Advocacy Musings for November 18
Fifty years ago this month I started working in the field of health and social care. I have recently wondered if this can really be true? It is a long time but yes it is correct. In 1968 I started a job as a nursing assistant at a psychiatric hospital twelve or so miles from where I lived. I was not quite 20 and having left school at 15 had spent the previous few years in and out of short-term jobs and college courses. I had stuck to nothing much and nothing much had stuck to me. It was time to do something a bit more meaningful and worthwhile! But stepping into a ward of thirty or forty people in a large, foreboding and unfamiliar building was in many ways a shocking experience.
Before I say more of that I will tell you a funny story. I started work on the same day as another lad my own age, on the same ward, on the same shift. We had not known each other previously but within a matter of moments became friends. Joe was kind-hearted, generous and open-minded. Realising that I would to have to catch a very early bus to get to work for 7.00 am he offered me his old moped. Never ever having ridden one myself we agreed that he would bring it in to work the following day and supervise me having a go on it. At knocking-off time the following day we tried it out. The rusty-looking and fairly dilapidated old thing had no tax or insurance so it seemed logical that we would drive it out of the grounds on the pavement, with me sitting on the luggage-rack so I could see how he drove it. Just around the corner from the hospital gates our excursion was brought to an abrupt halt by the long arm of a tall young policeman awaiting our arrival. We explained the situation and the thinking behind it but he was sceptical. He walked us back up the drive to the Reception. “Can you verify that these two young men work here?” he asked. “No, came the reply. The receptionist could not as she had never seen us before. It was pretty clear to the policeman, having seen where we had come from that we must be “escapees.”
The case of mistaken identities was eventually cleared up by a duty Nursing Officer and we were free to go home after being booked by the constable and eventually fined the sums of £2.00 and £8.00 respectively.
An interesting though incidental start to what became fifty years of work! What was more significant though was that both Joe and I spent our first few days on wards filled with elderly gentlemen who were bewildered, confused and often rather miserable. Beside all that they found themselves lumped together with a large number of other men with similar difficulties in unedifying and unfamiliar surroundings subject to a regime in which their dignity, choice and variety of daily occupation was severely limited if existing at all.
I lasted about six months in that job before making the choice to leave and find other work. But what I think it did for me was to plant a seed. My role in wanting to help others to have a voice in how their needs are met would take a few more years to flower but I guess it might have started there. Joe went on to train as a nurse then as a clinical psychologist, ending up in charge of psychology services in a Health Trust in Derbyshire. After losing touch for ten years we met again when I was a ward manager of a different hospital. Neither hospital is still in existence.
One thing I have realised from the “funny story” above is that people with mental ill-health are no different from people without. They are just unwell at that time, either for a long time or for short periods. Joe and I could have been young men who were inpatients there. The hospital accommodated people of all ages and types. If we had been we would certainly not have gone on our way home after being taken back to the hospital.
Our behaviour no doubt would have been noted as evidence of our deranged and disruptive characters and there may have been other consequences! I guess I would have needed an advocate.
Peter Dawson – Advocate/Senior Advocacy Development Worker, Peaks and Dales Advocacy.
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