Suzy Croft, social worker, St John’s Hospice, London
● When you work in palliative care you see all sorts of people in desperate situations, but working with Juan is like a breath of fresh air. He is a friendly, likeable, outgoing character and is always concerned about the problems other people have. Yet, he has terrible struggles of his own. I began working with Juan in 2003. He always appears to be coping so well, but it’s at a huge emotional cost. Health issues mean he cannot do the tour guide job he loves and he cannot live his life in the way he wants. My breakthrough moment came when I began to understand exactly what life was like for him. Just taking the time out to talk and listen enabled me to dig below the surface; think more deeply about what he was saying and carefully consider what I could offer him to make a real difference. Social workers have an enormous amount to do, but at the end of the day if you don’t make time for people and stop and listen to what they are saying it’s useless because you won’t be addressing what they need. Spending time with people is worth its weight in gold, face-to-face contact is what social work is all about. We have a trusting relationship and Juan feels he can talk to me about anything. But it works both ways. He has such a lovely personality and doesn’t realise how much he gives back. It’s a professional relationship but with elements of friendship.
Juan Romero, disabled service user, originally from Gran Canaria but now living in London
● I came to England on holiday in 1997 for a few weeks but had an accident and broke my leg. While in hospital I got an infection. Since then I’ve had five operations and am now registered disabled. During that time I’ve had lots of different social workers who seemed not to care. I was just another person. But then I began attending the St John’s Hospice Day Centre twice a week and the staff were like a family to me. I stopped going in 2002 because I felt better and wanted to get a job. But I fell in the street and my leg problems began again. I became depressed, realising I would be disabled for the rest of my life and unable to walk without a stick. My benefits had also been stopped because I had not filled out the forms correctly. I felt isolated, alone and lost and didn’t know what to do. I contacted the centre and discovered my previous social worker had left, but Suzy, who I knew from my previous visits, was like my God. I hadn’t seen her for more than a year but the minute I got there I realised how important it was to have someone who knows you. Suzy had a huge smile on her face and instantly put me at ease. She listened to me and helped me with my paperwork and practical healthcare arrangements. The extra bit of time she gives, makes me feel like an individual and friend, not just another person. Suzy knows what is good for me, because she is aware of how I feel and how I face things. And that’s because she listens.
● Shaping Our Lives, the national user network, helped organise this article. For more information visit www.shapingourlives.org.uk
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