“In 2003 I arrived in Colchester from South Africa, with my best friend, ostensibly for a 6 week working holiday. She had been caring for a couple of years, flying in to UK from South Africa twice a year for 8 weeks.
She had eventually convinced me that this would be a great adventure, whereby I would earn enough money to pay for my trip, including a long overdue 2 week trip to Germany to catch-up with an old friend. Yes, I was lucky as we were placed round the corner from each other that first time, but I absolutely loved every minute of my new challenge, knowing it was such a wonderful opportunity to do something different and hopefully do it well.
I was very anxious the first morning, admittedly, as I was trying to absorb and remember the handover notes that I had found left in my bedroom. However, once I had started familiarising myself with the layout of the house, opened the kitchen cupboards to find what I would need to set the first breakfast tray I became increasingly absorbed in the tasks required of me and started to relax and enjoy myself, thoroughly.
I was now in the driver’s seat of looking after a couple; Mrs (86 years old) with dementia and Mr (97 years old) who had all his faculties intact, although his mobility was starting to be a bit compromised. The home was huge as once upon a time it had housed a 3 child family, a housekeeping couple and a nanny, who provided support to my highly successful clients. In no time at all my days started flying by.”
A Typical Day
“My day would start at 7:30 as I would go downstairs and open all the curtains, windows where required, get newspapers in and then start setting the breakfast room for breakfast. Mr and Mrs both enjoyed different breakfasts so cereal, yoghurt, juice, toast and marmalade were always set out. Fruit, dried and fresh, filter coffee for 1 and tea for the other, always porridge for Mr and a cooked breakfast when requested (discussed the night before).
Once breakfast was almost ready it was time to get Mrs up with a cup of tea. Whilst she was enjoying this I would get her clothes ready for the day and all her items ready in the bathroom for her shower. Some of her medication was on waking and the rest I would have ready on the breakfast table for her.
I would then get her downstairs and seated to enjoy breakfast with Mr, who had a carer come in to assist in the mornings with his ablutions. Whilst they were sitting comfortable I would quickly go back upstairs and tidy Mrs’ bedroom and bring down their washing and quickly put it on. Once they had finished breakfast I would escort them in to the drawing-room where they would sit together and continue reading the papers, until tea at 11am.
The mornings would also be devoted to making appointments (hairdressing, medical, social), liaising with the cleaner and gardener, grocery shopping at least once a week, dry-cleaning drop offs and pick ups, library visits, pharmacy requests and collections and putting together a light lunch.
The afternoons would consist of teatime, drink trolley at 6pm, dinner at 7pm (main meal of the day and 3 courses).
My clients would then go back to the drawing room until 9pm whereby I would then assist Mrs upstairs and get her undressed, washed and into bed. I would then ensure the house was secure and wait for Mr to get settled before calling it a day! Once again certain medications would be required at dinner time for both clients as well as their night ones at bedtime.
It could be a very long day but once familiar with the routine I found my time-management did allow me to have a bit more time to relax on days where all the errands and chores were up to date.
Morning and night I would do a quick write up of mood, health, meds, toileting and a quick reminder of calls, visits etc, so the family could keep abreast of things.”
In a Nutshell
“Over the years I have had all different assignments; single and couples, some requiring much more care than others, some mobility stricken and others palliative. I have gone through life changing events with clients and their families, sat up all night waiting for ambulances, doctors, district nurses or family members.
I have seen and done things I never thought I could cope with. The benefits have far outweighed the negatives. Learning to listen, learning about history, medical conditions, human vulnerabilities. I have learnt how to adapt, about perspective and that everybody is owed the same care in their twilight years. I have grown rhino-hide and not to take things personally. And then the next assignment comes along which could be very ‘low-key’ to the hectic one before and with it a welcome time to charge one’s batteries and reflect.
Would I choose to be a carer again if I had my life over? In a heartbeat. Absolutely!”