Thursday, January 31, 2008

Matchmaking Family

I got an interesting phone call from a pts. daughter today. Before I fill you in, I need to give the back story (this is one of those things I should have written about what it happens- c'est la vie.) A few weeks ago I went to see a family where the patient, "Bernie" was actively declining. Bernie has been our patient for almost a year and the hospice team has become pretty close with the family. One of Bernie's daughters "Sandra" is in town from out of state helping out. There is also a hired caregiver. Bernie's wife "Mary" is always interested in my vacation plans and, of course, my dating life. I don't give out much information in the dating department, mostly because I haven't found anyone serious. After we discussed Bernie's decline and how Mary and the family were coping, she needed a change in subject for a while so, for whatever reason, she chose to ask about my dating life. I told her I still hadn't found the right guy and tried to think of something else to talk about. However, Mary was not to be dissuaded. She turned to Sandra and said, "There's got to be someone in our family that we could find for Leigh." And then she told me all about Sandra's son "Tom." He sounded like a nice enough guy but I wasn't going to encourage them in this department. Thankfully Mary realized that Tom is not much of a churchgoer and, knowing how important my faith is to me, decided that this would be the end to her matchmaking plans.

Imagine our surprise when Tom walked in the door about 5 minutes later! He was in the area and wanted to check in on his grandpa. He seemed nice enough but I knew there would be no future for us. I ended the visit, believing that this would be the end of the matchmaking. However, when I returned for a follow up visit the next week, Sandra and Mary were very pleased to report that Tom had been asking about me and wanted to take me out! I was very flattered. I tried to explain that this would probably not be allowed but promised that I would ask my supervisor and let them know.

Would one date really hurt? Maybe, maybe not. I took the issue to a member of the Ethics Committee, Mary, a fellow social worker whom I respect. According to the Code of Ethics for Social Workers, this would be a violation of ethics because I know this family in a professional setting, thus creating a power imbalance. Sometimes it seems so silly- I'm not going to abuse my power! But my responsibility does lie with the patient, first and foremost. If I did go on a date with a family member and it did not go well, it could negatively affect the relationship I have with that family and that would be horrible. Also, do I really want to be forever associated with the death of their family member? Mary and I discussed that after a period of time (6 months, a year) it might be acceptable to have a friendship with a family- the lines do get blurry in hospice since we relate to families in a different way during a very special time in their lives. The whole thing seems like a really great idea for a book.

Anyway, my next scheduled visit is next Thursday and I planned to tell Sandra and Mary that I could not mix my personal and professional worlds in this way, flattered as I may be. Bernie and Mary's other daughter "Nancy" beat me to it though. She left me a message, first asking about a caregiving issue, and then saying that her nephew Tom was still interested in taking me out and she had promised to ask me about it. I called Nancy back and we addressed the caregiving issues. Then I let her know that I just was not able to date Tom at this time. She was understanding of the reasons and told me that Tom knew my responsibility was to Bernie first and foremost. She told me that is why he didn't call me himself, in case it would muddy the waters even further. Since she had to call me anyway, she figured she would bring it up. We ended up having a good conversation about these ethical standards. It's the right decision but I still feel bad about it. Maybe it just feels nice to be pursued- even if it's through a patient's family. I can't remember the last time a guy followed up like this. Ah, the adventure and drama of it all!

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