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Caring unexpectedly

Fiona shares how she became a carer overnight.

Everyone has their own unique journey in to their caring role. Caring can happen gradually, where you notice you’re taking on more tasks and responsibilities overtime, perhaps as a loved one ages. For others it happens suddenly and their life can change overnight. Fiona’s life changed when her husband, John unexpectedly suffered a stroke.

She bravely shares her story.
She bravely shares her story.

“The night before John had his stroke, we were chatting after dinner and enjoying a glass of wine. This was something we did every night. That night the topic of conversation was retirement. In particular, where we should live. During our marriage we had moved house around the country and abroad over ten times, we weren’t sure where we wanted our forever home. Should it be abroad or should we stick to the UK? Well, any agreements we might have arrived at that night became irrelevant due to what happened the next day.

John was unable to move. He was unable to eat or drink. His right arm was paralysed. Most distressing of all, he was unable to talk. I had the upsetting business of informing our friends and family about what had happened. I did what I always do in dreadful situations - I put on my ‘big girl’s pants’ and dealt with it. John needed me more than ever before. I was not going to let him down.

It was difficult just getting out of bed, but I did, visiting John twice a day. As I walked down the hospital corridor, I remember saying to myself over and over again, ‘put on a big smile, put on a big smile’. I was determined to be brave.

A week later I had to go to hospital as a day patient. My sister asked if I wanted someone to go with me. I said with great determination that I was fine to go by myself. On the day of the appointment, I was getting ready and heard a knock on my door. I opened it to find my brother-in-law standing there.

‘I’m taking you to your appointment. I am not taking no for an answer. Is there anyone else you would like to come?’

I felt such a sense of relief. After trying so hard to be brave, someone was looking after me. 

I replied, ‘Yes, I need my Mum’

What I remember mostly about the drive to the hospital was that my legs could not stop shaking.

‘Fiona’, he said. ‘You know that when the flight crew give a safety demonstration on a plane, they always state that you have to put the oxygen mask on yourself before helping anyone else. You need to look after yourself in order to help John.’

After I had the medical procedure I laid in a bed for four hours. It was fantastic. It was the first time since John’s stroke that I not been rushing around like a banshee! I spent the four hours processing what had happened to our lives. I gradually began to have a feeling of calm and acceptance.”

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Fiona hopes that by sharing her thoughts and feelings in those first moments of her caring role, she can reach others in a similar situation that may be feeling overwhelmed and exhausted. “You are not alone. We’re a lovely community. It’s not selfish to look after yourself, it helps you be the best carer you can.”

She shares some advice that may be useful to others that find themselves providing care to a loved one suddenly:

  • Reach out to other carers, especially those that are caring because of a similar health problem. Fiona contacted our Carers' Centre and The Stroke Association. “It’s helped speaking with other carers that know the devastation of a stroke. They get it. They know the difficulties.”
  • Stay in touch with friends and family. “Every Friday I have a virtual cocktail hour with my friends. We pour ourselves a G&T and have a laugh! I think video calling has been a life-saver. Some people can’t leave the one they care for, but can happily sit on a video call.”
  • Exercise and fresh air is important. “I make sure I go out every day for a walk, it helps in all ways and gives you some headspace.”
  • If you can, volunteer. Fiona had to leave her job to be a full-time carer to John. She often volunteers at our Carers' Centre when she can.“Volunteering has helped me a lot, it makes me feel useful, valuable and I’ve met some wonderful people.”
  • Stay mentally active. “I regularly check the Open University for their free courses to keep my brain stimulated.”

As Fiona highlighted in her story, allow yourself time to think things through. If you’re overwhelmed, or having to make a tough decision, remember your community are here for you. Connect with other carers in Bath and North East Somerset by registering with us or joining a carer cafe. Alternatively, you can also communicate with other carers across the UK by signing up to the Mobilise Facebook group.

Article created in partnership between Bath and North East Somerset Carers' Centre and Mobilise, and with special thanks to Fiona.