Hello all, this is my first ever go on this site / forum and by way of an introduction i thought i'd start with a piece I wrote for my former work's in-house magazine about the end of the career I dearly loved and was devastated to leave (published May 2015).
Here goes... (it starts with an introduction from the editor)
Steve bids Service farewell and talks about life with Parkinson's
STATION Commander Steve Elve has bid farewell to Cambridgeshire Fire & Rescue Service having served operationally for 27 years.
For some years now, Steve has been living with Parkinson’s, having been diagnosed in 2011. As we wish Steve all the very best for the future, he has written about life with Parkinson's, something he was keen to share with everyone. Here are Steve's words:
"There’s nothing extraordinary about the walk from Addenbrooke’s Hospital to Babraham Road park and ride, but there was on May 17, 2011, four days before my 42nd birthday. The route, as those that know it, is flat and non-descript which matched my mood perfectly as I reflected on the news I had just received.
For some years my left arm seemed to be reluctant to follow instruction and be more occupied with pain and numbness than strength and control. I had noticed that washing myself, doing up buttons and tying shoelaces had become tricky but hadn’t connected those difficulties to anything other than a trapped nerve, a condition I’d had before and expected to be diagnosed with again.
However, I had to persuade my GP that ‘something else was wrong’. I wanted to be referred to a specialist as the treatment she had given me seemed ineffective. So it was that I walked to my car from the Neurologist’s consultation numbed by his diagnosis and fearful of the future. His words swam around in my head, and no matter how I digested them, they would not go away. Had I done research? Did I know what it was? When I answered no, he explained that my worries were all related to one thing: the degenerative cognitive condition that is Parkinson’s.
He explained that, there is no known cause, no known cure but research is progressing well. He added that I was relatively young to be diagnosed and that would mean I would be of interest to medical professionals. As it has proven through a series of tests and research activities, some have been interesting, some painful and some I’d rather not remember!
I am in good company, Billy Connelly, Michael J Fox and Mohammed Ali have been diagnosed and 127,000 people have it in the UK alone.
According to the Equality Act, employers need to consider ‘reasonable adjustment’ in order for someone like me to continue to work. But of course firefighting, along with its command and control, places great demands on one’s body and the obvious question was: could I continue to perform my duties safely? For four years following diagnosis I was able to demonstrate that I could. Undertaking driving, incident command and fitness assessments was not easy, but I passed and, for a time, was able to stay ‘on the run’.
But now, as with all things degenerative, the condition has worsened, difficulties increased and as a result, my ability to maintain competency has become too hard. So, four years early, it is with sadness, reluctance and trepidation that I set sail on new seas and after 27 years, hang my fire helmet up for the last time. I had hoped to complete my service, but alas the Parkinson’s has other ideas.
I’ve loved my career, enjoyed the successes, not dwelt on the failures but I have responded to calls for help with all my physical and mental energy and done the best that I can. I’ve been burnt, fallen through floors, had ceilings fall on me, been hotter than I can easily describe, been lost in burning buildings, lost buildings and lost colleagues. But despite the dark side of the job, I have met some truly inspirational people, had more fun than is legal and laughed until I hurt. The support I have had in teaching me to become a firefighter and develop into the officer I became has been exceptional and gratefully received. But the baton must now be passed on, the work must continue without me for there is still a job to do.
I firmly believe that it takes a truly special person to don the PPE and go into places where others fear to tread. Only those that have done it will understand the supreme effort and punishment the body must endure in order to extinguish the most determined fire. All done whilst demonstrating the courage it takes to overcome one’s fear.
The future is unknown, destiny uncertain, but what I am sure of is that I shall cross the Rubicon into retirement with the knowledge that I leave behind special people doing a special job. Thank you all for making my journey a good one.
For the time being I shall continue to pretend to play the bass guitar and swing in my garden hammock whilst contemplating what to do next.
Michael J Fox once said that ‘I have no choice whether I have Parkinson’s or not but I have nothing but choices about how I react to it’. I will add to that a line from the Shawshank Redemption: ‘I guess it comes down to a simple choice: get busy living or get busy dying’.