From art to occupational therapy. Part 2.

Location : Norwich; Hellesdon; London; Diss; Braintree

Continued from Part 1.

O.T. assistant in Norwich

And being a mum. And then went back to work again as an Occupational Therapy assistant, at Hellesdon Hospital this time, and I was working on a ward, well it was the Yare Clinic which was … I don't know if it was one ward or two wards… it was an admission ward, place. When I first went it was older people and young, well from the age of 17 upwards, up to 90. After a while it split into adult mental health and older person's mental health, but in those days it was all the same.

And it was acute?

And it was an acute admission ward, yes.

Where people were assessed?

Where people were assessed, yes, and then, in those days, people were admitted for all sorts of things. I mean, we had everything from people with anorexia, to drug addiction, alcohol problems, depression, psychosis.

And Hellesdon had different wards, like long term wards, wards for people under section .. ?

Yes, Hellesdon had about three different admission places then. I still worked there when they got rid of the real long-stay ward. I can't remember what it was called, Ward 3, where people had been probably since they were teenagers. So there were people in there, long term people, and then medium long term people. Some of the people later on, when I worked on that ward, had been in the Yare Clinic when I'd been working on the Yare Clinic. Because I did, three or four years at the Yare Clinic, then I went to the U.E.A. to train to be an O.T.

So, at the Yare Clinic, which was the Admission Ward, how long would they be there?

Probably up to about three months, by which time they were either discharged or sent on to Hellesdon. Maximum three months, perhaps a bit less. Two to three months.

And was it in the same grounds as Hellesdon?

No, the Yare Clinic was where the Julian Hospital is now, and in those days of course the Julian wasn't there, it was the old West Norwich Hospital. It was the old T.B. ward side.

So anybody with a mental health issue would go via the Yare Clinic before they went to Hellesdon?

Depending on where you lived. I think the Yare was people living out in the country, like Grebe House is now. If you lived in the city you'd have gone somewhere else. I don't know where they went. I can't remember where they went. They would have gone to somewhere like Hellesdon that did admissions for that area. But we were the country … because I remember quite a few of our people came from Dereham.

So was it a bit of an eye opener working at the Yare Clinic after 12 years of not working?

It was, because I hadn't seen acute … well I had seen one or two acute admissions. People I got to know better at Claybury were younger people who'd been involved in drugs, so they were the only ones I'd got involved with, but the acute psychotic ones were like the long term patients on the wards, and they were so far gone you couldn't really have much of a conversation with them. They were a bit too ill by then.

And what did you have to do as an O.T. assistant?

Helped with all the activities that we did. We started off the morning with Keep Fit, so I used to help along with Keep Fit, and then we had a programme of activities like … one wonderful morning, my favourite morning, was the craft morning when we did everything from enamelling to lino printing to marbling. Did quite a lot of marbling. They even dug out some old, horrible tray bases and did basket making, but we didn't do that so often.

How did patients receive it on the whole, did they feel they were forced to do it or … ?

No, they only came along if they wanted to do it. They were given the choice. Yes, it was all voluntary, so we hopefully got the people who wanted to come and do it. And then we used to do things like concentration groups, which were playing various games to stimulate their concentration, process of thinking. One of my bright ideas was to play Stations. Do you know Stations?

You all sit round in chairs, everyone sitting on a chair in a circle, one person in the middle, so there's only chairs for the people who are sitting down. Everybody takes the name of a station, including the person in the middle. Everyone chooses a name to be a station. Now I used to play it in London, so it was always Underground stations, but in Norfolk it can be Old Buckenham, Attleborough, you know, anywhere you like. You could be Paris! I mean, people'd be daft and be Antarctica, and stupid things, but anyway, you had these stations and then the person in the middle has to say "Old Buckenham and Attleborough", and Old Buckenham and Attleborough had to change chairs, and the person in the middle has to try and get in a chair before one of those sits down. So therefore you've got to remember everybody's thing, because you've got to work out … It's easier to call a station near you and then you can slip into it and make them cross with somebody over the other side. You know what I mean? So you've got to remember and think.

