Peter, Flynn, and the united front

This is my (intentionally stark) account of the destruction wrought some 30 years ago by one toxic person in a workplace. Names are changed.


Peter stopped getting out of bed in the mornings. He denied he was sick and said he just didn’t feel like going to work. After a couple weeks of this, his attendance dropped to 50% and there it stayed.

Peter had been the first client I’d met on my first shift working at a group home for adults with intellectual disabilities. When introduced, he’d clutched my arm with a gleam in his eye and I briefly wondered if I was cut out for the job. A couple weeks later I was tasked with nail care, and the first time he took off his socks I wondered again about my suitability. But by the six-month mark I was no longer startled by people standing too closely nor freaked out by fungal toenails. We’d worked together five years when Peter’s troubles started, so I did know he’d never miss work at the sheltered workshop voluntarily. Even the thought that he might be running late in the morning would upset him.


Investigating significant behavior change starts by talking with the client and ruling out medical issues. After that you talk some more: with client, family, frontline staff, and other members of an interdisciplinary team. Flynn, a recent hire with an impressive resumé, headed up the day training program Peter belonged to. Following a team meeting one morning, we drove to a nearby diner for a working lunch to brainstorm Peter’s situation.

The conversation was routine and unmemorable until it was time to head back to the office. As we started to gather our things Flynn said, “I come from a family that’s very open about sex.”

“I don’t,” I said.

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