Written by Cathy Grant May 2018
As a general rule I really disliked staff meetings. I found them to be more about my staff needs and the gripes with me (worst with each other) than about getting my needs addressed. However, there was this one time that my then manager had other ideas.
The basic premise was simple, instead of a normal staff meeting; he called for a session staff training and pot luck. The manager believed that good home cooked food always started a meeting off well and he was right. Although my roommate did most of my cooking back then it turns out several of my staff were more than passable cooks themselves.
After an initial swipe at the small feast the real meeting took place. Not only did I have my four regular staff but a couple of regular relief staff also showed up; as a result, it was a pretty full house. My manager told everyone that this staff trading was going to be centred on helping staff ‘walk a mile in Cathy’s shoes’. The first step was going to be everyone was to take a turn going up into my sling and be hoisted from off my bed onto commode chair and back.
I admit to a certain sense of satisfaction on hearing my various staff complain about how uncomfortable or genuinely painful the experience was. The manager tried to make the transfer as painless as possible; putting the sling in the idea position before anyone got lifted. He even allowed a staff to position the sling several times so she could get it in the best position for her: it didn’t help. Which was sort of the manager point. He knew (he’d done this training while part of another disabled person’s staff), that it is literally impossible to not transfer anyone without cause some discomfort or out right pain. We’d tried to drive that point home to several of my staff who largely got the idea ‘in theory’. However, one round trip in the hoist and it was no longer a theory about the pain but plane undisputed fact. It also really helped that the meeting took place in June so a couple of the ladies were in shorts and therefore had the joy of being transferred with the sling against bare skin.
After a quick round of hugs, and phrase like (I had no idea, and I’m so sorry for not believing you), the manager had one of my smaller staff (a lovely young woman, who went onto manage her own team) strap herself into my manual chair. All of the staff were then trooped out to my van where the woman in my manual chair was loaded and strapped down like I normally would be. Once again, the manager took his time and made sure that she was strapped down as solidly as possible, and then he took off for a short drive around my complex and all of it speed bumps.
While I was not in the van at the time the reports I got back sure gave me a good idea of what happened. The manager had tried to take the bumps as slow as possible but they still caused the staff in the chair to be bumped far harder than she had expected (she certainly came back into the house with a wide-eyed look expression on her face) Once again several of the staff had to experience it for themselves or wanted to be at the wheel of the van so that they could drive over the speed bump the way they normally did. Apparently, nothing they did helped matters. Even the manager was surprised by how much the person in the chair felt the bumps.
Once everyone came back in another round of eating ensued, including a very nice desert, along with a long discussion regarding how people felt about the training, the overall feedback I felt was positive from my point of view. People talked about not only the pain regarding the transfers but how open and vulnerable they felt during the experience. How out of control they felt in the van. And the manager kept going to back to ‘now do you understand why Cathy keep repeating statements?’ Lot of hugs ended the night along with enough leftovers for the next day’s meals.
Even though this staff meeting happened over 15 years ago, it is still a vivid experience for me. I think the reason for that, was that on that night my staff finally got an emotional understanding of what parts of my life were like along with the rational understanding from their training and actually doing their job. It also played an important part in creating further trust between my staff and myself. I would encourage everyone who has support workers in their lives to talk to them about trying things from your side of the support business. Both you and your staff maybe surprised by the result.