Emergency admission / weekend from hell part one

I’ve just had the weekend from hell, in a less than great month. 2014 is officially shit. Two bouts of cellulitis (3 if you count the fact the one on my knee came back) and then a rather dramatic Emergency admission to hospital. The last 4 weeks have been far from plain sailing.

 

*WARNING*

 

I am going to warn you now this post will contain graphic content, if your eating stop reading now, if you have easily offended sensibilities this post is not for you. The language contained in the post will be a little fruity, think drunken sailor on crack! I apologise in advance but this is going to be a “real life” post and there will be no fluffy bunnies or unicorns featured within it. This is what its like to be chronically ill.


If you want to know what an absolute bitch of disorder EDS can be and you aren’t afraid of the mention of lady parts continue. 

 

*    *    *    *

 


There has been a joke in our house since 1998 that I can not go through a Football World Cup without an emergency hospital admission. Just as England were putting the final nail in their coffin on Thursday (19th June 2014) I thought I may have actually broken the curse. Then my body went “yeah right” snorted, rolled its eyes and sent me on a journey to pain a level of which I didn’t know existed or that you could live through.


As the football match drew to an end my insides had already been hurting for a few hours. I had a pain low down in my abdomen that felt a bit like period pains. It was burning, uncomfortable and just shouldn’t be happening as I take a contraceptive pill that stops all that nonsense. I did what I always do and tried to ignore it, figuring it would sort itself out.


 By 2:30am Friday morning I was considering calling 999 for an ambulance. I was now blacking out for brief moments with the pain and realising this wasn’t  my period. Had I been fully conscious at this time I would have called 999 but I couldn’t so I lay stranded on the couch in a daze.


I don’t know why it took me so long to work out what was causing the pain. It was the pain itself that was confusing me as it was diffuse and felt like the whole of the inside of my abdomen was on fire and there was a rhythmic quality to it. It wasn’t adhesion pain as that is sharp and colicky. It was the absence of passing urine that alerted me to the fact that my bladder had effectively gone on strike. Not wanting to panic my husband I grabbed a hot water bottle and tried to ride it out. I have suffered short periods of time where my bladder has walked out on me demanding better pay and conditions but it had always seen sense and resumed work without any fuss. My bladder tried in vain to work releasing pitiful amounts of urine but by 7am I had to admit defeat. I woke my husband and told him I needed him to stay home from work because I believed in the next few hours I would be travelling to hospital.


As usual not wanting to go to hospital I used delaying tactics and asked my husband to ring our doctors surgery for a home visit. At 1230pm my gp rang, I explained my symptoms and he asked me how I felt about having a catheter. My response was “I don’t care anymore just stop this pain”. I laugh at this statement now because  a little over 24 hours from that statement I would be enduring the kind of pain where if you told me the only way you could stop it was to kill me, I don’t think I would have given it a second thought.


By 2pm my gp was at my house. I don’t believe he was on the rota for home visits that day, he had cleared a space in his schedule and nipped out to see me. As soon as he walked into my bedroom (I was confined to my bed as I couldn’t walk. My bladder was so distended at this point the pressure made my vagina feel like it was being turned inside out) I burst into tears. Since leaving work I rarely cry (now that speaks volumes doesn’t it?) and I think since 2011 when I first met my gp I’ve cried on him on only one previous occasion. 


He was an angel, he informed me that urinary retention makes you extremely agitated and emotional and that along with the pain in my abdomen I was showing text book symptoms. He rang the district nurse and the conversation went ” I am with Rachel now and she needs a catheter, when can you be with her?”. He was so organised he had spoken to the district nurse already and had her primed and ready to go.


By 2:50pm my shiny new catheter was fitted however relief was not instant. Initially it didn’t drain a thing, the nurse was most perplexed as she had never had that happen before. So she asked me to stand up and take a drink. With that it started draining and although uncomfortable, in the couple of hours after it had been inserted it had drained 2 litres, by morning it had drained over 3.5.


Saturday morning I felt fabulous (compared with the previous day) my fashion forward accessory was working like a dream. I lost count of how much I emptied but it was several more litres. Around 2pm in the afternoon I started to get that familiar burning feeling again in my abdomen. I also noticed that the catheter was no longer draining. As the pain wasn’t bad, just uncomfortable I googled my symptoms. It did indeed appear that my catheter could be blocked or that I was having some bladder spasms. The treatment of these involved opiate pain killers and buscopan ( a muscle relaxant usually used in the UK for the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome) as I had both of these to hand I took some and tried to get some rest.


All afternoon I soldiered on, hubby was working, doing a reduced shift as I didn’t want to be left alone all day dealing with a catheter and not feeling great. He arrived home at 6pm and by then the pain was getting a little unbearable. By this point I had only passed 100ml of urine in six hours and had drunk more than 2 litres. 


I am a great believer in distracting yourself when in pain and trying not to acknowledge it. I don’t like giving into pain as once you do its very hard to get it under control. I had hung on so that hubby could work, now he was home it was like the dam had been breached and I couldn’t keep up the charade any longer. It was getting ridiculous so I rang 111 the number you ring in the UK for out of hours medical help.