Ah, very good!

So I thought it was quite a good game to play and people on the whole enjoyed it, but unfortunately we were also playing with old people as well as young people … and of course people got quite rough and would push each other out of the way, and one poor woman got pushed out of the way onto the floor. But she didn't get hurt – it was lucky! It could have been dangerous, she could have broken her wrist or her hip.

Did it ever get aggressive, nobody got cross with each other?

No, we used to be laughing too much to get cross.

Were there therapeutic groups as well, did you run?

Yes, they did, but I didn't run those. The qualified people, the nurse therapists, ran closed therapeutic groups.

The O.T.s wouldn't have run those either?

Sometimes the O.T.s did, yes. But I was an O.T. assistant, so I used to help with the more basic stuff. If they were doing a therapeutic group, or women's group, or man's group, I'd be baking scones with a load of patients down the kitchen.

Would you ever assist with physical things, dressing and things if people … ?

If people needed it, but the nurses would have probably helped with that stuff because people wouldn't come to groups. We were more involved in running groups, or I would do some agoraphobic work with a young man who couldn't go outside. We used to sort of walk outside one door and in another, type of thing with him, and then eventually we walked into Norwich. But it was a bit difficult because he couldn't step on the cracks in the pavement or the paving, you know. … No, he wasn't the one, he was leaves, in the autumn he couldn't stand on the leaves.

Gosh, and there was a lot of them!

Phew, that was difficult!

Sounds like that's another job you can put a lot of input in. Quite rewarding.

Very rewarding, and one of the old ladies used to come in there regularly, she'd be backwards and forwards, she ended up in Older Persons and she was a very difficult woman when I was a qualified O.T. She [M.] used to be really aggressive to all the nurses. Used to hate all the nurses. Used to say they all tried to kill her and tried to poison her and tried to inject her. And she had this phobia about ants coming out of plugs and all these things. But she used to love coming cooking, and I've got her recipe for pineapple cake. So whenever I knew that M. was on the ward I'd go and have a chat with her and she'd say "Ooooh I remember you, you used to do Keep Fit" and we used to go through all the things we used to do together and all the cooking and that. And she reminded me, I'd forgotten, we'd gone down to Colney and picked strawberries down there, and all came back and made strawberry jam. We had an Indian lady with us who never spoke to anybody, never did anything useful. She used to walk round the ward and spit everywhere and everyone was worried because she had hepatitis B and it used to freak everybody out. But she came along and picked a load of strawberries and we made strawberry jam.

Fantastic! So you did cooking with people?

Yes, we did cooking one day a week.

You had a proper kitchen?

Yes, a proper, decent kitchen. And then later, when I was an O.T., cooking was always a really good thing to do, and with men in particular, the best thing to do with blokes and boys who, whatever was wrong with them, but it used usually to be alcohol or drugs, was making bread.

Really? They used to love that?

I remember one man pushing a table right across a room, kneading the dough so hard, and I said "we can't get out the door!", laughing. Thinking, I'm not really scared! (laughs) and he said "oh yes, sorry!" and then heaved it back. And one lovely story, a boy was making … we'd made bread, and he wanted to make pizza, so he made pizza and he'd got this wonderful pizza, and his dad was coming to visit him in the afternoon, so we made one for him and one for his dad, and his dad came to visit him, and the dad brought pizza with him because he knew his son liked pizza! (Laughs) So it was really sweet. (Laughs)

So by this time you were getting males and females, mixed gender coming to groups?

By then, in those days, yes. In the 1990s, whenever it was, yeah. ‘90s yes.

Mixed wards as well?

Mixed wards, yes. Even the long stay wards in Hellesdon were mixed. They were all mixed by then, yes. So it was all different.

And that, being an O.T. assistant, inspired you to go on and do training?

