“What I have is my presence and it turns out I always have that.”
Taj
ATC Co-Founder

Co-founders, Rob and Taj, talk about what it really means to bear witness to a person’s humanity.

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Rob: I’d love to ask a little bit about, kind of, what ATC has meant to you and kind of what you carry from your time at ATC with you?

Taj: That is an excellent question. You know and I remember us having this conversation when I was getting serious about going to med school of like, “Yeah, there’s no reason why doctors can’t do it this way right?”

Rob: Yeah.

Taj: There is no reason why you cannot take a harm reduction approach. There is no reason why you can’t take a holistic view of the people you’re seeing. There is no reason why you can’t understand that the time they spend in the hospital or the clinic or the ER is a tiny tiny tiny tiny tiny tiny fraction of their life and your job is to kind of do what you can to make the rest of their life better, not to suck them into your world.

I still remember and I’m not going to say his name.

Rob: Yeah of course.

Taj: But one of our clients, after he was raped you remember went to the ED and then got the discharge summary that said, “Stop doing drugs.”

Rob: Yeah.

Taj: And I just remember being like both kind of outranged and also baffled and just like, “What? How?” Just not being able to comprehend how that could happen. It has kind of been my mission to—how do we create an environment where that will not happen, right?

How do produce physicians who will not do that and what type of training and education do they need so that they don’t do that.

Rob: Yeah.

Taj: So, I think it’s informed everything I do.

Rob: I think it’s, can be incredibly threatening to people to really consider our clients or other homeless folks as people and to let them in. I think that we live in this world where it is so much easier to ignore them, to demonize them, to objectify them, rather than to really consider in the kind of situation you were talking about like, wow this young man was raped.

And regardless of anything about his social economics status like that’s what I need to be focused on is supporting him through this moment of trauma. But bearing witness to things like that is difficult and especially if you don’t feel like you have the tools to do it you deflect because bearing witness to that much pain takes you out. And so you end up finding an alternate method of dealing with it which is to solve, to fix, to deflect, to minimize the pain that the person in front of you is experiencing.

And so you fall back on systems and rules and structured ways of thinking because if you are just there with your humanity and with that kids humanity it can feel overwhelming.

Taj: It feels overwhelming and then you realize also that it’s also enough.

Rob: Yes, that’s exactly right.

Taj: I mean I just think the other day that I was on service I had this poor patient who had a terminal illness and unfortunately had an exacerbation of this termination illness. It looked like it was getting worse and that I was at the limits of what I was going to be able to do to stall or reverse the course of this, right?

Rob: Yeah.

Taj: I was just in there talking to him for like 45 minutes and I walked out of the room and the nurse was just so grateful and was like, “Thank you so much for taking the time blah, blah, blah.” I was like, this should not be that weird an occurrence, right? But like what I have is that. At this point in his care what I have is my presence and it turns out I always have that, even when I have penicillin, I still have my presence.

Rob: [Laughs]

Taj: And recognizing that, that is healing.

Rob: Yeah.

Taj: Being present with someone is healing and we don’t do that just in the world enough right?

Rob: Yeah.