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Social work diary: ‘He survived a nightmarish childhood we cannot imagine’

Pic: Squire of Cydonia (Flickr)

A challenging week prompts a social worker who works with refugees to reflect on life, loss and what makes the perfect team meeting


I get non-stop phone calls from various people involved with an isolated, elderly tenant. Not wanting to spend his money nor to accept any grants, he has minimum care twice a day, refusing to have “those women fussing round him”.

Refusing also to dress until he is ready, he sits half naked in his flat with a carelessly placed newspaper showing a glimpse of vital organs. He is lethargic and won’t pick up the phone when friends call. When his religious leader visits he shouts “I’m ill!” because he doesn’t want any end of life chatter.

“When I’m gone I‘m gone,” he tells me. And what does everyone mean by isolated? A steady stream of people call in, call out, try and bring companionship, solace, activities. He refuses them all.

I suggest they let him be. He survived a nightmarish childhood we cannot imagine. He walked across a continent to get to safety, picked up the language of whatever country he found himself in. He came to the UK in the clothes he stood up in and made a good life for himself. He can make his own decisions


It’s our team meeting. There are conflicting ideas about how these things should be done.

I am tough on meetings. I don’t think any should last more than half an hour, no minutes should be read and only genuine matters arising recorded.

Today’s minute taker is more relaxed. She asks for a good size table on which to lean, and a comfortable chair but a colleague says it will be a shorter and snappier meeting if we all stand.

Others want a social occasion. There are tender enquiries after small children,  “yours had a new tooth come through? Marvellous!” etc. Food is needed. Cakes, iced pastries and debates about the cost of fresh vs. instant coffee.

Speakers are booked for some meetings – occasionally bringing fresh, but more often stale, information. That is if they turn up at all.

With a weak chairperson the bores can hold the floor. So today I learned that if you spill something in the car, the pedals become slippery. I could have guessed that. And to think there’s discussion over whether these meetings can count as CPD points and if so, how many!


Working with older people, I am constantly reminded of my mortality. But yesterday our much loved ancient cat had to be put down. The vet came to the house, gave a slight sedative. The cat stretched out, purring, on a friendly lap. She accepted the main injection and slowly her breathing became shallow and then stopped.

She had a calm, peaceful end surrounded by the people who loved her. I’m left wondering if I will ever have the same right to one?

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About Andy McNicoll

Andy is community editor at Community Care, with a focus on reporting on mental health. He has previously worked for titles focusing on the NHS and substance misuse sectors. You can contact him at