Day 23 of our “In my shoes” series, looking at dementia from different perspectives, introduces someone I met via Amanda Waring, whose blogpost we featured last week.
As you will see, Cathe uses Amanda’s amazing videos regularly in her work – here she tells us why. Again, the motivation comes from the experience of a close family member – Cathe’s remarkable grandmother, Vi Simons…
My Grandmother was an enormous influence on my life, being born in NZ at the turn of the 20th century she was known Violet Crabbe, and then Violent Simons until her death at nearly 100, after a lifetime of change and challenge in what at times must have seemed a remote and far away country of New Zealand.
Well known in the local community she was a community midwife and opened her own business as a midwife who ran a birthing house in her own home for many years. Long before the days of incubators or premature baby units, my grandmother delivered scores of babies and was sometimes paid in home grown fruit and vegetables or fresh seafood by the local families who were unable to afford her services. She was well known locally and was a generous person and very kind to anyone whether they could pay her or not and many families returned many times over to have their babies with Nurse Crabbe. She made caring her vocation and life’s work.
My grandmother was unusual in that she retained her own name and was known as Nurse Crabbe when on duty much to the admonition of my grandfather who had to put up with both a working wife, and one who kept her her own name, rare in the 1930s and rarer so in the heart of a small town in rural New Zealand.
I went on to train as a nurse and work in the UK. Before Nana’s death on a visit home I could see she had descended into the mists of dementia and had lost much of her speech and ability to recognize family. The last time I saw her I wished I had understood her distress and been more aware of what life was like for her trying to make sense of her surroundings in a care home and not her beloved home “Jesmond” a home she had lived in for nearly 60 years.
I attribute my professional curiosity to my grandmother, I remain interested in why nurses choose to do the things they do in their professional lives. Undertaking a BSc in Professional Issues in Healthcare helped shape that further, enabling me reflect on the impact of what nurses do or don’t do when caring for others, such as being kind.
I run my own healthcare company which has a training arm and I utilize the wonderful work of Amanda Waring’s films “Home ” and “What do you see ” to help staff develop that professional curiosity, I believe we need to learn and cherish to be effective care givers. The films are strong visual reminders of abuse, from institutional abuse through to physical abuse but all done with subtlety, so the gentle cruelty of not speaking to the patient, lack of any stimuli in a room, being put to bed early for the ease of the staff team, lack of meaningful activity, all work to create a sense of hopelessness and helplessness. We have lost the art of being kind in so many cases to our older people in care.
I discuss with staff what I have coined as” benign incompetence” where staff are blissfully unaware of what they doing wrong , examples exist in many care homes and NHS wards today, and include having the television on all day long, talking over and around patients to friends, and that general sense of task orientation so lunch is a hurried miserable affair before the rounds of toileting begin again, all work to create a sense of institutional and psychological abuse as they demonstrate a routine and ritual where nursing staff do not have to think …but simply do unto others.
I would like to see the direction of nurse education shift to welcome kindness and compassion as key skills for an effective care giver. I continue to encourage nurses to think about what they do during a shift and “to a patient” and challenge themselves more…I challenge us all to bring kindness and compassion back into the workplace and make being a nurse a vocation and a life’s work again.