So, as I type I am on the tail-end of recovering from a very unpleasant stomach bug, not that there are any pleasant stomach bugs. I suppose it's never good to see your dinner after it has already been sitting in your insides for 12 hours. Yet, this is how I spent my Saturday. Squirming under two duvets, feeling freezing even though I knew the room was warm. My skin hurt. I was shaking. Every few minutes my stomach would twist into agonising cramps. And I spent much of morning begging my intestines not to send my dinner back up from the night before. It was inevitable, though. I could feel it coming. And I guess no one really enjoys vomiting but I am almost phobic about it. I'll spare you the graphic details and won't share what happened behind that bathroom door. Let's just say that undignified things happened to me from all directions that should never be spoken of. What could possibly make this scenario worse? I'll tell you. My husband was just as sick as I was with the same thing. And we are parents to two amazingly, zany beautiful children - one of whom is disabled.
I was panicked. Needing to care for our disabled daughter is one thing but our toddler son, who is the personification of irrepressible dynamite, needed parenting as well. I texted my sister and asked if she and her daughter could come over to help. Fortunately, they are both reliable and loyal family members, dropping everything and coming right over to hold the fort. The situation became a tad more complicated when Dynamite Baby started projectile vomiting around the living room. And my daughter started to complain of a stomachache. It was potentially a disaster. But, with the loving help of family, and some Buscopan (never used the stuff before Saturday but it is AWESOME!), we managed to make it to the end of the day.
As horrible as this all sounds, my story is a slightly humorous picture of what happens when carers themselves need care. In reality, it's no laughing matter. There are approximately 7 million informal carers (partners, friends or family members rather than professional, employed carers) in the UK. According to Carers.org, over 65% of carers between the ages of 60-94 years old are ill or disabled themselves. Over 30% of them have had to cancel a medical appointment or operation because of their caring responsibilities. In addition, nearly 70% of these carers feel that being a carer in this situation is actually detrimental to their mental health, which contributes to poor health. Carers are statistically at greater risk of poor health. Why? Because being an informal carer is relentlessly hard work, potentially 24 hours a day. It is unforgiving. It is unsympathetic. And it is draining. This is all made worse when the carer is themselves unwell.
Fortunately for us, we were generally better by the following day. By that time, my sister and niece would have been long gone. Despite how much they care for us, it would have been very difficult for them to be there two days in a row, although they probably would have done if need be. But how long could that last? Thank God we were well enough to resume parental and caring responsibilities by the next day. I feel such sadness for anyone who is unwell, especially on a long-term basis, but who has no choice but to bear the full brunt of responsibility of care for their loved one. No matter how much they love who they care for, that cannot be easy. It is a situation that has no easy answers. With the number of informal carers set to rise by 60% over the next couple of decades, the future looks grim. However, by having the discussion now and making our voices heard by local and central government, perhaps we can make some headway in change before things get worse.