Gerald Heffernan was a professional coach driver, working a busy schedule that involved travelling up and down the country with coachfuls of tourists from all around the world. But a sudden diagnosis of encephalitis put the brakes on Gerald’s career, causing him to experience a wide range of symptoms that stopped him from being able to return to the wheel.
“I was living a pretty normal life,” said Gerald, recalling his days from before the injury. “I was working full-time, doing a lot of travelling with busy hours. I was quite active, living life to the full.
“I was attending a training session one day and I started getting really nasty headaches. Over the next couple of days, it was getting progressively worse and I was having seizures. Eventually I went into hospital.”
After several tests and scans, Gerald was diagnosed with encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain. It wasn’t until he was returning home that the impact of his injury became apparent.
“I remember my father driving me home and I started getting motion sickness. For me as a professional driver that was really odd.”
At home, Gerald also had problems with communication, co-ordinating his movements and walking. He continued having seizures, which prevented him from returning to work.
“When I realised that because of my seizures I wouldn’t be able to drive, my world stopped.
“Getting my application in for benefits was difficult. I had to start again due to problems with the login details and registering my details.
“When I met the Work Coach, he hadn’t heard of encephalitis. I found it a little patronising; I was explaining about memory issues and he said, ‘oh I forget things, I know what you’re going through.’ I said, ‘no, you haven’t got a clue.’
“I was put forward for a medical review and wasn’t expected to look for work, which was good because it took unnecessary pressure off me. But initially I had applied for ESA, and for whatever reason I was moved onto Universal Credit.”
The process of being forced onto Universal Credit was frustrating for Gerald and he felt bullied by the Work Coach. However, after a while, he no longer needed to go to the Jobcentre or have reviews. Gerald still felt that there was some basic training lacking among Work Coaches and emphasised the importance of treating applicants with dignity and care.
Try and see the person, don’t be judgemental. Lose the stereotypes, lose the judgements, and if you can help them, help them. That person’s in a bad place, physically, emotionally and mentally. Help that person, because one day it could be you in that position.
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