BEYOND THE FACADE

£5.00

By Eileen Chubb

ISBN: 978-1-84747-498-8
Published: 2008
Pages: 217
Key Themes: abuse in care homes, whistle-blowing, failures of legal system, true story, courage


ALSO AVAILABLE IN PAPERBACK

Book Description and About the Author

Eileen is one of the unsung heroines of our time. Years ago when I opened the first refuge in Chiswick, London in 1971, I was fighting to bring attention to the plight of victims of domestic violence. Nan was the oldest member of our community. She came to take refuge with us after a severe beating from her son. She died as a result of a frenzied attack from him when he was drunk. I was always aware of the level of abuse amongst the fragile elderly people in this country but the battle to even get the subject of domestic violence acknowledged amongst the powers that be in England meant that the plight of the elderly in this country slipped under the radar.

Whistleblowers anywhere in the world have to recognise that they will always be met with derision and abuse. We all grow up with the nursery story of the little boy who pointed to the Emperor with no clothes I always imagined his mother took him off and washed out his mouth with soap. As a nation the English do not like anyone who ‘makes a fuss,’ and I met Eileen when she was already cleaning lavatories to make a living after she was roundly condemned and blackballed by a major Nursing Home provider for daring to criticise their methods of caring for the fragile, elderly patients.

Eileen is an immensely courageous woman and this book is the story of her fight to gain recognition for the rights of the elderly community to be treated with respect and compassion. She tells the story of her brave and ferocious battle in such a way that the reader will be swept along and able to share her triumphs and the lows of what has become her life’s mission. Her sense of humour never deserts her nor her archaic take on the pomposity of most of her enemies.

It is chilling in these pages to read about the lengths people in power are willing to go to stop Eileen and her supporters trying to protect their charges. That a woman of her integrity and compassion should be black balled from the caring profession and forced to clean for a living is a terrible indictment of our society.

I firmly believe that this book will reach a wide audience. All of us at one time or another will face the future care of our loved ones. Inevitably all of us will also look for caring as we reach an incapacitated old age. It is the Eileen’s of this world who seek to make the changes needed.

Book Extract

I used to be very shy, people that know me as I am now do not believe me when I tell them this. I would never have complained about anything and had never fought for anything; it was other people who went on demonstrations and protested over injustices. In the past if someone had told me I would be demonstrating over the law’s injustice, dressed as a judge in broad daylight in the middle of London, I would have thought they had taken leave of their senses.

I believe that we all have a limit, a line we will not cross and if we are pushed over that line, and then our true capacity to fight is unleashed. Most of us will never be pushed that far. For those of us pushed far enough to fight back, it’s simply because there are some things you have to fight for.

It’s often the big things that creep up on us, the life changing events are rarely sought out. I did not wake up one morning and think “I will pick a fight with the Government or challenge the whole legal system.” It all seemed perfectly ordinary when I look back.

I worked in retail management all my working life and had reached a stage where sales targets were not the motivation they had once been; I was in a rut and wanted to do something different though I had no idea what exactly.

It was the summer of 1996 and, for the first time since leaving school, I did not have a job and I spent the whole summer sitting in the garden reading all those books I had always wanted to read but had never found the time to. It was early autumn before I started thinking about a job and I still had no idea what I wanted to do. I thought I would flick through the yellow pages for some inspiration and I opened the book at random on a page listing care homes for the elderly.

I wondered if I should give it a go, after all my Mother had been a home carer with the local council for many years and she had absolutely loved the job, her "ladies” as she called her elderly clients, were like an extended family. I knew my mum got a lot of satisfaction from her job and maybe that was what I was looking for, job satisfaction. I decided I had nothing to lose by giving it a go, I rang the first care home and they offered me an immediate interview. I started work at Isard House a few days later.

I still remember that first shift like it was yesterday, I entered the building and was met by Val, a team leader who said she would show me around before taking me to the unit I would be working on that morning.

The first thing I remember was the smell, a mixture of urine and Dettol in equal parts. It was early morning so there were only a few residents up and about. Val explained as we walked that the home had sixty five residents in all and there were three separate units.

Unit one was the largest and had places for thirty physically frail residents, it was at the front of the building opposite the home’s office. Val said the other two unit’s were for E.M.I residents. I asked what this meant and she said that before residents came into the home they were assessed and placed on a unit that suited their needs; either physically frail or elderly mentally infirm (E.M.I) which meant they had a form of dementia.

Unit two had seventeen residents with varying levels of dementia and was situated in the middle of the home.

Unit three had eighteen residents with severe dementia and was situated right at the back.

