Role reversal: In the other shoes – the carer’s perspective

I’m back at hospital for the third time this week. Back in those familiar surroundings of a hospital with that calm, busy buzz of goings on around me. Only this time, for once, I’m NOT the patient. This time, I am the carer … I am here for support.

The offending path
The offending path

Long story short … my hubbie Michael had a little incident on Friday night involving an altercation with an uneven cobblestone alley. A few too many beers may have also been involved. Despite almost correcting himself after the initial stumble, he lost his footing again, and whilst I was holding back giggles (I have an odd, slightly sadistic sense of humour), he did an awkward sideways acrobatic-like somersault movement down the very steep, hard path. It was a full on stack (I wish I’d filmed it for funniest home videos)!

The alcohol must have numbed the pain somewhat, as it wasn’t until early the next morning the pain was so severe, he decided he better get it seen to. After a quick trip (hehe!) to Sydney Hospital emergency department, an x-ray showed he had broken not 1 but 2 bones in his hand. He doesn’t do things in halves my Mikey!

Hence our subsequent visits to the hospital this week. We are now sitting in the admissions area for the inevitably long wait until he’s called to theatres for surgery on his hand. 4 hours and counting!

It’s nice having the roles reversed for once. The last 5 years it’s always been me at the doctor’s appointments, emergency department or awaiting surgery. It’s always been Michael and mum sitting patiently waiting and supporting me. I have said it a million times, but I will say it again! I am so, so grateful for their love and support and always, always, always being there for me, no matter what.

However for this post I want to focus on seeing things through the eyes of the carer versus the patient.

It’s not easy being a carer. In some ways it’s tougher than being the patient. Seeing someone you love in pain, wanting to make them feel better, but much of it out of your control.

My family took significant time off work to be there for me, and although my work is very supportive, it was difficult getting just one day off to be here today. My family put their lives on hold and dropped everything for me, often putting me first and consequently neglecting their own health. It pained me to see my mum and Michael’s health suffer and how tired they often were trying to keep up with their own lives as well as all the extra time and energy focused on me. But this is what we do for those we love.   

Waiting patiently
Waiting patiently

The waiting game is always difficult for everyone involved. I’ve learnt over the years the art of waiting. Being the “patient” patient! Crosswords, playing on my mobile, reading, chatting. I even tried taking up knitting. There is no point complaining or repeatedly asking how much longer the wait is. Things will happen when they happen. In many ways, waiting is easier for the patient who is kept busy with questions from the nurses, having obs taken, the anaesthetist, more questions. When you eventually go through you are knocked out and wake up hours later in recovery. For the carer, instead it’s hours of impatient anticipation and concern in the waiting room, uncertain and anxious about what’s going on in the operating theatre. You look for distractions, but apart for some inane television show playing in the background, your mind keeps returning to the patient and if they are okay.

Fasting is another thing. Is it right for the carer to eat or drink in front of a fasting patient? It never bothered me that much, but having not eaten since the night before, after half a day fasting, your tummy starts growling. The mere fact that you know you are not allowed to eat makes you even hungrier. Not being able to drink is even worse. You become so parched, you just want one little sip of water. But nil by mouth means just that. I remember Mikey cooking the most amazing smelling chilli con carne when I was fasting for a procedure a few years ago. I woke during the night and in the morning with the slow cookers scent permeating the whole house, my mouth drooling, but I wasn’t allowed to eat even a spoonful. That was cruel!! I just snuck out for a cheeky coffee and sandwich as I know Mikey is hungry, but I am conscious not to eat or drink in front of him!

Independence is a struggle for patient and carer alike. Letting go of your independence is not easy. I struggled with this as a patient for a long time. I wanted to do everything myself. I didn’t want to rely on others. Cooking, cleaning, shopping. I wouldn’t let people help unless I really, really needed it.

As a carer, you want to help. You want to be there to look after and care for the patient in any way you can. I have really come to understand that this week. I am trying to do things for Michael, but he won’t let me! His left arm is in a cast and he is on some pretty strong pain killers, but even when I tell him to sit down and rest and let me do things, he insists that he’s fine. Maybe he just doesn’t trust me in the kitchen!! From my own experience as the patient, I am sure it’s more about retaining his independence though. The most he will let me do is tie his shoelaces and do some of the kitchen prep and washing up, and that’s only because he physically can’t do those things himself! Warning signs ignored

No matter how much you persist in doing everything yourself, there is a point you need to let go. You need to let others help. They want to help. I eventually accepted this and stopped fighting. It doesn’t mean you have lost to your disease or given up. I wasn’t doing myself, my body or my health any favours by trying to be a martyr all the time. Accept the offers. Accept them gratefully. Be thankful that you have someone there for you willing and able to help. As the carer this week, I want more than anything to return the favour of all the years of Michael doing so much for me when I wasn’t well enough to do it myself. His recovery will take at least 6-12 weeks, so I hope over this time he learns that it’s okay to accept others help and at least lets me cook a meal or 2. If not, I might just have to put my foot down and insist!!

So it’s my turn. Over the coming weeks I will be there to support Michael as much as I possibly can (and he WILL let me!). Although I might have giggled when he took his stumble, I have a lot of empathy and care for him so much. Although he is not going in for major bowel surgery like I had, it is still surgery and comes with risks. I know I am going to be sitting here waiting worriedly until he comes back from theatres, until I see that he is okay.

It’s been an interesting week having our roles reversed, and will be an interesting few weeks to come. Although I cannot ease the physical pain, making him laugh, keeping him company and just being there is the main role of a carer and what I know from being on both sides, makes the world of difference.

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2 thoughts on “Role reversal: In the other shoes – the carer’s perspective

  1. Great post Laura. Certainly something different for you (and probably for Mikey too) to have the roles reversed. For me today, not being there with you was a struggle and reading your post renewed all those feelings I’d already been revisiting, many of which you touch on. Having been both carer and patient, I do actually think that the actual surgery process is harder on the carer than the patient. You feel so helpless! Hopefully Mikey recovers easily and today will be your last hospital visit in either capacity for a l-o-n-g time!

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