That call was useless, despite acknowledging that I was indeed in a lot of pain, I was informed the minor injuries unit doctor didn’t feel confident enough to deal with catheters and the nurses were busy. Whilst speaking to the doctor I broke down and with that the pain increased ten fold. I was told that I would have to make my way to the large hospitals A & E department a 15-20 minutes car ride away. 


At this point I considered looking on YouTube to see if they had a video on removing a foley catheter – thats how much I didn’t want to go to hospital.


I didn’t want to call for an ambulance as I knew my call would be coded as green call, meaning non life threatening and if they were busy I could be waiting 4 hours or more. So some how I made it to our car and we set off. Every bump in the road felt like someone had inserted barbed wire into my nether regions. To the casual observer I probably looked like I was on my way to the maternity hospital with all the puffing and panting I was doing!


Accident and Emergencies  was packed out we couldn’t get parked outside so we had to make use of the drop off zone. Reception has glass in front of the staff and a very high counter. Meaning when sat in my wheelchair I can only see the top of the head of the person sat behind the glass. I asked the receptionist if she could move to the wheelchair access desk as I couldn’t see her and was told ” No the computer isn’t switched on and I can hear you so its ok!” Well it wasn’t ok for me to be shouting at the top of someones head and I will be writing to the CEO of the hospital. 


Whats the point of having a wheelchair access desk if you refuse to use it? Its just a window dressing and apparently as a disabled person I am not supposed to be able to speak for myself or access that department. Wherever possible I speak for myself and to be denied a face to face conversation at your first point of access in hospital is degrading.


I had to wait for about 20 minutes to be triaged. Normally I would say that was ok. A cut hand with pressure applied (as long as its not an arterial bleed) can wait, when your bladder is in spasm and you can’t speak through the pain 20 minutes is an eternity. Especially when you know that you are waiting to be triaged and you will have a longer wait once through into the magical area known as minors or majors.


Once through into minors the luxury of a bed wasn’t forthcoming. I was forced to remain seated in my wheelchair, when I needed to be lying down or curling into a ball. The spasms were gaining in their ferocity and I was forced to sit and watch as 7 nurses and healthcare assistants stand around chatting for 20 minutes under the guise of a “handover” oblivious to my suffering and the woman next to me who in her 70’s had dislocated her shoulder and was screaming in agony. 


Having witnessed her cries go unnoticed I knew shouting and screaming was going to get me no where. I dont tend to shout and scream when I am in pain. So I surprised myself when I began to sob uncontrollably. My body was shaking with the pain and I was beginning to be unable to keep myself in my wheelchair. Even now I don’t know how I remained conscious, I didn’t think it was humanely possible to endure that amount of pain. Even now I am finding it hard to find the words to describe the ferocity and the sheer agony of it.


With the prospect of my pain getting under control seeming hours away, I am not proud but in a moment of sheer desperation I told my husband to tell the nurse that I had bypassed my catheter and was now sitting in a pool of urine. Nothing gets a nurse or healthcare assistant moving like the prospect of having to deal with body fluids. There was a small element of truth to what I said, I was bypassing my catheter but it was more of a dribble than a gush and although my trousers were not wet, my underwear was soaked. Within 2 minutes I was on the unoccupied gurney that stood less than 5 foot away from me. However as I was trying to climb up on it the worst spasm to hit me came and I was shrieking in pain.


To an outsider it must have seemed that the dislocated shoulder lady and I were in competition with each other, as no sooner did I start wailing like a banshee she started as well.


The nurse was talking to me but what she said I had no idea. All I can remember saying to her was “I’ve had a partial bowel obstruction and I can tell you it was a fucking cake walk compared to this”. Which was followed by more shrieks of pain. I was on the gurney for less than 5 minutes when a doctor came in.


For some reason everyone (medical staff wise) kept assuming that I was a long term catheter user. They didn’t seem to understand that it had only been placed the day before. When they did get that I wasn’t a long term user they kept saying it had been in a week. When you are sobbing, screaming and swearing having to keep correcting medical staff because they just won’t listen to you it is not an ideal situation. Its bad enough having to explain my medical condition when I am not in the throes of a bladder spasm but when you are your most vulnerable and your life is in their hands its not reassuring.


I was f’ing and blinding the whole time I spoke to the doctor. I must have seemed like a woman possessed.The doctor explained that they would take the catheter out and put a new one in, which was greeted with my shrieks of “no just take this fucking thing out and let me have a wee (may have said piss can’t remember exactly)”. She explained to me that they had to get the urine out that had accumulated inside me and the only way to do that was to put a new one in. I wasn’t a happy camper, it didn’t seem logical that you would replace the thing that was causing so much pain. I acquiesced hoping that this would stop the pain. As the spasm wore off I apologised to the doctor she told me there was no need to apologise, this was an extremely painful condition and if she looked up bladder spasms and urinary retention in a medical dictionary my picture would be there. For once in my life I was presenting in a text book way, if I hadn’t been in agony I would have cracked a smile.


