In the year 2008, my mother was suffering from numerous health problems and her life was lived in constant and excruciating pain.
A decade’s worth of chronic rheumatoid arthritis had confined her to a frame and wheelchair, and she spent many years battling the effects fibromyalgia, Paget’s-Disease and also breast cancer.
Pain management was an issue that we had dealt with for many years but unfortunately, as the years went by, medication was helping less and the pain was getting worse.
At this point, her daily medication ritual included the consumption of over 30 doses of various pharmaceuticals that had a minimal effect of easing her suffering, and this medication brought with it some horrible side-effects.
While my mother was alive, but she merely existed at this point, and even though her heart was still beating everything else was broken. Her smile gone, her laugh now a whimper, her words of love and great conversation were now replaced by noises and groaning.
Electroconvulsive Therapy or ECT, has been a controversial medical procedure for a long time, but when my mother was told that 25 sessions worth of high voltage electricity zapping her brain might be able to ease her pain, she jumped at the chance. My dad and I were just numb.
Arrangements were made fast and within two days we were advised that mum would be an inpatient for 6 weeks at a wonderful older person’s care facility, with fabulous mental health professionals to care for her whilst she had the 4 ECT sessions per week.
And the name of this place was Oakden.
Oakden Nursing Home would provide her with the level of care and safety needed for someone with her profound disability and high care requirements. We were desperate, we were scared but we were also grateful for some new hope.
But nothing could have prepared me for what actually happened next.
Three days after her arrival at Oakden I went along to visit my mother and as we sat in one of the courtyards, it was obvious that something was not right.
And as soon as I asked her about how her time had been so far, the floodgates opened and so did the start of the nightmare.
She told me that simply asking to use the toilet had resulted in her being verbally abused and then picked up and dropped onto the toilet from above.
She was then left on that toilet for an extended period of time, and after hours worth of yelling and bell ringing the ‘carer’ returned.
My mother was then told that “she was f@#%ing special” and was slapped across the face and told to wait longer.
After spending another waiting alone on the toilet in the darkness and cold of winter, the carer returned only to further abuse my mother and throw her back into her wheelchair.
And again, all of this because she rang the bell for assistance to go to the toilet.
These horrendous actions and words came from a man who chose an occupation to care for people, and who is potentially caring for someone you may know right now, in his own uniquely evil way.
I was obviously disgusted and angry at the news that I had received, but when I questioned the staff I was assured that this was an isolated incident and that the staff member would be dealt with. Even though the police couldn’t do much because it was essentially her word versus the staff members.
I am happy to say that we got mum out of there on that day, but even though her stay at Oakden was very brief, the ramifications of the horrific abuse of mother had lasting effects on our family and mentally scarred my mother for the rest of her life.
Mum now feared hospitals and often shunned medical treatment due to the crippling fear of abuse. And I gave up my career to care full time for both my mum and dad.
Despite everything that happened to my mum, one of my last conversations with mum was about the fact that she still wanted to live until she was 100 years old. She loved us too much not to be here, despite the pain and heartache.
But in the end, no one ever really got over Oakden.
My dad passed away a broken man in 2011 and my beautiful mum passed away unexpectedly in 2014. I went through some extremely tough times mentally since Oakden and it has affected my wellbeing and ability to become employed.
My mental health problems manifested into a very uncharacteristic and crippling social phobia that left me isolated and afraid to leave the house.
It was April 10, 2017, when I stumbled across the article that said Oakden Nursing Home was going to be closed down. And sadly the reason for its closure was all too familiar.
The article was overwhelming. Every sentence cut me deeply and some of the things that I read brought me close to vomiting and passing out.
As I angrily began to type my mother’s story into the comment section of the Oakden article I was hit with the startling realisation that if those bastards had of listened and not lied to my face then maybe this could have stopped 9 years earlier.
The fact that hundreds of other elderly and vulnerable people suffered for over 10 years after my mums experience still breaks my heart to this day.
And that fact alone saw me summon every ounce of whatever I had inside me to try to move past my phobia and begin to step forward.
Front page news of my mum’s story broke on Saturday 12/4.
And I stood before a sea of media and politicians on the Monday, having commandeered a meeting with the government minister at the time and to tell the world about what happened to my mum.
It is there where I assured everyone of my determination and vowed that I would not rest until mine, and everyone else whose voices were not heard would be able to say what happened.
I would go on to find a number of amazing and brave fellow advocates around the country who had been trying to raise the issues for years and we collectively raise our voices to fight for the rights of those that need it.
The Royal Commission
If anyone had told me two years ago, that I would spend the entire second week in January 2019 fielding never-ending calls from the media due to the impending Royal Commission, I definitely would not have believed them.
And for me and the families of those who had the unfortunate luck of ending up in aged care facilities like Oakden, this is our Ground Zero.
I feel both apprehensive and nervous with anticipation, and I can barely fathom that the time to tell our stories is finally here.
What we do during the Royal Commission and more importantly, what happens after the Royal Commission will see us judged as a country like never before.
And the actions from these hearings has the ability to redefine our society for the elderly and vulnerable by creating a standard for best practice and holding people accountable for their atrocities.
This is our country’s chance to be known for what we did do, not what we didn’t do.