(Note: This will be a very long blog post and one that is not lighthearted. This is the truth of how I became a carer for my grandma mostly and my grandad, dad and younger sister).
I’ll start with my grandma. I cared for my grandma from the age of 11. Late September 2005 was when my world changed forever. I’ll never forget the day. I remember my mum getting a phone call late at night, from my Grandad. Tears started streaming down her face. She placed the phone down and looked at me: “Your grandma has fallen down the stairs”. I didn’t know what to expect or what had happened exactly. (I learnt the truth later on, which we will get to later). The next morning was the weekend. Instead of going outside to play, I was travelling in my Grandad’s car to the hospital. I was told that what I was going to see was going to be “scary”. Nothing prepared me for what I was about to see. My grandma lay there. Quiet. All that was moving was her chest. Rising and falling at her breath. Except it wasn’t her breath, a machine was breathing for her. I’ll never forget that image of her lying there. Tubes, bandages, bruises and scratches. Miraculously she didn’t break a bone in her body but…she was gone. By gone, I mean she was never going to be the person she was just 24 hours previous. Memories flooded back to my childhood. My mammy grandma. She had brought me up from day one because of my parents having to work. That happy, exuberant person wasn’t there anymore. We didn’t know if she would ever walk or talk again. Everything hung in the balance. My mum explained that she was going to “sleep” for a while, until the doctors made her better. She had been put into a sedated coma. This was so the swelling in her brain could go down. We didn’t know the extent of the damage but piece by piece over the next few months she got a little better. Slow progress. She moved from the intensive care unit at the hospital to the high dependency unit. She was woken from her coma and the full extent of the damage was shown to us all at once. She was brain damaged. She was able to talk but she shouted, she was able to walk but stumbled. She wasn’t the same person anymore. She liked to pick small pieces of dirt or anything off of the hospital floor. Then all of a sudden she started to jerk and she fell to the floor. I didn’t know what was happening but we were ushered out of the room and doctors came rushing in. She was moved back to the intensive care unit where doctors did more tests to confirm that the damage to her brain had caused her to develop epilepsy. She had grand mal seizures every day until doctors gave her medication to stop it. When she was well enough (5 months after the accident) she was allowed home. This is when I started to care for my grandma. My mum explained to me how the accident happened so I would be able to watch her when she was going up and down the stairs. My grandma had fallen down the stairs because she had had items in both of her hands meaning she couldn’t grip the handrail that went all the way up her stairs. She tripped and hit her head on the stair-lift and hit her head continuously on the steel bar that the stair-lift ran on. From top to bottom. I don’t even want to imagine that image now but for an 11 year old it was frightening, an image that gave me nightmares. My mum was totally honest with me and that was what I needed. So every weekend I used to sleep at my grandma’s as normal. My grandad would go out for an hour or so at night and leave me and my younger sister with my grandma as he had always done. I didn’t stop him doing it after the accident because it was his routine. I’d watch over her, watch her drink, watch her eat, watch her every move. I was petrified of something happening. My grandad would come in and he would watch the wrestling with us until it was time for bed. We used to go upstairs into our own rooms, with my room straight beside the stairs. I was able to see the top of them. I used to lay there, scared. I became paranoid at little noises when my grandma was coming up the stairs. My Grandad followed behind her but still I was nervous. I cried until I knew they were both upstairs and in their room. Later on in my teenage years I’d scratch my bed and hope that if she did fall down the stairs when I was there that I’d take the pain away from her if I scratched myself. It became a release almost. Some times when I was there I’d put my hands over my ears and whisper to myself (please don’t let her fall down the stairs). My caring responsibilities on a weekend grew as I got older. I’d still stop on a weekend but I had to do more things. I had to clean and watch over them both as I cooked. When my grandad went out, I’d put the TV on and wait and silently plead for him to come home. My younger sister sometimes stopped over and when she did it was easier for me to cope. Around the age of 15, I remember my mum crying to my grandad. It was 2010, February 