Wednesday, 26 October 2016

So the instructions say

you need to do this and that and avoid those and...
I won't even bother to go and find some instructions and quote them because anybody who can read this can also read instructions. Right?
My friend C...posted a picture of the instructions she has been given with respect to some injections she must give herself daily for the next six months. I cannot actually read the instructions because the print is too small on the screen but I can guess the sort of thing they say and the sort of English they are written in.
I see these sort of instructions from time to time. I know what happens. The doctor orders certain medication for the patient. The doctor tells the patient how it must be taken. Patient nods and looks as if they have understood. Later a nurse may even repeat those instructions. Patient is sent home with medication.
And then it's something like, "Cat, I didn't really understand what they said" or "Cat, what's 10ml?" or "When do I have to take this one?" or....well, a variety of questions.
So, we sit there together and I rewrite the instructions. I have even been reduced to things like. "Before breakfast. Take the tablet. Put the timer on for an hour. When the timer rings you can eat breakfast" and "Fill to the blue mark on the cup."(I have made the blue mark.) 
Chemists do "pill packs". They are marvellous things. They sort the multiple medications some people must take and place them in little units. That's fine if people are simply expected to swallow them - and they can remember to do that. The problems start when things must be taken at certain times or a certain time before meals or they need to be measured out or they need to be taken in a certain way. 
Sometimes the instructions given are unnecessarily complex or written in a way that people don't understand. I remember standing there in the chemist one day listening to the chemist try to explain to an elderly person I knew slightly how something must be taken. The elderly person looked at me in despair and, knowing the young chemist well enough to tease him occasionally, I asked, " I know how someone else remembers how to take that. May I suggest something?" Given a, "Yes, please!" I went ahead and explained in a step by step form. The chemist scribbled it down, printed out a proper copy and handed it over. He was happy, the customer was happy and I was happy because it meant the chemist could give me some attention. No doubt they would have coped without my interference but the chemist admitted that the instructions given to people sometimes drive him to despair. 
There's really no need for it. Instructions for that sort of thing can usually be written very simply. If it offends those of us who can read to be talked down to then we must put up with it because other people need to know in Plain English. 

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

There was a "silent" afternoon tea

at our place - only I think we may have to redefine "silent".
Let it be said that it started with our friend P.... phoning me and asking me how many people I expected to come because she was making apple slice. P is a nun and was once a teacher of the deaf so we did a little plotting about how to manage the rest of them.
Then V....our neighbour, whom I had also invited, wandered over in the middle of the morning and asked about "tomorrow". No, "today" I told her. Oh. I was making a pot of tea for the Senior Cat but she stayed and chatted for a bit before saying she would be back in the afternoon. I went to find the Senior Cat because he had not come in for his cup of tea. 
I found him sitting on the ground, unable to get up. He had slid off the seat he was sitting on. Fortunately he had not hurt himself but I had to go and ask V's husband M.... to come and help him up again. I was still trying to do the things I had not been able to do the day before - especially those involved with having visitors.
But P turned up on time with slice in hand. (It is lovely slice being not too sweet.) And then V came over - and the two of them promptly started talking! I growled (nicely) but it didn't make a lot of difference although V was totally startled when she asked P if she could tell her about going to the ballet on Saturday in sign language. V had not asked with any expectation at all that P could actually do it but P went ahead as calmly as she does everything else.
The other guests arrived - and they all started talking. I threw up my paws in despair and handed out communication boards instead. I had made special communication boards - just for afternoon tea. There would, I told them sternly, be no afternoon tea unless they asked for it silently.
There was instant silence. They searched. They looked at one another. They pointed to the words and symbols. They puzzled over the "combine" and "opposite meaning" symbols.
I took orders - and signed them to P... who always helps me with the carrying of things like tea pots. She acted as "mother" and poured tea and passed over coffee. It was all done in silence.
Then someone said, "Thank you" without thinking - and we all collapsed into laughter. They gave up.
"That was so hard Cat!"
"How do people do it?"
"I wanted to say weak tea. How was I supposed to say that?" 
"How do you say....?"
I showed them how to say what they needed to say and I think they were surprised by just how much you could say with so few symbols. They had not realised how many meanings they could make by combining symbols to or using "opposite meaning". 
But all of that didn't really matter. Even with that small experience they had all come to realise that communicating is not a simple matter. 
We all take the capacity to communicate for granted - even I do that most of the time. I say something. I expect to be understood. I listen and I expect to understand. In my job it doesn't always happen of course but, most of the time, I am looking at a screen. I can translate the squiggles on the screen into something I can understand. 
Not that long ago I had to go into the local library and find a reference. I used one of the library computers to send the information off. One of the staff came to find out if it had gone through and I showed them what I was sending. To them it must have looked like nothing more than tiny paw marks across the screen because they asked, "Can you actually read that?" 
Well yes, it's my job. I'm not sure the librarian was convinced.
But I came away from that encounter and yesterday's gathering once again in awe of people who have to always rely on using an augmentative or alternative communication aid.  It can be so incredibly difficult for them.
Learning to communicate is the single most important thing a person learns to do.

