Deep Care

Earlier this week I read an excellent blog post from Kara Chrome, The Chair of Anthropolyatrics where she discussed the need for the role of an adult paediatrician, a conversation that has been rumbling around the world of families like us for sometime.
They would do well to look at the model working for our lovely daughter.

It is no secret that when she came back from residential school she spent a year of her life dying. I slept on her floor and the walls closed in around us. We were rescued from this desperate place by palliative care at Great Ormond Street under the guise of consultant Fin. She came to our house, she saw our distress, she arranged a psychologist for me and night care for Iona. We found a solution to allow Iona to go back to education and slowly life became almost normal. I can still remember my overwhelming distress when our lovely daughter a few years later had to move into ‘adult services’. The team that had provided us with warmth, understanding and deep care would be gone and once more we would be floating around in an unsupported alien world.

But the transition was managed. Fin came with me and Iona on our first appointment to the proposed adult neurologist. When I left in tears having encountered someone once again who knew best and didn’t listen, she found me the kind of neurologist I could work with, someone who listened, who cared and who put quality of life way over quantity of seizures. That next step was replacing herself.

She broke a new pathway to the adult hospice service and took me to meet two different palliative care consultants. I chose the one who made me laugh the most. He resides at the Marie Curie hospice in Hampstead. I go with Iona every 3 months for a visit, we chat, we laugh, sometimes I almost cry as he checks in with both of us. We develop new understandings and I sometimes learn new procedures. We talk about fears, exhaustions, holidays, bloods, bowels, sleep, drugs, skin, life and he always asks if there is anything else they can do to help. As much as I have come to hate hospitals I have come to love hospices.

Yesterday I sent a last minute email about a holiday I will take. A scary time.

This is what I got back this morning, ‘I have popped Iona’s name into a bed slot for the period that you will be away and I will let the team know of the process so please rest assure we will be here as a backup – I hope all is calm during that time –  and enjoy your well-deserved break :)’
This was my reply, Thank you so much. Your help just makes it all possible

It seems to me that when a person with learning disabilities becomes an adult they need a consultant who listens, who cares, who has access to specialists when they are needed, who has time and who takes time to find out who you are and what will help. There is little room for this in big, monolithic hospitals, and GP’s who need the support of paediatricians in childhood are unlikely to manage an overnight change as the young person celebrates their eighteenth birthday. People with special needs are dying younger than they should, their health care is not as it should be. It is time to stop talking, start applying common sense, and truly value the lives of people who have so much to give.

Justice For Laughing Boy

Justice for Laughing Boy By Sara Ryan

I remember it well. I was only too happy to hear my email ping and find the next bulletin of the Laughing Boy blog arrive. I opened it somewhat surreptitiously, sitting as I was in a busy but boring workshop, and read on. I read that Laughing Boy had died.

I felt physically sick. I left the conference hall  and cried.

I still think of LB often.

In Justice for Laughing Boy Sara Ryan tells the shocking story of how her son Connor, Laughing Boy, died in an ATU in Oxfordshire. He was a handsome young man with the future ahead of him, ideally involving a, ‘haulage company and a beautiful brown eyed woman’. He had learning difficulties and epilepsy and as some young men do was experiencing a hard time with anxiety and sometimes unpredictable rage. He was admitted to Slade House in Oxfordshire, an NHS Treatment and Assessment Unit, where he was under the care of a team of psychologists and ‘experts’. This is where he died, a young man with epilepsy drowned unattended in a bath.

This book is written with all the warmth, charm and humour that drew me to Sara’s blog in the first place. Many anecdotes stick with you long after reading. Many are laugh out loud funny. But what is not funny is that Sara has spent the last 3 years searching for accountability, apologies and justice. This is a story that starts with the joy, the unpredictability and the simple weirdness of living with a dude like Connor and moves on to the massive unrelenting task of fighting for justice 3 years after his preventable death.

Sara and her incredible band of supporters have waged war on a system that is convoluted, obfuscating and weighted against families. With resilience and tenacity they have stood their ground, they have pushed and cajoled as they fight to bring some kind of meaning to this awful and untimely death. Some of this has been played out in public meetings, court rooms and lawyers offices. Some of it on flags at festivals, on buses in Asturia and much of it on social media in a campaign that has caught the hearts of thousands.

