Obituary: Beryl Poole
Beryl rolled into my life in December 1988 and things were never the same again, she was so special and different, I loved her. She came to me asking for help but soon recognised I needed it too! Together we grew and learned from each other. And laughed (a lot).
Over the previous two years working in general practice, I had begun to see a few people who used drugs and the word was spreading. Beryl was being managed by the local drug service and was not entirely happy with the care she received there so decided to give us a try. She registered with our practice and patiently waited 3 hours to be seen. We clicked immediately and a long and wonderful journey started. Together we learnt how to really trust and listen to each other and hence improve care and compassion.
Trust was and is so important. I could ask what was needed and Beryl would answer honestly. This paved the way for other patients. Beryl taught me the good stuff not found in books, for example - Have you ever thought of using daily pick-up prescriptions, which can help us to manage our methadone? I had never heard of them and the local FHSA (so called then) had some trouble ordering them in.
I soon realised that I needed to share her perceptiveness and other skills more widely, with others. Beryl did this readily on an informal basis but was a little less sure when I asked her to speak at the first SMMGP/RCGP conference as a person who used drugs. I think I might have put pressure her and I was really worried that she may be out of her depth on the day when she became paler and quieter as the opening speeches took place. Then the doctor from DoH got up to speak and was appalling. He was prejudiced and completely patronising. But something happened as he spoke, Beryl got red in the face, she looked angry. I introduced her and off she went in a broad Irish accent "Well, the last speaker has really pissed me off…” The audience was in uproar because she expressed what many in the room felt but would have been too polite to say! First time I’ve seen a standing ovation after one sentence.
After that she was on a roll. She talked about how and why she had started using drugs and then about the importance of GP care and listening to patients. And “a star was born”.
But educating “us lot” was always second to advocating for people who couldn’t advocate for themselves. She supported and fought for so many people, whom most others had given up on. She had always done this in her local community. Her son often said that the 10 minute walk from the high street to their flat could take 30-40mins, stopping to talk to old folk, buying food for the homeless and helping others in the bank or Job Centre. Then locally she helped to set up Brent SURF (Service Users Rights Forum) to give a real voice to people who use drugs. Nationally she worked as an advocate for the Methadone Alliance and helping to organise the DDN conference.
Beryl was always grounded and understood the reality of the lives of people who use drugs. She had a dry wit unlike any other and did not suffer fools.
Nowadays more is known about the effects of adverse experiences in childhood on people’s lives. Beryl had a very difficult childhood and it took her ages to accept just how much I valued and loved her, but she did. And I’m glad that we had many years of a wonderful loving friendship. She will be missed by me and many more.
Chris Ford, Nov 2018