Yes, because the O.T. department and O.T. training had just started at the U.E.A.

Training to be an Occupational Therapist

And you didn't need a degree?

It's a degree course. I had to get Maths GCSE, which I had to take separately, and then I had to do an "'ology". I spoke to the Head of the School at U.E.A., the O.T. Head, and she said, "Just get an ‘ology".

So what ‘ology did you get?

Well, there was Biology, but Biology was three days a week, and it wouldn't fit in with my part time work, so I did Psychology at City College. Because I only did three days a week, so it fitted in really well.

And then you did your full time training?

I did my full time training, which was good because I got …

What year did you start your full time training?

1995 to '98, and I got more money from the grant people, the Department of Health, to train … I don't know if they still do it … Because I had three dependent children I got more money than I earnt.

That was a maintenance grant … because you were a single parent with children?

It was a maintenance grant, and my ex-husband occasionally paid me, and then I did my part time job in the holidays. You know, went back and worked as an O.T. assistant in the holidays.

And they didn't mind you not working in term time?

They knew I had left and I was training, but they were quite happy to have me back working in various O.T. bits.

That was fantastic!

That was marvellous! I've never been so well off!

And you enjoyed the training?

I enjoyed the training. The older ones seemed to enjoy it more than the younger ones.

Were there very many mature students in your year?

Trying to think … how many were there in our year? I was the oldest, funnily enough. There were probably about a third were older. Like 30 plus.

And how old were you when you started?

Forty-nine, and 52 when I qualified. So I left it a bit late.

That's really good, though. And you really enjoyed that.

I really loved it.

And you enjoyed your placements?


How many of you were there in a year group?

Thirty … 30 in a year group. Yes.

I don't suppose it's changed that much.

No, I think it's the same. I loved it so much I told another O.T. assistant at Wayland Hospital, who was also on her own, a single woman who was a brilliant O.T. assistant, but I mean when you think about your future and all the rest of it, and I said "Honestly, you really ought to come and train. It's such fun! You'll really love it. You'll see another side of Occupational Therapy, not just in Wayland Hospital" – which was good ‘cos it had neuro, amputees and medicine for the elderly, but I mean you see a lot more if you train and go to all the other O.T. departments. So she did, she got a place and she trained. And I think she has still been the oldest one, because she was about 50 / 51 when she started.

If you choose to do mental health do you still have to train as a general O.T.?

It's all the same. You just train as an O.T. and then, dependant on your experience on placements. You wouldn't get a job in mental health if you hadn't had any experience. You might not get mental health experience in all your training. You would try to but I don't know whether everybody managed to get any mental health placements. But you see you've only got one. I mean, I was lucky … how many did I get? I only got one, I got child psychiatry, I went and did a spell at the Bethel. No! I got two: Child psychiatry and then I did … my elective was Old Age mental health community. So I did have two psychiatric placements.

Did you have to do a dissertation?


What did you do yours on?

I did that on "How does diabetes affect your life?"

‘Cos you have diabetes.

Yes. I just wanted to know how … I mean, people don't think about how it actually affects your whole everything, and so it was just nice to interview people to see …

Living and working with diabetes

Would you say that diabetes has affected your working life?

Mmm? You can't really tell. I don't know whether it has affected … You've just got to be very organised. I mean, obviously I would never skip meals, I would never work long hours. I didn't have to drive long distances without food. You see, I always have stuff in my car – glucose tablets, muesli bars are always in my car. And some people just used to work all day long, go for visits without stopping for a drink or eating. But it probably made me a bit more sensible to think about stopping.

Are you Type 1 or Type 2?

Type 1.

So how old were you when you got it, quite young?

30. When I was expecting N. I wasn't a teenager. And it affects your social life up to a point because, depending on who you're with, some people don't think about stopping for a drink or a biscuit, cup of tea. My whole life, if I'm going out, mid-morning I have to stop. It goes back to the days when I was on twice daily insulin. You have to have a drink and a biscuit mid-morning and that's stuck with me. And now I feel quite faint and peculiar if I don't stop just for coffee. Coffee's enough, but I can't go all morning.

