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If I have seen further it is from standing on the shoulders of giants

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Valerie FreestoneIsaac Newton is famed for saying "if I have seen further it is by standing on ye shoulders of giants". The more modern version is a phrase I have often heard in speeches given by some of the most inspirational women I've met. I often think who have influenced me most in my career, whose shoulders am I standing on?

It is only in very recent years that I have reached out to academia and completed a degree. Before that I always relied on Florence. I jokingly refer to Florence, as in Nightingale, as that part of my subconscious that has the answers to questions people ask me that I didn't even know I had. So maybe then it's Florence that inspires me. I don't doubt she does but I also know she's not the reason I'm a nurse and she's not the reason I'm as passionate about dementia as I am. In fact Florence isn't even Florence but an amalgamation of all the amazing women with dementia I've nursed over the years.

I'm here because of those women, I'm passionate about dementia because of those women and I inspire others because of those women. I have seen further because of women like Lilly, Lilly is the very reason that I am a nurse, Lilly is the very first giant who helped me to see. Lilly taught me more about being person centred than any book I've read, any lecture I've attended and she taught me more than my degree. Lilly taught me to see past the verbal and physical aggression, the screaming, the biting and the punching to the person underneath and to the fear that caused it.

Most importantly Lilly and other women like her taught me what it meant to listen, to see past the medical model that says dementia is just a disease and to remember the women beneath. I am who I am and I do what I do because I learnt to listen. I've met some incredible women with dementia over the years, the likes of which we may never see again. I've met first lady dons, women that crossed oceans to take part in sports that they loved, travelling in mini busses when most women didn't leave the town they were born in. I've met women who drove ambulances in the blitz and I've even met a nurse who trained with Edith Cavell.

Women disempowered by a biomedical model that said that dementia was just a disease for which little could be done. These giants of women taught me that there was so much more than that. Text books and models have since caught up with these giants of women whose stories I have been privileged to share. We understand now the importance of life history and getting to know the person behind the disease.

If we lose these stories we will find caring for women with dementia so much harder. We might also miss out on meeting some of the most inspirational women of our lives.

Valerie Freestone, HSJ Inspirational Woman 2014

Tags: female roles, feminism, nursing, women with dementia Written 2014-09-01

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