Friday, March 24, 2006

Today someone finally listened

Today was a good day, scary, tarumatic & exhausting, but worth it. I gave my testimony at the London Asembly for the 7th July Review Committee. We made the news, lots of it & hopefully people will start to listen & understand. I am glad that I did it. I am so proud of everyone who spoke today.

Here is the speech that I wrote. I didn't read it at all, I kind of ad libbed the whole way through...but this is the gist:

Thank you for inviting us here today and giving us the chance to speak. It does means a lot that someone is actually prepared to listen to us at last.

I am just going to take you through my own, personal story as I think it’s enough, it speaks for itself

I was on the 6th carriage of the Piccadilly line tube which was blown up as it left Kings Cross on 7th July

As you will be aware the train was packed, the lights went out and the train filled with thick black smoke. After the longest 30 minutes of my life we were rescued by 2 London Transport Police officers.

When I eventually made it out onto the pavement at Kings Cross there were police all around, but even though I was clearly in shock and covered in soot no-one approached me. Eventually I went up to an officer and volunteered my details as it seemed like the right thing to do.

I then wandered off alone unable to communicate with anyone because the phone lines were down. Eventually through getting the odd text through I met my boss who had driven up to get me in Russell Square.

I first became aware that there had been a bomb and people had died by listening to the radio in her car.

I never heard anything from anyone again. I tried to carry on as normal for a couple of months but gradually began to realise I wasn’t coping.

I started looking around for support, thinking there must be something out there. In desperation I emailed this office. I didn’t receive a reply for 3 weeks. I was told that there had been a family Assistance Centre set up ‘but it closes today’. I was however given the details of the 7/7 support centre which was replacing it.

Meanwhile, after a long trail of leaving messages in chatrooms on the internet I managed to get in touch with Rachel. This lead to my first meeting with Kings Cross United, there were about 10 of us at that stage. This was September last year.

A few days later I had my first panic attack in the middle of the night. I woke up screaming and shaking & unable to breathe. Somehow I remembered that the 7/7 support centre had a 24 hr helpline. I logged onto the internet, found the number which was clearly advertised as 24 hour and called them. I got through to a recorded message. They were no longer 24 hour.
The following morning I went to my GP who prescribed me tranquilisers, signed me off work for a month and told me to keep in touch.

This was the beginning of 8 weeks off work. A couple of weeks later I had another panic attack in the night. I went back to my GP and was given an appointment with a locum. I walked into the room crying and shaking, she got her pen out, didn’t look at me & started writing a prescription for more pills. I completely lost it with her & eventually managed to see my GP who referred me to a psychiatrist. However she warned me that it could be a long wait. I do have private health insurance but it doesn’t cover mental illness, so I waited.

Out of desperation I went to visit the 7/7 support centre. I was incredibly nervous as it was the first time I’d gone to talk to someone about it other than my GP. I went into a room and sat on a sofa opposite the lady who was there to talk to me. I started talking and very quickly the conversation dissolved into awkward silences. I was already stressed and this really wasn’t helping me. Eventually she put her cup of tea down and said ‘I’m really sorry, it’s my first day, I don’t really know what to say’.

I was off work for 8 weeks in all. I was desperate to see someone professional, so eventually, through a friend’s recommendation, I managed to get an appointment with a private psychiatrist. I have been seeing him ever since and he has helped me enormously. Meanwhile I had been referred to the NHS Trauma clinic through the 7/7 support centre. However by the time I got an appointment I had already built up a relationship with my private doctor so decided to keep seeing him. I felt as if it would be detrimental to my recovery if I started again with someone new.

Whilst I was off work I went to a couple of meetings held by 7/7 support centre.
Many of us have problems with enclosed spaces, particularly lifts. The first meeting held for survivors was on the 17th floor of Westminster town hall. One poor lady walked up the stairs. The first announcement that was made was ‘If a fire alarm goes off it is real and you won’t be able to use the lifts’.

Since then I have finally returned to work full time in January and am making progress. I applied to CICA for compensation last year. 4 weeks ago I was told that tey had been in touch with the police who had no records of me (despite me having given all my details to an officer on the day). I was told that I would have to give a statement. So 7 months later I took the morning off work and finally gave my statement. I have still heard nothing from CICA.

Since them I have been having a really hard time at work. I have been forced to take a demotion as they don’t feel that I’m performing at the level I was before July. It has all been very difficulty and not really what I needed and I have found it incredibly hard to get any sort of help or advice. When I called the 7th July centre they offered me a massage!

So, as I said, I think this story speaks for itself, and I fear tells a very familiar tale. From this some of the recommendations I would make are:

- No one should have been able to leave without giving their details
- Everyone should have been contacted within a month, I don’t think that it’s difficult to do
- The existence of support centre should have been publicised more widely, posters on the tubes, GP surgeries, media? And named less confusingly
- The fact that many passengers do not live in London should have been taken into account, how can the support centre help them?
- Psychological help should have been much more readily available
- Legal advice should be readily available as many many people have lost their jobs or had trouble at work
- Advice should be available about common symptoms and people’s minds should be put at rest. These are worrying enough times. A lot of people are currently worried about chest problems and whether they are as a result of the smoke inhalation
- There should be constant monitoring of everyone, there are still a lot of people who probably have not been contacted. Far too many are still out of the loop
- There should have been more information about compensation, who could apply, where to apply, where the money was coming from. A lot of people were unsure about claiming as they felt as they hadn’t been injured they didn’t deserve it & they would be taking it from others who needed it more
- There should have been much much more use of the internet
- 7th july web site should have been at the top of all google searches
- It should have been an interactive site where people could leave messages and communicate with the centre & each other on line, people are scared to phone
- All the message board type sites have been set up by people involved who have done it voluntarily
- KCU have reached over 100 people who are still daily in contact, 20-30 meet once a month. No government support had been as successful. We are not professionals, we were not trained for this and we have no money behind us. If we can achieve this then the people who are paid to do it should be doing a much better job than us.