Celtic Illumination, part 365, Don’t just stand there, let’s get to it, Vogue.
Initially I may have thought that Natural Breaks were a bit lackadaisical in their approach to employing people, but I discovered that they were not. In fact they were seriously involved in putting the right people in the right place. As and when possible you were put into a situation with other members of staff who would report on your reactions, contribution and attitude. After enough of these situations they would make a calculated assessment about your abilities and attitude and place you with the most appropriate people. There was no strict forty hour a week contract. You would have seven hours with one person and sixteen with another. So you would build up a steady amount of regular hours per week that you were satisfied with, and with the nature of the work there were always shifts that needed covering.
Each person supported to live in the community was surrounded with a team. If the person had any specific requirements then each new member of that team would be trained up to be able to meet those needs. Each team had a team leader and a deputy. Each person supported had a social worker who normally you could never get a hold of, as they would have been off work sick with stress. So the rules and regulations surrounding your charge would often have to be broken as you could never get a hold of anyone to give you permission to undertake a certain activity. Say our man, with the eight to one ratio, wanted to go and see a pantomime at Christmas. First off a risk assessment would have to be carried out.
If it was felt that it would be possible for him to attend a pantomime then the team would have a meeting and discuss the best and safest way of seeing the project through. All this takes time and raises the question of just how equal is this person? If you wanted to go to the cinema or pantomime is there a committee that has to meet to decide if it is safe enough for you to do so? The best I ever saw was Jan receiving a telephone call. Two staff members were in Southport walking along the beach with a person they supported. He had seen the little private aeroplane, operating from the beach, and decided that he wanted to take a flight around the local area. If they said no, the staff knew that they may have an incident, which they could handle, but at the same time, a light aircraft is not the sort of place you want someone to begin to experience severe stress and begin to lash out. No one was sure how the fellow supported would react when airborne. This is where it is nice not to be in charge because Jan had to make a decision. For half an hour everyone in the office sat very still and remained very quiet as we waited for them to call us back and tell us how the flight had been. Incident free is how it was described.
We had many strange ways of dealing with stress, and by that I mean when the person we were supporting began to experience severe stress. Our friend with the eight to one ratio, and I mean it when I say friend, for we all loved him to bits, for eight solid hours you had to keep an eye on him. He loved going for drives in his car, it calmed him down, and so if we felt that he was beginning to enter one of his aggressive phases, which could last for three days or more, we would get him into the car and begin to drive around. This could be at any time of the day or night. We once led him out of the house, there were three of us, each unfortunately thinking the other two were keeping an eye on him. As we opened the car door for him he made a break and attacked a car that was parked on the other side of the road. He hammered his fists on the roof and kicked the doors causing a few dents but it was just something else that we would now have to deal with, minus the stressed out social worker. Sometimes driving him about didn’t work and you could find yourself in the centre of Liverpool with a full blown riot going off in the back seat. I think my experience as a taxi driver had me well prepared for that.
Of course it wasn’t all gloom and doom, there was worse. I had driven him over to another house where people we supported lived. I was collecting two bin bags full of clothes for our man and couldn’t let him see them. I kept him talking as the support staff put the two bin bags in the boot of the car and then waved us off. He sensed that something was up and decided to get into the boot, which he did by destroying the rear parcel shelf. It was tea time on a week day and I was passing the Liver Building, which meant that there was a lot of traffic. Our fellow managed to get a hold of the bin bags, rip them open and begin to pull on every item of clothing that he could manage. I tried to convince him to stop, but he wouldn’t, so he took his shoes off and began to batter me around the head with them.
I realised that he was about to go into a full blown rage and had to pull over and stop. He was now lying on the back seat, kicking the doors, trying to get out of the vehicle and I couldn’t let that happen. It was too dangerous to continue driving and it would have been mayhem if he had got out. The incident, as you may imagine, attracted some attention. You couldn’t be worried about what people might think or say, the situation had to be dealt with, which involved me getting in to the back seat and sitting on him and trying to calm him down as commuters came over asking if I needed any help.
I needed something stronger than a cup of tea after that one. Normally, if he began to build up to a rage we would take him to a local cemetery, Toxteth Park Cemetry, on the Smithdown Road, and walk him around and around the cemetery. The amount of times the police had come to that graveyard to find out who is walking round the graves, shouting and screaming at two o’clock in the morning, is probably still climbing to this very day. We all knew that a decent long walk would calm him down a little but no one ever considered that we were actually making him super-fit.
The worst shift I ever spent with him I shall never forget. He lived in a small two bedroomed flat. If his mood really deteriorated then every door had to be locked so you would find yourself sealed in one room with him. I took over the shift and locked us in the living room. He wasn’t a happy bunny and even though he was pacing, in circles, around the room and growling at me I couldn’t help but feel sorry for him. The combination of medications that he was on had caused a permanent dribble to stream from his mouth. You could see that occasionally he would be looking at me and then he would concentrate on something else. First of all the clothes came off and were ripped to shreds, then gathered into a pile where he urinated on them. Occasionally he would drop to his knees, defecate in to his hand and throw it at you.
There was no point in trying to stop him for it would just involve violence. Next was that he picked up the television set and threw it through the window. We were used to him destroying the furniture but even this was a first for me and I certainly did not feel like a rock star on tour. He next concentrated on the single radiator on the wall and ripped that off. I now had a nice jet of water filling up the living room. He now decided that he would like to leave the room and began to attack the door. He then went in to such a rage that anything that wasn’t nailed down went out through the window, the telephone, two dining chairs and he even tried to launch the settee out into the street. I had no way of contacting anyone and could only try to calm him down. Normally when things erupted the fellow who lived in the flat above would call the police so I was hoping they were on their way. Now out in to the small hallway he smashed his way in to the kitchen and when help arrived was stood standing at the fridge, snarling, a sight I shall never forget. He was naked, standing with the light of the fridge spilling over him, eating rashers of raw bacon and growling at anyone who approached.
On call arrived and started to help me patch up the flat. We ordered pizza and coke which was delivered through the missing front window, much to the amazement of the delivery fellow; it was too dangerous to open the front door. The situation was so serious we had to call the on call mental health professional who came over with their big needle. The moment the doctor came in our fellow suddenly becomes a lamb, and is saying, ‘Yes doctor,’ and ‘Thank you doctor,’ suggesting that we had overreacted. Thankfully the doctor knew this fellow well and also saw the state of the place and encouraged him to go for a wee sleep.
The place was a mess, we were splashing about in two inches of water, splinters of wood ten inches long were blistered all over the pace which we would now have to put to rights. The on call suggested that I finish early. I can remember pulling on my jacket and as the on call placed his hand on my shoulder and thanked me, I burst in to tears. It was the stress erupting from me. I had never through about how these situations would affect me yet now was beginning to understand never mind what was happening to the poor fellow we were supporting but what was happening to us. I came out and got in to my car and I can remember sitting there not knowing how to switch the lights on or where to put the ignition key. It freaked me out. Suddenly I realised that this might be a fantastic job, but as with all good things in this life, there can often be a price to pay.