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Health and the c-word

I am now a carer. Or so they tell me. Thanks Ms Horrible Alzheimer’s. You have forced something onto my CV which I never sought and for which I have no qualifications, scant experience and nil inclination. I loathe, detest and abhor the c-word with a vengeance.

Nonetheless this is the position fate and Ms A have forced me into so I have no choice but to knuckle down and get on with it. My Loved One is increasingly dependent on me for more and more “services”. I am, for example, his chauffeuse. This week he has told me first that he’d now be frightened to drive up hills and second, on a different occasion, that he still can’t understand what all the fuss was about and of course he’d still be perfectly OK driving. I tried not to comment but …

I am also his secretary – arranging his appointments and ensuring that he gets there. Every day I find for him the things he’s “lost” (he hasn’t) and administer his pills. I lock the house when we go out or at night and manage the burglar alarm. These days I also do the laundry and shopping (mostly online) – all things he used to do. And these are just examples.

Well, no one is indispensable of course but it has occurred to me recently that this caring malarkey is quite a responsibility. Supposing I become ill and can’t look after him? It’s all very well my dear clergy friend (we were at school together) telling me with warm wisdom in her eyes: “You would find a way”. I’m not in with her loving God and am bleakly convinced that there is no benign presence in the sky on hand to bale me out if things go belly up. It behoves me, therefore, to stay as well as I possibly can.

I’ve always been pretty fit, actually, and never had a serious illness but there’s always (inevitably?) a first time. Vegetarian food, never using the car for journeys of under a mile, taking the stairs, not smoking and going very easy on booze have paid off for me, so far, although the same life style doesn’t seem to have done much for MLO.

Two things have recently given me pause for thought.

First, I caught the worst cold I have had in decades while we were on holiday in Greece last month. For three full weeks I felt really unwell – first the streaming, then the blocked sinuses and pain all over my head then the residual … well I’ll spare you the revolting details. Suffice it to say it was so tenacious and unpleasant that I really did begin to wonder if I’d got something worse than a cold.

Second I phoned a relation who is 80 and usually bounces about playing bowls and attending energetically to his garden. “I’ve had pneumonia” he told me lugubriously adding that he was so weak he collapsed trying to climb the stairs to bed and was hospitalised overnight. That was three weeks earlier and he’d been told to allow at least another three weeks to throw it off completely.

Alarm bells. I pretend to be 22 but the truth is that I am no longer in the first flush of youth. Suppose that were me? How on earth would MLO cope? He might manage to make me a cup of stewed tea with too much milk in it and he’d feed the cat but beyond that he wouldn’t be able to look after me and the household would collapse about our ears. I expect one of our long suffering, and wonderfully loyal sons would do his best but they both have demanding businesses to run in cities 60 miles away from us.

I’ve always been a bit chary of vaccines after a nasty experience with one in the 1980s. But I have to be grown up now – thanks to the arrival of Ms A in my household. Last week I took myself to the practice nurse and asked for both the flu and pneumonia jabs. “Oh yes, we do recommend them for carers” she said brightly thereby rubbing salt into the wound of my incredulity. Me? A carer? No, you’ve confused me with someone else. I’m a journalist, author, bloody good former teacher, wife, mother and grandmother but I never signed up for that c-word thing.

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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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