Frustration

I just found out that one of the people I speak to each week has died.

About October they stopped answering. I thought that was strange, because we got on well. You can always tell when there is a rapport.

The charity has a procedure: after several weeks of no answers, I notify them, and they send a letter out. The wording is flowery, but it is basically asking for confirmation that they still want the calls.

Obviously somebody has been going through the client’s mail, found this letter, and got in touch to explain.

It comes with the territory, I suppose, especially as the charity specifically works with seniors. but from the conversations I have with clients, I was quite gobsmacked because I had no inkling that they were anywhere near death. I’ve had clients die before, but usually the signs are there.

It’s weird, because I phone these people up each week to say hello, have a chat and along the way to get some kind of feel for whether they are all right. It’s a bit like on here, especially when somebody doesn’t appear for a while. And if they happen to be *not* all right, tough. There’s not much I can do about it. I struggle with that.

It felt similar during our first lockdown, although that was more direct. We were asked to make “reassurance” calls. They were mainly focussed on direct needs. Have you got enough food? are you managing your anxiety ok?and so on. Again, there was a limited amount we could do, if someone said “no”. We could signpost them to services which could offer concrete assistance, but we couldn’t actually do anything ourselves. We couldn’t put fresh food on their table, say.

It’s kind-of a weird feeling. You’re helping, but… there’s a limit to what you can do. Ultimately… you’re on your own.

Gobble-degook

As most of you know, I volunteer, just chatting to people on the phone each week.

Many of us are still isolating – have done so since February – so people cancelled any plans they nurmally make and stayed home instead. For me, while I normally have a short break I have just carried on this year. After all, it doesn’t really feel like Christmas this year, does it?

But there can sometimes be a funny side. We’re all relying on online grocery deliveries to keep us stocked up, though of course sometimes the stores can’t supply things.

So I had this one client, the supermarket couldn’t get hold of a turkey for him. So the poor chap had to go without.

They did, however, supply the jar of cranberry sauce he had ordered. And he’s, like, wtf am I supposed to do with this????

Zoomed Out

I had a “funny” with my charity this morning.

They offered courses on mental health, to volunteers. Might be useful, I thought, so I booked myself on. I made sure I asked, Is any specific software required? No response.

The meeting happened this morning. Last week, they sent out details. I learned that it was to be a Zoom meeting. I have never used Zoom, and I remember, when everybody was going Zoom-crazy at the start of lockdown, seeing an article in a reputable UK newspaper, listing issues with Zoom that were as long as your arm.

So I made a mental note to be cautious of it, to look at these issues in more detail if the time ever came.

I was a bit cheesed off last week when I received this Zoom request. Why hadn’t they responded when I had asked? To allow me some time to look into it and form an opinion? So, I backed out of the meeting.

Don’t worry about it. You don’t need to install anything, they replied. That’s funny, I thought, I had heard that you do. I request clarification. You just open up your browser and away you go. As they had obviously used Zoom before, and I hadn’t, I said that I would attend.

This morning, the day of the meeting. Fifteen minutes before, I’m on my PC, I dig out the email and hit the link. The very first thing it does is to ask me whether I want to install some software! Exactly what the charity had said wouldn’t happen.

So I hurriedly fired up the tablet. The meeting is getting close now. Guess what was the first thing it said? That’s right, install some software.

So, basically, that’s where I had to leave it. I’ve sent an email to the charity explaining that this is the reason I didn’t attend their meeting. I left out the bit about them telling me a complete pile of nonsense. Because, what’s the point?

I did do one more thing. I tried to find that Guardian link I saw all those months ago. I couldn’t, but I did find this, written just a week ago, which shows that some people, at least, still have issues with Zoom.

Twang

It’s that time at the moment. Advert after advert of pathetic scenes, please give to such-and-such a charity. The thing is, in the UK, there are about a quarter of a million registered charities. Just in the UK.

One or two have a cause we flatly disagree with. Personally, I don’t like fee-paying schools being able to identify as charities, making very little difference to their community but receiving tax breaks nonetheless. But most charities, I’d judge, fall into the “good cause” bucket. A quarter of a million of them.

So, when we decide to donate to charity, how do we decide?

