Wednesday, 9 February 2011


Probably not a surprise, but things got busy again, hence the long delay in posting.  Sorry!  I had the best intentions....

Placement was with a charity called Headway who offer support following brain injuries.  I went to a morning group session where people can drop by and meet with others in similar circumstances.  It was all very informal and people can take whatever they want from the sessions.  One person was there talking through with a staff member difficulties he was having.  He had told his case worker that he didn't need them any more because he could do his own washing and cooking, and the staff member was trying to explain that this wasn't what they were there for.  He'd been having trouble filling in his benefit forms so the group were trying to convince him to let someone help him with them.  Others were there to use the computer, some were setting personal goals with another staff member to help them address difficulties and work out what they wanted from their Headway sessions, one man was bombing around in his wheelchair whose task for the morning was supposedly drawing pictures of birds, but actually he was having a great time bombing round getting into what everyone else was doing.  He spent some time complaining to me about how long he was having to wait to get his wheelchair fixed since it was so poorly designed - he slumped badly to the left and the controls were positioned so that he couldn't do anything on his lap because they got in the way of his dominant hand.  It seemed like such a simple thing to sort out for him and really important too, there was just so much bureaucracy in the way.  Another group of people were playing Scrabble, my buddy was playing Frustration with someone and I was sat with someone working on a project about the brain - apparently he'd remarked that the picture of the brain on the wall was good but it didn't tell you what each of the different bits did, so they told him why doesn't he research it.  He'd gone to his Mother's who'd printed him out some information from the internet but he'd decided since it was his project he should handwrite the information and so was meticulously copying it out.

Before the people arrived the staff member were telling us that it might look like they are just playing Scrabble but they are also developing their vocabulary, learning about dealing with a social setting, about fair play and fine motor skills.  They also told us that some people don't have a clue as to the scale of their injuries - they may just think they had a bump on the head and not realise its impact.  I didn't entirely understand this at the time, but I I was chatting to this man who was telling me about his life: his father had died, he'd been in two car accidents neither of which were his fault, his wife had spent all his inheritance and left him for someone else but it would be all right because he had this project on the brain to do now.  o_0  This poor man had so many terrible things happen to him, but because he had something to focus on he was fine.  Inspiring and heartbreaking all at once.  His injury had caused him short term memory problems and he was having trouble recognising where he'd already copied bits from and would start to write something but then forget where it was coming from, even though it was right in front of him.  Sat across from me was my buddy playing frustration and the guy he was with seemed 'normal' enough - there was no physical disability and he was fairly quiet but happy playing his game with a wicked sense of humour, getting my friend to feel his hand because his hand hurt and then laughing because you can't feel pain like that.  The staff had told us that he likes to steal things like keys and phones so he can give them back to you later and tell you he found them because he likes to be helpful.  He had another quirk that was every now and then he'd quack like a duck.  Totally bizarre!

It was an amazing placement.  It was challenging to my views, a fantastic experience and a lot of fun, but equally really upsetting and quite uncomfortable.  I really didn't know how to approach these people. Most of them didn't have any outward signs that they had anything wrong with them so it was hard to know what level to pitch your conversation to them, whether you were just being patronising, what they needed help with and what they were just being lazy about and  whether it was my place to correct them if they got something wrong.  It's great for developing communication skills as they made need things explaining in many different ways to them, and in some cases it was like talking to a child.  They all stared at us when they first got there, some coming over to chat because we were new and others completely ignoring us. I sort of felt like I was in a zoo, although I guess they've had plenty of people staring at them in their time.

If you're looking for work experience or extra curricular brownie points I'd definitely recommend looking to see if you have a local Headway branch.  They can always do with volunteers, it's really different in terms of normal work experience and it will certainly broaden you and your skills and challenge you whilst still being fun.

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