Whilst we waited for the treatment room to become free a wave of nausea hit me. I had nothing to be sick in, my husband was standing beside the bed. All I could say was “watch your shoes” as I projectile vomited onto the floor. Hubby and I haven’t stopped laughing about this since it happened. It was bloody awful at the time. As I hadn’t eaten for hours the projectile vomit was pure bile and then I dry heaved for the next few minutes. The dislocated shoulder lady seemed to sense the competition on the noise front and started to scream again. My husband was losing his rag, his wife was in agony, throwing up over the side of the bed and next to us was a lady begging him to get a nurse. It was an awful situation for him to be in. He told her she would have to wait for me to stop being sick before he could help her and get a nurse.


A really lovely nurse, the one that rushed to get me on the gurney and tried to comfort me when I was acting like one of the ladies giving birth on “One born every minute”, popped her head around the curtain. She stroked my shoulder whilst I apologised for the mess on the floor. She assured me that she had seen worse, she knew I was in agony and they would be sorting me out as soon as the room was clear. As I was in between spasms I was able to ask her to help the lady next door out. She was clearly in so much pain, when you watch “24 hours in A & E”, shoulder dislocations are identified as extremely painful, people are given morphine and gas and air. They aren’t left in a chair and ignored for over an hour. 


Despite the pain I was in, her cries hurt my soul. Hearing such distress coming from an elderly lady broke my heart when her pain could have been brought under control and she could have waited in relative comfort for her shoulder to be realigned. Whats the point in putting posters up on the walls of A & E departments telling patients to let their nurse know they are in pain, when they are ignored. Its a waste of paper and a waste of the blu tack sticking it to the wall. It wins the emptiest gesture possible award.


Welcome to David Camerons vision of the NHS, where old ladies scream in pain because there are too few doctors in an accident and emergency department to prescribe morphine.


I was wheeled through into the treatment room and within 10 minutes the old catheter was out and a new one placed. Only much to everyone’s consternation there was no urine draining into the bag. I wasn’t surprised for a while I have suspected that I suffer from Fowlers Syndrome. My sister suffers with this condition and has just had a sacral nerve stimulator fitted. 


With Fowlers Syndrome the neck / valve of the bladder is too tight and will not relax (as it would do normally) to allow urine to flow from the bladder. Sometimes when you catheterise a patient with Fowler’s syndrome you can place the catheter but then the valve slams shut around the tube so it stops urine flowing and that is exactly what happened to me ( and it had happened to my sister in the past). Unfortunately along with Ehlers Danlos syndrome and Autonomic Nervous system dysfunction the doctor and nurse treating me were completely clueless. As the catheter wasn’t working I was now being admitted under the surgical team. 


Although the doctor never said it, I knew that if the catheter failed to work I was facing an operation to have a suprapubic catheter fitted. I hate it when doctors think you are an idiot. All she would say to me was “well the surgeons deal with catheters” I wanted to say “no they don’t urologists do” but over the years I have found to my cost that doctors don’t like it when you know more than they do. I had already presented them with three medical conditions they had never heard of.


I stood, I drank but the urine never dropped into the bag. I had released all of 100mls and of course that was taken for the obligatory pregnancy test and dipped to check for infection. You know my feelings about pregnancy tests!


With the catheter not working and my admission onto a ward reasonably imminent I was swabbed for c-diff and MRSA again. However this time it was only my nose and throat. I dont understand why I was intimately swabbed on my planned admission and not on this occasion but hey ho. Then the fun and games began with finding a vein to get a cannula in.


I will never understand why doctors or nurses (but not phlebotomists in my experience) don’t believe patients when you tell them your veins are shite. If I am ill my veins will shrink away and be difficult to find. Add in Ehlers Danlos Syndrome and you end up with veins that have the consistency of an elastic band. As the needle approaches them they shift away. Medical professionals that have never come across this then proceed to dig around until they blow the vein or cause such pain that you pull away. Despite me telling the doctor my veins would be hard she gave it a go. I stipulated that she could stick me with the needle as many times as she wanted but she wasn’t to dig around. I also said that there was no shame in calling the vascular access team. In my experience you have to be patient with my veins. You can’t stab at them wildly and expect them to play ball.


Taking this on board she put the tourniquet around my forearm (I am still bruised) made me hang my hand over the side of the bed and she placed a latex glove filled with hot water on the back of my hand. She did listen and I am grateful for that. It took well over 5 minutes to get the needle in, whilst she was doing it she kept saying “does this constitute digging?” as she gently probed the vein. She was very patient and calm whilst she was in fact digging and it didn’t hurt. She got the needle in and then as usual my vein wouldn’t give up any blood. Eventually after re-applying the hot water filled latex blood we had some joy. When she finished she exclaimed “oh my word, I have never seen veins behave like that”. Thats the fun of EDS I told her.


To be continued……..

Advertisements

“well if you’re that f**king disabled get off facebook and take up knitting”.

The title of my post will become clear as you read it. I apologise in advance for the language but I feel it has to be repeated here. The abuse that was hurled at me on facebook needs to be set in context so I apologise profusely for the preamble.