Monday, 24 October 2016

Imagine, if you can, what it is like not

to be able to communicate. Just at present someone I only know virtually but nevertheless very much like and respect is in hospital. She has been keeping the rest of us up to date through social media. The two of us have exchanged a few, short remarks. There have been many other messages left for her. Some have been serious, others concerned, yet more have been amusing. I don't know how she keeps it up. She has even found time to read my blog posts - a distraction perhaps from the lack of sleep and the woman in the next bed - who is noisy and demented. 
But I thought of all this and then thought of an experience I had going into Italy on an overnight train. Being a student with almost nothing to my name I had gone for the cheapest possible seat from Lyon to Pisa. Opposite me in the carriage were an Italian grandmother and her grandson, a boy of about 12. They spoke no English.
At around 5am the grandson had a grand mal seizure. His grandmother couldn't cope so I went ahead with the necessary first aid.
I asked for help in English but apparently nobody in the carriage spoke English - or perhaps they just didn't want to get involved. After a moment comment sense asserted itself and I asked for help in Italian. Someone left the carriage and then came back with someone who spoke a limited amount of English. I explained what I wanted them to do, trying to keep it simple.
He was a businessman who lived in Pisa and fortunately remained calm and willing to follow my instructions. The boy came out of the seizure a little later and I asked his grandmother for his medication  - which she was holding out to me. I read the instructions on the label, confirmed my understanding with the businessman and got the boy to take another dose. He was, by then, sufficiently recovered to agree that this was what he needed.
We were in Pisa soon after that and I had to change trains. The businessman took me off and bought me breakfast - but not before I was hugged by grandma and the boy shook my hand. He was still a bit sleepy and dopey but I knew he would be fine.
But, it was an incident which terrified me at the time - and still concerns me. I couldn't communicate in a medical emergency.What if it had been me having the seizure or if I had fallen ill and been unable to communicate? 
I have been told of other incidents since then. A friend fell critically ill in Germany and not all the hospital staff spoke English. She speaks no German. Last year someone else I know was rushed from a ship's hospital to a  hospital in Spain and not expected to survive. She couldn't have communicated anyway but her husband was there alone with her and most of the staff had no English. 
It is my job to provide communication assistance for people in emergency and disaster situations - although not quite in these circumstances. But they were people I know and I would have helped if I had known about it at the time. I have too much imagination I suppose but the idea of being that ill and not being able to communicate is terrifying. The idea of not being able to speak, of having the sort of communication aid someone like Stephen Hawking depends on break down, is terrifying.
It's Augmentative and Alternative Communication Month. This afternoon I am hosting a "silent afternoon tea" for several people. I am going to try and help them  understand, just a little, what it is like. I'll try and tell you about it tomorrow.

