Walk a Mile in... Thelma's Shoes
Thlema, aged 50, works part time at Shirevale Resource Centre. Every day after finishing work at 1.30pm, Thelma goes straight to see to her mum who is 75 and has suffered from advanced arthritis and osteoporosis for many years.
Thelma explains how her caring role has put a strain on the rest of her family and limits what she is able to do…. but she knows her mum would do exactly the same for her if the shoe were on the other foot.
Listen to Thelma's story to hear what it's like to walk a mile in her shoes. Or you can read her story below where she talks about caring for her mum..
"She’s 75 now and she started getting poorly in her 40’s, she’s got rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis and osteoporosis so she’s physically knackered, if you can say that. She can be very demanding. She’s sharp, really sharp, and wants things how she wants them.
"As soon as I finish work at half past 1 I go straight to her house which is only a two minute walk away from here. As soon as we get there we make her sandwiches for her tea, make her a drink, sort the dog’s food out, take the dog for a walk, come back, another drink, toilet her, another drink, then I go home. Then start again at home.
"Then there will be the dinner to take down, and then there might be a phone call later on because somebody has left a light on, or someone has done something really really…. One of the carers has missed something, they have forgot to put a cup so she can reach it, so I have to go down to sort. That drives me crazy. Something like that drives me crazy.
"I have actually put up a little sign at the light switch asking carers to please make sure, because three times in one week we had to go down just to switch the light off. But when you’ve already been down twice, to go down that third time just to switch the light off, it drains you. Absolutely drains you.
"But there is me and my sister that do the caring, but my sister has been poorly for two years on and off with cancer, so she’s obviously hasn’t been able to help me as much as she was doing before. But she is just starting to get back on her feet again and it helps, but some days, well months, where I am doing it every day, whereas when she is well we do it between us, it’s not so draining. I also have a brother that calls every night on the way home from work to make her that last drink. So that’s what I do on a daily basis, six days a week, because I do get one day off.
"Life is sort of on hold at the minute, especially with my sister being poorly, because before I could go on holiday and she would take over and then vice-versa but with her being so poorly. She (mum) won’t go in respite, if I wanted to go on a fortnights holiday she wouldn’t, she definitely wouldn’t, go in respite so we aren’t even bothering with a holiday this year."
"I don’t think I’d have it any other way, I’d rather do it, I’d rather her be less demanding, she can be really awkward just for the sake of being awkward. And sometimes she doesn’t appreciate what we do, sometimes she does but it all depends on what kind of mood she is in. Sometimes she can’t thank you enough and she will thank you in front of people, you know, ‘if it wasn’t for these’. But she’s not so much like that on a daily basis, do you know what I mean."
What are your main worries and concerns about the future?
"That she is going to be totally dependent on us and still refuse to go in a home, because at the moment the only way she can stand is with a stand aid, which she is now saying is hurting her. So the next thing is the ceiling hoist, but she says she is definitely not going to use one of those, so I don’t know what the next thing will be.
"Medically we have done everything we can do, I’ve taken her to every hospital appointment. We have tried to see if she can have knee replacements, she can’t have them because the osteoporosis is too severe. She’d actually been diagnosed with it 15 years before, but they said she had slipped through the net so she hadn’t had any treatment. They came back 15 years later and then wanted to do the treatment, but by then it had already done the damage. So, we take it day by day, week by week."
What do you think is the most difficult aspect of being a carer?
"Sometimes the agro when I get home, when we can’t go anywhere, can’t go away for the weekend because there is nobody to care for her. We can’t get any more help, she gets a morning call and an evening call, and each one is near enough an hour, so that’s her budget gone, so there is no budget for a daytime call, so you can’t do anything, especially with my sister not being well. At one time she would have just stepped in and we could go away for the weekend, but we are struggling now."
What do you think other people, who aren't carers, what do you think….
"I don’t think they have got any idea what it’s like. Most people just finish work and that’s it, they have got the rest of the day ahead. I am sure they think I finish here at half 1 and only work until half past 1, but I don’t, that’s just this job finished. Then I go to that job, because I class it like a job. You don’t go and have a cup of tea and sit chatting, there’s always something, if my sister does go down and she has done sandwiches, then I will do the ironing, or I’ll put the washing in, or I’ll have to nip down the street, there’s always something that needs to be done. So you can’t go and just sit and have a chat, there’s always jobs to be done. So it’s a nightmare sometimes. Then I just go home and start again with my own family".
Have you got children?
"I’ve got two, one has left home but I still have a son at home. Then you get up the next day and it’s the same again. It’s like Groundhog Day. But I’m quite upbeat, so I just get on with it.
I don’t work Fridays, I used to work five days a week, and my husband said to me ‘if you are dropping your Fridays, do not go down to your mum’s, because you will start a pattern. So what do I do? Go down to my mum’s on Fridays. I just do it. I think she is starting to realise and understand that there are things she would like doing that just aren’t going to get done."
You have just talked about managing work and your caring role. Would it be easier if you didn’t work?
"I like coming here, you can have a laugh, the atmosphere is good. But it’s the routine, come here, go there. But I think that if I didn’t work, I’d just clean up at home. I’d have no life, I’d just get up, clean up and be down there for hours and hours and hours. So if I didn’t come to work, I’d have no one to talk to about it, but I look around the people in here and I think ‘which one am I going to be when I get older....."
......Who’s going to look after you?
"Yeah, because I don’t think mine (kids) will have the same empathy as I do for my mum. Because really, our Emma is 24 this month and near enough all her life, she has known me do this, and obviously Josh, he’s the same. Sometimes they get annoyed, saying ‘she’ll be alright’, but she’s not alright, I’ve got to make sure, I have got to know that she is alright and everything is sorted.
"She hasn’t chosen to be like this, she has always worked, she had five kids, brought five kids up and never had loads of money, and then all of a sudden she gets rheumatoid arthritis. I must say, it’s only the past five or six years that she has got really bad, as much as she could do herself she would try. She would get up one day and feel fine, so she’d be doing some stuff, but then that would put her in bed for two days. Instead of just thinking ‘oh I feel alright today’, and just sit back and enjoy not feeling pain, she’d be up doling stuff, and then two days in bed. She might as well have just rested and enjoyed a pain free day. She has always been a hard worker. I want to keep her at home as much and as long as I possibly can, and if this is what I need to do, then I will do it. I think I do it because, you know before she took badly, she would do whatever she could for me. And I know that if I was ill, and she was fine, she would be at my house every day. I know she would, because she is that type of person."