 

I have recently experienced some firsts the likes of which as a disabled person I had never experienced until a Sunday in May (2014). I have lived in fear of this kind of abuse for quite sometime now. Of course I have heard the horror stories about various forms of abuse the disabled encounter either on line or out in public but so far in my life I had been pretty well sheltered from it.


As a disabled person (7 years of professional experience under my belt) I know that many of the disabled community live in a constant state of fear when out in public or on line. Some have developed social phobias or agoraphobia such is the state of fear for them when outside the relative safety of their home.

 

 Since the coalition government took power in 2010 our lives  (the disabled) have got worse. It seems to be open season on the disabled in this country and this is being fuelled by the right wing media. It seems the disabled are nothing more than the whipping boy for this complete shower of …….(you fill in the blank) that are currently in power. The disabled are seen as scroungers, who fake their illness and take your money (the taxpayer) because they are too bone idle to work. 

 

Let me point out I would love to work, to get out of the house and socialise like a normal human being, its just I am yet to find a profession where I can carry out my job role lying down (there is one but I’m loath to get into the sex trade!).


The fact that these “scrounging scum” may have actually paid into the system during their working lives seems neither here nor there as far as the right wing press / political parties are concerned and the vitriolic bile they spew. If you are taking money from the state you’re a scrounger. 

 

What the general public, who are being brainwashed by this message seem to forget is that the majority of people in this country would be classed as scroungers under this political mantra – Child Benefit, Child Tax Credits, Housing Benefit, Council Tax Benefit, DLA, PIP, ESA, the State Pension, these are all benefits being claimed by the same people who lap up the benefit fraudster stories in what passes for news these days. Yet all these people claiming these benefits seem to think their benefit claim doesn’t count. It drives me mad that they can not see the wood for the trees.

 

And may god help you if you happen to be an immigrant and claiming benefit. The fact you may have had to leave your country due to a threat of bodily violence against you for being gay, speaking out against a corrupt regime or just being a woman, doesn’t seem to matter to these people either.


I have been extremely lucky in the last seven years to not have my disability mocked or its extent disbelieved, on this particular Sunday in May that all changed. 

 

As usual I had asked a question of my friends on my personal facebook page not my The Myasthenia Kid page. The question was about some Morris Dancers that had performed in the town centre. I asked if it had made anyone else feel uncomfortable that they had performed with their faces blacked up. I will state here I am white, I wasn’t trying to be all politically correct and Guardianista. I was asking a genuine question and I wanted to see how my friends felt about it. The discussion was a grown up adult debate that involved me researching on line during it to see what was the reason behind the Morris dancers being blacked up.


The question had been posted on late Saturday night, around 10pm and all involved had been very calm and everyone was respecting each others opinions. My view was in the minority which it occasionally is. Our town isn’t very ethnically diverse so it was interesting to see if the answers corresponded to that. I imagine if I lived elsewhere in the country the answers would have been different. It was interesting and enjoyable, I love a good debate. I don’t post these questions to be controversial and the people that are my friends know that I will ensure everyone remains polite and calm whilst discussing a subject.

 

I have posted numerous questions before to be debated however I will admit this probably was the edgiest yet. I have always tried to stay away from “controversial” issues when I ask a question, sticking to softer subjects like the length of school holidays or school cookery lessons etc.


Sunday morning was a different kettle of fish, a person that I am friends with for professional reasons (as in I have hired her on one occasion to do some work for me) decided to wade in both guns blazing. Her attitude was aggressive and she was determined to bully me into submission because my opinion differed from hers. She rattled off numerous posts, to which it became crystal clear she had neglected to read any of the comments contained within the debate. I kept pointing out to her what she was saying was factually incorrect and if she had read what had gone on the previous night she would realise what an arse she was making of herself. Obviously in my replies I wrapped it up a bit and wasn’t quite so blunt. However once this keyboard warrior was set in motion there was no stopping her and she became more and more abusive and racist.

 

Anyone who knows me personally outside cyberspace, knows I will not apologise for feeling a certain way or holding a certain opinion. I asked her politely to stop being so aggressive and to stop reducing what had been a good debate into a playground slanging match but she continued. When it became clear to her that I wouldn’t back down she posted 


   “well if you’re that fucking disabled get off facebook and take up knitting”.


I was so stunned by her comment initially I didn’t know what to do. No one in the last 7 years has ever said anything so derogatory about my disability. I was in the midst of getting ready to out with my parents when she wrote that comment. I don’t know what shocked me more the comment or the fact she is the mother of a disabled child or the fact that her child has mixed heritage.

 

When discussing it later with some of my “friends” they didn’t think the comment was that bad and were confused by my reaction to it. I then asked them if it had been a racial slur would it still have been OK? The answer was a resounding no. So then I asked is it acceptable to make fun of disabled people or call them names like spastic, mongol etc? Again the answer was no. I then asked “do you now see why this was unacceptable to me?” I got a yes but I shouldn’t have had to jump through hoops to get them to understand. 

 

If someone says something like “well if you’re that f**king disabled get off facebook and take up knitting” firstly it makes me feel that she is questioning the level of my disability and secondly because I am disabled I am not “allowed” to be on facebook because thats for “normal” people. Which then in turn leads to the old fashioned belief that if you are physically impaired in any way you are also mentally impaired. This kind of thinking left a whole generation of bright physically impaired young people languishing in special schools which believed they would never progress beyond basket weaving. 