We can’t just give it evenly, because none of us, personally, has enough money to go around – if we did, everyone would get nothing.

So, yes, charities are good causes. But there has to be something over and above that, which tips the balance and makes us donate. For me, and I guess for most everyone else, it is because the cause touches us personally.

So, that’s where I am this christmas. I’ll give what I usually give, to my usual charity, just like I do every other week of the year. And I won’t feel at all guilty about ignoring those adverts tugging on my heartstrings.

Wake-up Call

Here is another take on Fandango’s FPQ yesterday. If you remember, we talked about whether we’re governed by technology.

One of my regular calls for my charity is to phone somebody to remind them to take their meds.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind doing this. It is 2 seconds of my time and it helps someone, so it is a no-brainer. I’m around anyway.

My point is: think of all the mechanisms that you have for setting a daily reminder. Really obvious stuff. Set something up on your phone, on your computer. Maybe set an alarm on a good old-fashioned alarm clock? Or even just tie a knot in your hankie? I’m sure even I have a half-dozen ways. Simple, huh?

Not for this client. So, they ask someone to call them.

Governed by technology? You must be joking!

Fandango’s Provocative Question (25 March 2020)

It is Wedgesday, and time for Fandango’s Provocative Question. I’m gonna take care to answer his question meticulously, to fulfil his FOWC prompt too! Today he asks:

What activities have you cut from your life since this pandemic started that you DON’T really miss?

Just as a general thing, I have to say I am fortunate in this pandemic. A lot of my elderly clients are fortunate. I guess a lot of you are fortunate, too. All of us, just because this isolation malarkey has not changed habits much, because we were all pretty isolated anyway!

I’m glad in some respects, because my weekly voluntary session takes place with clients over the phone, which can happen anyway. So, I spent yesterday afternoon calling my clients as normal. In fact, during the pandemic, the task takes longer than usual. Clients normally ask to be called because they feel isolated, lonely, but actually, you’d be surprised how many are normally out when I call! Last week, for the first time in my eighteen months doing the work, everybody answered. This week, all except one. The result is that the session takes longer.

On top of that, the charity have asked me to call another seven people, on top of my normal ten. I did that this morning. With my regular clients, we can chat about anything – often what the cats have been up to, or what the kids have been up to. With these new people, it was specifically corona – are you getting groceries/meds okay? While my normal calls take three or four hours, I dashed these extra ones off in under an hour.

Normally, I get the bus into Age UK’s office in Salisbury, on a Tuesday afternoon. I leave the house at just before 12pm, and get home about 5pm. Five hours. Of which three are normally spent on the phone to clients. So, that’s two hours just lost in the commute. I wouldn’t mind but when I had my car, Salisbury was just a fifteen minute drive away! The bus journey itself goes through the villages and takes 30 minutes each way, the rest of the time is spent walking between home and the bus stop, or just waiting around.

Because of the virus, we agreed I would work from home. I fire up the browser, then ten seconds later I have accessed their network and can start making calls. Then, when I am finished, it is as simply as closing the tab, maybe firing off a quick email, before I can start doing personal things once again.

So, working from home versus a two hour commute? There’s something I don’t miss.

Reminiscences

Wednesday was the first hospital session I have missed since I decided to stop volunteering. It is a decision tinged with sadness, and I have been reminiscing.

As you might imagine, my visits were overwhelmingly well-received. I was volunteering for three years, on a twenty-eight bed ward, so that adds up to hundreds of visits. Yhe visits which I remember most clearly, however, are those which went badly.

Visit #1. a guy was visiting his wife. The wife was the patient, and was perfectly lovely to me as I stopped by her bed. I presume the chap was her husband, but he said to me “how dare you interrupt us!”. Okay, I am paraphrasing there, but that was the sentiment. At this point I should explain that I particularly liked to talk to family, because I felt they were often neglected by the hospital, and they must be going through the mill as well. So what could I do? I apologised for interrupting them and mover on to the next bed. Before I left, the wife did ask me if I wouldn’t mind popping bad later (presumably when her husband had gone), but at the end of my visits I was tired, and more interested in grabbing a coffee than seeing anybody else. In the early days, I had to go and have a break part-way through the visit in any case, I wasn’t strong enough to make it all the way around the ward.

