“Life in long stay hospital was not kind to Farouk*. On my initial visits, I would regularly witness 5 or more hospital staff flattening him into the ground using a variety of strong approaches to restraint. Farouk would fight back, which only made things worse. No-one spoke his language and he would sleep three quarters of the day due to the sedatives he was being given. It was an attritional, trench warfare environment. There was no empathy, no dignity. It was awful, really.”
So says Angela*, the Dimensions manager entrusted with bringing a new team together to support Farouk out of this harsh environment and back into his local community. Angela continues,
“Dimensions does not use physical restraint. I was really apprehensive that Farouk’s brand new staff team, having seen what was taking place during ‘getting to know you’ meetings at the hospital, would quit before we even got him out. Could they believe that there was a better way for Farouk?”
Fortunately, they believed. It is very early days; we’re only 5 weeks in to supporting Farouk but already his transformation, his ability to recover from his past life, has surpassed the most optimistic plans.
Farouk is learning a new way of living. He’s learning that instead of flattening him when he destroys property or has other moments of challenging behaviour, his staff will give him space. He’s learning that he can do things for himself and not rely on others; he’s helping load the washing machine, for example. He’s learning that he can exert control over routines. Overall he’s learning that those around him – his support team and our behaviour analysts – are there not to contain him but to help him take steps towards dignity and empowerment, towards being able to take control over his life.
Farouk’s family are also learning this new approach to support – and they’re teaching us, too. His mum is helping teach his support team to cook authentic national dishes – food he likes and is familiar with, far from hospital fare. And everyone is trying to learn Makaton, to help with communication.
Since leaving hospital, Farouk has also had a welcome change of psychiatrist. Alongside his support team, the new one is happy to explore a range of tactics to reduce his psychotropic medication, in particular those with severe sedative effects. And his new GP has been brought on board too, with appointments after hours or at home to ensure Farouk is comfortable.
Farouk loves taking long walks. In hospital, he was restricted to the grounds. Now, alongside staff, he’s able to take walks around his local area. He’s been able to go to Boots to pick up his medication. Such trips are planned carefully to avoid known triggers, and over time, PBS approaches will look to tackle these triggers in turn.
Angela adds,“Farouk’s stay in hospital was prolonged by difficulty in finding accommodation that met his needs. But once a private landlord was found who would agree to the adaptations needed to support Farouk – including a sensory room and some safe space for his staff teams – it was social story time and all systems go.
At a time when there are so many terrible stories of ‘life’ in ATUs and other long stay hospitals being shared, we hope all long stay hospitals will look at Farouk’s transformation and start believing in the possibilities for those they care for, too.
*names have been changed