None of us relish returning home from an enjoyable holiday, writes Mark Drinkwater, recalling how one disabled client decided not to
At last, summer’s here. The other day I was thinking about potential holiday destinations, which reminded me of the time I took a disabled man on holiday.
It was my first social care job and I was working in a residential home. The service prided itself on freedom of choice, risk-taking and ambitious holidays. A colleague, Colin*, and I were assigned the task of taking Tony* to Tenerife.
Tony had visible physical and learning disabilities. He could walk, if supported by a staff member or with an outstretched hand on a wall. Tony was volatile and was widely regarded as the most troublesome resident. He craved attention, but couldn’t speak. Innocuous incidents frequently descended into physical fights.
Despite all this, Tony was hugely likeable and Colin and I worked well with him. And we were being offered a paid holiday. We just thought: what’s not to like?
The holiday flew by. We spent our days on outings, at the beach or by the pool.
At night we ended up in the local bars. We were doing the typical things that most young people do on holiday.
Tony quickly made himself known to the easy-going holidaymakers. They were polite and respectful to him. He felt valued and was charming in return. We even began to think maybe this would result in a permanent change in him for the better.
The highlight of our stay came on the last night when Tony, aided by Colin, went onstage at the resort’s bar and hummed into a microphone along to a karaoke song with an appreciative, sangria-soaked audience clapping in time. Tony was in holiday heaven. Remarkably we had enjoyed seven great days that passed without incident. Job done.
Or so we thought. We had only got as far as the airport’s departure lounge when Tony started creating a scene by lashing out at Colin and me. He might have had learning disabilities, but he wasn’t daft; he realised his holiday was coming to an end and was going to do his darndest to try to make it last a bit longer. It wasn’t uncommon to see Tony hitting staff, which was alarming for the uninitiated.
We tried to pacify him and reassure onlookers. “It’s OK, he’s often like this,” we proffered, unconvincingly.
The airport security guards swiftly encircled us. They looked unimpressed. Tony looked unsteady. “Look, he’s so drunk he can barely stand up,” said the one English-speaking guard. We’d been mistaken for brawling lager louts.
I explained Tony had learning disabilities and mobility problems, but the risk-averse guards couldn’t quite believe we’d taken someone with such profound needs abroad on a regular holiday. Pretty soon we realised that we were going nowhere: we were refused permission to fly.
The travel company put us up in a grotty hotel room while we sorted out some alternative flights. What we didn’t realise was that at the height of summer season, flights were fully booked. It was two whole days before we found a plane with three available seats.
The return journey went, mercifully, without incident. The whole experience was an early lesson that no matter how meticulous the planning, or how well-meaning the intentions, sometimes plans go badly awry.
So, I’ve got plenty of sympathy for those holidaymakers who have been stuck abroad this year what with volcanic ash clouds and cabin crew strikes. I’ve considered going on a foreign holiday this summer, but perhaps this year Mrs D and I will settle for a fortnight on the Pembrokeshire coast.
*Not their real names
This article is published in the 24 June 2010 edition of Community Care magazine under the headline ‘Tony had a Great Time. But Then it was Time to Fly Home’