A Client/Carer Perspective

Jonty Whitehead provides us with her unique perspective of life for her and her adored son, Simon.

We sincerely thank Jonty for her continued support and invaluable input to Community Living Australia.

The Foot Bath

By Jonty Whitehead — Honourary Life Member and mother of Simon.

Simon has been organising himself for a footbath every morning since the nail on his right big toe was surgically removed. It had been ingrowing and getting infected and wasn’t responding to conservative treatment, so the doctor decided that it should be taken out and thus cause no further trouble. 

I took him to the surgeon, who agreed with the local GP. Simon wasn’t too worried - perhaps a bit on edge as his case was discussed with little participation from him, but he wouldn’t have understood the full implication of surgical intervention. I, on the other hand, having stubbed a toe on more than one occasion and recalling how exquisitely painful a sore toe can be, was very concerned about the feeling of a denailed toe. 

“Well,” said the surgeon, in all seriousness, “It loses its sensitivity pretty quickly. Like a circumcision really”. 

I smiled with surprise, “I’m afraid I have no experience of such a sensation,” and wondered at the analogy. 

A time for the operation was arranged and we duly turned up at the local hospital, minus breakfast, plus considerable apprehension. Earlier treatment has left him fearful and antagonistic to any intervention. 

“Has Simon ever had Valium?” he asked. 

“Oh yes! It has a paradoxical effect on him.” 

He raised his eyebrows. What would an old stay-at-home Mum know of such terms? 

I was remembering the time Simon had required some oral work at the Dental Hospital, which had to be done under general anaesthetic. At that time, the anaesthetist had prescribed Valium as a pre­operative sedation. I assumed that the experts knew best but was rather reticent. 

“Er, Valium has over stimulated him in the past,” I ventured. 

“He’ll be alright,” said the doctor, “I’m used to these kids!” 

To myself I thought: “You’ve never seen Simon under the influence.” 

As it happened, that was soon remedied. When we eventually managed to stop him tearing around the waiting area, he put on one of those ridiculous hospital gowns, having obligingly, if inappropriately, stripped off, and we persuaded him on to the gurney. Here, he rolled onto his tummy and proceeded to make moonies at the amused nursing staff, the gown falling away from his plump little body as he lifted his bottom. The porter came, and all the way down those endless corridors of the old Royal Adelaide Hospital, and still on his tummy, he held his arms outstretched and announced to the world that he was Superman. 

It ceased to be amusing when we reached the theatre suite. He was a bit groggy by then, but not enough to accept the anaesthetist saying: 

“Don’t look, Simon, I’m going to put a needle in your hand.” 

Too much information! Still far from fully sedated, he took umbrage at this and, disliking the sensation of being held down, he wriggled and roared, his throat hoarse from fasting, until the staff stood back and left the poor kid to me. Feeling like a Judas, I held him, and they placed a mask over his protests as he breathed in the tranquillizing gases. It was an experience I’ll never forget. It felt as though his very life was ebbing away. They gave him a dose of something that causes a degree of amnesia. I think Simon doesn’t remember the bad bits of that day; they should have given some to me! 

Anyway, for the toe, no Valium but blessed Midazolan that took him quietly and unresisting to a dream state. 

The toenail was removed, required dressing for a week or so, then the daily footbaths started. He didn’t seem to suffer much pain — I know he has a high threshold — and he only complained a couple of times. I realised he was feeling better the day Kylie came for a visit. Kylie is a dear friend who uses a wheelchair. At this stage, Simon was also using such a chair, lent by a kind friend to help him get around, as one cannot walk with one’s toe all sore and bandaged. I’d wheel him to the toilet, the car, to wherever, and he thought it hilarious. For the first few nights, I made up a double bed on the lounge floor for comfort and security and that was fun. When Kylie popped in with the carer she called out at the front door and Simon jumped up and literally ran to open it, with apparently no discomfort at all. Ain’t love grand! We chatted and drank tea but as soon as Kylie left, he was back in his wheelchair. 

“Toilet, Mum!” What a fraud! 

The toe healed without incident but the daily bathing continues. Unnecessary? Perhaps. But it’s as much part of the early morning ritual as the early snack, the first rush to the loo, the shower, shave and cleaning of teeth. Simon fetches a towel, folds it neatly to a thickness of four and places it under his feet. I bring the hot water. After five minutes or so I remove the bowl, dry his feet and massage in Sorbolene as we sing “Rock my soul, all the way to Bethlehem”. Simon, quite Tiggerish in expression, is calm throughout and we share a moment of closeness. It’s not a chore at all. More like a meditation.


By Jonty Whitehead

I am not like you.

Rather, this brain where my mind roams

Is a new estate, halted in progress,

Its developer bankrupt, through no fault of his own,

With some roads continuous, and others dead ends,

And unfinished paths with muddy gaps too wide to leap.

    So it is in my head –

    Incomplete networks

    Holed with failed synapses

And unlit neurons.

I must wander there, at times aimless or misunderstood, 

Forming links and perceptions

Not always to my advantage.

It’s what I live with.

I cannot be like you.

Stop expecting it!