A day in the life of a resident

On Tuesday 29th June our Fundraising Manager Jodie spent the day in a wheelchair with the aim to experience and better understand what it is like to be immobile and live at Chaseley. Below is her blog from that day:

Following a chat with one of our respite residents I realised that despite thinking I had a fairly good idea about how life must be at Chaseley for a resident, I honestly didn’t. The only real life experience I have had of not being able to use a part of my body was following the C-section birth of my twins, but even then, within one day I was up and out of bed, waddling about the ward very slowly, but moving none the less. This got me thinking and I suggested to Emma that I would like to spend a day in the life of a Chaseley resident and I wanted to do so in as authentic a way as possible.

The plan was that I could use an electric wheelchair to get about and I decided that I would not be able to move my legs, nor my left arm. This was not as easy as I thought and so the addition of a leg brace and wrist splint really helped to remind me of this, especially as I naturally went to use my arm a lot!
The morning arrived and even before I left home I realised I was thinking and planning for my day in ways I hadn’t even considered – I didn’t want to wear a long skirt in case it got caught in the wheels, I had to consider how I wore my hair because of the head rest and also what clothing would be comfortable to sit in the same position for 9 hours?

Once at Chaseley, Mark fitted me into my wheelchair, whom I named Betty for the day and gave me a little driving lesson before I was off and on my way learner plates in situ! I have to say, the wheelchair was very comfortable, in fact more so than I had thought it would be.
First up was to attempt to use one of the lifts, narrow doors, but wide enough. However, reversing out, whilst looking at the mirror to guide me was just too confusing for me, I struggled with the joypad controller and even at the end of the day I had not mastered the art of reversing gracefully!

Next came the all-important coffee test. I visited the CasBar for my morning latte, however only having the use of one arm, which was needed to steer me back to my table, I couldn’t even take my mug, luckily Sandra was already on it and kindly took the coffee to my table.

The morning’s activities were really invigorating and fun. We had Movement to Music, a form of chair yoga done to music followed by a resident favourite - singing. The Atkinson Room was full with residents and I was surprised just how much my arms ached. I loved watching them really engage in the exercises and they definitely had their favourite songs and routines which they weren’t shy about suggesting!

Lunch time was then upon us and off to the Dining Room I went. Here I was greeted as a resident and taken to a table that was suited for my wheelchair height, although the distance between myself and the table was a little further than I would have liked, especially as only having one hand to eat with but, I had a napkin and I only dropped a few items into my lap! The food was amazing, Spiros served and chopped up my food for me as well as clearing my table, several of the care team checked on me and ensured my water was topped up when needed. It really was as if I was in a restaurant.

The afternoon was a sociable one with Bingo and a fun quiz, it was really great to see the social side of Chaseley for the residents, there was banter and everything was fun and jolly and Kim’s bingo lingo meant I felt as if I was in my local bingo hall!

To ensure I got the full experience I went on a little trip outside with one of our residents Hilary, who was quick to point out that the lovely seafront path I had chosen to ‘ride’ was not reflective enough of the area and so she took me on a little meander around Meads Village. Well, what can I say the paths are brick cobbled to some degree, they have tree roots making them uneven and the path experience can only be described as that of riding the old wooden roller coaster at Margate! Very, very bumpy and made me need the toilet very quickly.

The main thing I took away from the trip out was just how unsafe I felt crossing the roads. Sure there were dropped kerbs, however there were paths that we left to cross and realised there wasn’t a dropped kerb the other side, so we had to ride in the road until we found one. In addition to this I had never considered before why dropped kerbs are mainly situated at road junctions, I found this difficult especially having more than 2 roads to watch before making my move. But, the worst thing for me was the act of crossing the road, the majority of the time I couldn’t see if there was a car coming because of the parked cars. I was the same height as the cars and I couldn’t peer out because of the wheelchair itself and the mobility issues I chose to have, so ultimately I was sending my feet out first and hoping that if a car came down the road they would see my little pink toenails and stop for me.

Soon it was time for me to hand back the wheelchair and the main thing I noticed was just how stiff I was and also how exhausted I felt. I had done a very good job of not moving my legs throughout the day, even when the leg brace was irritating me, my legs felt like they constantly needed to be stretched and my body felt as if it had slumped a little and was no longer in the comfortable position it was when the day began. I realised very quickly that I had a numb bum and if I am honest, my knicker elastic had really ‘dug into’ me and felt a little sore. Before too long my whole body was aching and I just needed my bed.

So what am I taking away from my day? Yes it was fun and yes the residents loved it and the staff were kind and thoughtful, especially as most of them didn’t know what I was doing, so immediately thought I had injured myself. But, the fun stuff aside, I got to witness the pure happiness and enjoyment the residents get from the social side of living at Chaseley, I saw their friendships in a different light, their relationships with the staff team and I quickly realised just how important the money we raise through fundraising really is. Don’t get me wrong, it’s my job to know the figures and why we need the donations, but what I learnt was the real benefit of raising the money to fund the ‘non-care’ element of Chaseley life. In fact, non-care is not the right term to use, because every member of the team does deliver care in one guise or another, but it is the easiest way to describe the non-funded nursing care that our residents receive. This non-care is just as important as their nursing care and their physio care; the chats in the hallway, the giggles during an activity and the comradery shared over coffee or a pint is all part of the holistic approach to person centred care that perhaps is the most unnoticed and forgotten element of care home living.

I also realised just how important our current residents are to all new people joining Chaseley – staff and residents. They know the home inside out and gave me pointers and tips and really made me feel welcome, they shared their stories with me when we sat together and I feel I know them all a little more than I did before. In fact, I would recommend that all new staff not only spend an hour in a wheelchair as part of their induction, but they also schedule some one to ones with the residents. Having that dedicated time with them to simply chat gives us all the opportunity to better understand them; how life used to be, how it is now and where they really want to be – this is of course already done through assessments before and during their time here, but as part of understanding and planning for their care needs. What I am suggesting is that having that dedicated, uninterrupted one on one time with them gave me much more of an understanding than I had previously, because my time was focused purely on them without the interruptions of care-giving and having this during an induction period means that a new member of the team will instantly have a better understanding and connection with some of our residents before they get out there on the floors. Then I would hope that this would encourage them to have more one to one time with other residents and I also think these would be really appreciated by our residents.

My day in the life of a resident has really made me question my assumption that I had a good understanding of how our residents must feel, because I now know that before this day I really didn’t know. I can empathise with them and I can try to imagine how they feel, but the reality is that I was nowhere close to knowing and if I am honest, I am only a little closer, but truthfully I will never really know because even though I spent the day in the wheelchair without the use of my legs and one arm, I always knew that at the end of the day, I would get out of that wheelchair myself, walk to the car and drive home. Our residents simply don’t have that option.