 

Thats why that sentence was so offensive to me and it should be to anyone who is disabled. I have a voice and I will use it. I will not be bullied or shamed into leaving something or somewhere because I don’t fit into this trolls version of a “normal” person.

 

I like to credit my friends with some intelligence, their political views may differ wildly from my own but life is made up of so many different beliefs it would be ridiculous not to have friends that thought in a different way from you. What makes me sad is that they have bought into the propaganda being spewed out by this government. Where it is becoming socially acceptable to abuse disabled people. The police in this county have reported for the first time a rise in hate crime against the disabled. We have reached a tipping point and nobody but those affected by it seem to have noticed.


I know many of you have faced far worse abuse but this was the first time it had happened to me. Looking at it now I can see yes it was abusive but on the scale of things that have been said to others its pretty insignificant. At the time it didn’t feel insignificant, it wounded me deeply, that someone that I “knew” could say those things to me and harboured those deep seated feelings against the disabled.


Deeply upsetting as her ignorant comment was I decided it wasn’t going to ruin my day out. I felt at the time (and I still feel) that the best course of action was to delete the Troll and her comments. I have heard from other writer friends that Trolls are best dealt with by ignoring them or neutralising them. I couldn’t leave my facebook page open all day for her to post her hateful messages that were not just against the disabled but were racist as well, when I would not be able to respond to them for hours.


So leaving the upset at home, I ventured out to a local supermarket, my first trip out of the house since before Christmas if you exclude hospital / doctor appointments. I was very nervous whilst I was out of the house as where I live is a small town and it was possible that the Troll could be shopping there as well. Thankfully there was no sign of her.


Whilst at the till, my mother had parked me up whilst she unloaded the trolley. I was sat there minding my own business, when I saw a woman making a beeline for me. I had my sunglasses on so I had a really good look at her as she approached me in case she was someone I really should recognise. She came closer and closer towards me and without a word put her hand on my arm rest and leaned right over me to pick something off a shelf. I sat there in stunned silence, my presence had been completely ignored by this woman and I had been reduced to just a fixture or fitting. Had I not had the run in with the Troll that morning I would have grabbed her arm and told her “excuse me!” however as I was feeling so vulnerable I didn’t.


I couldn’t believe that this had happened to me that the simple act of me being in a wheelchair had reduced me to the position of non human. I thought afterwards maybe this woman was equally as rude to the able bodied people around her. I will never know but to be reduced to nothing more than an extension of a shelf in the supermarket knocked the wind out of my sails. Especially when I was looking so gorgeous, having made a real effort to be glamorous for my trip out of the house. ( sarcasm alert – if you missed it!).


My sister has told me many stories of people climbing over her to get into lifts / toilets before her. How in pubs she has been called a “spastic” or worse. Its never happened to me, I’ve been very lucky. My exposure to the outside world is limited, a lot of my life is lead in cyberspace. I thought I had surrounded myself with “nice”, decent people, who accepted me for who I am. I was wrong and that hurts too. Having met the Troll twice she seemed nice enough. However you never really know what’s lurking underneath with some people until you get into an argument with them and then all their subconscious thoughts come flooding out.

 

 

I guess under this government and IDS its just going to get worse and I better get my big girl pants on ready to do battle. I certainly won’t be taking up knitting!

 

What to do if you suffer from discrimination/bullying/harassment at work

So many people suffer at the hands of bullies in their working life that if it was all reported there would be a national outcry. Being sick or disabled does not protect you from being discriminated against, harassed or bullied. It can happen in so many subtle ways that you may not even fully realise what is happening to you until its too late, signed off with stress, demoted or moved to a role that isn’t suitable for you.

Discrimination, bullying, harassment can be so subtle that when you try and make a complaint about it you start feeling like you are making a fuss about nothing. Its not until you start writing all the events down that you see the bigger picture and what an enormous campaign of abuse you have endured.
http://www.jfo.org.uk/info/new/index.htm This is an excellent site that outlines what bullying in the workplace looks like. For many people that I have shared this link with in the past it has been a real eye opener.

So many people I have spoken to over the years have all said the same thing “I didn’t realise it could happen to me”, “I thought I was liked”, “I thought I did my job well”. Discrimination, bullying, harassment can happen to anyone, no one is immune to it. It has such a devastating impact on the individual it is happening to, it literally wrecks lives.

Since leaving work I have had a lot of people ask me for advice about employment law, disability discrimination, bullying, harassment, so I have decided to put a blog post together with some basic advice and some links to some excellent websites which will give you further information.

I am not a professional in this field, I have had to learn about this subject. In a previous life I worked in the human resources department of a large company, so have seen both sides of the situation. Please use my basic advice in conjunction with that of a professional eg a union representative, citizens advice bureaux or an employment law solicitor. If (in the UK) you have legal protection as an added component of your home insurance you can access advice through their legal team, they will if your case is good enough and it hasn’t been resolved through your employer’s internal procedures, take it to an employment tribunal.

