Curriculum Vitae (Memento Vivere)

Having been so bitterly rejected both in love and at work, I started to look around for new opportunities. I don’t remember how I found it, but a nursing home nearer to where I lived at the time (Cleethorpes) was advertising for a Therapeutic Activities Co-ordinator to develop a range of meaningful activities with frail elderly people who also had -iirc - impaired memory, or dementia. Right up my street (well, just around the corner).

This was the first time in my life (I was thirty years old) that I’d ever actually wanted a job, and I was determined to make sure I did everything I possibly could to get it (the money was better, too, although not a great deal). I think I really impressed them at the interview with the presentation I did (probably bullet points, but that was all the rage back then), but more my genuine enthusiasm and excitement at the prospect of doing what, at the time, seemed like it would be my “dream job”.

The role was to cover three separate nursing and residential homes in the Grimsby, Cleethorpes and Humberston area, all quite different as it turned out. I would also liaise with a colleague in Hull (where the company that ran the care homes had its headquarters), who had already been in post in his area for a year or so. Steve was a social worker by trade, and he was very upset to discover that I was not. He was also agitating for a substantial pay rise, and later on we would jointly present our case to the board of directors.

I shadowed Steve for a day or two and wrote substantial notes and reflections, before setting up my desk on the landing of the first floor next to the lift and the payphone (yes, really) at The Anchorage just up the road from Blundell Park. When I first entered The Anchorage it was a shock to the system. I was used to a welcoming, friendly, clean, freshly smelling (as much as possible), professional, and lively residential home where I used to work. The Anchorage was anything but. There was no welcome, staff looked harried, the place was so obviously run down and uncared for, it stank of piss, and all the residents appeared to be fully comatose.

That was on the ground floor. Upstairs was slightly better - at least the residents were awake. But it was like a madhouse, and brought back traumatic memories of a childhood school visit to the local mental hospital to sing Christmas carols to the moaning, leering, grabbing, drooling inmatespatients. The only redeeming factor now was that none of the inmates seemed able to move. I was going to have my work cut out here.

I think my boss expected me to have a timetable of bingo sessions, sing-a-longs, tea dances, quiz nights, etc. up and running straight away. But I would have to raise the dead first, and persuade the staff and manager to be supportive and helpful, In fact, a complete change of culture was needed. I spent several weeks getting to know everyone, not only there, but at the other two homes as well. One of the others was much larger with what seemed like a highly mobile group of very demented residents, while the other was more of a mixture of demented and simply frail elderly people. Once I got to know everyone, The Anchorage seemed to be mostly people with physical health problems, often compounded by the effects of a stroke.

The other two homes also had good, strong supportive managers, while The Anchorage had a temporary manager (one of the senior nurses), before appointing an absolute horror of a woman who mercilessly bullied me and made my job much more difficult than it needed to be. Luckily, most of the nurses and carers were good people.

To cut a long story short, we did raise the dead. It turns out (who knew?) that even very poorly, very old people are up for conversation, doing things that interest them, socialising, going out, singing, dancing, moving, learning to walk again, reminiscing, and just living what life there is left. But they need help to do so. And when they get the help they need to do some or all of these things, it also turns out that they are often more continent, can walk again, need less of the carers' and nurses' time for personal care, feel better, have better health, and - crucially from the business point of view - live longer.

And when the residents are happier, have something to get up for, and are easier to look after, the staff are happier, too. We had a lot of fun. It was amazing. A highlight was organising three coaches and a disability-friendly minibus to take every resident from all three homes literally around the corner form The Anchorage to The Excel Club, which was (in the good old days), the premier night spot and bar for many of “my people” when they were young, for an afternoon of drinking, dancing, eating, socialising and reminiscing that I won’t forget (even if many of them them had forgotten by the time they got home).

The beauty of the whole endeavour was that people needing care were no longer seen as tasks to be performed and checked off on a list, but as people who had lives, stories, senses of humour, wants and needs like everyone else.

Such a great thing could obviously have no future, and when me and Steve presented the business case for expansion and pay rises to the board it was rejected outright. The most helpful training I ever did was with a trainer who advised me “don’t waste time trying to persuade people who aren’t interested - focus on those who are.” I’d tried my best, I really had. While I did really enjoy the job, I didn’t want to be doing the same thing week after week, year after year, with no prospect of advancement and for a company that clearly wasn’t interested or appreciative.

I started looking around again, and this time further afield. I felt I was in a rut, personally as well (it was all work and no play for me), and I needed a fresh start.