Educating for Physical Disability and Health

Written by Sharon Boyce

My ongoing health journey and understanding disability and health is especially important in these covid times. Accessing the equipment necessary for diagnosis and treatment is essential and when you can not get onto the CAT Scan bed this is a major problem. We have to make it work. We have to ensure equipment is accessible and suits everybody. We also need to be educated about how we can adapt situations and support people with high level complex physical disability.

I thought I might share with you some of the snapshots and issues that arose and had to be explored over the past two years of my life and health journey. I also thought I could look at some of the specific problems that arose and some interesting solutions that I found existed. 

I should let you know that I am now back at home and easing back into work after spending many months in and out of hospital with septic shock of my kidney again. At the start of the crisis I thought I was going so well avoiding having to go to doctors and mostly self quarantining – until I was rushed to hospital in Toowoomba and experienced the Covid-19 environment first hand and from a disability perspective! The many Zoom and team sessions came together to help me in surviving many weeks in hospital, along with my family and carers helping in every area and watching everything that was done. 

There were some interesting discussions and outcomes that followed, with some massive gaps in disability care, attitude and understanding being raised. The doctors were good and some of the nurses tried very hard to understand disability, but even they really were learning as we went along. There needs to be so much more education available to those in the medical sector around all areas of disability and life issues such as the need for space, Disability-considered equipment, attitudes and perception. There seemed to exist a very real lack of consideration and workability of hospital layout in terms of illness, physical disability. There was no room for my equipment and equipment (such as hoists, slings and a shower chair) that made my life work were just seen as inconveniences and something that took up valuable space. 

Assumptions were made about my ability to make choices, despite my cognitive abilities and very complex disability needs requiring a lot of flexibility. My family and carers were sometimes asked inappropriate questions about my choices and why I needed certain equipment or certain medications. I was highly allergic to one such medicine and it was only because of a carer and my own surveillance of the process that it was stopped immediately and no major issues resulted. There was no knowledge about using equipment or even accessing CAT scans or X-Ray equipment that worked around my needs or condition. Even medical choices I made were questioned because attitudes of some staff were condescending and misinformed about physical disability. There also seemed to be an attitude amongst staff that because I was so close to death, they should just make every decision and I should not question it or how they did it. This did not work because they did not understand disability, instead simply making assumptions and conclusions around their limited understanding. As a result there were times that my care and recovery were placed in jeopardy. Issues of medication and very limited time frames for actual survival also compounded the situation. 

Once I began to improve I tried to engage staff and educate them around hoisting, stomas, showers, skin care and overall attitude. I believe disability awareness has to be built into all university training courses across all areas of health. Hospital was accommodating, in most cases but, if I didn’t know my rights, hadn’t planned ahead and didn’t have the a ability to communicate my needs, the stay would have been impossible. I am so lucky I came out of hospital before Toowoomba became a hotspot. I would not have been able to have my family support and care team readily available on site helping to make everything possible and my care safe and doable. 

As a person with high level complex disability and specific needs with care I thought I knew the policies and way things could be done to ensure best practice and great outcomes. What I saw was huge gaps in education, awareness and attitude at every level. I could not get on to the CAT scan bed with my hoist and two carers helping, as well as the Radiology staff. I only had a very small window of time to live so the process had to done as fast and carefully as possible. I was relying on my two carers to show them my documented plan and use my hoist and also to ensure I wasn’t rolled or moved in any way to damage my neck and spinal cord.  Surrounded by wardies and the X ray staff my carers literally had to frequently remind them of my unstable spine issue so they wouldn’t roll me. The hoist wouldn’t fit under the cat scan bed, even though it was a new one, so they really didn’t know what to do. Vital minutes were ticking away. 

They then remembered they had a new piece of equipment – a hover mat that they could use. I could have CAT Scan and they could be done easily and safely. This took the pressure off the Radiology team and my often very short health requirements. If I could not have the scan we could not progress to the next stage of medical help. This piece of equipment is lifechanging for people who cannot transfer any other way onto a CAT scan bed or a X-Ray bed. It literally is like a hover craft that inflates from your bed and moves you across to the other space. It takes about five minutes in total and you are secured and safe. The only requirement is that the staff at the center know that it exists, first of all, and how to use it speedily and safely. I was so lucky that this was purchased by the hospital and that there were some staff who knew it existed. There was a team who worked together with my complex physical disability and high level sepsis that actually inflated the hover mat and moved me across to the CAT scan to actually perform the scan in enough time to ensure the next stage of medical treatment could continue. This piece of equipment is a life saver and we need to advertise the fact it should be available in every hospital. 

This was the first of many issues with equipment access and space. I only know that I would not be here if it wasn’t for some doctors and nurses who knew about disability equipment and support and also how to communicate and understand a person with high level disability and high level sepsis. It also needs to be said that without my carers and family helping with my advocacy and care this supportive situation would not have been possible. I might not want to say this and I believe I am very strong in this area, but when you are at your weakest you need plans and support to ensure best outcomes for recovery and survival. You also need equipment that enables you to get the required diagnosis and ensure that your situation is supported and your other areas of health are not damaged in any way. 

The new hover mat if a essential piece of equipment that makes the other essential areas of health such as cat scan, MRIs and X-Ray beds work for individuals who in the past could not access this safely and effectively. These type of innovation in the health sphere need to be celebrated and the information shared across all of our disability communities. There is constant research and equipment being developed and we need to push for more of this and also share our good news stories about how things work and when they don’t we need to question how we can have a solution created. 

To see how the hover mat works go to PDA’s YouTube channel by clicking on the link at the bottom of this blog. Don’t forget to subscribe to PDA’s channel whilst you’re there.

I have now recovered and am currently back at home and hoping that I stay healthy and can keep up my current workload. I am enjoying working with the Independent Advisory Council and my many other disability groups I work with. I never believed I would be actually givinglectures and zoom sessions about a first hand experience of life with disability in the covid-19 environment. (Some of them were very first hand, still being in hospital.)

It is so important to create positive change across health and especially for people with disability. There are many attitudes that need to be changed and also many disability issues to be explored and educated about. We need to continue to ask how we can make this health area more inclusive and more understood. We all have certain needs and things that impacts in this space because of our disability.  We need to break down barrier and create conversations so when we are at our weakest and most vulnerable the people who are tasked with our health recovery understand what they are dealing with and how they can help make life better for both sides. There was some very scary moments and without my support my recovery wouldn’t have been as smooth as it was able to be. 

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One thought on “Educating for Physical Disability and Health

  1. Totally agree im still dealing with my neithew who I had put under the public gaurdian 3 and a half years ago now, 3 of them spent in Logan hospital where he is now with nothing going right for my neithew but they say it’s not a human rights issues and I only went to get him help to speak

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