Have employers been sympathetic to that or have they ever given you a hard time?

No they've always been fine. I don't ask, I just say "I'm stopping because I need to" and they don't ever argue with me.

Have you always had to tell the Occupational Therapy people?

Yes. I had one rather dreadful experience. My bloody workmate went and told tales of me and made me be stuck in the office for a few weeks, because I went to visit an old man in Dereham, poor old boy, who wasn't very well, and I thought it was just a quick visit, pop in visit which would take ten minutes. I was in a daze – I don't do it any more, but I was on insulin that you had to take half an hour before your meal. So I had my packed lunch, luckily, in my bag. I gave myself my jab in the car, went in to see this poor old chap, but he was really in a state. He was ill in bed, the home carer hadn't come to give him his lunch, so I got him his lunch, and then his kitchen was crawling with ants, because he'd spilt sugar everywhere, and there were ants everywhere. There was all sugar down in between the fridge and the blessed cupboards, and I had to pull things out and clean it up. Well, by the time I'd done that I made myself a drink and made him a drink, so I sat down to have my drink and I passed out. But it was fine! I came round and ate my lunch, went to see if he was all right. He was fine.

Did he know you'd passed out?

Oh, he was … he was in bed in another room. I wasn't sitting in his room. I was sitting writing up my notes, and I had my drink and fell asleep. So I had my lunch and saw he was all right, cleared up and went out. Like big mouth, mentioned it to one of my work colleagues, who was a real old woman … it was a bloke who was a real old woman … who reported me to the Head O.T., who then said "Ooooh … ." I can't remember how they knew I was all right… it was the only time it ever happened … it wasn't as if I was driving feeling funny! I'd been sitting in a chair, passed out, come round, didn't upset the poor old patient. He was all right. But they made a right fuss! Didn't matter. Actually it was quite good because it meant I could cycle to work for a few days and save my petrol money. ‘Cos you had to drive in case you had to go out and visit people.

So that was when you were a trained O.T.?


And when you finished your training as an O.T. … which was in what year … ?


… when you were 52, what was your first trained O.T. job?

I did a stint at Wayland, but I don't know if that was the first one. I did a stint at the N & N, but that wasn't the first one.

Many jobs – working with dementia patients, amputees, mental health, assessments

Mmmm … oh yes, I know where I went! Went on the dementia ward at the Julian Hospital. I went more or less as soon as I finished Uni. Went in June, started on the ward early and did nine months on that ward instead of eight. We had eight month rotations.

How many patients on the dementia ward?

Then there were about … well, there were two wards, and about 30 on each I suppose, 25 to 30.

And did they stay there for ever?

No, they came in as an assessment ward. It was another acute assessment ward. It's for people who've been diagnosed, or like my mum, who you just can't cope with at home. Or they have some crisis, like they've been found wandering, and they come in and are assessed, mainly to see if there's any management or medication that you can sort of manage them by.

So some might go home after that?

Some might go home with more help, with a care package of some sort, or else some people went into a home usually, towards the end, it was the fact that they just couldn't safely be managed at home. Not with an elderly carer.

So how long would they stay?

Depending. Usually four weeks minimum to sometimes, if they were difficult to place, up to six months.

And were you doing assessments?

I was doing all sorts of assessments. Washing and dressing assessments.

Would you do home assessments?

Home assessments, home visits definitely, yes. Did those and also activities during the day.

So, interesting job again.

Very interesting job. And one of the most interesting things I did was a lovely lady who didn't come to groups much because she never spoke. So I sat down with her, and we had these cards and photos – photographs of famous people. I don't know who the hell they were! And I'd say "Do you know who this is?" and show her the photo and I turned it over and said "Ooh it's Ivor Novello. He wrote We'll Gather Lilacs in the Spring" and she went (imitates screeching singing) "We'll gather lilacs in the spring", grabbed hold of me and started dancing me round the ward… the sitting room singing "We'll Gather Lilacs"! I mean, I didn't know what it was or anything. And so it was really great!