A case being good enough to go and then go onto win at a tribunal rests entirely on the evidence that you are able to provide. The same can be said for bringing a complaint / grievance forward to your employer. As with a court case or a police investigation the word of just one person isn’t enough to prove a case and this is why a lot of people fall at the first hurdle, they have no evidence.

A case can not be proven by hearsay it needs to be backed up with documentary evidence and witness statements. Witness statements are a nightmare to obtain as your witnesses, most likely will be intimidated by the situation and will not want to openly support you by providing evidence. So unless you have a signed witness statement in your hand forget about it. What you need is documentary evidence to support your claim that you are being treated unfairly / discriminated against. Documentary evidence can take the form of a diary where you’ve noted down things that have been said or done to you, performance reviews, meeting notes, objectives that have been set for you.

Unfortunately when you are being bullied, undermined, discriminated against you become so beaten down, that you lack the energy to get up and start fighting back and that is how the perpetrator wins. When you are in the situation you can get so used to continually trying to keep yourself afloat in a sea of unreasonable demands, criticisms, derogatory remarks and policies / procedures not being fairly implemented, that you can’t see what is happening to you or you are just so terrified about losing your job that you daren’t stick your head above the parapet.

When a problem arises in your work life my first piece of advice would be to try and resolve the issue informally. Many situations arise out of miscommunication or a poor understanding of an issue, by approaching the person who you are having an issue with, you can sometimes nip the issue in the bud before it escalates. You do have to have quite a bit of courage to do this and many people are unwilling even to speak to the person due to their fear of confrontation. If that is the case take someone with you when you make contact with them, be it a colleague or a union representative. Ask the person if you can speak to them privately as you have something you wish to discuss. It is important that if you carry out this step you make a note of the date, time and who was present at the meeting, you may need to refer back to this in the future if this situation isn’t resolved. A meeting of this type can be carried out regardless of the persons job role within the company, so a manager or a person as the same grade as you. Its important that you document the fact that you have asked the person to stop their unacceptable behaviour towards you.

In the case of physical violence / intimidation / sexual harassment it may not be “safe” for you to approach the individual. Always assess your safety and if you decide you are putting yourself at risk of further violence / sexual assault just go straight to the next step below.

If the person refuses to discuss the situation with you or denies there is an issue and you feel that their explanation isn’t acceptable (or it wasn’t safe for you to approach the individual) you can opt to take a more formal approach by requesting a meeting with the persons manager or a member of the human resources department. Explain in your letter that you have approached the person involved (or haven’t due to personal safety issues) but you are still unhappy about the situation. Also explain in your letter that you wish for the matter to be dealt with informally at this point. If you are a member of a recognised union you can ask for your union representative to be present at the meeting in a supportive capacity. If you do not have a union in your workplace you can ask if you can be accompanied by another member of staff. Having someone else with you serves two functions firstly they can support you and give you the courage to raise the issue and secondly they can act as a witness that the meeting took place.

(In some cases where your allegations are very serious as in the case of physical violence / sexual assault / harassment, racial harassment, disability hate crime the person you approach may decide to immediately make the process formal. Do not panic this is a good sign that they are taking your complaint very seriously.)

Always ensure you keep copies of any paperwork  / letters you submit and also note the date and time and who was present at the meeting for your records. Its important that you start creating a paper trail to prove that you have raised the complaint should you have any issues further down the line. Keep all paperwork outside your workplace in a safe place so that it doesn’t become mislaid. Never use your complaint as a source of gossip, do not discuss the issues with anyone other than your union / employee representative. If word gets back to the person you are complaining about or higher up it can make you look unprofessional and immature and therefore ruin your credibility. Keep everything confidential because believe me in these situations you do not know who you can trust.

If any notes are taken at this meeting – which any good employer should do so that both parties have a record of what was discussed and what the outcome of the meeting was, ensure you receive a copy and that all parties have signed them for proof of accuracy and of the subject matter / outcomes discussed. Once in receipt of the notes take a copy, so that if you lose them you have a back up and also ensure you take them out of your workplace and keep them with any other paperwork relating to your complaint. Again keep all paperwork confidential and do not discuss it with anyone.

If you are unhappy with the quality of the note taking, important points have been missed or what you have said has been incorrectly noted then tell them and do not sign the notes until they have been amended. Amendments should be initialled by you and the person who took made the notes and amended them, so that if someone looks at them in the future they can see that the amendment was agreed and the notes were not changed by you at a later date!

Give the person you have had the meeting with a reasonable amount of time to investigate your complaint. Everyone sees a reasonable amount of time differently, at your meeting ask for a date for a future meeting so that you can be updated. Ensure your request is written in the notes with all parties agreeing to the date and time. For me a reasonable amount of time would be no longer than four weeks, less if it concerns just one individual. If you have had no follow up meeting after a month send a letter to the person who is conducting the meeting (keeping a copy for yourself) letting them know that you consider the length of time taken to conduct their investigation is unreasonable.

