ME patient/advocate Corina Duyn reflects on the challenges of having
Disability Services in Waterford accept her as having a disability.
I have been
ill with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME) for
twenty years. But it is only in the past year, and more so in the past six
months that my most basic needs are not being met, at a time when my illness
has become more severe again and my health has deteriorated.
Not anticipating that I’d be ill for so long, and that my illness would so
quickly result in disability, I initially received care from friends, and lived
for one month with my brother and family in Kenmare. Returning to Lismore, I
looked for support at home.
I was told that
home help (as it was called in 1998) was for the over 65s only. Local council
representation secured me a few hours of care per week. Having several severe
relapses in which I found myself totally paralyzed, leading to several
hospitalisations, my home help hours were increased to seven days a week, up to
4 hours a day.
This meant I
was able to live in my own home, and not be taken into care.
I am immensely
grateful that this intervention was presented to me by the HSE. As my GP at the
time suggested, if I was taken into the local nursing home for older people I
would have died.
The fact that
I was in my own surroundings enabled me to rebuild my totally altered life from
scratch. I was housebound for years, only occasionally making it outside of my door,
mainly for medical appointments. A challenging time, to say the least. But I
did not have to worry about where my food was going to come from, how I would
have clean clothes, or a clean environment. My personal care needs were being
I lived, survived,
existed, by having an open mind.
looked and learned from nature. I explored my totally changed life through my
creative mind. I lived every moment as it came. I dealt with the immense
physical pain, the total and utter exhaustion, the very frequent relapses,
happening out of the blue, or due to doing a tiny, tiny bit more than I was
capable of. For a while I lost the ability to read or write, or to hold a
conversation. Several health scares and hospitalisations accompanied this time.
Slowly, there was a slight increase in my wellbeing. I thought I would recover.
Although the statistics were, and are, against me, there was always hope.
In 2006 I met
my partner, and I was proud
to give up the home help support. We lived off my Disability Allowance. A very,
very basic existence, but I felt that I had moved forward. Care-free in a way. It took until 2015 to secure the Carers
Allowance. At this time my partner was living a few doors down the road. Living
with chronic illness/disability and being housebound most of the time, is not
easy in a relationship, especially in a tiny house. At this time we had two small houses
allowing us each a place where we could be alone and creative. A win-win
situation. Unfortunately our lives moved into different directions, and I find
myself living alone again, and without a carer. As a result I once again had to
embark on asking for HSE support to help me live independently. This has become
a daily battle.
health has deteriorated again over the past six years, I am quite comfortable
in my skin (as the saying goes) to be spending a lot of time in solitude. I can
entertain myself quite happily by reading, looking out the window, taking photos
of the birds, marveling at the changing seasons, coming up with creative ideas,
which might or might not come into being. I love to write and create, when I
can. I love being out in my garden or greenhouse and I enjoy the visits or
phone-calls from friends and family. Dealing with the HSE however brings about
immeasurable stress and impacts negatively on my mental and physical wellbeing.
Over the two
decades I have had many difficulties trying to access appropriate care,
especially outside of primary care. To protect myself from becoming overwhelmed
by these huge challenges, I established ways to live the best life I can within
the circumstances. As well as using my writing and creativity to understand my
own changed life, I used my creative voice to bring about change. This year I became
a proud founding member of ME Advocates Ireland. Speaking up about my personal circumstances
and hoping to be a voice for many others in my situation who are not as able as
me to put these challenges into words. For them, and me, I will continue on
this path to bring about change.
The HSE system
of allocating care hours has changed dramatically over the past years.
the Public Health Nurse made judgment about the level of care required. Now
this is done through a central allocation system where someone in an office who
does not know me personally makes the decisions. Of course there is also less
diagnosis of Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME)
makes it all the more complex. The HSE has not yet established a clear pathway
of care for people living with ME, like there is for example for MS. Many
people with ME are housebound, or even bedbound, and many live with much more
severe disability than those diagnosed with MS. Yet the clear pathway of care
does not exist for us. ME has disappeared from the HSE website, awaiting new guidelines.
very real challenge is that I am in need of care. I need support with the most
basic needs of having a shower, having my food brought in, having food
prepared, having my household chores done, to be supported to occasionally
leave my house, as well as to go to GP or hospital appointments, etc. In short,
I need help to live.
I have been
asking (again) since December 2017 to be assessed by HSE South Disability Services
with responsibility for Adults with Physical and Sensory Disabilities, in order
to obtain a Personal Assistance (PA). This would allow me to have autonomy over
my care. But ME is not considered a physical disability by this office. They
suggest that my GP and the primary care team should provide for my care and to
contact the Public Health Nurse to submit an application.
