It was the last day of our stroke group today. This means that we will not meet as a group again for quite a while. With Hong Kong coming up and the long winter with snow, ice and slippery roads before us our next block will take place in March.
Just when we were making lots of progress the course came abruptly, or so it seemed, to an end, but we are planning some in-between-things to get us through the winter with a few extra meetings.
As always on the last day we spent the time usually allocated to speech tasks, singing and picture- reading, discussing progress and homework.
When this was done and written out to take home, our clients made it clear that they had something else that they wanted to discuss. They wanted to tell Èvi, our new colleague, how happy they are to have her here.
Now that is quite a complement from a stroke group. A complement indeed from people who have been slowly learning over the years how to accept changes in their lives without becoming upset, worried, fearful and tense.
This small group have certainly got over this hurdle, that has been placed in all of their lives, with flying colours during this three-week course. It has noticeably made a difference having an extra conductor in the group and the clients have really appreciated this. Change has turned into something positive for them, no longer something to fear.
What has been lovely to observe is that they also realised from the beginning that they could help Évi too so she would quickly feel at home with us. They were so successful that Évi told us today that she was taken by surprise at how much she has enjoyed working with the groups of adults. This is something in which she has had very little experience until now.
The clients made her feel at home by practising to speak clearly or by speaking in English, but most of all they were all very kind to her.
Humour and laughter
The whole group seemed to get a new lease of life. It has been a pleasure to watch.
I not only saw that they have found some new reserves, in addition to that they have begun communicating with each other quite differently. The roles in the group have changed. The speakers have become the listeners and the listeners have begun to find their voices and speak out. We have had serious members of the group telling us humorous stories, the sense of humour being awoken again after years of being locked in. Knowing the subtle nuances of how to make something that is funny actually work and create laughter is not easy to recapture for these stroke clients. It is a thrill for us all when it works.
We have a group member who was for years on the outside of the group, always staying nearby, looking in but staying outside. He is now right in the middle. He now has become a central pivotal point! He has been the one helping Évi by explaining some difficult things to her in English. None of us knew that he could!
Caring for self and others
This young man of twenty-nine, whose life seemed to stop for him at the age of twenty when injuries received in a car accident resulted in hemiplegia, is now playing an important role in decision making. He is at the same time taking an interest in, and caring for, other group members. He offers to fetch older clients drinks, he helps me with the tasks of moving furniture and tidying up. He is much more concerned for his own well being too and is motivated to change some things in his life that up until now he has chosen to ignore.
For the past three weeks I have not heard from this young man, in answer to a question, his usual retort of “I don’t care, it is not important”. He responded positively with a voice of his own.
Èvi has a lot to answer for in all of this. A quiet presence, a smiling face, a help for me so the clients get more of my attention and a motivation for the clients to show her what they can do.
Èvi, one lady told us, does some things differently to how I do them. She explained to the group how this has been really good for her as she became more conscious of her limbs and body and how she moved and experienced touch.
Not alone anymore
It is two years since I last had a colleague who helped me with this group. Since then I have worked with between three and six clients alone. This has not been any easier for the clients than it has been for me, but we managed. We no longer have to “just manage” we can excel again.
Without a colleague to work with there has been no one with whom I could swap places with in the row of clients, so I could assist on one day this client and on the next day another. At that time the clients regularly felt a different touch and tried out different solutions with different conductors and we the conductors discovered new ways to help after watching our colleague at work. There has been no one to talk to the clients, to assist them in making coffee or tea, answer their questions or to search for information for them during the break while the furniture got moved around. I had to do the room change and talk at thee same time, when I should have been doing just the communicating.
We have all been missing this interaction, the change of roles and experiences. We have been missing the group work between conductor colleagues. I was so surprised and really pleased to discover today that it is not only me who noticed the change for the better with Évi amongst us, but my clients have noticed it too. Not only had they noticed it but one of them was also willing and able to express it.
Kicking off the discussion
The person to kick off the discussion today after the homework was settled was a lady who thirteen years ago could barely make herself understood with speech and at that time only three years after stroke she no longer had access to speech therapy. Today this lady was not only was able to express her joy that we have a new colleague, she could also explain why. She could express her emotions, she could explain to us how things had changed in her own perception of her body and she could talk about how it felt to have different people helping her. As if this list were not long enough she also motivated another quieter member of the group to speak out and give us his opinion, his thanks and praise!
I am so glad that Èvi joined us and so pleased that I had the confidence to let her have a go, to “just do it “ in the adults group. I had the confidence to let her have a go at leading the clients through small parts of the morning. Doing just enough on her own to get a feel of how it is and for the clients to get to hear her and communicate with her. I left her alone when they arrived so she could greet them and exchange news, I stayed beside her and kept the tempo in the standing programme or sometimes I took a step back to let the clients help and encourage when necessary, or to tell her the next thing that they wanted to do.
I am enjoying being in a teaching role again and having someone to learn from too.
Given a challenge and excelling
I knew from the beginning, deep in my soul that this adults block was going to be a great success. I knew too that the group is so confident when they are together, they know each other so well and enjoy being with each other so much that they would take on the challenge and excel.