Sorry about the punny headline. I receive a daily update from Paul Waugh of the Huffington Post. He heads all of his posts with a very appropriate punned headline. He keeps me up-to-date on the ludicrous twists and turns of Brexit and our Parliamentarians.
But I digress. Today I took Mr B. to a hospital eye appointment and we are both exhausted. Although he can get about on his own two feet and a walker at home, when it comes to negotiating long hospital corridors we take the wheelchair. Now I haven’t yet taken my test on this vehicle, so sometimes get it wrong. Like forgetting to put his feet on the footrests, forgetting to pin the footrests in place, barging the footrests into doors and so on. I will practice some more and put in for my licence next month!
But the exhausting part is the heaving of the chair in and out of the car, getting Mr B. into the car, then out of the car and into the chair. The latter involves pulling up outside the hospital at the dropping off zone, wheeling him into the warm, before rushing back to the car to get it parked. Today there was a long queue and no spaces in the disabled car park and the paying car park was completely full, so I used my knowledge of local parking, acquired during weeks on end of visiting, to park at least 7 minutes’ walk away. Fortunately, I had ignored protests from Mr B. that we were leaving too early, so I had time to perform all these operations and still get him to the clinic on time
Then we did it all in reverse, stopping only to call in at the cobblers (yes, it really is an old-fashioned cobblers) to get a pair of shoes stretched to fit. I should have bought a half size bigger and by the time I realised it, it was too late to return them.
All in all, we were out of the house for 90 minutes. Imagine how much longer we would have been had we opted for hospital transport. This is a great service offered to people without their own transport, but the chief disadvantages are long waiting times, and circuitous routes home. And an exhausted Mr B on arrival home!
Neither Mr B. nor I were born with the proverbial silver spoons protruding from our rose-bud mouths, but we have made our way in life and acquired our own home, adequate savings, and a reasonable pension income. And I can still work from home. So we are nowhere near the breadline. And that is why I feel so much for carers whose cards have not fallen so well.
I belong to a couple of Facebook groups for carers. I was looking for advice, a friendly ear to listen, friendship, possibly even face-to-face meetings. The first one I found turned out to be nothing but cuddly cats and saccharine homilies, posted and re-posted ad infinitum. But the second (Unpaid Carers Support Group (UK)) is much more my cup of tea. All sorts of people belong, and they look after all sorts of carees: parents, life partners, siblings, and children needing extra care. We are all in the same boat, but many of the members are up against crass, unfeeling, bureaucracy. The State benefits system tries to shoehorn everyone into the same “one size fits all” slot. I have read posts from people who are desperate because their PIP payments are stopping, because it takes months to get an assessment, because their GPs refuse to make a referral for dyspraxia, because they can NEVER get out – even to the shops – without recriminations from their caree (usually a parent with dementia), or because they get no support from other members of their family. There are posts from carers who are ill themselves and stressed out because of their caring duties.
There are also very sad posts from people recently bereaved because their caree died, and other posts from people resenting the fact that their marriage has become a carer/caree relationship.
We all care about these desperate people. Every post is greeted with a flood of supportive comments, many offering solid advice. There are all kinds of organisations to help and give support, but I find that they are mostly of use to people who are not as proactive as I am. I will always make – and have always made – my own independent arrangements for equipment round the house, nursing aids, a carer a couple of times a week to help me, and for respite care. But they are there to help people who are less able to sort out what they need to keep themselves sane.
There are approximately seven million unpaid carers in the UK (see Carers’ Trust statistics) and the impact on their finances and health can be severe. Many carers are schoolchildren looking after a parent. For them, life is especially hard. Imagine having to prepare breakfast to ensure Mum and siblings are fed, tidy up, do the shopping, take younger ones to school – all before a full day at school – then cooking an evening meal and doing homework. No wonder they often fall behind, often skipping school because of their role.
In my own age group, the statistics are also alarming. One in five people over 50 are carers. 68.8% of older carers (that’s me) have mental health problems and one third have cancelled treatment or an operation for themselves because of their caring responsibilities. Fortunately I don’t come into that statistic, but you never know.