hear about the end result of any of my work. I do what I am asked to do and send it off. Sometimes I do not even get a "thankyou", not because the person using it at the other end is being deliberately rude but because other people see it before it gets to them. There may even be more than one person who uses what I have put together.
Sometimes I will work with other people and we will set up a communication board for a very specific purpose or a single individual. Surgeons in particular often have individual ideas about what will work best for them. That's fine. It is what I am there for. We all want it to work.
And sometimes I get the chance to work with people who are doing the incredible job of caring for unaccompanied and injured children in war zones. I still don't know how people can do this. It is perhaps the most emotionally and physically demanding job on earth. The "burn-out" rate is high. People need regular rest breaks - and they do not always get them.
I won't even try to explain the extent of the physical and psychological trauma that some children experience. The children we see each night on the news footage are the lucky ones, the children that those responsible for giving us the news have decided are not too distressing for the rest of the world to see. Most of those children will still speak, will still have the capacity to speak.
Behind all that are the children with far worse injuries. Some of them do not survive, those who do will never fully recover. There are always some who will not be able to speak because of their injuries and some who have simply stopped speaking. They have shut themselves up in their own tiny individual world.
Writing communication boards for those children can be a long, slow process as people try to find out what these children might actually want and need to say when it seems they do not want to say anything at all. Some of them could speak but they have chosen not to. They do not want to make eye contact with anyone. They do not want to be held at all, let alone hugged. They trust nobody.
A communication board is both a barrier and a bridge in these circumstances. It can provide a child with the means to communicate without making eye contact. In other places the approach might be quite different but in a war zone or a disaster there is no time for therapy and getting information as rapidly as possible is often a priority.
Some months ago I worked with several people to provide a communication board for a boy we think is about ten. He was taken into a makeshift hospital in the suburbs of Damascus. His injuries were horrific and he was not expected to live. Contrary to expectations he has. Nobody knows who he is. His face is unrecognisable. He cannot speak and, even if he could, he might not. He kept avoiding any eye-contact for weeks. The first time he was shown the communication board he pushed it away. It went on for weeks. The people working with him finally just left it by his bed.
Yesterday they sat him in a chair for a short while. It is the first time in months he has been able to do even that. The communication board was apparently on a box by his side. He pulled it towards himself and "told" the surgeon who had saved his life, "Thankyou."
I don't often get to hear about those things but thanks for letting me know Michel. It makes it all worthwhile.