We all know that our National Health Service is severely stretched. Like many others last year, my family had to wait for life saving treatment to kick in when, in ideal circumstances, that treatment would have started right away. So while I waited I bought text books, sought advice through related charities and found huge solace in the ‘happy ending’ scenarios that friends would relay, but what we really needed was the care of trained health professionals. We had to wait a month before we could see the relevant NHS department. Looking back, that period is somewhat a blur but I can still feel the emotions: despair, confusion, inadequacy. I was lost.
In the middle of the panic I must have made the sensible decision to contact Perennial. How wonderful is it that we horticulturalists have a number that we can dial when life threatens to overwhelm us? In order to try to piece together where Perennial slotted into this time of hot, hazy distress, I have looked back at when Jo first contacted me via email. Reading the very first paragraph from her very first email has brought a lump to my throat.
“My name is Jo and I am going to be your caseworker with Perennial. I have read through your conversation with Susan on the helpline (reader – I have absolutely no recollection of any conversation with Susan but I am sure that she would have been calm and practical. Susan, thank you) and wanted to contact you to see if we could arrange a date and time to have a chat. This is an informal conversation, just so that I can listen to what is most important to you and your family then we can come up with a plan together.” I might not be able to remember that initial phone call with Susan but I can remember that first phone call with Jo. This was a time when I couldn’t talk to anyone about my loved one’s illness without bursting into tears and I remember that Jo was true to the words in her email. She was there to help us at a time when we didn’t know how best to help ourselves and I didn’t wobble or waver. I recognised that this wonderful lady from this excellent charity wanted to know how she could help us quickly and I told her everything.
Jo was very quick to tell us that my loved one’s illness is actually classed as a disability and therefore we could begin the long process of claiming Disability Living Allowance. After we had established this, she pointed me towards the correct forms and, once I had located these, she helped me with the arduous task of filling them out. By this stage, treatment had started and I had begun to feel less alone and helpless but Jo was there whenever I had a query. I remember one particularly long phone call on a very hot day. I was able to run through every last one of my answers with her, on a form that was several tens of pages long. I had every confidence that I was speaking to someone who really knew how to negotiate a hefty document. Jo gave me every ounce of her attention.
It would be hard to exaggerate how the practical help that Jo afforded me was, and continues to be, mixed in with an extraordinary amount of compassion. At every step Jo reminded me that this illness is not just about my loved one. She reminded me to take care of myself too so that I can best look after my dependents. She reminded me that my other dependent needs me as much as the poorly one, and to carve out time to be with them too. Not everyone working in horticulture will experience tough times like these, but I hope those that do will pick up the phone and call Perennial for help. Their employees are trained to know where to find help just as we are trained to know when the right time to take a cutting of a particular plant is.
As my loved one’s illness continues to affect us, Jo is just an email or a phone call away. The other week she alerted me to a free webinar that Perennial was hosting. I logged in and found it hugely helpful. It did not refer to my precise situation but it gave me some useful guidance. I have been alerted to more Perennial webinars that may well help me as I negotiate my new, hopefully temporary, way of life. I know that, as long as I need them, Jo and Perennial are by my side and will be there for me and my family. The despair, confusion and inadequacy hasn’t gone from my life but I have my team in place now and Jo plays a crucial part.