Sunday, 23 October 2016

I was supposed to meet

someone yesterday. Let it be said that I wasn't very keen to do so and, in that sense, I was not sorry when she did not appear.
I am however annoyed that she did not bother to send a message to say she was not coming as she was the one who asked to meet. Yes, it was rude. Did she just forget, or did she have a good excuse.
I don't think I have ever "just forgotten" and failed to turn up somewhere when someone was expecting me. I don't think I have failed to tell someone if I couldn't be somewhere I was expected to be. If I have been late then it has been unavoidable and outside my control. 
I know people who are chronically late. In my teens, in order to earn enough "pocket money" for my fares to and from teacher training college I used to baby sit one night a week for a family with four children. (The other six nights were spent working as a "junior housemistress" in a boarding school.) The father of this family had a lecture to attend at university. The mother of the family went to orchestra practice. We knew them well. If you wanted the mother to be somewhere on time then you had to try telling her that an event that started at 8pm was starting at 7:30pm. Her husband would do this. Sometimes that would work, more often than not they would still be late.
"What did she do to be so late?" the Senior Cat has asked me more than once. I couldn't work it out then and I still can't work that out. She was always busy but I would arrive at just after 4pm and, for the next three hours, there would be a frantic rush for her to be ready to leave. I'd have the children bathed, fed and ready for bed by then. Her husband would have the washing up from the evening meal done and several other things as well...and he would have been home for about an hour.
She was, and still is, a lovely person. I am very fond of her but I know she won't be early.
Back then, when the car went off down the road, the eldest two would look at me and give huge sighs and there would be a plaintive demand for "Please can we have a story now?"
They came with their eldest daughter to an event recently - and yes, they were late.
But their daughter reminded me of those nights and said, "You know the thing I remember most about that time is you reading to us. It was always so good to snuggle in and just be quiet and listen."
I am glad I never forgot to go and read a story to them.

Saturday, 22 October 2016

There is a wall calendar

in our house. I make one every year. I buy a very large sheet of thin card, cut a strip off so that it will fit into the designated space on the side of the cupboard next to the 'fridge, rule the lines and paste on the months and days of the weeks. The numbers get, sort of, written in with my atrocious paw marks.
My mother used to make one of these calendars - but of course hers was all done with beautiful "infant school" printing. We have a collection of them from the last few years of her life. The Senior Cat has kept all the calendars for about the last 20 years - on the grounds that "we may need to look at them some time". Perhaps. 
I admit that keeping one is useful because it provides the ruler marks for the calendar I am drawing up. Occasionally we have referred back to the previous year.
At the beginning of each year the calendar looks fairly empty. All I have put in are the regular events such as birthdays and "last Tuesday of the month" type meetings. Over the year the calendar gradually fills up. If an appointment needs to be made or someone needs to know if we are going to be home then a glance at the calendar will tell us if the time doesn't clash or we will be home.
"Hold on a moment, I'll have a look at the calendar," I can tell someone.
I have a calendar associated with the email too of course. I also keep a small diary for the purpose of meetings and appointments and essential reminders.
     "You don't need all those things!" I have been told - and told by multiple people many times. "Why don't you just put it all in your phone?"
I have no idea how to "put it into (my) phone". I am not even sure my phone - which my youngest nephew kindly described as "pre-dinosaur" can do anything like that. I still can't send a text message - but that also has something to do with the size of the  buttons on the thing and my clumsy paws.
I may learn to do these things but there is something to be said for not doing them. The old technology doesn't require batteries. I also have the information in more than one place. If I lost the diary the information would be in the computer calendar or on the wall calendar. 
It also means that I still tend to remember things.  I am not relying on the computer or my phone to remind me. As I find it difficult to write the very act of writing it onto the wall calendar or into my diary helps me remember.
I think I'll go on remembering in this way as long as I can.

Friday, 21 October 2016

I have been arguing with someone

I would like to say it has been a discussion but it has really been an argument. 
It began with me offering a group I belong to the opportunity to give some feedback.  In another role I could take that feedback off to a meeting and, hopefully, any alterations would meet the approval of the first group. Let it also be said that I was not opposed to returning with some information. I actually offered to give some feedback.
I offered to meet two members of the group. I even suggested that I'd buy the coffee. The offer was turned down. If I was going to give feedback I was told I should present myself to the committee. 
(In this context the word "suggestion" sounded more like an order.) Sorry, no.  I can't get there at the time the committee meets - and even if I could it is not an appropriate way to handle the situation.
E-mails went backwards and forwards for two days. In the end I gave in and agreed I would give some feedback to the group as a whole. I am not happy about doing that for a number of reasons. It's a group where people tend not to listen. Most people in the group are not in the least bit interested in participating in the other activity. I am laying myself open to very public criticism about things over which I have no control.
Nevertheless I am going to do it. I am going to do something I would normally never do. I am going to write something and I am going to read it out.  That way when someone says, as they are bound to do, "but you said..." or "Cat told us..." I will be able to point to exactly what I said.
I know it won't be popular and I know, unless I am very careful, it could backfire on me too. But, I have been following the progress of a couple of political spats and it seems to me that exact written records can be a good thing...and not just in Hansard. 
It seems to me that it is quite likely the previous Prime Minister didn't know something. There was no reason for him to be told. If he was told then would it have been anything more than a passing remark? It's made no difference of course. Assumptions have been made and there is the suggestion that he should have known anyway.
But the senior most member of a certain Commission most certainly would have known and would not have forgotten what she said. It is her business to remember such things and it is not the first time she has been caught out. Unfortunately for her there was a written record this time. She can be heard saying what she claims not to have said because there is an actual recording.
There won't be an aural record of what I say but there will be a written one. I'll try and keep it short - and to the point. I'll try to make it as clear as possible.
And I am going to - politely - say just a little more than the person making the demand has bargained on. I won't scratch but I will growl - just a little.

