Saturday, February 6, 2010

Can I Interest You in a Subscription?

If you looked at Robert’s magazine subscriptions before moving into the Care Facility you would think he was an athletic Mr. Fix-It who gardens after a long day of hunting and, in his spare time, collects guns and rare coins while harboring a soft spot for celebrity gossip and an interest in architecture.

The truth is Robert is a developmentally disabled, physically challenged, devout Christian epileptic who enjoys playing cards and bingo, going to church, watching game shows and spending hours on end working on word search puzzles.

He collects magazines; he doesn’t read them.

Somehow Robert acquired subscriptions to no fewer than twenty magazines with subscriptions paid through the next decade. I say “somehow” but I know exactly how: he was taken advantage of by some salesman looking to make a few easy bucks. When I took over caring for Robert, I realized he had been sent to “collections” for outstanding bills running into the thousands – for magazines he doesn’t read. Robert is trusting and does not realize people will take advantage of the disabled. For his part, Robert saw no harm in returning the relentless slew of solicitation postcards back to magazine companies saying why, yes, he would renew his subscription! Thank you for asking two hundred times!

Robert has called me thinking he had won the Canadian lottery and asked me for money to send away in order to collect his big “prize.” For the record, Robert has also “won” the International Lottery and has 2.2 million dollars waiting for him from the Award Data Control Offices – if only he could please send them a nominal processing fee.

Robert has used his very limited income to send a money order to Jamaica for who knows what because someone on the phone told him to do so. Robert has bought a bed from a door-to-door salesman. Yes, Robert bought a bed from a stranger who came knocking on his door.

Robert has bought a monthly subscription to an online service to keep track of his medical issues. Robert does not know how to access the World Wide Web nor does he even own a computer. Robert has been given credit at a well-known jewelry store and then proceeded to rack up an enormous debt so he could have several bracelets and rings that are “pure 14-carat gold.” This was very important to Robert and he will proudly tell anyone who will listen that his jewelry is 14-carat gold (and for some reason costs hundreds of dollars?).

If you’re screaming at me right now asking why I didn’t stop all this sooner, please stop – you cannot kick me more than I’ve kicked myself. Autonomy is essential, even for the disabled. Who am I to say Robert has no business buying more jewelry than he needs (and paying more for it than it is worth) or buying magazines that he will never read? I’d get pretty darned mad if someone stopped me from buying another pair of shoes or told me they weren’t worth what I paid. Ahh, I do love my shoes. . .

Where we went wrong was not realizing how much Robert was struggling financially due to these purchases and the scams. That has changed. I have taken over his finances and he is perfectly happy for me to do so as long he can watch his game shows on cable and I throw in a few new word search puzzles every now and then. I was able to convince the creditors to write off Robert’s delinquent charges (it could have had something to do with my “you’re-taking-advantage-of-the-disabled-and-I’m-going-to-report-you" tirade). Rob's phone is set up to block international calls (sorry, Jamaica) and his number has been put on the “Do Not Call” registry. Scam mail has not made its way to the Care Facility (yet) but I’m on the lookout for it.

I find it loathsome there are people out there preying on the elderly, disabled and mentally challenged but they are out there. Even though I consider myself a good-hearted, kind woman I find myself wishing for karmic justice that is swift, severe and painful.

In the meantime, I’m doing my best to make sure Robert has the autonomy his psyche needs while not being taken advantage of by snake-oil (or mattress) salesmen.

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