The Simon Heng column

As I’m tetraplegic, I need help with every physical task, including getting out of bed. A few days ago, the carer who usually gets me ready in the morning needed to go on a training course, and a local agency provided a replacement.

I’m not the quickest self-starter in the morning, and certainly not very chatty when directing my care with a new assistant. Soon after starting, she commented: “Not very talkative, are we?”

She hadn’t appreciated that, although she had been awake and active for hours, I was just emerging from a deep sleep. The “we” grated a little, but I didn’t feel like picking a fight, firstly because I was lying in bed – and feeling rather vulnerable, as most people would when naked in a room with a fully clothed stranger – and secondly because I hadn’t got all my wits about me.

The breaking point came later, when she was giving me some toast. I could just about bear it when she opened and closed her mouth with every mouthful that I took, but it was too much when she decided to provide a running commentary: “Ooh, that was a BIG bite!”

“I’m quite happy to have a conversation with you about politics, the news, music, films or even the weather, but I’m not interested in how large you think my bites are.” I thought she’d got the message, as she stayed quiet for a while, but I couldn’t have been more wrong.

As we were finishing, she said “I suppose you’re going to be watching television for the rest of the day? Maybe you might go down to the shops?”

“Actually, I’m going to the university to run a seminar for some second-year social welfare students on vulnerable adults and empowerment”… I wasn’t joking.

The problem is that we can assume that she treats all her clients with the same cheerful rudeness, and has never been challenged about her approach. Although the physical care was acceptable, I realised, through her casually repressive attitude, that even the most obvious battles haven’t been won yet.

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