The follow up meeting to discuss their findings and a plan of action on how to resolve the situation should be held before four weeks have elapsed. In a perfect world this should be enough to resolve the issue and restore harmony to your working environment. Even if everything is resolved keep hold of the paperwork relating to your complaint. Things in the workplace can change very quickly, a reshuffle of a management team, a change in contractual terms and agreements can quickly throw a spanner in the works and your signed paperwork for reasonable adjustments, a resolution to a bullying/ harassment/discrimination complaint is your insurance policy, that the company will have to stick to.

Some companies like to hold the meeting to discuss your complaint and then bury it hoping that it will go away. They do this by not holding the follow up meeting because they haven’t actually completed an investigation. Its one of the oldest tricks in the book and don’t fall for it. Ensure you chase up the meeting (keeping copies of your letters). I would send no more than two letters, one to the person conducting the investigation and then if you get no response within 7 days, send the next one to their manager outlining your complaint, the date your informal meeting was held and that you now believe that the outcome of their investigation has never been provided to you and its taking an excessively long time. If at this point you get no joy, do not give up. You are creating a good paper trail which shows that your complaint has not been taken seriously, so the next few paragraphs will explain what to do next.

Everything that I have written about so far is about resolving issues informally however sometimes no matter how hard you try this approach does not work. Do not blame yourself if this happens, unfortunately in life you come up against people who despite being aware of your disability will make no allowances for it or that they are so used to being a bully / harasser and have always got away with it they do eventually revert to type or your complaint is buried / ignored. Remember you didn’t ask for your disability, you didn’t ask to be bullied or harassed and if you made a complaint you have every right to a resolution.

When you’ve tried to resolve things informally and it hasn’t worked there are two options open to you, put up and shut up ( not an approach I would advocate, as it will do you no good in the long run) or make a formal complaint. Every company in the UK has by law to have a Grievance procedure. Many people are terrified of the grievance procedure as they feel that it will mark them out as a troublemaker and then their lives will be made a misery. To those people I would ask isn’t your workplace a miserable place already due to the treatment you are receiving? How much worse could it possibly get before you will lodge a grievance?  Nervous breakdown ? Demotion? Dismissal?

http://www.acas.org.uk/index.aspx?articleid=1670 this website gives a quick overview of the grievance procedure and how it should be handled by your employer.
www.gov.uk/solve-workplace-dispute/formal-procedures this gives you a brief overview of the law and has some great resources you can download.
http://www.adviceguide.org.uk/wales/work_w/work_problems_at_work_e/dealing_with_grievances_at_work.htm gives some good advice and pointers as to where to get help.

To lodge a grievance with your employer all you need to do is write to them stating that you wish to exercise your right to lodge a grievance. Usually grievances fall under different categories eg health and safety, contractual and discrimination. In your letter keep it brief, factual and unemotional, just outlining what category you feel your grievance comes under. There will be plenty of time for you to give all the details of your complaint when your grievance is investigated. At this point do not discuss anything informally or off the record as it could be used against you. If you are unsure as to what your company’s grievance procedure is include in your letter (grievance) that you would like a copy of the procedure so that you can refer to it in the future. Do not disclose any documentary evidence you have in your possession at this point, this can be taken with you to the investigatory meeting.

It is also helpful in this letter to explain what would be a resolution to this situation. Many a complainant has been thrown off course completely when asked at the investigatory meeting how they wish the situation to be resolved. Your ideas about the resolution to your complaint needs to be seen as reasonable, putting “I want him / her sacked” maybe what you want but isn’t at all helpful. At the end of the day your employer will decide if the individual has breached company policy and needs to be dismissed. Your resolution should state the obvious that you want the behaviour to stop, you feel that the manager /  the individual / your department is in need of training / retraining on a particular subject (disability discrimination, codes of conduct) and that you want a harmonious working environment. Above all the resolution should be a positive statement about how you see things moving forward. Having the person /persons sacked is on the top of everyones wish list but keep those thoughts to yourself. It looks much more professional if you anticipate this question and have given it some careful consideration.

If you have got to the point of lodging a grievance, your paperwork trail should be quite impressive. It should include your diary detailing when meetings were held and who with, the diary should also record any derogatory comments that were made / actions taken against you etc these entries should dated and a note made of the person responsible. Any meetings that you have attended such as performance reviews ( you should ask for a copy of these for your own records), attendance meetings when they happened and what was discussed – copies of notes signed by all present. Any written requests that you have previously handed in such as a request for a meeting about reasonable adjustments www.gov.uk/equality-act-2010-guidance, or informal meetings to resolve the initial complaint before it escalated. If you can obtain witness statements get them,  however these are notoriously difficult to obtain as people fear for their own jobs and what if your grievance is not upheld and you all have to continue working with the perpetrator?

Along with the paperwork it’s also good to have a copy of your contract (especially in disputes about terms and conditions) a staff handbook if your company is large enough to have one, your training record and any other work related paperwork. If you have things like customer letters stating how lovely you were when dealing with them, include those as well as they can help in performance issues.

Your employer should acknowledge your grievance by writing in a timely manner, I would say no longer than seven days. Some companies state in their staff handbooks how quickly they will acknowledge your grievance. If they do ensure that they stick to it (unless the person you have sent it to is on holiday or off sick, it maybe a case of then sending it to someone else within the department or their manager), if it means sending another letter to chase up their acknowledgement of your grievance do it and keep a copy of your letter for your evidence file.

