Getting a coffee can be one of the most satisfying things at the start of a busy day. It can be the thing that keeps you going, and that first sip is so delicious as it hits the tongue.
When you can’t make that happen for yourself, what should be a pleasure becomes a frustrating struggle.
Such is life for one CAMH client who resides in Unit 1-5, General Forensics. Luckily, he found help in the form of Registered Nurse Paul Koniec, who works on that unit.
Paul Koniec at work
“It was just a simple thing, I had a patient that was quite low functioning. The guy couldn’t even make a coffee for himself. So he kept bothering me to make him a coffee,” said Paul. “I realized the guy didn’t have the ability to mix. He loved the double-double, but he couldn’t make the double-double. Then I made the coffee for him.”
“But what hit me was the guy hugged me and said, ‘thank you’. Something so simple like making coffee meant so much to this guy. Those moments really make you go, ‘damn, I love this job’.”
Paul definitely loves his job, as he’s happy to tell anyone who asks. Just a few years ago, the now-RN was studying chemical engineering. Then a friend got him a job working nights taking care of children. “It completely changed in just a few weeks of work, a completely different outlook for my career,” says Paul. “Instead of making money for a company, I was helping people and getting a paycheque. So I decided to pursue nursing so I could get more out of the health care experience.”
Paul ended up working in mental health and addictions despite a stigma among his fellow nursing students, who warned him that “you’re going to lose all your skills.” “I think I gained a lot more coming into mental health. It’s a different skill set. You have to love what you do.”
“This population is a forgotten population. They’re viewed as dangerous, scary, there’s a stigma to it. It’s a population I get along with. I get mental health. The other stuff didn’t attract me.”
Why does he love working in mental health and addictions so much? Paul says it forces him to be more creative. “Mental health nurses don’t get enough credit. Acute nurses get tasked day to day. Mental health nursing, your day is how you make it.” Working in a forensics unit provides its own special challenges, but for Paul the motivation is the same. “People are here because they’re not well. There’s a person behind the mental illness and you’re trying to get that person out. It’s the small gains that make it worth it every day. Successfully discharging them. Getting them out and keeping them out.”
Paul loves what he does so much he’s even convinced other nurses to switch to mental health and addictions work. “One of my friends, right now she’s in mental health emerg at another hospital. And one of my colleagues recently got hired at CAMH.”
He’s worked as a personal support worker, residential counsellor, Registered Practical Nurse and now an RN for the past three years. Not only has he gained valuable experience along the way, he’s also gained some perspective.
“I became empathetic, I became more sensitive to people’s problems,” says Paul. “It also became more rewarding. The job completely changed me in the way I view work. Work’s not about making money anymore. It’s exciting, to come in and help people and have an impact on their lives.”
Paul takes his new outlook with him after hours as well. “I got a sweet spot for people in vulnerable situations, vulnerable populations. Before I didn’t think I did. Before I used to walk by a homeless guy and not think twice. Now I ask him if he wants coffee.”