So we did sometimes do singing, so we started doing more. We had these sort of old time songs, you know, like John Peel and Ash Grove and all the old wartime ones.


(Sings) "Tipperary" – yes! So we used to bring her along to that, and although she'd never speak, she'd never say anything, she would always join in the singing. And often it would set people off and they'd start dancing.

And she'd light up, obviously.

It would be switch turned on, and it's amazing the things that would spark people off! Another brilliant spark was a man at Little Plumstead Hospital – they're people with learning difficulties, older people with learning difficulties, so they've been like it for donkeys' years. I did a placement … not a placement, basic grade rotation. You did eight months at different hospitals until you got your permanent job. A bit like doctors going round different things.

So I did Little Plumstead and we had to go down to Hales Hospital … well, it wasn't, there had been a Hales Hospital down near Loddon, but they were in bungalows nearby, and we just used to go and do … they used to call it sensory work, which I used to hate! So anyway, I did a seaside reminiscence morning, so I took loads of buckets and spades and flags and those things you filled in to make sand shellfish and crabs and things. All sorts of seasidey … oh, shells and stones I took down. And they were still sitting round the table, so I said "Let's sit round the table", and this one man who always when I came used to turn his back (demonstrates), wouldn't talk to me , wouldn't say "hello", always went … (demonstrates turning away). So he was sat there and I thought "Oh Gawd what's he . .? Never mind I'll just start." So I said "We're going to talk about the seaside. I've brought some things". And I had a bucket and spade and, you know those nice old tin spades with a wooden handle with a thing like that? And he lent over, grabbed the spade… I thought "Oh he's going to hit me with it" and he said "I remember" and he started speaking! And he started talking about holidays at Hemsby and the donkeys and going there with his parents. Talking quite sensibly, you could understand everything he was saying. And it was so amazing! The staff were saying "Whatever his name is, he's talking, he's talking, talking!" And they were all coming and looking in, and he was actually talking! And I thought "That's marvellous. I'm so glad I've seen and know how important reminiscence is". I mean music sometimes does it to people. They'll start crying or something, but to have him actually start speaking about his holidays in Hemsby. So that was a thing, a clue and people could then know what would get him going. It was lovely.

Did you find it quite sad working with dementia?

Mmm … no I quite enjoyed it. I find it fascinating ‘cos I used to like working with psychotic patients. It's a bit the same, you know what I mean? They're a bit in another world. And it was just interesting, the patients. One man had been in Burma. Was it Burma where they used to garrotte people? And he used to act out garrotting. He used to walk round. He didn't have anything in his hand. He just used to go like that behind people (demonstrates) It was really strange, the poor man. You couldn't have a proper conversation with him at all. He did have a very unfortunate habit and that was eating poo.

His own poo?

His own poo, and he used to smell. His breath was so bad and under his fingernails. And he used to … I remember once the young cleaner, a boy, went "Oh Gawd, [he's] at it again. Oh Gawd. I'll be all afternoon clearing it up." He was lying on the floor and he was pushing it all under one of the cleaner's doors like that, pushing it.

And then another, the funniest time, was when a very solemn family were being shown by the doctor into the small sitting room, and they were going in very slowly and very seriously, and you've never seen people fly out of there so quickly because [he] had put all his poo in all the flower pots in the room. That was the grimmest thing I ever came across.

So it was just fascinating really, working there.

So you do three years training and then you do eight months rotation after that, a bit like the first two years in medicine?

Yes, you just keep doing that until you get a job, till you get another job. I mean, you are being paid while you're doing that. But then you get the next stage up.

So there was Little Plumstead, and what else was your eight months lot of rotation?