Visit #2, I walked into a room and saw a chap and a woman. They were unusual because they were dressed in everyday. outdoor clothing, and normally, patients just wore pyjamas. But, you know, not so unusual that it never happened – they could have been visitors, or they could have been a patient just getting ready to be discharged. Either way, I decided to say Hi.

As I got closer, I saw that the man was eating some take-away food from a high-end supermarket. I made a quip to him about the hospital food being so bad, it was not at all unusual to see somebody eating imported food! That was absolutely true – the food really is that bad. Again, I shall paraphrase: how dare you talk to me! I quickly worked out that this chap just visiting somebody, he must have assumed I had mistaken him for a patient, and for some reason he was offended by that. In fact, it didn’t much matter to me whether he was a patient or a visitor. But his reaction was definitely hostile, I could see immediately that it wasn’t going well, so I muttered something about leaving the guy in peace to eat, and moved on.

In highlighting these incidents, I am very aware that I coulkd have read the situation wrongly, but my gut feel warned me off. Both times, I got myself out of there before I knew for sure. But if that were the case, I’d maybe have expected that to happen a bit more frequently than two in maybe a thousand.

And, while not exactly unpleasant, I was once left thinking that I had just encountered Salisbury’s #1 idiot! The conversation started normally, I had my volunteer polo on: I think you volunteers do a wonderful job. I got that a few times, I just used to say thanks, but at the same time I wondered, if you think it is so wonderful, then why not try it yourself? People don’t. Sad to say, but that was always my biggest bugbear – that people don’t get involved. Particularly with stroke, a lot of people can’t, but some people can. I did.

This guy goes on : I had a TIA a couple of years ago. A TIA is a Transient Ischaemic Attack. AKA a mini-stroke, although probably the phrase TIA is as widely-known these days. The keyword there is transcient – it comes, it goes. It is often a prelude to a full-on stroke, which causes more permanent damage. That’s really the only difference between the two.

Anyway, this guy went on to tell me that recovering from a TIA is easy, you just do this and this, to get to that. Both things which I could not do, even three years or so downstream. It is a common mistake – because they can do something, they assume that everybody can. In seeing many patients, I met many people who could not even get out of bed – in factmost of my own stay was spent like that. Let alone do what this guy was suggesting.

I’d already made my mind up about this guy so at that point I just said my goodbyes, and we went our separate ways. But it was one of those roll-your-eyes monents, the guy had no idea. I was always quite happy to talk to people about strokes, but sometimes I just realised that there was no point. I still get that – I hope that when I come across as ignorant (as I must do regularly), I do at least come across as receptive.

It’s funny, isn’t it? All those hundreds of visits that went well, and we end up remembering the few that went badly.

Strange

A weird one today. The charity I volunteer for has asked me occasionally to compile lists of events in certain locations. Just, basically, so that if somebody comes to us, we can signpost them to events in their area.

A couple of weeks ago, they asked me if I would look at an existing list, and check whether the contact numbers on it were still good. By the looks of things, the lists were from around 2018, and I just spent the afteernoon making about forty or fifty phone calls to check things.

All was uneventful until I spoke to one woman. I’m sorry, if you would like any information, I will not divulge it over the phone – you will need to write to me instead. So, I thanked her and said my goodbyes.

The thing was, I wasn’t actually asking for information. Not much, anyway. The entry was some kind of special-interest group, meets in such-and-such a location on the first Tuesday of every month, something like that. I obviously had the phone number, plus details about the group, alreeady, and I just wanted to know whether the number I had was still a valid contact point for the group.

I mean, it is weird. Undeer normal circumstances, someone calls cold, my advice would be just to tell them to p*** off. If someone ever cold calls you, I would advise exactly the same. Or better still, just don’t engage at all. If you have a machine, all’s the better – if it is a bona fide call, they will leave a message.

But if somebody does run one of these groups, wouldn’t you have thought they’d want people to know about it, and at least be prepared to divulge information about how to contact it? Quite seriously, if this woman did not want to confirm any information to me, theen it is unlikely that she would want to divulge anything to one of our clients either, so the entry is probably best off just being removed from the list altogether.