Thursday, 20 October 2016

There was an appalling accident

not far from here. It occurred some days ago now but this morning's paper has a front page feature about the impact it has on the family of an innocent victim. 
She had just dropped her daughter off at a friend's home when a 15yr old boy speeding in a stolen car crashed into hers and killed her.  
It is the sort of senseless tragedy that should never occur but does occur too often in this country. Learning to drive a car, owning a car, getting caught for speeding at least once in your life is all considered to be a "rite of passage".  Any suggestion of raising the age at which people are legally allowed to drive brings about howls of rage. How dare anyone even suggest it? Think of all those poor young things who won't be able to get to work and sport and, perhaps, school.
We need to stop thinking like that.
I went past one of the local high schools yesterday. There was the staff car park. There was the student car park. I don't know a lot about cars but there didn't seem to be a lot of difference. There were some "old bangers" in the student car park but there were also what looked to be like some good cards.
The school has a fairly ordinary middle class catchment area. There are about 800 students in the school. At least 600 of those students are too young to have a licence. There were at least 55 cars in the student car park.  That's 55 cars for 200 students...say around one in four of them has a car.
I don't own a car. I have never owned a car. I do know a car is expensive to run...and that an "old banger" can be even more expensive to run. How do the students afford it - even if they have a part-time job? They don't of course. Their parents have to be helping. Why do they do that? The excuses are things like "going to work" and "going to sport" and "lack of public transport" and "it's safer".
My brother got a low powered motorbike when he was in his third year at university. He was on his own financially. Our parents didn't contribute a cent towards it. They didn't approve of his purchase either.  By then most of his mates had similar vehicles. A few of them had cars but most of them had bikes. They were considered to be cheaper to run and yes, they used to go to and from late lectures  at university or when they left the library at closing time - 10pm. My brother never gave anyone a ride. He never had a spare helmet and neither did they. He got caught "speeding" once. The police pulled him over one Saturday night and booked him for, they claimed, doing two and a half miles an hour above the speed limit. The magistrate threw it out because, he said, it wasn't possible to be that accurate from the speedometer of the police car. He told my brother to "be careful". Were the cops just trying to teach a young man a lesson? Probably. If my brother has been caught speeding again then we have never heard about it. Somehow I doubt he has been. 
And we were all slightly bemused when my father's cousin was caught speeding. The speed camera took the photograph and, in due course, the fine arrived. Puzzled and very annoyed his cousin challenged the fine. He produced his passport and showed them he was on the other side of the world at the time...and no, the "old banger" was not his - that was a "3" and not an "8" on the licence plate. We often wonder whether the driver of the old banger paid a speeding fine or not. Did it teach the driver a lesson?
But nobody has ever taught the 15yr old. He wasn't considered to be old enough to drive. It's too late now. The damage is done. He has to spend the rest of his life knowing he has killed someone. I wonder how he will react. Will he lose sleep over it? How long will it be before he is released from detention? He's a minor so it won't be too long. How long before he will be back behind the wheel? It won't be too long - even if he isn't doing it legally. It means the rest of us have to be extra vigilant.
We need to stop thinking there is a "right" to drive though. There is no such thing. It's a privilege and a responsibility. Nothing more.
I don't think the young daughter of the woman who was killed will be caught speeding.