Love Flows at Ann Harding Cheshire Home

For years I have travelled past a sign for the Ann Harding Cheshire Home with a little wheelchair sign indicating that it had something to do with the disabled. With the deadline for my next article looming, I decided to google their website, got their number and phoned them. After a behind-the-scenes caucus, Sr. Thobile, the Nurse in charge, told me I could come over the following day.

On my arrival I found a number of single-story buildings nestled in a well-kept garden and interlinked by gently sloping pathways and ramps. I was in a world where the disabled came first. One of the residents was on reception duty and directedme to a hall where the House Mother, Sr. Liz Lewis, was playing bingo with some of the residents. She told me that the home had a capacity of 41, but that currently there were 38 residents.  "And how many Caregivers?" I asked. "Twenty on the books but often supplemented by volunteers." "Not a bad ratio," I thought, but I was soon disillusioned.

I was introduced to a caregiver aptly named Sister, who roped in two of her colleagues; Precious and Zelda, for the interview. "Tell me about your workhere," I got the ball rolling. "I hear that you are 20 caregivers for 38 residents; that sounds very reasonable."

"Not really," replied Sister, "we work in shifts. It is usually about six to eight residents per Caregiver."  That threw me. "Wow that must be tough!" They hesitated, as if unsure how to carry on but when I asked them about their daily routine, Precious, with the wonderful precociousness of youth, became inspired and took the lead: "First thing in the morning it is wash time: Mondays,Wednesdays and Fridays are shower days and the alternate days are bed wash days. Then it is off to breakfast where we help those residents that are unable to feed themselves. Toilet duties include emptying leg-bags, changing nappies and assisting with bowel movements where needed. Also, the beds need to be made and sometimes soiled linen has to be stripped and taken to the laundry." I asked her about turning patients in bed. "That is the main function of the night shift, every two hours."

"It must be very tough emotionally as well," I commented. "Are the residents nice to you or do you have to manage their emotions as well?" "A lot. Especially the newer residents are very angry because they cannot anymore do what they could do in the past and then they become angry."

In response to my question of how this makes them feel, especially as they often have their own worries, Precious gave this wonderful answer: "We must be happy for the residents, especially if they are sad or cross, we must be happy for them. We cannot all be unhappy, that would not be right. We leave our own worries and unhappiness at the gate so that we can be happy for the residents who are suffering so much." "And counseling?" I asked. "We counsel ourselves, the older more experienced staff help a lot."

Later, in the gardens, we met Sandra who had suffered a brain tumor at the age of 13 (or 30) and cannot remember how long she has been there. She started to tease Sister and Precious. Gently and playfully. And that is when I experienced thelove that flows at the Ann Harding Cheshire Home.