I hadn’t realised what a selfless job carers do until I had the opportunity to care for my Grandmother for a short period of time. I do not think that this brief experience allows me to say I’ve been a carer, nor do I claim to fully understand what they do. However, the snippet of experience I’ve gained makes me want to take my hat off to them!
I’d like to tell you a bit about my experience in the hope that you will also feel more appreciation for the work that carers do.
A bit of history…
About two years ago, my Mum’s Mum came to stay with me and my husband Suraj. We called her Ba. My Mum lived with us during those precious two weeks, after which Ba went to stay at my Mother’s home.
My Grandmother passed away in April 2013. This was less than four months after she stayed with us.
I was so glad I got to live with her and care for her before then.
She was witty, sharp, perceptive, funny, clever, knowledgeable, expressive, understanding, generous and so much more.
It was very difficult for me to see how she had deteriorated after my Grandfather passed away.
She wasn’t eating well, she was losing weight, she was often in pain and she was mourning the loss of her husband who passed away in February 2008, which was followed by the passing of her youngest child in September 2012. Along with other huge life changing experiences, she appeared lost, discontent and impatient with how things were.
I was eager to have her stay with us to give her a change, give her current carers some respite and soak up some time with her.
Ba comes to stay!
It took us a few days to work out what was needed and the practicalities of managing things.
Some of these things involved: -
- moving the single bed to the living room
- borrowing a metal frame which would prevent her from falling out of the bed
- buying foods and drinks that she’d be more willing to consume
- ensuring we had enough medication for a few weeks, so we didn’t have to get repeat prescriptions soon
- finding out which medications she needed to take, when and how often etc.
- making sure the room was heated well via an additional electric heater as she often felt cold
Once this was all set up, we felt ready. This was naive as there was so much more to being a carer, but we didn’t know this yet.
How we spent our time together.
Mum and I would sit with Ba during the day.
We would encourage her to eat, ensure she felt clean, alleviate some of the pain she felt through massages and heat-packs and we created opportunities for her to listen to spiritual songs and discourses.
Suraj and I would read with her in the evening and if she felt up to it, we would assist her in phoning family members, so she could find out how they were and simply have a chat. She liked that!
A big lesson.
When she was resting we would pull up the metal barrier on the bed and we would go and prepare food or wash clothes etc. However, one day, we were in the kitchen and I saw that she was outside the living room. She was confused and tired but I found out that she’d gone to the bathroom with her walking frame, realised she needed support, came back without her frame and then stopped by the door. I was fearful and anxious about what could have happened to her but I couldn’t be cross. She didn’t deserve that! As a result, from that point forward, we agreed that one of us had to be in the room with her to ensure she was safe and that her needs were met.
The reality hit home.
I cherished the time she stayed with us but it was exhausting.
We were either cooking, washing, convincing her to eat, trying to make her more comfortable, sitting and talking with her, repeatedly updating loved ones who phoned to see how she was and possibly hardest of all; trying to raise her spirits, so she didn’t feel so low.
At times, because she didn’t want to eat, she’d say things which hurt. Of course she didn’t mean it. She was suffering. However, because we were tired, worried for her, loved her and just wanted her to be comfortable; it was difficult see beyond the words. There were times when Mum and I cried. We didn’t want her to suffer and we didn’t want to force her to eat but she needed to eat to take her meds. Meal times were extremely difficult. We had to think of her in a completely different way when she resisted. We had to imagine that we were encouraging a child to eat and offer rewards, only show some of the food etc. to stop her saying no at the sight of it etc.
It was physically and emotionally taxing.
I don’t seem to recall this when my father was terminally ill and needed care. Perhaps Mum sheltered me from it. Maybe she managed with the support of others or maybe I’ve blocked it out. I’m not sure.
The sorry situation of our care system today.
I cherished this time caring for Ba and it has left me unable to articulate how amazing and essential the work of a carer is. Thus it saddens me to hear that the service has been privatised, which has resulted in many carers being paid less than the minimum wage!
When my Grandmother lived with my auntie, she had support from carers on a daily basis.
You may be surprised to hear that carers have to ring the office when they arrive at the home of the person who needs their support and then call again when they leave. They only get paid for number of minutes between when they ‘clock in’ and ‘clock out’! They do not get paid to travel between the homes of those in need of their support. They also have a cap on how long they can spend at each home. This doesn’t allow any flexibility for the mood of the person being cared for or them being unwell, for example.
I don’t think this is right.
It is a physical, emotional, selfless and hugely skilled job, which shouldn’t be underestimated or undervalued.
What can you do?
Is there something you can do to show a carer that they are appreciated?
Would you write to your MP and express your thoughts about how they should be valued?
Could you share your thoughts with your Local Authority who probably employs a lot of carers?
Are you willing to contact the owner of a local agency and express your thoughts to them directly?