When I first contacted Alice about coming into ‘Trust’ for a week, in my naivety or arrogance, I thought that over the past few years I had gained a fairly good understanding, of the work that went on in the basement of the Iveagh buildings: by the end of my first day my ignorance was palpable.
On my first morning Alice set me the challenge of reflecting on caring within the context of ‘Trust’, I confess to feeling both daunted and cynical. Daunted because this was not to be a passive experience I was expected to deliver something and cynical because within my profession (nursing) caring is increasingly clothed by the same dresser as the emperor. Despite the exponential growth in the amount of time, paper and resources spent on teaching and researching caring, there appears to be a corresponding decrease in the evidence of caring: within the members of the profession and with the individuals, families and communities with whom we work.
Faced with the uncertainty of the new and different I surprised myself at how quickly I fell into the age old trap of nursing: “doing”. Proving how eager I was to “help” I asked Patrick and Mary what could I do? – make tea, organise clothes, sort showers whatever. Alice in her wisdom, appeared and encouraged me to sit in the front room and chat with the people as they waited, her encouragement became less subtle, as I not wanting to appear as though I was skiving busied myself with any variety of jobs. In retrospect I now wonder if my desire to be busy was more about hiding my own anxieties, arising from the thought of sitting down to chat with people with whom I would not normally come into contact with.
Over the years I have never ceased to be amazed at the array of health warning posters and notices that adorn the walls of health centres, accident and emergency departments, outpatient waiting rooms, hospital wards and maternity units. Even in these times of “person centred care”, vociferous warnings about what conduct will not be tolerated by users of the services and graphic pictures of what could happen to you if you choose to smoke or not to wear a seat belt, are de rigueur in most self respecting health care establishment. Such trappings of contemporary health service hospitality are conspicuously absent in ‘Trust’, in their place are beautiful paintings, poems a fish tank and the melodic strains of lyric FM. I commented to Alice that I was surprised at how clean and tidy the place was at the end of a busy morning, the bath and shower rooms held little trace of the 30 + people who had used the centre. In her characteristic no nonsense style Alice informed me that the people who used the centre understood that they must show respect for themselves and others by cleaning up after themselves.
Time spent in the front room of ‘Trust’ allayed my initial cynicism it was refreshing to witness the essence of real caring. Caring at ”Trust” does not come packaged in the jargon of contemporary health care, but stems from a respect for all people as fellow human beings. The caring permeates every aspect of the work at ”Trust”, how well the workers treat each other and those people using the centre. The caring was evident in: taking time out with a colleague at the end of a stressful day to make sure she happy with outcome of a particular incident; the time spent listening to the woman who came in distressed because her mother had just died; reassuring the young woman going for a bath that there was no rush; the time spent with the man whose feet were ulcerated from the permanent state of dampness and lack of dry shoes, and in accepting and arranging with great care, the flowers that were brought in by another.
I had the privilege of spending one week with Alice Leahy and her team in ”Trust”: that experience has taught me that the work is not only with ‘the outsider’, it is also with ‘the invisible’ and is invisible. After a week spent in ”Trust”, Dublin becomes a very different and much more uncomfortable city. Familiar shops, offices, streets and parks become a place to sleep and torrential August rains are more than a nuisance. After a week in ”Trust” Dublin is awash with familiar faces, however, the people behind these faces know that they have achieved invisibility: a reality that is summed up in the words of one woman in her 50s, in response to my flippant “see you around” -she answered “but you won’t know us out there – we are very different people out there.”
Lecturer (Public Health)
Queen’s University Belfast
School of Nursing & Midwifery