Unpaid carers are facing unprecedented struggles due to the lockdown and the closure of services caused by the Coronavirus outbreak. To mark Carers’ Week, Treetops Hospice Care in Derbyshire shares the story of Julie Burdon, who has been a full time carer for her husband Mike since 2018.
Mike was diagnosed with an inoperable cerebral aneurysm in 2018, while he was recovering from an operation on an aortic aneurysm. He is unable to walk or do anything physical. Julie explains: “He needs total personal care and struggles with most things, so I have now become his full time carer. This means I look after him 24-7, doing everything for him, although we do have paid carers coming in to help me.”
Julie and Mike have been together for 23 years. Since Mike’s diagnosis, Julie acknowledges she has no time for herself. “At times I find life very difficult, especially not being able to have time with my children and grandchildren and doing all the fun things I have always done with them. Our hobbies were walking, gardening and holidays, but unfortunately Mike is now unable to do these things. I still enjoy gardening and walking when possible, as well as crocheting and reading.”
A friend encouraged the couple to contact Treetops Hospice Care, who Julie describes as ‘life savers.’ “I had known about Treetops for quite a while but didn’t think they would be able to help us” she says. “We were encouraged to visit them and thank goodness we did! They are our life savers. It was wonderful to have people to talk to, that understand what we are going through.
“Before lockdown Mike usually went to Treetops twice a week on Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons. He had his lunch there both days and loved their puddings and homemade cakes. He was encouraged to try some of the activities on offer and always had help and support.
“But I think more than anything he enjoyed a change of scenery, seeing other people and the ‘banter’. He also enjoyed his bath times, which were like going to a spa.
“We were also lucky to have had six sessions of complementary therapy, which for me was wonderful. It gave me an hour a week of total relaxation.
“Mike enjoyed the fuss and attention he got from everyone and it enabled me to have some respite and ‘me time’ knowing that he was in very safe hands and being well looked after. Treetops gave me time to do something for myself, be it seeing friends, shopping or just walking.”
However the Coronavirus lockdown has forced Treetops to temporarily close its Wellbeing Space to patients like Mike. “Life has been very strange, and at times difficult, over the last 10 weeks. We had just got into a little routine of occasionally meeting friends for coffee, or having little trips out. Unfortunately all this had to stop, as did having visitors. I think it is more difficult for me than Mike, although I know he really misses his days out at Treetops.
“For me, life has stopped. If it wasn’t for our daily carers I wouldn’t see anyone. I am lucky though as our children ring regularly. Treetops have rung every week to see how we are, and often pop over and leave a package of surprises for us which is lovely, but we both really miss not being able to visit. We both hope that sooner rather than later we can all get back together again.
“We also receive support from Nottingham Hospice who have been coming during the night to change and move Mike. It has meant I can get a decent night’s sleep and they have also done respite sits so I can get out for a few hours and clear my head.”
Alison Hembrow, Treetops Wellbeing, Support and Information Manager, explains that many people simply don’t recognise themselves as carers, so they don’t always know what support is available to them. “Caring is part of being human and is at the heart of family life. As our population ages and people live longer, often with complex health conditions, more and more of us will find ourselves caring. During the Coronavirus pandemic, an additional 4.5million people are caring for sick, older or disabled loved ones, behind closed doors.
“Carers are feeling especially isolated as their loved ones are having to shield at home and many of their normal support groups or respite services – such as those we offer here at Treetops – have had to close.
“Carers need our support now more than ever. We have adapted our own services as much as possible and are in regular contact with all our carers offering a listening ear as well as practical advice and emotional support, in whatever way we can. We’d encourage anyone who needs help to please get in touch with us”
For more information visit Treetops Hospice Care
Carers’ Week runs until June 14