Val explained that each of the unit’s had its own team leader and permanent staff team. There was also a separate kitchen, dining room and lounge on each of the unit’s. She said Isard House was a residential home so there were no nurses on the premises, the district nurse came when needed and the G.P held a surgery once a week.

I remember thinking how big the home was as it had looked deceptively small from outside, I hurried along beside Val trying desperately to take everything in, when we arrived on unit three I was told I would be working there that morning as they were short of staff, but that I would be placed on a unit permanently in a day or two.

Val left me with a carer called Lizzie, who was in her late fifties and seemed to be very efficient despite looking a bit too red in the face.
Lizzie was very nice and put me at ease straight away, she said there should be three staff on duty but there was only me and her to get all the residents up, she said it was a shame I was being thrown in at the deep end and that she hoped it would not put me off.

Lizzie led me down a corridor on the left and said "This is Ivy’s room.” She explained quickly that Ivy was blind and wheelchair bound, “so you will have to wash and dress her.” “I will be down the hall there if you need me”, Lizzie said as she hurried off. I felt panic and realised I would just have to get on with it as best I could considering I did not have a clue what I was doing, so I knocked on the door and went in.

Ivy was sitting up in bed, she was small and rosy cheeked with a mop of thick white hair which stuck out in all directions, “Hello Ivy”, I said, “I am Eileen and I am going to help you get washed and dressed.”
Ivy nodded briefly but did not speak, another wave of panic hit me when I thought about getting her out of the bed, I looked around the small room and saw a commode chair in one corner, which I brought over to the bed, I told Ivy I was going to slide her feet onto the floor and help her sit up and she gave the briefest of nods in response.
When Ivy was sitting on the edge of the bed I told her I would stand her up and turn slightly and sit her down on the commode, she nodded a response. I bent down and she put her arms around me and I prayed, please God don’t let me drop her, and lifted her onto the commode.

I was so relieved to have got that bit over with that the rest seemed quite easy; I saw a towel and flannel on the side and ran some hot water into the sink, I told Ivy what I was doing as I went about washing her, I knew she couldn’t see me so I thought she would feel safer if I told her what I was doing.
I went over to the wardrobe and found a selection of dresses and described them to Ivy who nodded her approval at a green one, so I got her dressed and tried to tame her wild hair but after a good deal of brushing it looked exactly the same.

I had seen some wheelchairs in a corridor nearby and told Ivy I was going to get one, I returned and helped Ivy into the wheelchair and opened the door to take her to the nearby dining room and I was just closing the door behind us when a loud high pitched voice startled me, “I like you I do, you’re alright you are.” I like you too I replied and I smiled and thought, “Wow what a great job this is”, I knew without a doubt that I had found what I was looking for right at that moment.

Later on that day Sandra, the team leader, came in. I liked her straight away; she was wonderful with the residents who all loved her; it was a very happy unit; you could feel it in the atmosphere. I asked Sandra if I could stay on unit three permanently and she was very pleased as not many of the staff liked working on the dementia unit’s. I could not understand why. Sandra arranged this and I was placed on unit three from then on.

Over the next few weeks I got to know all the residents better including Ivy who turned out to be a real chatterbox and was just suspicious of strangers. I loved going to work and the more I got to know the residents the more I cared about them, they were just so incredible.

Isard House was owned by Bromley Council but was contracted out to a company called Care First, but it was sold to BUPA not long after I started.

Lil was one of my favourite residents. She was small and wiry with bright blue eyes that held a hint of mischief.
Lil spoke with a broad Scottish accent and had lived a hard life in the tenements of Glasgow.
Her mother had died when she was barely a teenager and it had fallen on her to care for her younger sisters and brothers. I think Lil had had to grow up too quickly, too young and that’s why she was always up to mischief in her old age.

Just seeing Lil coming towards me was enough to make me smile. I loved her for many reasons but most of all I loved her for her innocence. Lil called everyone "honey”and it rubbed off because I found myself doing the same without even realising it.

As soon as she saw you Lil would say "Have you got a cigarette Honey, I’m gasping for a smoke.” She was always on the look out for a cigarette.

She was just such a character and she had lived in the home for quite some years so everyone knew her. One of the other carers said Lil was always escaping and one night she had got several other residents up, put coats over their nightgowns and taken them out with her. They were missing for hours when the Police found them miles away in Lewisham; how they had got that far and had fish and chips and a fair amount of alcohol when they did not have a penny between them remained a mystery.

Lil had had to give up the escapades when she broke her hip and the Lil I knew walked with a Zimmer frame. When I say she walked with it, I mean when she got up to walk somewhere she would have to be told to bring her Zimmer. “Honey if I must “she would say and proceed to put it on her back like a rucksack, sighing that she was being made to carry such a burden when, as she put it, “I am no too steady on me feet and expected to carry this contraption Aroo tar boot.”

