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Monika Chomka

"The best are those moments when I enter their houses and see a spark in their eyes, which some time before seemed to be defeated by illness. That is the point I know that what we are doing makes sense."

 

 

 

I have been living in Britain since 1994. Having completed a post-high-school course in Otwock, I decided to take a year off in Britain to learn better English. That year turned into 24 years and my entire professional life.

I remember the stress surrounding the first travel here, that was back before Poland joined the EU. I had to obtain a work permit, queue at the border. We travelled by coach to Victoria station, but somewhere in Germany the driver lost the way, and the journey took a total of 40 hours.

At that point there was no diploma validation processes or mutual recognition of qualifications, so I was treated half-seriously whenever I mentioned my Polish education. I did all jobs I could: hotels, restaurants, house cleaning. Today, I still wonder where I found all the energy for that.

Only after Poland joined the European Union in 2004, could I finally start looking for work in the area I wanted. I quickly found my way to a private company that looked after people with stabilised disabilities at their homes by offering them professional care and support.

To be honest, at that time I did not know that anything like that existed. In Poland, there was a community nurs, and that was it. Here, however, it is dealt with through a system and supported by the NHS, which results from the right conclusion that it is more beneficial than keeping patients long-term in hospital care.

Today, I have my own company of this kind called Amber Healthcare Services, in which we are guided by a simple principel: that despite all the difficulties you still can choose to live your life to the full. I tell our patients that disability is not the end of the world. For many, the world collapses under the weight of their illness, but we still can - and should - do as much as we can to bring them back to life.

For years of collecting experiences in other companies I paid with my health, but the paradox was that I still had the support of our clients, who kept encouraging me to start a company on my own. There was especially one very stubborn Brit, who from the very beginning declared that he would come to us as soon as we open and get all necessary documents. He is very ill: he has the congenital brittle bone disease, suffered from a stroke, had a tracheotomy, and uses a wheelchair, but I remember how moved I was when he wrote on his phone: I am transferring to your care services.

Many people always say that it is difficult to set up your own company without contacts in the right places. When we started we did not have them: we could count on one client, a handful of workers, and a lot of good intentions. Today, we have some ten permanent patients and 50 employees who visit them regularly at their home.

There are sometimes these special moments that stay with us for years. A year ago, we took over a patient with symptoms of Parkinson disease who had spent the larger part of the last five years sitting at home: either in bed or a folding chair, and that was it. We took her over, led her to recovery and looked after her. Recently - with our support - she was able to visit her sister at work. Emotions made them cry like little girls - but for us it was a clear signal: we can make a difference

The other example is the very ill Brit, who announced to us before Christmas, that he wants to attend the wedding of one of his former carers in Poland. When we asked how he was going to travel, he said: that is not my problem, it is yours.

We had to come up with all sort of ideas how to organise the transportation of a man who cannot fly, has difficulties with speaking, require very special handling on the way, and can travel only a few hours in a row - but we made it. Since then he visited Poland more than once.

I think there could be a cultural element that makes Poles such great carers.

Polish families have always had a tradition of looking after and caring for older members of the family, seeking support among the closed ones rather than rushing people to a care home. We also try to show our clients that you often do not need to send your relatives away, because even very ill people usually can - with proper support - manage at home they love to live in.

The best are those moments when I enter their houses and see a spark in their eyes, which some time before seemed to be defeated by illness. That is the point I know that what we are doing makes sense: our patients choose life and we help them in this.

 

Words: Jakub Krupa

Picture: Jadwiga Brontē

© 2012 Ministry of Foreign Affairs