14th. A Sunday. More importantly Valentine’s Day. We were having Sunday dinner as usual and then my grandad said to my mum “you can stay here”. I never knew what that meant until that afternoon. “I want a divorce, I’ve met someone else”. My mum had had depression the year before and was nearly sectioned and she had to have two jobs to allow us to have a comfortable living. My dad was heartbroken. He spiralled into alcohol abuse and depression. He stopped eating so we could. I’d look after him and my sister as well as finishing off my GCSE’s. My mum and dad were arguing a lot still even though they were separated. I met my mums new partner. I did well in my GCSE’s. I was still caring for my Grandma too. I didn’t have friends so I wasn’t giving up a social life. I stayed on at school to go to sixth form and do English Language, English Literature, Film Studies and Psychology. My AS Levels were difficult as I had to start looking after my grandad too. I’d make sure that he was okay and was able to look after my grandma. I’d noticed bruises on my grandma’s arms and face. I thought nothing of it as she fell over a lot or so I thought. She was taken to hospital a lot for broken bones and that was when things started getting worse. My grandad had pictures on his phone of her lying down on the floor or on the sofa all bruised. I’d notice things when o was there on the weekend. They’d shout at each other and my grandad would get frustrated. I’ll not say what happened for a few months but you can probably guess. My grandma became worse rapidly . her brain was becoming more and more damaged. She was becoming forgetful, she was experiencing more seizures, she had developed diabetes, was loosing weight and was incontinent. Her moood swings were becoming increasingly severe and she became a person who just wanted to sit and watch tv. She never wanted to talk or see anyone. Seeing her like that made me realise that she was never going to get better. She was getting older and I couldn’t stop it. I was loosing her to brain damage but also to old age. I was loosing her twice. She is always going to get worse and never better. My A Levels started in 2012 and it was time for me to stick in and focus. But it never happened. I passed my A Levels but my mum and dad started the process for their divorce, my grandad was diagnosed with angina, arthritis and depressio and he could no longer care for my grandma because he was becoming too aggressive so she was placed into a home where she still is to this day. She is better but her brain damage is worse and she now has Alzeimhers so I’m loosing her all over again. To brain damage, old age and now Alzeimhers. When my grandma went into a home my grandad couldn’t cope. He went to see her but they just argued and he stormed out. They haven’t seen eachother since that day. I can’t really remember much after that. I was focused on college a lot and nothing really changed until this year. This year my grandad was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and he was formally diagnosed with senile dementia. He has a lot of complex needs now and is in hospital a lot. He has carers that come in and look after him but I go every week or so to make sure that he is alright, I talk to him and clean his house for him. When I go to university I won’t be able to care for him part time anymore so my mum will become his full time carer. I have a full time job now and have finished my course in Health and Social Care so I can take over some more care from my mum to give her some respite. I’m loosing my grandad to old age and to dementia too now. Losing the people that have brought me up is hard but its my life and I wouldn’t chance it. I love my family for who they are. If I didn’t have the life I have I would not be who I am . I wouldn’t be going into Social Work as this chapter in my life has influenced me so much and taught me so much about life and myself. I’ve gained so many skills and strengthened my qualities I’ve noticed my weaknesses too. I’m happy to be a carer, no matter how difficult and I’m proud to sat that “I am a carer”.
That is my carers story. It may shock, it may not. That’s the truth. How I became a carer. It wasn’t an easy journey and caring is by no means easy. Its hard. Having to watch your family members struggle. My sister has epilepsy which I forgot to mention and behavioural difficulties so when my dad had depression etc, I made sure she was fed and was going to school. I won’t say that I’ve had a difficult life because people have experienced worse. I’m blessed to have my family and at the end of the day they are my family. Family is family, right? Its a norm for me now, having been a carer for nearly 10 years now. Would I rather not be a carer? The answer is no. I don’t mind caring for my family as it is something that comes naturally to me. If I didn’t care for them who else would?
Hope you enjoyed reading this blog post.