But from every angle this has been an unjust war. Why should a mother have to fight so hard for justice when her son died in an institution charged to help him, in a bath.

This is a book that should never have had to be written, but it is a book that demands to be read.

 

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Take Good Care

It has taken  a long time to identify myself as a carer, one of the almost 7 million in the UK. Increasingly, I realise that the demands of looking out for someone 24 hours a day, however much I love her, places me firmly in that camp. The additional needs which can range from providing a literal shoulder to lean on, to recruiting carers, to administering life saving medication, to witnessing horrific seizures has eventually convinced me that this is an out of the ordinary parenting role.

I was shocked recently when asked that simple question, Whose mask would you put on first if a plane was going down, yours or your daughters, to answer without hesitation my daughters. It is a cliche but a telling cliche.

It becomes a habit to think of others before ourselves. Not in some kind of angelic, saintly way but as ritualised behaviour often accompanied by, said with a hint of shame, resentment. It can be annoying, irritating and frustrating to be seen as somehow better than others, more rounded, more able, when actually what we often feel is overwhelmed by sadness and fear. The sadness that it has always been this way and always will be, and the fear that we may be unable to continue both emotionally and physically because the tank is empty.

It is an essential truth that carers need to look after ourselves but it is not something that always comes easily. Many carers have to be given permission to do this, convinced that essence of you is caring for others and time spent not doing this is indulgent, wasteful and frankly flaky.

Yesterday in a yoga class we were working towards an arm balancing pose, astavakrasana, when I ended up in a crumpled but smiling heap, not quite the desired effect and luckily no accompanying photo. The lovely, downtoearth yoga teacher explained that the pose was like dealing with a difficult person. You do not try to address all the difficulties at once, you take them small step by small step and eventually you may have a better relationship  with that person.

This is the same for carers. You cannot expect to make peace with the enormous and life shattering change that is being a carer in one step. You cannot learn to look after yourself overnight after years of neglect, but you begin to build small moments when you find yourself again. Mine are often found on the yoga mat, where do you find yours?

 

 

 

 

A life changer

Often in the last 2 years I have stood in rooms full of people and talked about how my daughters personal health budget has not just changed her life but changed mine too.

I was brought up in a Scottish village close to nowhere, with a view over a flat top island, silver sands, and stunning sunsets when the sky turns bronze and burnished red. A place to roam free with bikes and dens and burns, sunburned noses and freckles in the summer, wellies and woolly hats in the winter. There was one school, two churches, three pubs, endless skies, soaring seagulls and salty storms. Lobsters crawled from pots across kitchen floors, errant dogs chased sheep, and bog myrtle, sea pinks and rowan berries marked the seasons. Continue reading

A whimper not a bang

April has started with a whimper not a bang, strangled by greyness, crippled by cold and compounded by welfare, death and orphanages. That’s what the view from the hill looked like this week.

Maybe I should stop following the news, switch off twitter and bury my head in fiction and films. Maybe I should stop running and try slow walking, take a long bath rather than a quick shower and fill my days crocheting, gardening or baking. After all it might do as much good as looking at the world and watching things get worse. Continue reading

We can’t hear the parents

 

All of my daughter’s life I have fought hard to make her life the best it can be. This has taken me from being a laid back individual to the verge of a nervous breakdown and back. I have in my time been labelled neurotic, challenging, difficult, over-protective, pushy, demanding and unrealistic. At times, I may have been some of these things. I do not apologise. And I know, despite the fact we are now quite settled and work well with the professionals around her, I would not be afraid to fight for her should the need arise again. Yesterday we heard that parents of young people in Winterbourne View were amongst the most disenfranchised parents in the country. How did that happen? Continue reading

A Light Touch

For the last 18 months I have been delivering a short talk on the transformative power of personal health budgets. In the same way that has happened in social care it is now possible to have a personal health budget instead of more traditional services like residential or agency care.

The reception has generally been warm. But within every room are the hardline doubters. You can usually spot them at the beginning: arms folded, huddled together, frowning faces.

After the talk come the questions. With recurring inevitability the first question will be regarding financial accountability. Continue reading