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Carry on caring

Finding, hiring and working with carers is a whole new ball game and one which – until recently – I never imagined I’d ever have to play. My Loved One and I were supposed to grow old together – the sort of couple people marvel at because they’re still striding about busily in their nineties, indestructible on their vegetarian diet. Alas, fate and Ms Alzheimer’s have decided otherwise. And I can, it seems, now add “carer management” to my growing CV.

Most people in our position just want a bit of respite care so that the retired carer-partner can pop out for an escapist lunch with friends. Me, I’ve always been a stereotype defier. What I need is a “man-sitting” service while I go out to work and that means a wide range of erratic hours including a lot of evenings especially in the busy run-up to Christmas. MLO has been more or less OK left at home by himself in the warm with food put ready until this last month during which his health has. I’m afraid, plummeted quite dramatically.

He is now very uneasy if he’s on his own for long. Cue for panic calls to me, which I can’t answer, of course, if I’m in the theatre, so he often starts anxiously phoning round the family to tell them he doesn’t know where I am or “what’s going on”. I ring him all the time but it’s an increasingly stressful situation. Time for carers. Definitely

I found a website which operates like Checkatrade or Right Trader – but for carers. I was irritated that they really wanted me to pay a thumping annual membership in order to get information but signed up for the basic – free – service. Having explained my requirements I got over 30 responses over the course of a week or two. Well, we live in inner London’s deep south and carers who live in Enfield, Kingston or Erith were clearly never going to be able to provide the service I need, whatever they said. So using location as the lead criterion I picked two very local ones and invited them to come (separately) to meet us. They’re very different types but I liked them both and MLO – while not fully grasping what I was trying to do seemed fairly relaxed about it.

In the last week both have been here and done shifts for me. I was adamant from the outset that I didn’t want the sort of standard carer “package” which involves someone from an agency who would dash in for 10 minutes, make sure MLO was alive and shove a sandwich at him. I’ve seen too much of that with friends, relations and neighbours. I wanted people who would spend substantial blocks of quality time with MLO and that’s what I’ve got. He needs unhurried calm reassurance and company.

I’ve also met and “hired” an impressively competent student from a local drama school who, for family reasons, is very used to looking after people. I’ve always argued that drama-trained people are some of the most capable you could meet and she is a case in point. She’s going to bring Carry On films to watch with MLO – the two of them were chuckling about it even before she left. One of the others wants to know where I keep our board games so that she can play them with the patient. Hurrah. I would no more think of sitting down and playing a board (bored) game with him than running naked along the South Circular but I bet he’ll enjoy a round or two of Sorry or Scrabble.

That gives me a list of three carers to call on and I’m actively searching for a couple more so that I can get cover for any sort of work commitment. All quite encouraging.

On the three occasions so far that I’ve had one of them in all seems to have been well. “She has a very full and interesting life” MLO told me later about one of them so he’d clearly listened and retained some of what had been said – which is a nice change from him telling me continually for 8 hours on Sunday that he was frightened of the water and was afraid he wouldn’t see me again. He’d been dreaming and thought, unshakeably, that he was a refugee on an escape boat – starting at 4.00am.

Having carers in, though, is not for the financially faint-hearted. I’ve worked hard all my life and am not short of money. We also have Attendance Allowance because of MLO’s illness. Nonetheless if I have to pay a minimum of £9/10 per hour every time I go out it’s soon going to clock up to hundreds of pounds every week just for the “privilege” of working. And I don’t think most of my editors would wear my charging the care fee as expenses either. They would simply – as would I in their position – get an unencumbered reviewer instead of me.

In short I’m in the position that many mothers find themselves when they return to work after maternity leave. The cost of childcare – or carers – is so high that the work ceases to be economic. The point is, that like many a newish mother, for me working is about a great deal more than money. It is actually what is going to stop me going completely dotty and that’s really rather important under the circumstances.

Terra nova.

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Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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