Graeme’s story

Leuchie guest Graeme says that his respite breaks at Leuchie House, coupled with his determination to continue making the most of every day, help him to maintain his independence and positive outlook.

“I’m a great believer in “use it or lose it”. Coming to Leuchie House helps me to keep using the independence I still have and to get as much out of life as I can.

When I was diagnosed as having secondary progressive MS, it hit me like a sledgehammer. I remember clearly it was 6 February 2008. 

Eight years before, when I was working in IT, I started to experience a tingling in my head and a loss of feeling in my left hand when I was using a computer. After various tests I was diagnosed as having mini strokes as a result of diabetes. There was nothing unusual in that so I carried on life as normal.

It was when the pins and needles started to get worse and to spread to both hands that I began to suspect something else was wrong.  At first after the MS diagnosis, I felt very low because it hit home to me what I was up against.

Eventually thought, I was able to turn my mindset around to use the energy I was putting in to pitying myself in to being positive instead.  Since then I’ve been determined to squeeze as much out of life as I can and now I’m the first person to laugh at myself if I get down.

I live in Eyemouth with my parrot Coisti in a flat that has been purpose-built for wheelchair users. I have carers who come in twice a day to help me, mainly with cooking, but I am still able to do a lot independently. My family live nearby and I go to a local support group every Thursday. I also have great support from an MS Nurse and an Occupational Therapist. 

With all that in place, it may be hard to understand why I need regular short breaks.

It started to become clear though, to me and to those around me, that I was at risk of becoming a hermit, staring at the same four walls most days.  It’s very easy to keep saying “I’m alright” when actually you’re not. We realised that I needed to get away for a few days to get a change of scenery, to meet new people and to break the cycle.

It was my OT who suggested Leuchie House as an option and booked my first break in 2015.

To be honest, when I first arrived I wasn’t sure if it was for me. Being around people at a more advanced stage of MS made me think “is this what I’ve got to look forward to?”

But my determination kicked in and I reminded myself that what I put into the holiday was what I was going to get out of it.  I ended up having a brilliant time, with the added bonus of getting to meet Gavin Hastings at the Leuchie dinner party where he was installed as a Patron.

Since then, I’ve been coming to Leuchie twice a year. I like to come in the summer and near Christmas because that means I get to go on different types of trips. I’ve had some amazing experiences and have been able to tick things off my bucket list, like going to the Tattoo and to the Scottish Open.

The last time I was at Leuchie I test drove a new power off-road wheelchair for North Berwick’s Beach Wheelchairs charity, so on my next visit I’m looking forward to getting down on to the beach in that.

The care you get at Leuchie is black and white to what I’ve experienced before. All the staff have got a smile on their face and nothing is too much trouble. They give the impression that they really want to be here – they’re not just doing a job.

The chance to have daily physiotherapy makes a huge difference too, because I don’t have access to physio at home. I love using Leuchie’s Motomed exercise bikes. I feel brilliant afterwards and it helps keep my legs and the rest of my body going. Use it or lose it again!

Moni, Leuchie’s lead physio, has also been able to help me with my new wheelchair. When it arrived it hadn’t been adjusted to suit me so she adapted it for me to make it much more comfortable.  

Then there’s the food… I can honestly say I’ve never had a meal that I haven’t liked, everything is absolutely delicious.

And best of all is the banter with guests and staff! I view lots of them as friends now.

When I go home from Leuchie, I feel recharged and ready for anything but at the same time feel that I’m leaving a bunch of friends behind.

All of this has made me come to realise how important respite breaks are. Without them I know I would sit at home and become that hermit, which would have a negative effect on my health.

I know my MS is gradually going to progress but I’m not going to let it beat me. I’m determined to keep the smile on my face and to be as independent and as active as I can for as long as I can.

Each time I get back from Leuchie, my OT sends me an email saying she’s booked my next visit. It’s great to have that to look forward to.