I started off at Julian, then I can't remember which order it went. I think I went to Wayland after that.

And what was Wayland?

Wayland is … was, it's not there any more, again … they closed it down – because it was one of the best hospitals in the country. They worked with amputees, very specialist amputee place. The Friends of the Hospital had raised money and it had a special purpose built gym, parallel bars and all the rest of it.

Everyone was an amputee?

The whole ward. One of the wards was amputees, yes, all amputees. Sometimes it was only a toe off, but there were others, some other people with other operations who came down there. It was a rehab for people, but mainly it was amputees, ‘cos they were in for a long time. We had to order the right wheelchairs and so on.

So it included very young people then?

One poor man who'd been run over on the bypass, the Attleborough bypass, and he'd manage to hop across and left his leg behind. Just amazing! And he lived in a caravan. Can you imagine how difficult it was to get someone … I mean, luckily … we always issued people with wheelchairs, but obviously whether they worked … because initially they didn't have their artificial legs, but nearly everyone was given an artificial leg. And that man was given an artificial leg, and so he said he wouldn't need a wheelchair, but we had to issue one anyway. But they had to come up to the West Norwich to be fitted for the artificial leg and then had to practise using it and all the rest of it. It was a very long process.

And you helped them physically with things like learning how to walk with an artificial leg?

Well, that was more what the physios did. What we did was how to manage round the house, you know, without a leg or in a wheelchair, how to manage doing the washing up. So we did a lot of just basic . . did a lot of garden type stuff, plant work.

And would people have people, say, without arms that would have to … ?

Yes, learn how to fill a kettle with only one arm. And first of all you get everything down to your height, how far can you reach in your wheelchair. So you bring everything down and put them in the underneath cupboards. Very practical and down to earth stuff. And then people would do cooking and they'd always make their own tea and coffee and wash up afterwards. Just to get used to doing it. They'd be sat there in hospital, with the nurses running round doing everything. But they did have to learn how to dress themselves, and we used to do dressing assessments again. But they learned ever so quickly to do that. And then, of course, the biggest strain, especially for the elderly, was learning how to push themselves in their wheelchairs. We had one lady who couldn't really get on with her artificial leg, so she stayed in her wheelchair. They had to take the wheelchair down to the gym, the O.T. and the physio, and then for their lunch it was up a long slight slope, but it was nevertheless uphill, and they had to push themselves uphill. But of course nowadays they go into an upstairs ward in the West Norwich, the Community Hospital, I beg its pardon, and there's no gym, no slopes. I don't know how they … they're in and out within a week. There's no long term rehab like we used to do.

And presumably you can't get an electric wheelchair on the NHS?

No. Well even then we didn't have electric for them. They were issued with NHS, wheel yourself, the big wheels and you wheel yourself.

Which is quite hard work.

Very hard work, especially when you're frail and live in a bungalow and don't ever do anything, and have your husband run after you, like that old lady had had. You just don't realise.

We had another man who lived in a flat off Old Palace Road, and he had his friend to look after him, and his friend said "He won't need no wheelchair. I'll help him up the stairs." So he literally hopped up the stairs and the friend carried the wheelchair. I don't know why he never got on with his artificial legs. Some people just don't get on with them. But there we are, that's up to them.

But the worst thing, working with them, was there was a very young chap, I suppose he was probably in his thirties, perhaps he was a bit older, he looked about in his thirties. He smoked very heavily and that's one of the no-noes for being an amputee. I don't know whether he'd had an injury but he started with a bad toe and then he eventually had below knee and then above knee amputation, and then a year went by. I think I heard he'd come back, because then he was in again with bi-lateral amputation and he ended up having the worst you can get, right up off at the hip because it kept getting infected and poisonous. And when the O.T. went to do the home visit … he was living over in Lowestoft or Yarmouth or somewhere … she said you could hardly breathe in his flat because the whole family there and everyone was smoking like chimneys. It was thick with smoke. And he smoked continuously. If you wanted to find him he was always in the smoke room. And it was such a warning.

