How a 75-year-old gentleman overcame his fears, and the steps leading up to this remarkable achievement…
Firstly, let’s briefly get to know the man himself – Mr Denis Gardner, Aged 75. He has been living at Stroud Lodge for 16 years.
Denis is a warm, charming individual who still lives a very active lifestyle. He regularly goes on walks, which he appears to thoroughly enjoy. He also participates in keep fit sessions within the home and outside in the community. Activities have helped to maintain his fitness, and release those good endorphins, which has helped his mental well-being and promotes good sleep.
Denis also loves going to the cinema as he enjoys both films and documentary’s, and has a keen interest in the war. Over the years he has collected a wide array of books covering the wars, general history and other areas of interest too.
This year Denis approached myself (Sanchez Grange) and the manager of our home (Helen Smith), and expressed his desire to go on a boating holiday on the canal.
Helen and I remained all ears for Denis’ aspiration, and thought it was a brilliant idea. The therapeutic views and the potential of being off the grid, away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, in our opinion would benefit and suit Denis enormously. Without hesitation we devised a plan to bring this holiday to fruition.
The one big concern we encountered regarding this holiday was Denis’ anxiety around water. Would Denis be/feel safe? How could we ensure he will be able to enjoy the holiday, and all positives which he could gain from experiencing this unique break?
At this stage, Helen and I sourced more information from Denis, asking if he had ever been on a boat before and how did he feel the experience went? Denis responded very positively and expressed he had been on a boat many years ago down at Gloucester Docks and that he enjoyed the trip.
Great response! Our excitement escalated.
Helen then began to put together a risk assessment, with the main priority being to ensure maximum safety whilst on the boat. Whilst planning the trip, we both felt it would be best for me to go on the trip with Denis. Having worked with Denis for over 10 years I have managed to build up a very high level of trust, building this through a compassionate, dignified approach, understanding of his needs and having a lot of patience, which we felt would definitely be needed on this trip. We also decided on including another member of staff, John Willets, whom had previous experience of this type of holiday. It was a no brainer to get him aboard. We thought choosing a member of staff that had been on a boating holiday and knew what to do would put Denis at ease and offer reassurance.
Now the last hurdle was to arrange for Denis to attend a swimming session just in case of a worst-case scenario. Another reason we arranged the swimming trips was that it was important for us to see how Denis would react around water, as we were very aware of his past fears, which was a real concern.
We had found a learning disability swimming session at the Pulse Leisure centre; the session would be fun but in a controlled and safe environment.
Building up to the session you could feel the apprehension, more so from myself as I really wanted him to overcome the fear. I had previously taken Denis to a swimming session around 7/8 years ago that didn’t go well; to be brutally honest it was an experience that he didn’t really enjoy at all. On my return I voiced my opinion as I didn’t feel it was a good idea to take him swimming again.
I’m a big advocate for reflective practice, especially now I am an Assistant Manager. I looked back at that previous experience of why didn’t he want to get in? What factors may have contributed to him not wanting to get in previously? What would I do now to ensure he felt safer, more comfortable? Was it the right environment? Just so many factors going through my mind. No doubt, Denis had a deep down fear, there’s no denying that. However, in life sometimes we have to probe a bit deeper into things to see if we can change them or provide an alternative.
Maybe it was a glare of optimism, but we just felt Denis wanted to achieve this goal and overcome a deep underlying fear which just needed to be put to bed with positive energy and a feeling of confidence and trust of the people around him.
SWIM DAY! As we made our way to The Pulse Leisure Centre in Dursley, we ensured Denis was filled with plenty of positive reinforcements ensuring he felt comfortable throughout and at no stage was he expected to do anything he didn’t wish to do.
Denis appeared calm and collected as we made our way to the pool. I took the first steps to get into the pool, visually showing Denis that the depth was shallow and that he had nothing to worry about. Each week we went slowly to ensure that Denis felt comfortable at every stage. Denis began by firstly sitting on the side, just putting his feet in to get a feel of the water, already this was a massive progression from the previous experience.
Denis then slowly progressed week by week. Each week he would take another step until one day he slowly slid himself into the pool slightly gasping at the coldness on his skin, but he was IN!
The sense of overwhelming pride was felt throughout.
As the session progressed, I reached out my hand to see if he would take a few more steps. Denis grabbed my hand and at a slow pace with plenty of positive reassuring communication he walked to the middle of the pool
I have been working in care from the age of 18, never had I experienced a moment of this scale. To see the fulfilment in his face and the feeling that he trusted me and all the other support around him was simply amazing.
As soon as the session finished, I rang Helen and the same energy was reciprocated. That overwhelming feeling. She was so proud of Denis and all the staff, you could feel the pride she had in us. It was a proud moment for us all and everyone working with Denis at Stroud Lodge.
This Achievement has a moral.
In life, no matter what trials and tribulations we may face (dark periods, tough times, times of feeling alone), with the right people around us, love and compassion for one another and the overall mind-set to believe that nothing is impossible, we can overcome anything and come out stronger, wiser and enhanced with positivity. I hope this encouraging story of Denis can enlighten all of us to never give up on ourselves or each other, no matter what the circumstances may be.