Over Christmas I unfortunately had to visit my 88 year old Mama (Nottinghamshire slang for Grandma – not a posh word for Mum) in hospital as she fell and fractured her hip and therefore needed an operation.
This caused me to reflect on my own job as I saw staff at the hospital go about their day to day work. I can’t say many of them looked filled with joy. And neither would I if I were effectively locked in a ward for 12 hours, with no natural light. They were doing their very best with the circumstances they were working in, and we can’t fault the care she received, but each time I visited, I left feeling a sense of relief I was not working in a setting like this.
I’ve been working as an Occupational Therapist for St George’s Crypt since April 2016, so 9 months now. This is a charity which supports people who are homeless and vulnerable. As my 1 year contract reaches the end (it is to be reviewed and the funders confirm if it will be continued); I feel a sense of dread considering where my options would lie in terms of my Occupational Therapy career and cannot help but wonder if actually I may be better off following my other dream of starting a dog walking business or training assistance dogs.
This is my first time working for a charity and I cannot tell you how good it has been. Staff seem happy to be there (or they’re very good actors!), and there’s a real team spirit. They take time out each morning to pray as it is a Christian charity, but religion aside this is a fantastic way of checking in with colleagues to see how they are in general and to feel more equipped to support each other throughout the working week. This informal support is vital given the amount of heart breaking information we hear from the people who are living it first hand on a daily basis.
I feel valued as a person here and I love that everyone in the building is valued too. Everyone has a name, and everyone has an identity which is something many people who access the service feel they have lost through the depersonalising circumstances that go in hand with homelessness. This is worlds apart from when I did a shift at a general hospital a few years ago when working for an agency as a career and was asked to wash bed 7. Does the bed have a pulse and a personality? I had asked the staff doing the handover. I didn’t return to that place to work.
There is opportunity to be human, and to allow people to feel human too. Prior to my current job, in a different temporary role, I had sat down with a patient to eat breakfast as a way of building rapport with someone who was difficult to engage after experiencing a life changing time in terms of disability to be told ‘if you’re going to eat that toast it will be 40p’ by a staff member. In my current role no one questions when I sit and drink tea, or eat toast with a resident. The power of tea/ toast is a wonderful thing, and if acting human, and offering a kind gesture like a cup of tea or company over breakfast creates a pathway in to a therapeutic relationship then it’s a tool I’ll keep using.
We’re lucky to have a beautiful garden, tended to by generous volunteers who began their journey at the Crypt as residents and it’s a nice place to sit to gather thoughts after a difficult conversation or a busy morning to re build strength to go back out and keep on working. Similarly the chapel which I can only liken to the nicest cave I’ve ever seen is a perfect place to reflect. People don’t question the 5 minutes out, there’s a common respect that we’re all only human and sometimes just need that time out to recuperate. I think it makes us all work harder in many ways as feeling respected makes us respect the organisation.
My wellbeing is met daily through my job. I am active and get to support people to do the occupations that are meaningful to them; it is not uncommon to see me walking, climbing, playing golf, or wood-turning whilst at work. I practice mindful listening as each person I am fortunate enough to work with grasps my full attention and this allows me to switch off from my own worries and fully embrace the working day. I feel working here gives me a great chance to connect with such a variety of people. The social area is buzzing each lunch time and whilst I am working and offering support to clients it feels more of a homely environment because for many people who visit, these are the only connections they have got. I feel I am contributing my time to a group of people who deserve much more, and who have been let down time and time again by the healthcare system. And I am learning so much! This jobs gives me a rotation type experience as I am meeting people with many different interests, from all walks of life, who have experienced many different circumstances impacting on their ability to do the occupations that are important to them.
I am fortunate I know. I will certainly be mindful as my career progresses to ensure I am in a job that is helpful to my own well being, but most of all is in line with my values, and my moral compass.
Rebecca Wint, Occupational Therapist.