A new start

Stephen Keating tells the story of Jim Kinsella, a former resident of Alvernia House.

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Little was known about Jim when the initial project team first met him in May 2012. There was very brief information as to his level of ability—but nothing about him as a person.

The person introduced to the support team on that first meeting at Alvernia House was a physically imposing man. The Muiríosa team were feeling apprehensive, as indeed was Jim. He presented as a large, nervous and socially unskilled person—uncertain as to what was expected of him. He did have a reputation for being demanding and aggressive. However, we quickly realised that there was no intentional harm in that. Some people were reported as being uncomfortable in his presence. The team quickly formed the impression that he had a big heart, wanted to enjoy life and could do so with a little help and support. It was clear to the team that Jim had the POTENTIAL to have a much better life.

Jim met our team many times over the next two months and every time he would take me aside and ask about the ‘house’ that he would be moving to. He appeared genuinely excited by the prospect. It had been decided that for the first part of his transition Jim would live on his own with his support team. This was to allow his anxiety levels to fall to a more acceptable state as he moved from institutional life.
In August 2012, Jim arrived—with a new suitcase, clothing and bright new shoes, so reminiscent of institutional life in Ireland in the mid 20th century.

Three months later where are we?

A vision for a better socially integrated life is a wonderful dream, but that’s all it can ever be until Jim is better known and understood. Jim’s team need to explore his needs, strengths and abilities. What does he want? What would he like to do with his life? What valued role does he have? What meaningful roles can he fulfill? This period of discovery is now being embarked on in earnest with Jim.

Settling into his new environment was the easy bit. He wanted his own space, peace and quiet, and to have some control of his own home. That’s the first step; this is Jim’s home.

One of earliest tasks identified was Jim’s physical health. After many years of living in an institution, his weight had significantly increased, coupled with type II diabetes. Minimal exercise made him breathless and led to excessive perspiration. Blood sugar levels were in the mid-20s. An immediate action was to assist Jim to move away from his preferred diet of chips, sausages and coca cola. His diet is now more balanced, varied and lower in fat. Coca cola, despite the best efforts of his team, continues to be a problem although it has reduced to only one drink per day. Jim continues to be preoccupied about his coca cola and asks people for money to purchase his favourite drink. The good news is that his blood sugar readings have reduced to the low teens, but further reductions are needed.

Jim’s initial presentations also included a pronounced tremor of the arms, and self -inflicted abrasions on his body and limbs. Needless to say, his support team worried about those issues, and they decided that some alleviation could be achieved by addressing his lifestyle and medication regime. Reducing his medications has been difficult for him and also for his support team, particularly assisting him with the ensuing confusion and anxiety. His support team has been superb in assisting him through this transition. A significant and positive outcome has been a reduction in self-inflicted cuts.

Going out for a drive in a car is really important for Jim, but unfortunately this need is not confined to daylight hours. He very much enjoys these day or night journeys and assisting him to enjoy them at more appropriate times is a real challenge for his support team.

Jim has three brothers and a sister (Tom, John, Liam and Bridie) and he regularly meets them. His support team is now working with him on sibling relationships. The team is assisted by the psychology services and even at this early stage great improvements have been observed. He has enjoyed visits to the family home and stayed overnight. He is looking forward to an overnight stay at Christmas.

Jim is a warm hearted, sociable, engaging 52-year-old with many skills, a wonderful sense of humour, although his communication difficulties can often lead to misunderstandings.

It is likely that institutional living has caused Jim considerable frustration and lost opportunities. The focus of his support team is to unlock his potential and assist him to develop a mutually beneficial valued role within his community. His move from a large congregated setting now allows for many life-enhancing opportunities to be explored on his behalf. FL

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