Not Looking After Dad

Last week was National Carer’s Week. Apparently. I found this out quite accidentally when someone mentioned it at church after a family baptism (more on that later). 

*Makes mental note to contact Carer’s Association about their PR*. 

Apparently,  we were meant to be celebrating carers. Which is odd, because the people being cared for most probably can’t organise anything,  even though they are very grateful, and those doing the caring are just too damned tired to organise their own celebratory morning tea, or shout it from the rooftops. 

However in the spirit of acknowledging carers week, I like to think I celebrated early because for three weeks before this I was NOT looking after dad, and had a little holiday. 

I needed a break, and a long one; not just a long weekend. I needed not to have to think about ulcer dressings, transport to and from church, buying special cheese, trips to the doctor and physio, cooking meals, and all the other things I do for dad.

I needed not to be looking at my watch at 7.35am, hoping that Dad has just forgotten to call at 7.30am as he does every day (just to let me know he is up and about!).

I went overseas.  To a different country, and a different timezone. It would not have been possible with my village – but especially my sister, who came to stay for all but the five days of the three weeks I was away.

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She, together with the regular help from Five Good Friends, and additional help from them on those extra days, and my husband, I had a complete and total break form the ‘every day’.  I went away with a friend, both abandoning husbands and children, for three weeks in the UK.  The bonus is that most of that time we spent with Dear Old Dad’s brother, my Uncle, in Cornwall and Wales. It was heavenly.

I read a quote once that said something like ‘You don’t know how heavy the burden is, until you no longer carry it’.  And that is true.  I look back on the photos of that holiday and I see that in the first few days my smile did not reach my eyes.  By week two that had all changed.  I felt lighter, and definitely more relaxed.

You see in order to get away, the preparation and organisation required was enormous- even for a very prepared and organised person.  The week before I was to go away Dad’s ulcer had become infected and a whole new dressing regime was required – so I was typing out instructions with photos of the different steps required in the days before I left.  He needed a new phone, so I set up all his regularly called numbers and SOS call button.  Plus a colour coded tabulated document with day by day activities and phone numbers of every person who may possibly be needed.  [Plus I had a dated, colour coded day by day itinerary for my holiday – naturally].

The best things about the holiday other than me just having one, sharing it with a friend and my darling Uncle – watching boats in the harbours of Cornwall, and the beautiful scenery in Wales, visiting the birthplace of the Mitford sisters, having afternoon tea at the Wedgwood factory (OMG!), lunches at two Michelin star restaurants (I won’t go on)?

One is that while Dad was anxious about me going away, and being alone for a few days, it was good for him to have a change of scenery in terms of people seeing him every day, and he coped very well with all the changes. Resilience is still one of his strongest character traits.  But the best thing is that I came back refreshed, and ready to get straight back into life at home, including caring for Dad.  I arrived home from London at 8am; by 9am I was down at his house, changing his ulcer dressing, and telling him about my trip, and good times with his brother, my Uncle.

 

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It Takes a Village

It takes a village to raise a child – African proverb

It also takes a village to care for the elderly – Me

The old African proverb is absolutely true – the concept of a village has changed somewhat over the years and can now include people overseas via FaceTime rather than the people next door.

The proverb now needs to be applied to the elderly in our communities.  My Dear Old Dad lives on his own. He needs a village and he has one and it includes:

Me – chef, chauffeur, nurse, pincushion when he’s frustrated, shopper, postmistress, cribbage player, Oscar vomit cleaner, general organiser of his life, carrier pigeon for letters to his brother via email.

My husband – patient listener, conversationalist, light bulb changer, dinner companion, occasional chauffeur, hacker of plants and weeds, forgiver of how much money it costs us to look after him, occasional provider of free legal advice

Oscar – spoiled cat, companion, listener, sharer of his thoughts.

My sister – host when Dad goes to visit or when I am away.  See the reference to ‘Me’ above for when he visits and replace cribbage with scrabble. Also frequent visitor and sharer of photos of Dad’s great-granddaughter.  Also emotional scaffolding for me when required (often).  Is much more patient than me.

My brother-in-law – companion when Dad is visiting, willing cribbage player, chauffeur, also frequent visitor and dinner companion.

My brother – frequent visitor, scotch and red wine drinking companion, cribbage player and participator in theological discussions. Fish and Chip carrier

My children – bin putter-outers, mail collectors, Oscar carers when Dad away, patient repeaters of everything they say because he is a bit hard of hearing and they keep forgetting

My sister’s friends – caring people who take an interest and listen to him, also occasional scrabble players

Neighbours – keeping an eye out, bringing the bins in.

My uncle  – Dad’s brother who lives in Wales who has visited regularly over the last few years, companion, pen pal, sharer of thoughts, provider of scotch for Dad and champagne for me (favourite uncle)

My cousins – occasional visitors, lunch companions, and provider of meals

Outside helpers – cleaners, gardener, ironing lady, handymen

Church friends – sharers of his faith, occasional chauffeurs, providers of stamps for his philately hobby, telephone correspondents, and one cribbage player

His GP – not my favourite part of the village to be honest, but DOD has complete faith in him and is a regular visitor to the medical practice

Other specialists – at 94, things are starting to not work as well as they should so we visit quite a few medical specialists, most of whom are very kind and caring

This is a big villagefor one person!!  But it’s necessary to enable DOD to stay in his own home.  He is eligible for a government funded care package – however my experience with My Aged Care has not been happy and I don’t want to leave his care at home in the hands of government agencies when they have proven that they are incapable of responding in a timely way to requests for assistance (more on that in another post)

As Honore de Balzac once said:

Bureaucracy is a giant mechanism operated by pygmies

There are now private businesses which can provide home based care, and I am sure I will be using their services in the not too distant future.  I honestly believe that the best care the elderly can have is where there is an emotional attachment between the carer and the person for whom care is provided.  Will that work if people are paid to be carers?

Time will tell.