My visitors today

Wednesday 25 November 2009

Stroke 2

"Spiralling" 2005 by Susie Mallett

The blind man and Charly, his dog

Learning from surprises

It is not usually a good idea just to spring something new on a stroke group, completely out of the blue. Especially when it is something as extraordinary as the event that took place in my group on Tuesday.

But I had no choice.

New situations, any changes in the group usually need to be prepared for, talked about, with reassurance given and angsts removed.

Or that is what I thought!

There really had been no alternative, though, on Tuesday I had to spring a surprise on my group.

I had made last-minute plans for a blind man and his dog to visit our group.

This is the man I had spoken to at the Conductive Education congress in Nürnberg a couple of weeks ago. He had been introduced to me by the boss of the charity I work for in Nürnberg, because he wanted to know all about plinths.

He had just listened to an hour-long presentation about plinths and heard what marvelous things they enable you to do but, being blind he had still no idea what it was! No one had thought to describe it and, not being able to see what the speaker was talking about, he had not been able to visualize what it could be like.

I was not sure that I was the right person for him to talk to but I am always enthusiastic when asked about this subject, as he was soon to discover.

As well as wanting to know what a plinth looks like he wanted to know what we actually do on them and what else can we do with them and, most importantly, what it feels like to lie on one.

By the time Charly the dog and his owner had left the after-congress dinner we had discussed my work in Conductive Education and the dog-owner’s voluntary work improving mobility for the disabled in a nearby town. We had also talked a little bit about the plinth and I had asked a great deal of questions about being blind, that had been very patiently answered. Before we parted company we made some tentative plans for a “plinth discovery” visit to the my adults’ stroke group, which is fortunately running at the moment.

Apologies all round

Just a week later I received a phone call asking what was up. I had forgotten to send an email with more details of times and addresses etc!

Oh dear, and after all my questions about what happens if I sent him an email in English: could his computer read it? I had been advised against it, the computer wasn’t really set up for English and with the translator not being that good he could easily turn up in the wrong place at the wrong time! Then I had forgotten to send the German email.
But the blind man’s interest in the plinth was not deterred and he phoned me instead. I made my apologies and we made further plans on the phone.

These were confirmed by emails on Monday – Charly and his owner would visit us the following day. There began my dilemma.

Don’t panic Susie M!

I was not at work, I had no phone numbers I had no way to talk to the group members about this visit before they would all arrive at the same time as our guests at the start of the next session.

Sometimes I do underestimate the success of our joint work in this group. I forget that we have been together as a group for years. Although members come and go the group actually has a very strong base. It has a secure and happy feeling about it, we all trust and respect each other. All of this proved itself last Tuesday morning.

I had about thirty seconds to tell the group about our visitors before I saw the taxi arrive.

I met them outside and Charly followed me, leading his master inside our building, perfectly negotiating the glass doors, which I was told can be confusing for a guide-dog.

Once inside I described the layout of our room then introduced the group members. Charly was released from his duties and spent the next three hours dozing between the craft-trolley and the parallel bars, with his chin occasionally resting on a ladder on the floor beside the bars. He always seemed to have one eye open, just in case he was needed or talked about.

I then took our guest on a walk through the plinths, not forgetting to describe that they were at knee height and capable of handing out big bruises, especially as the legs are fixed protruding further out from the lying surface.

I then went on to describe how I thought perhaps the morning could proceed, so that all concerned would get the best out of it.

I had spend quite a lot of time over the past few days considering how best to show a blind person what we do in our group, so that he would go away with more than an impression of our voices repeating the actions and counting.

I thought that the best way would probably be for the guest to shadow me. Not only to stand beside me, however, but to have his hands on mine and to feel everything that I did.

There were only four clients present on Tuesday morning. They all seemed positively excited about the change of events and more than ready to give anything a go.

My plan of shadowing didn’t actually come to fruition as I had to move around so much and so quickly between the clients. One of the clients is relatively new, meaning that I had to be at his side much of the time. I was not only needed there to assist him in his movements but also to remind him of exactly what the movement was. It would have been difficult to do this all with someone else’s hands there too.