So to get back … '98 is when you qualified and then you did these rotations for a while, so we've got three there.

Dementia, Wayland, Plumstead. Ward 14 Hellesdon.

Ward 14 is?

Was long term rehab, people with long term mental health problems. It's a rehab ward, and that was very interesting.

Wanting to get people into flats and into the community?

Or home to their homes, but there was one poor boy who was put in a hostel in the grounds at Hellesdon and unfortunately we didn't have much to do with them. The nurses had to do with them, and the nurses' idea of rehab was get the patient in the car, drive him down to Asda and bring him back. And so, of course, the poor sod, if he was living down at Drayton, I suppose he could walk down to Budgen's and buy a ready meal, but we'd been doing a lot of cooking with him. He'd been making pancakes and cakes and all sorts of things, and so there's me saying things like "What sort of thing would you like to cook?" I think I did pizza with him as well, and then the nurses go and undo all that by doing ready meals. And we always used, if we went to Asda, we'd walk down to Asda and perhaps get the bus back if it was raining, but always walk there, and walk back usually. Because we knew that the patients were never going to get enough money to drive and afford taxis. And also he was overweight because he liked his food, so the good thing was I walked with him from Hellesdon down the back road, down to Drayton, and then back along the main road. Partly because it passes the time and he needed to lose weight. I know it probably gave him an appetite! (laughs)

Gosh, then you did a lot of different jobs!

And then I'd also done an excellent one at the N & N, cardiac rehab and respiratory medicine. So I was on the chest ward a lot of the time, and then one afternoon a week we did a cardiac rehab group at the West Norwich Hospital.

And what did that entail?

People who've had heart attacks come and do a series of about six weeks where they have talks about different things, like diet, exercise, the biology of heart and what caused your heart attack, that sort of thing. I can't remember what the other three ones were but they were all educational sort of talks referring to their heart condition. And then we did a what-do-you-call-it circuit where they have to do all exercises. I can't remember the name it was called, but each person was assessed as to how many star jumps, for instance, they could do, or if they could even do star jumps, and there was an exercise bike, there was running on the spot for so many seconds or minutes. There was all these various stations round the gym, that you did so many … I had to do it as well. I was very fit in those days.

And then after all that we had to do relaxation. One you could do yourself, like just talk yourself through ten down to one. Start with your head and go down, relax yourself, like if you're standing in a queue or sitting in the car. And then we'd do relaxation sessions.

You had a varied time then.

It was very good because a lot of the men were younger blokes who were very into all the science behind the thing. "Oh you get relaxed sitting watching telly". And I'd go "no you don't get in the same state as you do". It's a state, a bit like one up from hibernation when you're very level and your blood pressure'll drop. Anyway we got blood pressure monitor things and they were strapped on their wrists just to see if it does work. To see how far down it goes. Well, they were absolutely staggered how much it dropped. So they used to take the taped relaxation whatsits and do it at home. And it really did help people. But you had to be a bit careful because one of my favourite ones is a … oh God, it's sort of imagining colour emanating up throughout your body. Well you can't do that with psychotics. I could never use that in mental health.

Oh yes, that's red rag to a bull.

It's just not a good idea. But I did different ones every week for six weeks. I did that one, not everybody liked it, but some people really loved that one. And then there's the guided fantasy one. You just go into a garden with them, kick off your shoes and you sit down in a deckchair strewn with cushions. Oooh! Then you get up and you walk across the grass, down some warm stone steps to the beach, walk across the beach into the sea. Then you stand and watch and then you turn round and come back. You don't walk any further, you don't go right into the sea. And that's a lovely relaxing one. And actually sometimes if I can't go to sleep I start doing that one, and I never really get beyond the warm steps onto the beach and I'm usually asleep by then. (laughs)

So that was the N & N cardiac …

And then I applied for my community job that I ended up getting, doing O.T. for older people. And that's what I ended up doing.

