Judging Books by their Covers

It is important to never judge books by their covers : first impressions of Joshua might be that he is a mute, disabled young man with limited abilities and understanding. His cheeky sense of humour and his flirting would not necessarily be immediately obvious and these are both integral to his personality. You would need to spend time getting to know him before you saw that he understands much more than he can say, that he loves a trip to Donalds more than anywhere else and that he is affectionate, such that he loves to give and receive hugs. Today Joshua will spend three hours at his new adult respite provision, for him to get to know the staff and the setting and for them to get to know him and his unique ways. I am hopeful that he will take this new situation in his stride and settle into a new routine, but entrusting my most precious and vulnerable of all ‘possessions‘ into the hands of relative strangers, is always a frightening prospect. The reports that they have read about him in preparation ,will be brought to life when they spend some time with him alone and I am hopeful that nobody has already judged his particular book from his pretty grim cover.

This outlook was loudly demonstrated to me also yesterday and the day before : unfortunately my 79 year old mother is unwell and has been admitted into hospital, while they carry out scans and tests to decide on the best course of treatment. Yesterday afternoon she was admitted into a ward for over 75 year olds, where the doctors and nurses made some assumptions about the grey haired lady in front of them. She was explaining how bad she had been feeling but they clearly saw an old lady in front of them, someone that they expected to have carers, walking aids and to struggle to cope alone at home. Until this illness, my Mum has always been energetic , alert and fiercely independent, yet this has not been the expectation in hospital. When she first arrived, they struggled to appreciate the severity of the decline in her condition, as they do not know her: she was breathless and walked slowly and unsteadily , but it seemed that was to be expected of a lady of her age, so did not warrant any concern.

But they were not asking the right questions, they were not comparing Mum today with Mum at the end of last year. They appeared to be reading her date of birth, then making assumptions about the state of her health. Compared to the other elderly ladies on her ward, Mum is the most alert and most mobile, but she is still a shadow of her former self. It was a frightening but insightful view into the future, at how assumptions are made about the elderly . I was very glad that I was by her side to enlighten them on how my mother usually is and what we expect them to be able to return her to.

Seeing a date of birth written down, or a diagnosis in Joshua’s case, is only one piece of information about somebody, it is not the full story. It is necessary to ask questions, with an open mind, in order to understand and appreciate someone’s individuality and unfortunately there is not always the luxury of time to begin this essential fact finding mission. In both Joshua and Mum’s case, I have been pleased to be able to act as interpreter and to provide some shortcuts in that familiarisation process, to ensure that they both get the attention that they deserve.

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