Help always came late

On 4 June, 2001, the staff at Gloucestershire Royal Hospital
accident unit surrendered and pronounced my son Robbie dead. He was
22. He had choked on the bags of dog excrement he had stuffed in
his mouth.

Revolting? Yes. To be condemned? No. Not if you knew the story
behind this young man. Robbie was born after a bungled forceps
delivery that rendered him unable to suck, swallow his own
secretions or move normally. We were told it was unlikely Robbie
would ever walk or talk. Three weeks later I discharged him without
medical consent, having learned to tube-feed and aspirate him
myself. Slowly he began to show signs of wanting to live but we had
lost support through our radical stand.

Robbie learned to walk at two and was diagnosed as having
borderline cerebral palsy. He went to a nursery in a special school
in Gloucester. At three he wasn’t talking, which was thought to be
consistent with his brain damage. It wasn’t: he had catarrhal
deafness and after an operation he started to talk. After being
traumatised at birth he was being held back by misdiagnosis.

My son’s only release came through swimming, which gave him the
freedom he did not have on land. He was soon to be denied that by
repeated ear infections, which were later stopped by a homeopath.
Repeatedly, help came too late.

At seven Robbie transferred to mainstream schooling where a teacher
told his class a boy was coming who was “a little bit
brain-damaged”. During lunch Robbie was circled by children in the
playground chanting, “Robbie Clinton’s brain-damaged”.

Robbie was too able for special education and uncatered for in
mainstream schooling. He could read and was renowned for his
searching questions but had no feeling of self-worth and suffered
badly from bullying and miscomprehension.

Robbie left school at 16, dropped out of an NVQ course and took a
job carrying an advertising board in Cheltenham. He earned money,
enjoyed talking to people and learned a great deal. But he had lost
his friends from school and was struggling. He joined a training
scheme and was put in several unsuitable placements that diminished
him further. A period at the acquired brain injury unit at
Gloucester hospital brought him the positive experience of meeting
and loving a 50-year-old woman with a severe disability. At last
Robbie felt able to help someone worse off than him and he thrived.
One day he found her dead. He never got over the loss.

Robbie then did a three-month community programme with the Prince’s
Trust. It was a breakthrough. Here Robbie was the “ideas man”. As a
result he got a job with the Royal Mail. He enjoyed the work but it
enabled him to pay for the alcohol he used to release him from his
inner pain. His use of alcohol escalated until he was living on the
streets and behaving suicidally. None of the support services were
able to help him. It all came too late. Now I’m left wondering
whether these services failed Robbie.

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