My visitors today

Tuesday 24 April 2012

Always at work, even on the train

"A pitcher plant" by Susie Mallett, April 2012

Caring for the carers

I have always involved the partners and carers of potential adult users of my conductive services at all initial visits and in any subsequent individual or group sessions, whether at home or in a centre. These husbands, wives or parents have many questions and also have problems that need solving, so it has always been ‘team work’ as far as I am concerned.

These people need our advice on conductive living too, they need our listening ear. They need access to our skills in problem-solving. They need our ideas and suggestions just as much as do the clients themselves. They are our clients too.

They need the opportunity to ask questions and to share their worries and concerns for the present and for the future. It is our role as conductors to provide time for them too.

Train travel

When I was travelling by train in England just after Easter something happened that has never occurred in my lifetime of rail travel. It really has been a lifetime of train-travel, over fifty years of it, because Dad was a train driver and rail was always our main means of travel. For my first quarter-century I travelled free of charge and during the second quarter-century train travel is my choice because it is such fun!

Turning bad luck into an adventure

In April, for the first time ever I sat in a train, still in the station, for over two hours waiting for the signal to go up!

The signal could not go up because there was a points failure.

I knew something was up before my family had even said goodbye to me because, with only minutes to go before departure, the doors of the train had not been opened to allow us to get on board.

This usually only ever happens when the cleaners have not finished their work but on this occasion the cleaners were long gone.

We eventually boarded the train just before the whistle should have been blown, but there came no whistle, the engines were not even running.

After about thirty minutes we were informed of the points failure, a problem that usually takes fifteen minutes to solve from the control centre several miles away. This time it was taking much longer and travellers began to get concerned. 

I too was a bit concerned but I stayed on the train, despite home being just around the corner, with the knowledge that whatever happened to the train the rail company, whichever one it was, was obliged to get me to my destination, which I am happy to say, they did, albeit three hours late!

A young girl sitting in the same carriage was less sure about arriving at her destination in time for a meeting early the following morning.  She had a long way to travel and we had yet to move an inch. She went outside to investigate and we could hear her speaking to the guard on the platform.

She returned and confidently announced to the whole carriage that we had to change trains, so off we all went, laden with bags, to platform one. Fortunately there were no steps to climb or ramps to walk up and down, but unfortunately there were no tea and refreshment trolleys either! By now it was nearly two hours since we had boarded the train. There were already people arriving who were expecting to be travelling on the next and last train out that evening!

It was presently announced that those wishing to travel the next morning could have their ticket endorsed at the office, and a few subsequently left the train. 

I was by now seated next to the young lady who had conversed with the guard. We decided that as we had the same destination we would make the most of the journey. We would turn this journey that we had not yet begun into an adventure, and we began by getting to know each other. 

Let me tell you a story

It is at this point that I continue with the thread at the beginning of my story.

A three-and-a-half-hour journey turned into a six-and a-half-hour adventure with lots of time for story-telling.

While on that train I listened to the story of this young lady’s life and I realised that parts of it I had heard many times before.

Four years ago my fellow traveller had received a phone-call while out shopping with a friend. The call was to inform her that her partner had collapsed. He was in hospital being treated for a stroke. He was twenty-four years old at the time.

The cause of the stroke turned out to be a previously undiagnosed heart disorder, and he was taken to the heart specialist unit at Papworth, near Cambridge, UK.

Recently we have been able to read lots in the news about incidents concerning undiagnosed heart disorders, especially in young, athletic men. The story surrounding the Bolton Wanderers footballer, Muambo comes to mind here. 

There I was sitting next to a young lady who had experienced something not dissimilar in her own life.

Her partner remained in hospital for several months undergoing heart surgery and later for the rehabilitation that was necessary for him to recover from the symptoms of the stroke.

Now four years later and after retraining so he can follow a different career path to the one that he had planned the young man has returned to work full time, the couple are buying a house, marrying and looking forward to a bright future.

The young lady however told me what it was like for her throughout the ordeal and the long road towards recovery and their bright future.

Wanting to be a part of it

She told me how she wished that she had been invited to join in the physiotherapy sessions and the cognitive therapy session that her partner went to. 

Not only did she wish to know how she could help, not only did she wish to understand the problems that her partner had, she wanted actually to see how hard it was for him, and experience the effort that he put into making a full recovery. She also said that with hindsight she would have liked someone to have taken care just a little bit of her own needs.

She told me about the day that she drove towards the hospital to collect her partner with her father beside her. She explained how guilty she felt when she admited to her father during that journey that, although she was thrilled that they had reached this stage and a good recovery had been made, a part of her did not want her partner back home with her.

She was afraid. 

She felt that she did not know what to do. She had no idea how to live life with a partner who was a stroke survivor and had a heart disease. No one had explained about the medicine that he would have to take, no one had told her that his short-term memory was still impaired and how should she deal with this. She had to cope alone with his impatience when things did not work just as they used to.

This stranger on the train pointed out to me the missing links in the system that had taken such good care of her partner. No one looked after her, or prepared her for the future.  No one had helped her to prepare for this homecoming so that the release from hospital could be a happy time, and not a time filled with fear and trepidation.

My story

I had, by about half way through this story, almost at the end of our journey, owned up and explained that I work very closely with stroke survivors and their families, and I also owned up to having several copies of a book that I had just published with one of these clients, in my suitcase.  

I gave this young lady a copy. 

The story in the book does not relate too much to the lives of these young people. Her young man has almost made a full physical recovery and his memory and his patience continue to improve both work hard and plan their move and wedding.

I gave the young lady the book because, after I had told her how I had encouraged my client to write her story down, she said several times ‘ Perhaps I should write my story too.’ 

She should, she really should.  Maybe seeing my client’s book will encourage her to do so.

There are not many twenty-four-year-olds who have a story like hers to tell and it is these stories, written down by the people who really know, that are the best sources of information for people like me.

As often happens on a long journey when adventures occur, whether delays or other incidents, they bring people together so that they begin to chat, I did not get this girl’s name or any contact details. She has mine, however, in the book, so all I can do is hope that if she needs advice or help at any time, or even decides to write her story, that she would get touch.

By narrating her story on the train she has already helped me a great deal in my work. I think about this young lady often and hope that she has influenced me, if only in convincing me of the importance of the work that conductors do with partners, carers, parents and anyone involved in the lives of our clients.


Andrew said...

A semaphore signal, in 2013?

On the line that Peto built?

Sounds surreal...

Andrew said...

Sorry, I meant 2012. Too long a day...

Susie Mallett said...

I expect that there are now red lights doing the signalling on, yes indeed, the line that Petö built, but since the days when I sat up on the engine beside my driver-Dad are long past I could not see the signal on that recent journey.

Talk of semaphore signaling is the language that I grew up with.

Signals were either up or down in the stories by Dad told of his trips on the road to London and back.

They were also up or down as I hung over the bridge beside my Grandparents’ station hotel so I could feel the steam and smoke on my face!

I did not live at home long enough after red lights came into fashion for them to be part of my train-driver’s-daughter language. For me, signals will always be up or down!

Yes, that journey was quite surreal. It turned into quite an adventure with changing trains several times late into the night and the last forty-mile leg of the journey, still with my new found friend, made in a taxi.

The only thing that was missing was the lashings of ginger beer.