Again, no problem

The solution seemed to come spontaneously. Our guest remained between the plinths of two of our more long-term group members while I moved backwards and forwards between all four. I put his hands in position on the clients limbs, if by the time I got there he had not already found them. In this way he could feel what they were doing, he could feel whether the movement with the affected side was the same as on the other side, and then he could if he wanted to, and of course if the client wanted him to, correct the movement.

This worked really well. It was just as if we had spend ages working out what to do.

Yes, I had spent quite a few moments, while on my bike, in the underground or lying in bed, giving much thought on what to do and what this experience would be like, but I couldn’t make any real plans. I was most of all just excited and really looking forward to it all, especially to having a dog lying beside the plinths.

As we later realized, a lot of planning had not been necessary.

We, the stroke group, work like a well-oiled motor, even with a new client we adapt so quickly that it is sometimes astounding even for us.

So this new situation proved no hurdle. It was just a smooth turning in a slightly different direction for a few hours.

The B roads are prettier!

That’s what my Mum always said when we were on holiday with our Bedford Dormobile. It was said in an attempt to steer my Dad away from dual-carriageways and motorways, and to add a bit of interest to our travels. He always did it and our lives were the richer for it. We discovered all sorts, from lorries spilling their loads of apples in a country lane, to lovely tea shops to eat scones and jam in, to meadows with rivers to cool off in with the dog.

In the stroke group we were to discover later that our new experience had made such a positive impression on us that none of us would really get back on quite the same track again. Journeying the B-roads was not such a bad thing sometimes! A change is OK if it is well organized!

Just one more example of spiraling upwards and outwards, creating new tangents in our lives, and all quite spontaneously.

It is not surprising that iti s so difficult to do “research” into how successful CE is. Do occasions like this get considered as CE?

I am convinced that the visit on Tuesday of the blind man and his dog brought all my clients a step further in their healing processes, it certainly did a lot for me and mine. But how can that possibly be measured? It is all part and parcel of a CE group but is it Conductive Education?

Of course it is!

To me Conductive Education and Conductive Upbringing are about living. They are about providing experiences, everyday life experiences in a secure environment. An environment where I and my colleagues and other group-members can ensure that everyone gets the help that they need to take part in these experiences to the full and learn how to do the same independently.

We achieved lots of our aims on Tuesday with the visit of the blind man and his dog. The ability to adapt to new experiences was one of them, but there were many, many more.

During our next meeting, the client who was assisted and touched and even facilitated the most by our guest tried his best to express how he had experienced this He described how he accepted the touch of someone he didn’t know on his body, and how he had learnt to feel this touch more normally, not as pain or as something to fear. He said he had been able to feel so much better the position he should be in and had tried to achieve this himself. The situation was new, the touch obviously different and he was much more concentrated than he often is.

Yes, you may say, these clients are used to it, with all their appointments at doctors and therapists, but that doesn’t mean that they like it. Getting used to being touched doesn’t mean that the spasticity doesn’t shoot in anymore, it often means that they just get used to it happening. One group member was so interested and thrilled with this new experience that his spastic muscle tone was actually less than it usually is.

My clients learnt to say when something was not OK and also when it was. On the whole praises were sung for the sensitivity of our blind visitor. We have asked him to visit us again. I and my group just loved having him with us. He, and of course not forgetting Charly, really enriched our lives and opened up our eyes to lots that we often miss.

As for Charly the dog, we hardly noticed he was there. He started getting a little bit restless during the tea break when we talked about him. His one open eye opened wider and his eyebrow raised a bit, and his nose and front feet crept a little bit nearer over the ladder towards us.

Charly is getting on in years and will become a pensioner very soon. Being a guide dog is hard work and I think that after eight years they are allowed to retire! A big decision will have to be faced by his owner: What to do with Charly? Does Charly remain as a family dog or does he go to pastures new to lie somewhere else, away from the busy life of a new guide dog and his owner.

We await with pleasure a second visit from blind man and his dog. They already have an appointment for a trip to the integrated Kindergarten and I will of course be there watching and listening, as excited as the children. The stroke group are waiting in anticipation of a second visit too as they are as begeistert as I am.

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