd be depressed too... I'd have offed myself long before I'd ever have let my home look or smell like this, but depression was a given.

"Ok, so how is that going for you? Are you getting any kind of results?"

"Well, no. I used to have individual sessions too, but my counselor stopped doing that because the state said I'd reached the limit."

"Ok. So if you're at least getting into group sessions, you're meeting with someone who knows what is going on... And are you medicated at all?"

"Nope. Can't afford it. I had some stuff when I went to the individual sessions, but now that I only have group I can't get it."

"Ok... I might be able to help you with some resources to get meds if they are something that your group therapist is willing to prescribe... Is your group leader a prescribing therapist, or just a group counselor?"

"They've got somebody who can prescribe something. I just haven't talked to them since I only have group."

"Ok. And how often do you have group sessions?"

"Well, they meet once a week, but I haven't been in about a month."

"May I ask why you haven't been?"

"Too busy."

"Hmmm... Well, forgive me for asking this so bluntly, but you're too busy doing what exactly?"

"Well... Uhhh..."

"I'm sure that you have things to do, but I'm asking because it is important that you take care of your mental health just as much as, say, going to the doctor for a broken arm... If there is something wrong, and someone can help you fix it so that it heals properly, then it is important to take the time to go and get that help, don't you think?"

"Yeah, but I've just been to busy to go lately."

"Ok, well, I'd like for you to work on figuring out a workable schedule so that you can get your other things done too, and still make it to your group meetings. I mean I'm not a therapist, but I think if you have a diagnosed problem then it is very important that you set aside the time to work on it, don't you?"

"I guess so."

"Well, I don't mean this to be offensive, but you're not currently working, so that right there frees up 40 hours a week... Your group lasts what, an hour? Two maybe?"

"An hour."

"Ok, well, then you need to consider setting aside that one hour for yourself, and doing everything else that you need to do during the other 39 hours. I mean I'm not trying to tell you what to do with every minute of your day, but we're talking about one hour a week that someone thinks you need. And if you didn't think you needed something, you never would have been going in the first place, would you?"

"I guess."

"Well, I just want you to try. And in fact, I'll tell you right now, that that's all I'm ever going to ask of you. I'm telling you right now that I'm not going to come into your house and fix all this for you. You've got to be the one putting in the time and effort to TRY to make things better."

"Well, I appreciate that. Julie would just get mad at us and holler at us for not getting stuff done."

"Well, I'm not saying that I won't expect results. I do want to see progress. But I also know that Rome wasn't built in a day. You all didn't get into this mess overnight, and it's not going to get better overnight. I'm going to work with you guys, and I know that this is going to take some time and some real work, but the fact is that if this was all good, I wouldn't have to be in here telling you what's what... Obviously I'm here, so you've got some work to do. I want to make this as quick and painless as possible, but that's going to mean some effort on your part. You with me on that?"

"Yeah. I got it. So you're not just going to get mad at us like Julie?"

"Well, if I see that you're putting in a fair amount of effort, I'll be willing to keep working on improving things with you... But if you're not holding up your end of the deal, I'm telling you right now that I'm not going to be willing to work any harder than you are! So if you get the work done, then things are good, and I stay off your case, but if things aren't getting done, then I'll be mad and you'll hear all about it!"

"Sounds fair."

At this point the dogs in the house seemed to have found other things to do, and other patches of carpet to shit on, because they had lost interest in barking at us through the screen door. Realizing that the dogs were otherwise occupied, that I'd already been smelling the foulness from the relative safety of the porch, and that the quicker we went in to see the situation in the house, the sooner I could get home and shower... I told him that as part of my job I'd have to see the inside to make sure that things were "acceptable" (although the state and I have VERY different ideas of what qualifies as acceptable) and I'd probably be on my way shortly.

We went in. And the instant that the screen door was flung open, the wall of stench hit me like a nuclear shock wave. It took every fiber of my being to not recoil and run the opposite direction, or to vomit on the spot. I girded myself as the wave of nausea swept over me and took hold. I choked on what little breath I was able to take. And as I looked down to see the four little dogs running around my feet, barking at me and snarling at each other, I noticed four fresh piles of dog poo within two feet of the door... Most likely left there while the little beasts were originally barking through the door during the conversation on the porch.

As my vision panned upwards, I noted that very little, if anything, had changed since my original foray into this hellhole several months prior. If Julie had gotten any results at any point in the meantime, it couldn't be detected now.

On the desk to the immediate left of the door was still a mess of papers, some of which had evidence of urine and feces on them. In the makeshift bedroom setup, the clothes and garbage were still heaped up to be level with the mattress, and in some areas it was higher than the level of the mattress, which itself looked ever more defeated and begging for a quick exit into a dumpster. Without any sheets on the mattress, it was readily apparent that the animals had repeatedly used the bed as a stomping ground and makeshift litter box. One pile of dung on the upper reaches of a boxy particle-board headboard appeared to have been there for quite some time as it was dried out and crusted in place. I'm convinced that if an inanimate thing, (in this case, another pile of dog shit) - if the other pile of dung, which rested almost dead center on the mattress, could've smiled, it would have. It was fresh and chilling in the middle of the bed... It was a self-satisfied little pile of dung which had just lucked into some prime real estate!

I noticed to my right that cats were climbing up, and over, and through the assorted piles and entanglements of various dumpster delicacies which were heaped in this front room. I counted three or four... One couldn't be sure, and lord only knows what else was living in those piles. I followed Mitch through the cramped den area, into the more open kitchen area.

Once in the kitchen, the bug problem in the home became much more apparent... It was readily evident in the rest of the house, but I'd focused on attempting to count animals and trying not to step in the numerous piles of dung, haphazardly laid out on the carpet like smelly, disgusting land mines. I asked Mitch about the dishes in the sink, and why they weren't done.

