Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Intangible Rewards

My first visit of the day yesterday was seeing someone who had ended up in a nursing care as her husband didn't have the energy to look after her anymore.  The home is one where it looks as if someone gives a damn and the staff are kind even though they're very, very busy. That's not always a given I'm afraid, although of course it should be. Please, please kick up stink when you find places where things are not right.

This lady had been seen by two of my colleagues from other professions in the last couple of months.   Due to the context of their assessments I didn't really have a sense of who she was and  what she'd been doing with her life. I knew that was frail, confused and  had probably suffered recent mini strokes and a urinary infection. In all likelihood she was depressed  as it had been reported that she lacked motivation and felt helpless.  Someone had added happy pills to her exhaustive list of medication to see if that would work some magic.   I reckon that if you did a poll of all people working in older adult mental health services they'd have seen someone just like her just in the last week.

When I walked into her bedroom I found a demure little lady sitting in front of a half eaten bowl of porridge.  As she'd only just moved in the room was pretty bare, devoid of much to personalise it. She smiled though and I smiled back so we got off to a good start. You don't want to come across all scary in my job. Often people are terrified as it is and envisage that I carry strait jackets and big tranquiliser darts.

Communication was quite difficult at first.  The lady was very deaf and there wasn't a hearing aid in sight.  She was also muddled and didn't seem to be understanding me.  Conversation was going nowhere and I'll be honest and say I was thinking of cutting my visit short.  However I normally spend an hour with people when I first meet them and I decided that this lady needed the gift of time. After all it wasn't likely that the staff were free to sit around much and have a bit of a chat.

And bit by bit things  changed.  She conveyed to me that she didn't think that her brain was working and she got a little upset.   I said that's why I was visiting.  She also thought that the half eaten breakfast wasn't a good accessory.   I'd left it there to see if she was going to finish it but as soon as she said something I moved it pronto.  I so wanted to see her do something for herself. After all sitting around all day doing diddly squat isn't good for anyone.

Looking for inspiration I spied a book of crosswords on her bookshelf.  I thought that it must have belonged to a previous incumbent or been brought in by a misguided relative.  How could a lady that could barely string two words manage that?  Something, a little inner voice maybe, told me to give it a go.  'A Scottish city, seven letters' I felt a bit mean asking.  'Well it can't be Edinburgh, can it?' came the reply.  And then, 'Glasgow!'  I nearly fell over backwards.  From then on it got even better.  I offered her the book.  'I have to try, don't I' she said taking it.  She could read her own clues and fill in the puzzle herself, only needing  a bit of a nudge to move on and a different clue when she got stuck. Spurred on I found yet another one of those colouring books that I was talking about the other day.  She got started with that, even trying to do some colour mixing. One of her fish turned out blue and she told me that could not be right for there were none in nature.  I googled images on my tablet to show her that they did indeed exist.

At the end of my visit I told her that there seemed to be hope and I would be back.  'I'd like that' she said.  My heart melted.  'Did you know that she can colour and do crosswords?' I told the staff before I left.  Even though she'd been with them for a few weeks they didn't have a clue.  We started to come up with a plan so that she can be helped to regain something of her individuality through what she does.

I'm an occupational therapist.  Another day has gone by where I'm proud of the difference that I make.  Not everyone is lucky enough to say that about their job.

8 July Addendum:  How timely things happen.  I was given this button badge yesterday by a colleague who'd just been to our profession's conference.  'Wear that' she said.  'It'll make you lot madder than you already are!'


  1. .....and not everyone is lucky enough to have you visit them. Yours is one of my favourite blogs and I love the little insights you give into your work. S

  2. Thank goodness for people like you…..my Mum tried every day to do the crossword on the back of the Telegraph well into her mid 90's. It was so sad to see her getting less and less clues right, until eventually she stopped bothering. I lived an hour and a half away so couldn't really help. She was also very deaf, even with her hearing aid! It was all very stressful.

  3. A heartwarming story. I can see why you enjoy your job.

  4. My parents were both able to stay in their own home until they passed away thanks to therapists. I am so thankful for your skills and those of all who do therapeutic work.

  5. Lovely account. Recently, I got my Mum some cds of Vera Lynn, Glenn Millar etc and she sings along a bit. This is someone who can't string a sentence together due to dementia. I wish I'd done it a few years ago.

  6. I worked in a nursing home for over 25 years and I just wanted to say "thank you and well done for taking the time to draw this lady out and help her feel welcome".

    It is very easy to develop a hard shell and not take the time needed. Often I found if I stopped and chatted with a resident for a few minutes it made all the difference in the world to them. Often they are ignored. I always said to my co-workers "remember some day this could be you, we will all get old and think how you would feel in this situation" - sorry for my rant.

    Carry on your good work.

  7. Well done. Take away the peel, and there's often a lovely fruit inside.

  8. Thank God for you and people like you - my Mum is 93 and in her own home looked after by carers, losing her sight and hearing. I am in New Zealand and hope that there is someone like you in her life as it is too far for me to do anything now that I can't write or phone her. Audrey

  9. Thanks for all these lovely comments. What I want to say is that there are many other health and social care staff out there doing a brilliant job, my very gorgeous colleagues among them. Little by little we're cracking away at it, rooting out what is unacceptable and making it a wider societal responsibility to care for those who are at the end of life. x

  10. What a gift you have, thank you for caring so much. I might have to move to your area...