Our latest post by Dennis Holmes, Deputy Director of Adult Social Care Services, reflects on personal experience of using care services.
I just celebrated my birthday, though maybe ‘celebrate’ is a bit of a strong word. I’ve found as the years have passed, it’s less of a celebration and more a time of reflection.
Becoming 14 is a big deal. Little do you know that 30 years on, you will definitely not feel, be, or look the way you did at 14 (God forbid, somewhere between David Bowie and Rodney out of Only Fools and Horses). So having now attained an age that I shuddered to think I would ever reach when I was 14, I reflected …
When I was 20, my parents were pretty much the age I am now. When I was 30, I found myself in the position of having to offer them, if not exactly care, then certainly support. By the age of 35, I was definitely their carer and care manager.
Working full time, I was responsible for managing a child care team, not an easy job then or now. My mum was intermittently in and out of Chapel Allerton Hospital, which was mercifully not far from the office where I was based, and meant I could visit on a lunch-time. Around the same time, my dad had taken early retirement to look after her but had himself then been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and sometimes found it hard to manage.
I set off to work each morning, called in on my parents, called into the hospital over lunch when mum was a patient and called in to their home when I finished work. If mum was in hospital, I’d call back to the hospital on an evening and then drive dad back home, inevitably having a cheeky beer and a game of snooker in the club. He knew he wasn’t allowed, so did I – good times.
When I was a team manager we’d refer to older couples who relied on each other for mutual care and support as ‘creaking gates’. It’s a great encompassing phrase, I think. That was my parents. But there comes a time when the hinges come off the gate and while my parents didn’t want to admit it, least of all to me, they’d got to the end of the line in what they could do to support each other.
You’re never quite prepared for the moment when the pendulum swings and you become the parent and your parents become the children, so to speak.
Here’s the funny bit before the sad bit.
One day on my regular after work call at my parents’ house, my dad, armed with his pensioner bus pass, was off to town (for reasons that immediately perplexed and worried me). I noticed the wallet bulging in his back trouser pocket as if he had landed a very large cash payment from Mr Hill (William) for a bet, potentially making him a target for unwarranted attention.
I pointed this out to him and asked where his new found source of wealth had come from – “Ah lad” he said, “you know when you helped me claim attendance allowance for your mother? Well I got it. I cash it every Monday and stick it in me wallet”. Seeing the look on my face he pulled the wallet out and opened it. “How many weeks, dad?” I asked.
As I recall there were four ten pound notes in the front bit and in the back bit there was £420, or 12 weeks’ attendance allowance which was meant, as I thought we’d agreed, for him to pay for home care for mum. “I thought it was for me”, he said, “for taking care of her.”
That week we sorted out paid home care support.
For the next year or so I helped to provide support to my father and care for my mother and organised the paid carers. Later in that year my father was admitted to hospital for a long time to try to deal with complications associated with his diabetes. In the meantime I and the paid carers managed my mother’s care.
My mum died at home in August 1995 and my dad died in hospital in May 1996. It was my absolute privilege to care for them and to be supported by paid carers who, it was clear from their commitment and consistency, cared as much as I did.
I thought it was worth a reflective birthday-tide blog post. I know many of my friends who now find themselves at this same age and who are now at the sharp end of caring for their parents. Those of us who are not there now are likely to be there at some point in the future.
Please, in your work and generally, look out for the carers, whether it be for parents or children, family, friends or neighbours.
One day, it could be you – if it isn’t already.