I no longer carry a case load at work. When this burden was lifted from me, some years ago now, I felt liberated. Within reason, I was then able to pursue whatever interested me. No longer did I have to worry about the trivial minutiae of day to day life. I was free to drag our mental health practices, with rope (as I was now safely ensconced within an ivory tower), slap bang into the 21st Century.
Happy days indeed. However, I knew myself well enough to know that I'd miss being at the sharp end. I also knew that I needed some clinical credibility, if I was to lead staff through the excruciating experience of change. I made a commitment then, to dedicate a portion of my time to hands on practice.
Now, I'm not arrogant enough to think this token gesture is enough. I am after all, like the Grandparent; there to do all the nice stuff, but as soon as it kicks off and gets messy, the baby gets given back. I can at least, put names to faces, and stories to people. This has its benefits.
Today I find myself in the office of a Dementia Care unit. It cares for the most difficult and 'challenging' of people. A place where people go to when no other service can meet their needs. The unit has a good reputation.
I'm there studying the medical & nursing notes of a gentleman who's been raising havoc. He's violent, sexually disinhibited, doubly incontinent and prone to headbutting staff when they try to help him. My aim is to help the team understand what needs this bloke is expressing when he behaves like he does. Perhaps then we can devise some creative ways of meeting them. It's an engrossing task. The notes are prolific and rich. They give me lots to go on.
My attention is broken suddenly, when I hear a small child call for its mother. The parent radar activates immediately. It takes a moment to remember that this is a place for old people, not children.
I hear it again. I swear, it was the most plaintive noise I've ever heard.
"Mummy", the little girl whimpered. She started to cry.
It takes all my effort to look down again at the notes. There are staff about. They've just walked past the door. In fact, I can hear them chatting in the dining room. They'll come to help soon, I'm sure.
"Please Mummy, where are you?"
There was nothing I could do to stop it. I saw Megan, my daughter first, lost without her mother. Then I saw Madeline McCann, in a place she didn't know and in the company of strangers.
So I left the office, and found the little girl who'd lost her mother. She was sitting in a chair by the window just looking at the ground. Her shoulders jerked the teardrops off her cheeks.
There was nothing I could think of to say. What was there to say, anyway? So I sat next to her and just held her, like a father would, and rocked her gently. She buried her head into my chest.
After a few minutes her sobbing subsided. She began to sit up, so I let go of her. I dabbed her face with a tissue. She took it from me and continued.
Now I know this lady a little. I know that she rarely speaks these days. She looked at me briefly and said "Thank you." In that moment we were truly together and in this time and place.
The moment was broken by a staff member bringing in the tea trolley.
"Molly! Are you alright pet?", the carer says, as soon as she sees the state of the woman. She fusses and comforts her wonderfully.
So like the grandparent, I take a step back and retreat again to the office.
My point is this. If you are a person who says "I could never do that kind of work, it would break my heart" then you are the very person I want working for me. I'm afraid it's the price you pay.
The trick is to know this, and use it when required, but not to let it destroy you. There are ways and means.
Blogging for one.