Lil was always up to something and late one night I found her sitting on a coffee table cross legged like a wise little Buddha, watching the men’s tennis highlights on T.V in the lounge in complete darkness. “What are you doing Lil?” I asked her, referring to her seating arrangement. She continued intently to watch the T.V for another moment as if to emphasise how unwelcome my interruption was before she turned her eyes towards me slowly and said in a tone you would usually reserve for a naughty three year old, “Honey I am watching the sport, there’s a man with a rare backend on him there.” I said I would come back later. “You do that now honey” she said her eyes already back on the T.V.

You always knew when Lil had been up to no good, a certain glint could be discerned in her bright blue eyes and the hint of a smile would appear at which point she would bite her lower lip to conceal it, but she never quite managed to do so.
I once laid all the tables in the dining room with cutlery and went to the kitchen to get china and on returning discovered every knife, fork and spoon had gone. I saw Lil half way up the corridor with her Zimmer on her back, a lampshade on her head and a borrowed handbag from which came a mysterious clanking noise swinging from her arm. "Lil”, I cried, “I can hear you clanking from here.” “Not me honey”, she replied as she bit down on her lower lip.

Lil was in her mid nineties so every time she caught a cold or was unwell in anyway the G.P would be called out. I had not been there long so I did not know Lil had been consigned to her death bed quite a few times in the past.

I was working one late shift when the G.P was called out for Lil and, after examining her, had concluded it was unlikely she would last the night. I spent the rest of the shift trying desperately not to cry and succumbed to twenty minutes of sobbing in the toilet on my tea break. I returned to the unit and steeled myself to say goodbye to Lil and entered her room to find her bed empty and her no where to be seen. I went running to find Sandra and we searched the home. I found Lil in the hairdresser’s room at the other end of the building and ran to get her a wheelchair. After much cajoling Lil agreed to come back to bed, get in the wheelchair Lil and I will push you back I said. Lil looked at the wheelchair and then she looked at my red eyes and said in a very determined voice, “Honey I am noo getting in tha theng, you look in a worse a state than me, you get in and I’ll push ye home now.” Needless to say Lil survived that night and many more besides.

... LATER EXTRACT ...

I was due to have two weeks holiday in late August 1997 and as the time of this holiday approached I grew more and more worried. I think even Little Maria noticed this as she thought I just needed some reassurance which she gave me. “I will make sure the staff look after the residents dear” she said, thinking mistakenly that I was worried about any agency staff used for cover.

Not long before I was due off, I thought Iris didn’t seem her usual self as she was very quiet. I remembered that her daughter in law had told me that Iris had always been prone to chest infections in the past and that she always seemed a bit quiet before the onset of an infection.

I went to find little Maria and asked her to come and look at Iris which she did and she said she was fine.” You can not waste a doctor’s time with old people who are going to die soon anyway dear “she said to me. I pleaded with her to call the doctor and she agreed to in the end, only because she feared I would not take my holiday.

Iris died a week later from a bad chest infection. She was seen by the G.P but it was too late and the infection had got too much of a grip. Maria had not wasted the doctor’s time and had only called him out five days after I had asked, when it was just too late.

When I returned to work in early September Lil and Rose had also died and Grace and Dot were filthy and neglected. The horrors of unwashed red raw skin were to become all too familiar. I was at breaking point and then all the staff were told a new home Manager had been found and they would be starting work shortly. When I heard this I felt a glimmer of hope for the first time. It felt like the nightmare had gone on for ever by this point.

I could not stop thinking about Rose, Lil and Iris and when I had asked about their deaths I was told that they had all died of Bronchial Pneumonia and no one questioned their deaths. They were just accepted as due to natural causes and perhaps that was what happened. Little Maria said “These are old people dear and old people just die” but I could not shake the feeling that something was wrong, very wrong.

I kept thinking I had missed something, that some vital piece of information was staring me in the face and I thought if I went over everything I would see it. I was doing just that one early shift a few weeks later. I was alone and going from room to room making the beds when it suddenly dawned on me, the motive. It was how Maria’s face had looked when I had seen Little Maria go for Grace. I had seen enough tired staff snap at residents in a moment of temper in the past but what I had seen in Maria’s face was totally different, it was if she needed to inflict pain and she had been motivated by seeing Grace’s fear. Maria had not lost control, she was never in more control and that was part of it. It had not been rage I had seen on her face. It was a lust for excitement.


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This product was added to our catalog on Wednesday 27 February, 2008.