Health Nurse fills in the very basic Barthel-index assessment form, which does not
take into account the complexity of living with ME.
application goes to the Home Support Office. But as this office has no remit
for the under 65s (unless terminally ill), the application goes to Disability Services.
But as Disability
Services does not accept ME as a disability …
And round the
To make this picture even more bizarre, for all the
other parts of the HSE I am disabled.
I have a
Primary Medical Cert and receive the Mobility Allowance (both only awarded in
extreme cases of physical disabilities).
I am on the
Physical & Sensory Disability Data base.
I have a
powered wheelchair provided by the HSE. I have several other mobility aids
provided by the HSE.
I am on Disability
My house is
adapted with an accessible shower and a ramp into my front door.
I had disability
support while attending college.
I give talks
about puppetry and disability all over the world (mostly via Skype).
People who see
me in my wheelchair, who see me struggle at home, or when occasionally outside
my house are bewildered when I share this warped thinking of the Disability
Service’s logic that I am not
As no answers
came my way, I went the Have Your Say
route at the end of May, as suggested by a staff member of the Disability
This has not
brought a solution. It brought tears.
struggles I now have 45 minutes of home support on weekday mornings, and half
hour in the evening. I am deemed eligible for weekend hours (I am ill/disabled seven days a week, not
just 5) but there is no funding available for this.
As it stands
now, the HSE is not supporting me in any way to exist outside of my house, to
go to appointments, or to bring food into my house, or to have enough home
support hours to prepare food.
PA support is
still being denied.
I looked at
Can I pay for
enough care myself? Possibly. For a few months I can dig into my savings, but that
is not sustainable on a long-term basis.
I talked with
the EmployAbility Office. Can I
become an employer and receive financial support to employ a PA to help me with
my creative work? My creative work is
connected to my whole being; it is the essence of me. There is no support.
I am not asking
for more than I need from the HSE.
help is admitting I am in need of help. My situation as it stands is a very
vulnerable position to be in.
continues to throw more challenges my way, I have not left my house independently
for the past year. A scary thought.
independence is the hardest part of being ill. The hardest.
many weekends, and full days where I am totally on my own. Including during a
severe relapse, when all I could manage was to move from bed to wheelchair, to
recliner, and back to bed. When I needed to go to the bathroom, I also made my
way to the kitchen (a few meters away) to get some more water, or a snack. I
have my Personal alarm button on my wrist, and grateful for friends who are on the other end of
the phone-line, but I cannot expect my friends to become my carers.
I feel it is a
human right, a human need, to have
autonomy over my care. This is something that the HSE Disability Services does
not seem to understand.
This struggle to
secure care has taken a huge toll on my mental and physical wellbeing. My usual
state of peace of mind can my shattered in seconds when I think, or talk about
the struggle I am facing with Disability Services not acknowledging my
I am in tears.
I am not
fighting the HSE to get something more than what would allow me to live well
for the rest of my life. To not have to worry.
A few days ago
I had to decide how to use my 45 minutes of care.
There was no
prepared food in the fridge or freezer. I had no clean laundry left as I have
been away on a care break. I had three days of dishes piled up since my return
for this care break; tubs, and bowl, cutlery and cups. And I desperately needed
I was in
floods of tears, even now as I write this, on trying to figure out what was the
best way to use my 45 minutes of care.
I also had to
find a way to get my food shopping done.
have to live like this.
In my fight my
aim is not to have the HSE admit they are neglecting my care. I don't want to
be an antagonist. I am not looking for a settlement. I am not looking to go to
I am looking
at working with the HSE, to have them
look at the discrepancies, which exist in the different HSE Community Health
areas in the country.
I would like
them to see what everyone else notices… that you cannot be disabled and at the same time not be disabled.
I would like to
work with the HSE to show a solution,
not cause a problem.
I would like
to make sure that the immense struggle I am facing, and at many times wanted to
throw in the towel as it became too much, that my fellow patients with ME or
other long terms illnesses which have resulted in disability, don't have to go
through this mental trauma. Because that is what it is. Trauma.
I hope that
the words spoken by politicians and researchers will become a reality. For
for Health Simon Harris TD emphasizing importance of clear communications with
patients to build trust in our health service #NPSO2018”
National Advocacy Service Ireland 18th October
central message of my latest report can be summarised as follows: we need to
include the rights and needs of people with disabilities into healthcare
Catheline Devandas - UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities,
Thank you for
taking time to read this, and I hope that the next update will be one of joy -
of common sense prevailing.