The Garbage Run Miracle (Membership required)

This is the story of how one man achieved what an entire system failed to accomplish. The following real life story is an absolute testimony that improvement is possible in people with dementia.

This account is also a testimony to the incredibly successful leadership style practised by Sharryn McDonald – Administrator of Cessnock Masonic Care. She encourages her staff to work across the boundaries, follow their hearts and provide not only physical care but, just as importantly, social and emotional care.

Neville Cameron is the maintenance man at Masonic Care in Cessnock, and Colin Clerke is one of the residents living in the village. Colin has been in and out of psycho geriatric wards, diagnosed with dementia and then came to live in the Dementia Wing at Cessnock Masonic Care. I am sure you all know a “Colin” and have most likely experienced that usually these “Colins” continue on a downhill path. However, this story is different…

Neville has no formal training in dementia care; however, he is compassionate, patient and persistent and he saw the possibility for Colin’s improvement. Here Neville tells his and Colin’s inspiring story.

When I first started work at Cessnock Masonic Care, I noticed a guy standing inside the dementia unit garden fence. He was introduced as Colin.

Over the following weeks, I learned that Colin was quite withdrawn and spent most of his time in his room reading.

Colin would just stand and watch me work. One day when I was picking up garden refuse, I said: ‘There is nothing I hate more than somebody standing around watching me with his hands in his pockets!’ First, Colin took his hands out of his pockets; he thought about it and then picked up a stick and began to help me. This became the start of us working closely together.

I began to involve Colin in the duties of the garbage run, which took quite some time because of his dementia. I was on a real learning curve, never having had any experience with dementia before. I needed patience, and I had to learn that I could only give Colin one direction at a time. Each time he emptied a wheelie bin, I would have to show him where it belonged.

After a while, I noticed that he began to show signs of thinking for himself; he was starting to remember certain aspects of the duties without having to be continually reminded.

I was encouraged by this and said to Colin: ‘I’m going to question a lot of the things you say so it will alert your grey matter and help you remember things.’ He seemed okay with that, so I also said: ‘Your memory may even get to the stage where you remember the $100 you owe me!’ Quick as a wink, he answered: ‘No, that bit of grey matter has gone!

In the beginning, Colin’s conversations with me were only about the weather, using the same phrase over and over again. Now he talks about anything, and often he will converse with people without them initiating the conversation.

Certain tasks always trigger the same conversation. For example, when I come back after I’ve been away, he always says, ‘Are you winning?’ Afternoon smoko is always about the weather; and if there are more than 3 people when we pass the courthouse, he always comments, ‘The specials are on today; one way ticket to Broken Hill.

In the early days, Colin couldn’t walk whilst holding a cup of coffee; it seemed as though his feet were stuck to the floor. He can now walk, carry the coffee and open a sliding door all at the same time.

A few months ago Colin moved from the dementia wing into the general hostel.

His improvement has amazed everyone. Sharryn and I often talk about Colin and because of his continued involvement and the improvement in his contribution to the garbage run he was recently appointed the Recycle Bin Co-ordinator. He thought he had won the lottery.

The other day Colin and I went up to the dementia wing to do a job. When we got to the door, he said: ‘I’m pleased I don’t live up here.