Tuesday, 5 May 2020

Who cares for the carers?

It has been an eye-opening and demanding half year for me. On September 23rd last year Richard had a psychotic episode. It followed a series of surgical procedures and medical appointments which resulted in his anxiety going overboard. By December, despite family visiting and helping out over four extended stays with us, and Richard making a journey with them to Cornwall to give me a break, his psychiatrist declared that the meds he was on  had no more useful job to do. He was not getting substantially better.

For the month up to Twelfth Night I grappled with a new medication regime that changed weekly. Thank goodness we weren’t in lockdown then. The strain, after three and a half months of Richard’s anxiety and depression and the added burden of being his cook, housekeeper, nurse and carer, would have been too much if I’d had to queue in the cold outside our pharmacy, every week, for a different batch of pills.

Gradually, during January and February, the low time of the year, Richard began cooking and painting again. By March 14th - my birthday - he was confident about travelling to Devon. He enjoyed my birthday treats in a lovely hotel by the sea front. We met friends, had a smashing time, enjoyed birthday cake and did some shopping on the way back to Bath. Back then we felt some of the reports of the effects of covid-19 seemed OTT but we religiously washed our hands, easy when it is your birthday and you can happily sing two verses of ‘Happy birthday to you.’ Except I was singing ‘ me’ for the statutory twenty seconds.

At that time there was no social distancing and no wearing of masks. But we knew the virus was coming. 

And Richard’s treatment was working. He was going to our local shop, the pharmacy, to see friends and to GP appointments. And on his own. 

Then wham! 

The local shop shut without warning.
The pharmacy and surgery introduced distancing and familiar faces became alien in masks and visors.

Richard took to his bed. His anxiety resurfaced. His progress retreated. All that was good for him - mixing, enjoying going to the pub, shopping locally - were denied him. He didn’t want to go out. He stopped cooking, painting and taking an interest in the garden. I wrote to Boris Johnson about the effects on the mental health of the over-seventies in enforced lockdown. I have received no reply. I tweeted that we needed a public inquiry into this government’s handling of the crisis in the UK. That was in the second half of March. Now the cry for a public inquiry makes the headlines in tomorrow’s  newspapers.

And now, on May 6th, our country’s death rate from covid-19 is the highest in Europe. We still don’t have a substantial testing, track and trace system in place. Mutterings about Brexit and coming out of lockdown are happening alongside our worst national crisis for many decades and internationally we are beyond a joke as a nation. 

Meanwhile Richard has mown the lawn and cooked. He hasn’t restarted his painting but he sold a few of his fine art cards from our gate - at a distance - at the weekend.

When I watch ‘The King’s Speech’ and scenes of Queen Elizabeth comforting King George VI around the time of the abdication it shows how strong a wife can be for a man who fears for his role in life. When Richard had to go to hospital for a routine check - during lockdown - he said he was terrified. He had a very kindly driver from AgeUK who looked after him.
In fact going to see a nurse on his own gave him some confidence and his hours in bed have substantially decreased since then. ( I had a bad bout of hayfever and couldn’t accompany him.) I rang him several times during his hospital visit to check he didn’t feel overwhelmed, ensured he had his medical notes, wore his mask and gloves, used his sanitiser and took a bottle of water. I was caring at a distance but caring nonetheless. 

George VI must have felt terror trying to give a speech as King back in 1937. But he had a caring wife. I don’t like being called a ‘carer’ but in order for Richard to get over his anxiety and depression I do need to support him. In lockdown who else is there? At least we don’t have a press or public making demands of us and we can live quietly, unlike the Royals.
And bravery plays its part.

If I’m a carer I wonder how our government has been caring in the recent and more distant past for its people. Ten years of austerity, running down the NHS, the boasting of Brexit as a cure for our ills and unpreparedness for the pandemic have led to a divided country. The poorest are dying. Isn’t it time we got rid of class distinction in the UK? It does not serve our care workers who are paid and trained badly. They are poorly equipped against covid-19. 70,000 civilian deaths occurred in the UK during the six years of World War 2. 30,000 deaths have occurred in approximately two months from covid-19. This is shocking by anyone’s standards.

Who is doing the caring in our government? Who cares about our people? Who cares for the carers? 

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