And that's in the community, assessing people in their community?

In their home.

Trying to help them stay at home, that kind of stuff?


And did you enjoy that?


And how long did you work at that one?

I worked at that probably about five or six years. I retired at 61. Yes, I did it quite a long time, didn't I? I must have done, yes. I must have done it for about seven years.

Changes in the Occupational Therapist's role

The system gradually changed. The Hellesdon O.T. was banished, done away with. No O.T. department now. The last job I had to apply for was mental health community, whereas most of the teams had an Occupational Therapist in them the first job I got. Then I changed consultants and applied for a job with the other consultant, and then I think it was just a Mental Health Community worker of a certain grade, and it could have been a qualified nurse or an Occupational Therapist or a psychologist. But you weren't called an Occupational Therapist, you were just … Although my approach was different from the nurses, but I was actually employed as an Occupational Therapist. The Occupational Therapy department was closed, done away with. The nurses took over and it was all run a bit differently. ‘Cos Occupational Therapy had been run by the Head O.T. at Hellesdon, but then as it all went into the community teams and all the long term wards were closed down and people were moved out into the community. There was only an acute admission ward where, as far as I know, there's one O.T. on that ward and that's it. There's only one acute admission ward now for the whole area, whereas there used to be three. So it's very different.

But why are there not more in the community?

Well, there are Occupational Therapists but we're not called … We just generally go and assess people in the same way as the nurses do. The GPs write into the consultant and say "Mrs Brown's really ill, she's getting up in the middle of the night, she's hitting her husband, she doesn't know who he is, blah, blah". So you go round … I would go round or a nurse would go round and assess her, and work out … then if we thought the doctor needed to see her for medication you'd flag it up for the doctor.

How does it work if you think it's an acute situation? Does the system work quite well that you can get them in somewhere?

Oh yes. If it's getting really dangerous, it does work quite well. But it just means there are fewer staff working with more patients.

And would you do purely assessments or are you doing reviewing and monitoring as well?

You're reviewing and monitoring but you do hand things on to your … what do you call them? … assistant. If there's ongoing work needing to be done with someone, like one assistant whose mad on dogs, she's got loads of dogs, she takes her dogs out to see people and then walks her dogs with them with their dogs, if they've got dogs, or without them if they haven't.

People who just need training to go on a bus, for instance, one person to work with them, which is much more of an occupational therapy thing, but they couldn't spare me because I'm meant to be a higher grade assessing the more acute people, so people who need ongoing work trying to get somebody used to going into Norwich on the bus would be done by one of the assistants.

Have you found that has changed? Would you in olden days have been doing that yourself as a qualified O.T.?

Yes, and I would probably have done a bit more with the person like planning their whole week, all their activities.

A shame for you, or what?

Well, it depends on you. In a way it's a shame, but as long as things get done and the patient's dealt with… But, and I always used to approach people with an occupational therapy way. I mean I got one old woman recently … well, just before I retired … and she used to like knitting – in the past had liked knitting, and she used to sit there smoking herself silly, never did anything, and one of the nurses handed her on to me, and I thought well, she needs to be doing something. We used to go through all the stuff that she could so. Anyway she started knitting, she started off by knitting loads of squares and sewed them into a blanket for Romanian orphans or something, and then she started making baby clothes. I was so pleased with her. And obviously I wasn't asked to go and see Mrs Bloggs to get her knitting again, but it just came up because I realised she needed something to do, whereas the nurses are more focused on medication. I don't know all that much about medication, I mean I know roughly about it, but I'm always wondering what they do with themselves all day long or what they're eating, how they manage to get their meals, and who do you get your shopping and what do you eat. I go into all of the basics. Gardening. I talk about gardening a lot, growing veg, growing mustard and cress on the windowsill. Growing mustard and cress on flannels. Do you remember?

I remember the blotting paper. (Laughter) We used to use bits of old towels and stuff.

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