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.

Love is…

Reminiscing a little about my hospital visits, which now look as if they are in the past.

One of the things for which I am most grateful is that I think I have seen what true love actually is.

If you’re interested, true love, for me, is not flowers, chocolates, hot dates or even hotter sex. If that is what somebody thinks, good luck to ’em, but I don’t think they’re even out of diapers yet – they’ve got a way to go.

I actually met Brenda professionally in a previous life. She was a lawyer, she drew up my will when all the shit was going down with my daughter. Brenda had a stroke in August last year, only in her late fifties – I guess she’s only five years older than me. There were complications and setbacks, and she is still in hospital today. She doesn’t speak yet, she can’t eat solids, but she has a tiny amount of movement through which she can communicate, as long as you know what you’re looking for.

She is unreecognisable from the smart, confident woman I once met. In fact, I only recognised her because of her unusual surname – one I had never come across before. When she was first in, the name clicked and I couldn’t resist asking her husband whether Brenda was a lawyer, and explaining to him my connection. He was a guy I got on with immediately.

In the run-up to Christmas I didn’t see Brenda or husband for a while, and I assumed they had been discharged somewhere. The hospital tends to do that – when someone is out of danger, and the staff don’t feel they can do any more, then the patient is moved on somewhere less acute. It was my own fault, I suppose, because I tend not to check the patient roster. I don’t really like to find out too much about patients, their first name is normally enough. In general, the less I know, the less complicated my life can get.

But I saw Brenda’s husband again in a corridor in January, and realised that Brenda was still on the ward. That’s about seven months, so far. She’d had another setback and seemed to have been jolted backwards, not forwards. Since then, I have made a point of seeking Brenda out each time I visit. I doubt that Brenda recognises me, I was probably only one of thousands of clients, but that’s not a big deal. Every time I see her, her husband is by her bedside, plus at least one of their (grown) children.

Love? Look no further.

Charity Update

The date is still in my diary. Thursday, 2nd March, 2017. I had had the stroke a year before, I had been volunteering with the Stroke Association since christmas, and they suggested I attend a seminar. Always willing to learn some more, I agreed.

When I went along, I found role-playing instead. Let’s pretend we’ve had a stroke. So, how useful do you think I found that? Still, I like to be polite, so I thanked them, and went on my merry way, not betraying my thought that the event had been a complete waste of my time. I did, however, make a mental note to be more judicious in future.

And, in fact, in those early days, I was burned again. Not only by the Stroke Association, but also by people at the hospital, where I was meant to be training alongside the staff. People seem to feel generally that, when you do something voluntarily, that your time doesn’t matter to you.

2020. I’m a lot firmer now, in both what I think and what I say. I’m a lot more able to say, Nope, I will not allow you to waste my time.

About a month ago, the current co-ordinator said she would like me to attend another course. I felt lukewarm toward the idea but played along. She said that they wanted to talk about the GDPR. General Data Protection Regulations. On such a topic, I do actually need to be up to speed, so I showed willing. I was a bit baffled about the timing – the Regs came into force in mid-2018, so why leave it until now to say anything?

Yesterday, I received an agenda for this course/meeting. Item One: who are the Stroke Association? Item Two: what doees volunteering for the Stroke Assiciation actually entail? In fact, the meeting had also been entitled Volunter Induction Course. Induction? For somebody who’d been working with them for more than three years? For someone whose last stint of voluntary work was just last week? And, I’m sure you will have guessed by now, not a mention of the GDPR, although I’m sure it would’ve come up as a five-second aside.

There was another funny. A lot of stroke survivors, myself included, are left disabled. Climbing flights of stairs can be a problem – it is for me and thank goodness I live in a single-storey house.

The agenda for this meeting also said that it was taking place in a room on the third storey, and that the building had no elevator. So there is a problem straight away – how am I going to get there? It is not just getting up there – I would make it eventually, I’m sure – but what if the building had to be evacuated while I were up there? By the time I got out (if I got out), I can pretty much guarantee I would be somewhat crispier!

So not only am I left thinking that the course actually isn’t relevant, but that the charity has made it unncessarily difficult for me to attend. So, I declined the meeting. This is voluntary work, after all, I am doing it because I want to be involved. There is no obligation on either of us.

I got a very flippant email this morning, saying that the GDPR bit was included, and it was important that I go. And besides, they would provide lunch so what more could I want?! (Honest, she said that.)

So I was left a little incredulous. They organise this meeting that they say they want me to attend, and yet they put obstacles in my way to prevent me from attending. I mean, I could understand the public at large being ignorant of a stroke survivor’s plight, but not really the main stroke charity. And that last line tipped the balance.

I decided that there was no point pussy-footing around here, One or two things these last few months, I feel like I am almost on a collision course with them, so I have just said outright that I’m not prepared to volunteer for them any more. Solves their problem, solves mine. So that is that. Fini. No more Stroke Association, no more GDPR*. In fact, I spent a pretty sleepless night last night worrying about it, and this is just voluntary work, it has no right to stop me from sleeping.

* except that I need to be aware of it for my other charity stuff.


I suppose on a practical note, there are a couple of things I now need to update – this blog being one. There are a few notices I put on the site about volunteeering for them, which I’ll need to fix as I find, and put into th past tense.

😥