Pad Life: Princess and the Crone
Once upon a time, in a reality far, far away, there lived a young woman. Let’s call her…oh…I don’t know…Princess. Why not?
A year before our story starts, the land where Princess lived was stricken with a pandemic. All the pubs and restaurants and cinemas and bowling alleys and theatres were closed.
‘Sod it,’ said Princess. ‘That’s my nice new job in hospitality gone.’
Princess was a resourceful young woman, and shortly afterwards she obtained a job in the care sector.
‘It’s a good job,’ she told the old Crone who had known her since she was born. ‘I’ll be working in a supported living house, helping people with mental health issues prepare to live independently.’
‘Hmmm,’ said the Crone. ‘Who owns it?’
‘A very well-known and well-established company in the sector,’ said Princess, confidently.
‘Hmmm,’ said the Crone. ‘Will they train you appropriately? You’ve never done this sort of work before.’
‘Oh yes,’ said Princess, happily. ‘I mean, all the clients have been discharged from formal psychiatric care, so it’s more working with practical things like budgeting, and helping to build confidence. It’s not nursing, or social work.’
‘Hmmm,’ said the Crone.
A few months later, Princess and the Crone had a discussion about whether Panorama might be interested.
‘I’m not sure I fancy walking round with a concealed camera,’ said Princess. ‘I’d probably drop it down the loo or something.’
‘Hmmm,’ said the Crone. ‘But you could highlight the fact you had to rescue someone turning blue from a ligature before you even knew what a ligature was. Or that one of the clients threatened staff with a knife, with no repercussions. Or that they’ve put a number of self-harmers and suicide risks in the same establishment when not one of the staff is trained to deal with self-harmers or suicide risks. Or that the police and paramedics are thoroughly fed up with the place, not least because there’s never any management around after office hours and you minions don’t have a key to the drawer the care plans are in.’
‘There is that.’
‘And that, despite you being totally up front about having epilepsy, and reminding them frequently of their ethical and indeed legal obligation to do a risk assessment so you can safely do the job they employed you for, they only did it after pointed questions from the lady who came to talk to staff about best practice for clients with epilepsy.’
‘That too,’ said Princess.
‘And that you don’t get supervision, you’ve never had a one-to-one since you got there, and team meetings are rarer than the snow leopard.’
‘It’s a point,’ said Princess.
‘Hmmm,’ said the Crone.
But, with a pandemic raging, a job was a job, even one with twelve hour shifts on minimum wage, supporting highly vulnerable people with needs far more complex than Princess or anyone else had been given to expect. One staff member walked off the job mid-shift. One new manager lasted two weeks before heading for the hills. Stress and exhaustion eventually took its toll even on the resilient Princess, and after eight months seizure free, she had to be carted off to A&E with a full bout of the tonic-clonics.
‘Bugger it,’ said Princess. ‘I thought I was in with a chance of the two clear years needed to learn to drive.’
These were dark days for Princess. Her doctor signed her off sick for a week because of the stress, and would have signed her off for longer were it not for the pandemic. ‘I’m not sure staring at four walls all day will do you much good, even with the Disney Channel,’ said the doctor.
‘Done the Disney Channel,’ said Princess. ‘And Netflix. And Prime. And WWE on Now TV. Is BritBox any good?’
One of the Senior Managers rang Princess to see how she was doing.
‘She was lovely,’ Princess told the Crone. ‘Really supportive. I’d thought she was an old bag but turns out she’s very nice.’
‘A Senior Manager who’s very nice,’ said the Crone, in wonder. ‘The age of miracles is not dead.’
Even Crones get fooled.
Things had changed when Princess got back to work. The well-known and well-established company had decided there were too many workers at the house.
Princess was summoned to a meeting with the nice Senior Manager.
‘We’ve had a report paramedics couldn’t get in one evening because you and the colleague on duty were too busy playing on your phones to open the door.’
‘You what?’ said Princess. ‘Who said that?’
‘Can’t say,’ said the Senior Manager.
‘When was this?’ asked Princess.
‘Can’t say,’ said the Senior Manager.
‘What did the paramedics do, then?’ asked Princess.
‘Can’t say,’ said the Senior Manager. ‘And another thing, people have been moaning about you.’
‘They’re fed up with your epilepsy. They say you use it as an excuse to get out of doing things.’
‘They say you live alone so it can’t be that bad.’
‘I don’t live alone,’ said Princess. ‘And even if I did, there’s a risk assessment that says I can’t take clients out on my own because if I have a seizure, the client would be left unsupported.’
‘Yes, well, the grammar in that risk assessment is shocking,’ said the Senior Manager. ‘I can’t make head nor tail, so I’m going to ignore it. And we’re putting you back on probation, despite the fact you passed your probationary period nine months ago.’
That night, Princess WhatsApped the Crone.
‘What the fuck?’ said the Crone.
You see, while merrily driving a coach and horses through disability legislation and a large chunk of employment law, the Senior Manager had forgotten to check if any of Princess’s acquaintances had once been a Unison shop steward.
It has to be said Princess was distressed. If they’d told her she was generally shit at the job, that would have been one thing, although it had apparently taken them nearly a year to find out. As it was, what little feedback she’d had was overwhelmingly positive. What devastated Princess was someone weaponizing her epilepsy. Using it as a means to undermine, intimidate and humiliate. Seeing it as a convenient bullying tactic. If the fuckers had any idea what Princess and other people with chronic medical conditions have to go through…
All right, Crone, back off. You’re not writing this totally fictional, light hearted, completely fictional, no-names-no-way-anyone-can-be-identified bit of fiction. And don’t you ‘Hmmm’ me.
The Senior Manager had underestimated Princess. Before the week was out she’d taken advice from Unison (of which she was an individual member), Citizen’s Advice, the Epilepsy Action Helpline and the Equalities Advice and Support Service. The only point on which they disagreed was under precisely which bit of legislation she should do her employers. She had quite a choice.
‘It’ll take up my life, though, won’t it?’ Princess said to the Crone.
‘Life’s shit enough at the moment.’
‘It is. And sometimes what’s actually important is taking control of the process. You know your options. You have a choice.’
‘That lot aren’t worth my physical or mental health,’ said Princess.
‘No,’ said the Crone. ‘They aren’t.’
So Princess decided to tell them to stuff their job up their arse, pandemic notwithstanding. She did that yesterday. Both the Crone and I think it was a brave thing to do. It’s risky. Some people would say it’s not ‘sensible’. But what’s sensible about being so ‘sensible’ you lose all your joy in life?
Our (entirely fictional) Princess is fortunate in that she has a supportive family and no dependants. There are many, many people being punished for having epilepsy or other chronic conditions, for whom saying ‘up your arse’ is not an option. Legislation can only go so far. Education is what’s needed, and not only in the requirements of best practice. Education in basic humanity, and a bit of empathy, would help.
This Friday, 26 March, is International Purple Day for epilepsy awareness. The Crone and I will be wearing our purple wristbands with pride, for our (fictional) Princess and all the other royalty out there.
Princess told the Crone she’s happy for some unknown author in the real world to tell a totally fictional story about her and her totally fictional employers.