"Well, I was going to do them, but I just got too busy."

"Busy doing what? That's on your chore list that Julie made you put up right there... And that list says you've got to do the dishes and clean as you go."

"Well... Ok. I'll do them. Are you going to stand here and watch me do them like Julie?"

"Not today... But if I come back tomorrow and they're still there, then yeah I'll make sure they get done if it means standing here while you do them... Besides, don't you think a sink full of dirty dishes contributes to this cockroach situation you've got going on?"

"Well, we were going to get a can of spray, but we just didn't..."

"No offense, Mitch, but I think a problem like this is going to take a lot more than just a can of spray."

"Well our case worker, Dave, said that he was going to see if he could do anything, but we ain't heard anything back about that."

"I'll talk to him and see what I can find out."


"And what about those other chores on the list? Number one says pick up the poop and keep the litter box clean... I have seen all kinds of poop, including a few piles out here in the kitchen floor. That's one I will have to stand here and make sure you do, because I can't leave here knowing that there's poop on the floor when you tell me that your kiddo is coming back here later tonight."

So Mitch went through the house with a roll of toilet paper and picked up the poop one disgusting pile at a time, often needing me to point out piles he would have missed otherwise. I then noted that I needed to see the child's room. I needed to make sure that Millie had an "acceptable" bedroom situation... And since we knew that cleanliness wasn't something that factored into the state's definition of "acceptable" I was really just hoping to just peek in the door and not see a child-sized cage. As Mitch opened the door to Millie's bedroom, I thought I was going to faint, and if it hadn't been for my extreme fear of ending up laying in a heap of animal dung with roaches crawling all over my face while passed out, I probably would have... Because although I didn't think it was possible, when he opened the door to her bedroom, the smell worsened.

It is difficult to describe, and for as much as I know that I have not done justice to the original stench, but this new odor was a different kind of disgusting. It was hard to keep the chunks rising in my throat in check, and all I could bring myself to focus on were the small brown roaches climbing on the wall near the door frame. The odor which poured out was intensely acrid, reeking of that ammonia-like cat urine smell. Beyond the initial wave of ammonia was a sickly sweet smell, I couldn't place it, but whatever it was, it hung thick in the air in this room.

Once I was able to blink away the moisture in my eyes generated not only by the intense urge to vomit, and the overwhelming ammonia which had caused my eyes to burn, I looked inside. Needless to say, I was not pleased. I noticed an additional three cats which I hadn't seen before. Apparently they'd been confined behind that door for quite a long while. Since the time of their original confinement, they'd pissed and shat all over that room. I noticed at least six piles of crap on the floor, and told Mitch to go get his roll of toilet paper so that those could be cleaned up as well.

It took Mitch a few moments to locate his roll of toilet paper somewhere in the mess elsewhere in the home. During those moments, I noticed the rest of little Millie's room. Along the wall to the left of the door was a sad little twin bed with no sheets on the disgusting greyed mattress. There was a headboard with empty little cubby holes which had once had doors that had long since been ripped off. There was a small table with broken toys and clothes heaped on it, which sat in front of a closet which had a curtain instead of a door, and a large heap of clothing spilled out onto the floor. It was readily apparent that the cats had been hanging out on that pile of clothing and they had no problems shitting where they sat. Panning further to the right, there was a small desk, again covered in cat shit, dirty clothes, and broken toys. In the far right corner there was a chest of drawers with a small television on top. The drawers were haphazardly pulled out, and articles of clothing spilled from one drawer into the next. Piles of filthy stuffed animals and more broken toys littered the floor around the base of the chest of drawers and led the eye back around to the right hand side of the door. I noticed that the walls were randomly marred with crayon graffiti in shades predominantly of green and brown. There were no pictures, merely tangles of lines and odd shapes drawn in colors which most children would likely have discarded when opting for pretty colors when drawing pretty pictures of their pretty houses... That said, these colors and these tangles of bizarre forms fit right in.

Mitch picked up the dung in the room. I told him that I wanted to see serious progress in cleaning up this room first. I instructed him that the laundry needed to be done, and that the clothes needed to be put away properly either in the closet or in the chest of drawers so that they remained clean, rather than ending up covered in cat excrement. I told him that if the bed was in that kind of shape underneath, the least that they could do was to put clean sheets on it, and if they didn't have sheets that they needed to at least cover it with a blanket tucked in on all sides. I told him that the smell was an issue, because there was no way that constantly inhaling all that concentrated ammonia smell could be good for little Millie. I asked him to try to air the room out and not confine animals in there if at all possible. I listed a few other chores for him to take care of, and having reached well beyond my limits of tolerance for this kind of olfactory punishment, I departed. I got to my car and upon seeing the front door close with Mitch securely on the other side, I hacked and wretched and struggled to catch my breath.

As soon as I opened my car door, I reached in and got the bottle of hand sanitizer and bathed my hands thoroughly, despite the fact that I couldn't recall touching anything. I considered what else I needed to soak in the stuff before actually getting in and starting my car. I took off the soon to be infamous "poop shoes" and placed them back in a bag which I'd set aside for this purpose. I put on the shoes I'd worn to all my other appointments, got into my car, resoaked my hands in purell, knowing that I'd just touched the "poop shoes," (even though the handling was minimal, and I had been VERY VERY careful to only touch the upper portions of the shoes,) and proceeded to drive home the quickest way I knew, all the while finding that I could still smell the offensive odors of that house on myself. As soon as I was inside my front door, I stripped down and put the clothes directly into the washing machine on HOT and ran to take the most ridiculously hot and scrub-tastic exfoliating shower you can imagine... Little did I know that this was to be a near-daily ritual for the next NINE MONTHS.

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