Bad Ass of the week: Elyse Weiner


(Photo taken by: Colleen Cummins)

Elyse works in an ICU (Intensive care unit) as a medical social worker focusing on adult and child services, as well as death and grief counseling. Behind the scenes she not only fights the good fight for her patients, she also represents her peers in their Union, fighting for their collective employment rights as well.

While still in school working toward her Masters, Elyse gave back working crisis hotlines and as a speech therapist working primarily with autistic children. I can only try to imagine what kind of workload that must have been. Social workers are the un-sung heroes of our communities. Meeting people like Elyse re-affirms this for me. Hailing from Massachusetts, Oakland has been lucky to have this gem for 13 years.

Just hearing “ICU” I think is enough to give most people the willies. Yet people like you are there “Deep in it” every day by choice. Helping others in times of pure crisis and emergency. What kind of events take place on the average work day of a medical social worker in an ICU?

It can be challenging working with whole family systems. For example imagine suddenly waking up in the ICU and being told by a doctor that you will never walk again. I then step in to help the family move forward and make the difficult decisions that lie ahead, whatever they may be.”

I hate to interrupt but…let’s just let that sink in for a moment folks. Can you imagine trying to help reassure and facilitate the needs of one person, let alone a whole family after an awful tragedy?*whew*. Okay. You must have nerves of steel. I can only try to imagine the strength it must take to keep yourself from crying or breaking down with your patients after they’ve been told their life will never be the same. Wow. I’m sorry for interrupting you, please continue!

“…It’ all a part of what we do. Families sometimes have to make really difficult medical decisions on a person’s behalf. I am there to help guide and support them while making those decisions. I do everything possible to facilitate the needs of the doctor and the emotional needs of the affected. A BIG part of the process really comes down to the empowerment of the individual and families; helping them feel grounded, strong and sure of whatever choices they may have to make.

In the bay area you are exposed to so many different cultures you try to learn quickly how each cultural practice generally reacts to death and tragedy. It is an important part of your job to learn and continue to facilitate their needs in any way you can. It’s sometimes hard for family members who travel here from different countries and are not used to our practices”

I know I’ve said this in previous articles, but it never becomes any less true in my opinion: Social workers, educators, nurses etc. should get paid what pro athletes and famous “musicians” make. You and others like you are out there in the trenches, getting dirty and providing support to members of our community in their greatest time of need. Makes no damn sense to me, but I celebrate and humbly applaud your accomplishments and the positive impact you have on the people and families you help.

You mentioned that you are a “shop steward”, can you tell those of us who haven’t been part of a union what that means?

It essentially means that I am a Union representative of my peers for the employer we work for. I help lead the fight and the voting process for better wages, benefits, employee rights, ect. I’ve gone so far as lobbying the government in our Capitol, Sacramento.”

How do you find the time?! You’re fighting for everyone, dude! What do you feel are the biggest challenges you face while on the “battlefield” of an ICU?

Other than the obstacles set forth by the system I have to work within, I’d say my biggest challenge is always being sure that I’m taking care of myself. I can’t help anyone of I’m not well and helping myself. When you work upwards of 10+ hours a day, “taking care of yourself” becomes harder than it sounds.”

8-10 hour long work days can be brutal enough. Let alone the intensity and urgency of your work during that 10 hour period. You’re a saint. You and everyone who does the kind of work you do. Most people (myself included) can’t provide the kind of help and services you do while being able to keep themselves whole in the process.

When you DO have time to yourself, what’s your escape and outlet from the grief?

Art! My Instagram: @elyse510

*Shout outs!*

Mary Weather Apparel Gallery and Betti Ono Gallery have been a big part of my artistic self-care

Everyone should to Rock, Paper, Scissors! All DIY, they have art classes and zines, ect. I’ve been thoroughly enjoying living in the downtown area surrounded by the arts community that seems to get bigger every day

I’d also like to give recognition to: Collen Cummins for my photoJ”

So on top of all else you’re an artist to boot? Mind, blown. (I just can’t even right now…wow)

You’re a very remarkable woman and I’m so glad to continue finding that we are in fact, surrounded by strong, independent, BAD ASS women!!! Thank you for all you do to help us Elyse! World hear us roar!