Monday 26 August 2013


It's August Bank Holiday again. The good one, the one which marks the beginning of the end of the school holiday; get through it and chances are you'll have about a week to sort all the back-to-school stuff, dig out piles of festering school uniforms, don biohazard suits and smuggle worse than festering lunch boxes into the centre of the rubbish bin, chase up school transport and attempt to find at least one pair of clean white socks. All in the knowledge that, very shortly, you can expect to have several hours breathing space all to yourself five whole days every week. 

And if we're not away, then Bank Holiday Monday should be a day of celebration. I don't remember the reason why we have the holiday; it's close enough to Mum's Birthday that perhaps the whole nation celebrates it. I'm sure she deserves a national holiday, even if possibly that's not really the reason. 

Six years ago, I was gathering small girls (can they really have been just five and two? Ever?), and getting ourselves ready to grab the bigger girl and head out somewhere as a family, when the phone rang. 

A phone call which changed this world forever, which divided my life into before and after. 

An accident, bath water too hot, Goldie in A and E and could I come up please? 

Did you know, if your child isn't legally your own, if you're not legally next of kin, they won't let you into resus? Instead, you get to pace around outside whilst no one tells you what's happening, and you look at the pile of drunks and people with cut lips and bad coughs, and you want to scream at them all to Go Home and stop Wasting Time because some people have had Real Accidents? Yep, turns out waiting for news, I'm not a very nice or patient person. 

Did you know, when someone is badly scalded, they wrap them in bubble wrap to stop the skin falling off? And when someone has been very badly scalded, they can't chill the burn but instead have to keep warming the person so they don't go into shock, even if that means continuing to cook the scald? And did you know, if there are no beds locally, and you have to transfer to a hospital two hours away, the nurse who goes on transport won't be allowed to give morphine en route? So you'll have to go easy on the doses when you're waiting to be transferred, so they can top you up nicely before you leave. Too bad if you get stuck in traffic on the way though. 

It was morning when the phone call came; around half past eight. It was well into the wee small hours when I got back home, and I will be forever thankful to the friends who took over responsibility for the smalls so I could concentrate on the bigger girl. But I wonder where the day went? I remember the waiting room, I remember the resus room. And the ambulance, and the giant scales at the entrance to the hospital which weighed Goldie, bed and all, and the new room, and the surgeons and anaesthetist and the generally good prognosis. But I don't remember the day. 

And yet, this not remembering, this is what I remember this week. The dates don't matter; this was the day, these were the events. 

We were supposed to have been going on holiday on the Tuesday, narrow boating with friends. They went; we stayed, and the surgeons muttered and started looking more serious, whilst the hospital rules banning under sixteens kept us apart more than the distances involved. 

Six years; more than half Mog's life, and 3/4s of tLP's. How can this be? 

Did you know Goldie was not the first young disabled adult to have difficulty with a too-hot bath? "Never again" they said, after my ex-key-pupil received second degree burns in her new care home. "Never Again" would appear to have a shelf life of around five years. 

Both girls, sorry, young women, were seriously physically disabled. Both were incapable of getting into a bath themselves. In both cases, a pair of carers both failed to notice the heat of the water as they pressed the hoist control buttons and steadied the slings to slowly lower the individual. 

They deserved better. L survived, Goldie did not. Neither deserved the pain and suffering. 

I've said before I don't blame the carers, and, well, six years on, mostly I still don't. But when the thermostat had failed, and the failsafe had failed, and all the other steps had been taken to remove risk from the Not-A-Care-Home environment, those carers were the last people who had any kind of ability to prevent the accident and skip the suffering. 

People, buy your carers bath thermometers, and insist on them being used. 

Last week I watched a small girl fold herself in two and post her feet up towards her ears to prevent her body coming into contact with water which was too hot. It wasn't dangerously hot; just too hot for that small girl's comfort. A bowl of cold water into the bucket and all was well again. I know the carer who filled that bucket, and I know she would never ever do anything to hurt that child - I know how mutual the love is between them. But we do have the ability to heat water very hot, and we don't all have the ability to assess just how hot that water will feel to someone with thinner, more vulnerable skin. Buy that thermometer. Use it. And in the interim, use your elbow, not your hand. And, if you work in a residential environment where you might be taking care of an awful lot of vulnerable children or adults, don't use the line "We're not a care home" when I query your lack of thermometers. Remember my history, humour me, and use the thermometers. 

Dipping a thermometer into Goldie's bath water would have saved her life. It would have saved her a week of agony, and saved those of us who knew her and loved her six years of grief. It would have taken less than a minute, and cost less than a fiver. 



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