Contained within the letter of acknowledgement should be an outline of the grievance procedure plus a date and time of a meeting (investigatory) to hear your complaint. If your workplace has a recognised union, the letter should inform you that you are entitled to representation or an employee representative and you will be asked to arrange their attendance. At all times both parties should keep this information confidential.

When you attend the meeting it’s important to have a clear idea of what you want to say. Its important that you try to remain calm and focused. It is very hard not to become emotional because you have probably endured weeks / months/ years (in some cases) of poor treatment at the hands of one or more individuals. Only refer to things that you know as fact and not hearsay however you can suggest that they speak to other individuals who you believe may have also been subjected to the bad behaviour.

Ensure that your evidence file is in order, make a copy to give to whoever is investigating your grievance – never hand over original documents ( that’s why I always advise people to make at least two copies of any documentary evidence). Only give them a copy of your documentary evidence and not your notes for the meeting. If you can, have your evidence linked to your notes so its easy to reference the information and ensure the investigators copy mirrors your own. Don’t expect to be able to read off a crib sheet as you will be interrupted by the investigator, as what appears crystal clear to you, wont to them and you may need to go into more detail to help them understand the issues.

The investigator is not there to judge you or take sides, they are there to listen to your complaint. Don’t expect any warm words of encouragement they should remain impartial. If you feel that they are taking sides tell them calmly. Don’t get angry and don’t get flustered ensure you know what you are going to say and what the evidence backs up, like the back of your hand before this meeting. Ensure that you and your representative are singing from the same hymn sheet and they know the points you want to raise. The employee representative / union representative can also bring up points you may have forgotten in the heat of the moment.

If you feel yourself becoming flustered or you become emotional ask for a five minute break so that you can calm yourself down and refocus yourself. A reasonable investigator will agree to a break and the break and the time the meeting is reconvened should be recorded in the meeting notes.

Under the intense scrutiny of the investigator, who is usually a few pay grades above you, you can find yourself intimidated. A key thing to remember is that they are a human being too, who eats, sleeps and shits just like the rest of us do. They hold no special powers, its just a fancy job role. If you remember that, you can talk with confidence about what has been happening to you.

At the end of the meeting you should be informed that an investigation will be taking place and given a date of when they would like to appraise you of their findings. Ensure you read the notes of the meeting carefully and any mistakes are corrected before signing. If a copy of the notes isn’t offered ask for them, you are entitled to have them. Again do not keep these notes at work, ensure they are placed with the rest of your complaint related paperwork.

Usually companies have written into their grievance procedures how long it will take before you have your next meeting. If however due to the number of people that need to be interviewed or key personnel are out of the business due to holiday / sickness the time can be extended by mutual agreement and this should also be confirmed in writing. You may also be called back to be re-interviewed to gain more information. The same rules apply you are allowed your union/employee representative to be present and notes must be taken etc

The next meeting should be to confirm whether or not your grievance has been upheld. If it hasn’t they should explain clearly the reason why they believe the person(s) have no case to answer. Remember that you have the right to appeal this decision but there is usually a strict time frame in which to do so. If your grievance has been upheld, they then need to discuss with you what they feel the resolution to this situation is. Again if you aren’t happy with the resolution you have the right to appeal the decisions.

Hopefully after all of this your grievance has been resolved and you are happy with the outcome. Each company has its own appeal procedure. If you are unhappy you need to keep appealing until you have exhausted the companies policy or you have reached a satisfactory resolution. Only once you have exhausted the company’s appeal procedure due to being unhappy with it not being upheld or unsatisfactory resolutions, should you consider going to an employment tribunal and that is getting into areas that I am not qualified to talk about.

Tribunals like to see that the complainant has done everything within their power to resolve their complaint with the company. The £1200 fee now introduced to lodge a tribunal is enough to focus the mind to try and get the situation resolved. Once at this stage you need professional advice from a solicitor to help you navigate through the tribunal system or if your union has been supporting you they may provide a solicitor or your home legal protection (home insurance) may do so.

Obviously its not always possible to exhaust the grievance procedure within your company as they may ignore your grievances, in the hope that you will go away. In this situation it’s important that you have all your paperwork in order to prove you did everything you could. Keep raising in writing to them that your original grievance has not been heard in the XX amount of time that you first made them aware of your request to lodge a grievance. Again don’t just send your letter to the person that you sent your grievance letter to but also send copies of your letter to their boss and even their bosses boss if you need to.

The most important thing to remember is that if sexual assault, physical violence, verbal threats, racial hatred etc have been committed by the perpetrator you are entitled to call the police. People have this crazy notion that when they are at work you can’t call the police. Of course you can, your workplace doesn’t exist in a bubble outside the law of the land. No one can prevent you from calling them if a crime has taken place.

Sorry this is such a long post but it is something I am passionate about. People really need to start arming themselves with knowledge and stand up for their employment rights. No one should be working in fear of being discriminated against, abused, harassed or victimised.