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Maggie’s Story

By Maggie Weston-Hearne, Executive Assistant at Brainkind

We have changed the names of the people in this account to protect their identities.

It’s just before 6 a.m., and I’m reaching for the alarm before it starts. I’m up, out, and on the road by 7:30 a.m., giving me ample time to get my destination before my shift beginning at 9 a.m. According to my Sat Nav, the journey should take me 56 minutes, but it quickly becomes apparent that this will be different today. The roads are chaos. A large lorry has crashed through the central reservation, crossing the carriageway, and ploughing into the embankment. The road has been closed.

Is the driver, ok?

I call ahead and apologetically explain that I am going to be late.

I arrive just after 9.30 am.

I am greeted with a warm smile from the reception team and directed to the Centre Manager’s office. She reassures me that being late is not a problem and begins to show me around. I am immediately aware of a very flustered lady, milling about and quite agitated. This is not surprising, as the Centre is undergoing a total refurbishment, and the Residents are being moved to newly decorated rooms. She carries a green pillowcase stuffed with precious items that she wants to safeguard.

I meet with the Vocational Recreational and Activities Coordinator, whom I will shadow during my visit. Almost immediately, I find myself helping to arrange chairs in a circle in readiness for our first activity of the day – a gentle fitness routine. I introduce myself to the Residents as they gather and feel my hand gently grasped by a lady in a wheelchair, who smiles at me and asks if I will sit next to her. We begin the session. I am struck by the varying degrees of disability within the group and how the party as a whole work together and support one another. There is plenty of laughter, and everyone participates regardless of ability or agility.

I met a gentleman who is very chatty and curious to know who I am. He speaks clearly and coherently. He asks me if I have just arrived.

His name is Matthew, and he acquired his brain injury following brain surgery. He is one of the few residents here who will progress to the rehabilitation of living independently. Most people here will remain in residential care, as their brain injuries are too challenging for them to manage unsupported. Situated on the far side of the circle is David. He is pretty profoundly physically disabled and sits in a wheelchair.   Everyone here has a story; he is as heartbreaking as the next. He attempted suicide and subsequently sustained a brain injury.

He is keen to engage, but it is incredibly difficult to understand what he is trying to say.

Following our chair workout, we begin a game encompassing hand and eye coordination.

The aim is to throw hand-sized bean bags into baskets in the middle of the circle. This becomes more challenging with each round as the bags multiply, the baskets are moved, and hula hoops are added to be thrown through before the bags hit their target. A little further around the circle is another gentleman, who I imagine is in his mid to late 30’s. Like David, he has a specialised wheelchair, and again, like David, he is quite physically limited. He has never known anything different – he was only three years old when the car accident that killed his mother resulted in his injury. He is an avid Arsenal supporter, which is not hard to conclude, as the walls of his room are decorated with his favourite team’s emblem.

He enjoys this activity and quickly makes it to the final round, getting all 3 of his bean bags into the basket.

After the bean bag games, the Residents disperse. It is time for tea, television, and some downtime, so most retire to their rooms. A visitor arrives, and the remaining Residents greet him like an old friend.

He is Emma’s husband, and he appears with a large bouquet for her. In her life before her injury, she was a secretary. Out of the blue, she became unwell that resulted in losing mobility and sensation down one side of her body. They disappear to her newly refurbished room – which has been decorated to appear as though the entire room comprises windows, looking out on rolling hills and meadows containing grazing horses – even the ceiling above her bed depicts blue skies and white fluffy clouds. It is pretty beautiful.

A few residents remain in the lounge area, and we begin a sewing session, stitching new bags to fill with rice to add to the bean bag collection. Surprisingly, only the men are interested in engaging in this activity, and we chat about everyday things, exchanging jokes and laughter. The lady with the green pillowcase from earlier appears. She is resolute and focused in her actions. With purpose, she walks through the lounge, out into the garden and around the outside of the building. She does this for hours and must walk miles. Her face is fixed and stern. Lucy is 85 years old and was knocked down by a van travelling at 20 miles per hour. It has changed her personality. In her youth, she was a beauty therapist and retains a sense of glamour and style.

She wears a vivid pink hat and has the most beautiful teeth and smiles when she chooses to share it with us. In the corner of the room is a wall-mounted television, which constantly plays music accompanied by Karaoke-styled lyrics. Suddenly, David begins to make a noise. He is animated and passionate. Every so often, I pick up on a lyric or a couple of notes that hold the tune, confirming his singing.

He loves the Beatles and Rod Stewart, and a few other Residents join him in this recital.  One staff member tells me that David has no family and no visitors, stating sadly that he has no one. This is where the truth hits hard and makes my eyes mist with emotion. Another member of staff gently replies, “No. He is not alone. He has us.”

This is Brainkind.

This is what we do and why we do it.

It matters not whether you work in administration, management, or on the frontline in a care capacity. We all strive towards a common goal: to ensure that there is still a good life to be lived after brain injury.

Following lunch, another activity is making fabric pumpkins to add to the fantastic display already created by the staff. Spiders and witches’ hats hang suspended amongst festoons of faux webbing from the lounge ceiling.

Last summer, the Centre won the town’s In Bloom competition award after Staff and Residents created a beautifully landscaped garden with painted birdhouses and feeders. They even created a vegetable plot and a small pond with goldfish. I am struck by the dedication of the people working here to make each day an adventure filled with new experiences and challenges for those who live at the Centre.

My shift is almost over, and I thank my hosts for the most incredible day. I am humbled and moved by what I have seen and heard. Back inside the lounge, Lucy has completed her daily walk, her pillowcase has gone, and she seems much more relaxed and ready to engage with others. She sings and dances in the lounge with a staff member to Abba’s “Chiquitita”. Another staff member substitutes the lyrics with “Chicken Tikka”, and we all laugh – even Lucy – and she looks at me, still wearing her pink hat, and flashes that beautiful smile.

As I leave, I am asked if I will return to join everyone for their Halloween party at the end of October.

Everyone will dress in fancy dress, and if I don’t arrive in an outfit, they will find me one. The answer is easy.

I can’t wait.

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