Mary Poppins Returns
Is it possible to come back from holiday as a carer and not walk into some kind of slapstick disaster scenario, the kind where you innocently open the front door and a huge tidal wave of dirty water bursts through and knocks you over? I wonder, as I sit here wading through a towering pile of paperwork and things still undealt with to chase.
Actually, apart from the admin shit storm it hasn’t been too bad. While we were away, Nick was so well looked after by Helen and a wonderful dream team of friends, that in some ways I think he barely noticed we’d gone. There were a few blips but nothing major.
My A-Z list of contacts and contingencies stretched over three pages and spanned the main areas that someone could reasonably expect to have to deal with in my absence. I’m not sure that anyone even looked at it, which is probably a good thing. Things ticked along just fine and they didn’t need to.
Of course, that was lucky. I had spent the fortnight before going away making sure that every little thing I could possibly think of was covered, and there was a lot – financial juggling to make sure Nick had enough cash and that bills could be paid while I was away, medications review, hearing aid repair, continence assessment, OT and wheelchair update, repairing the broken loo, getting in touch with police and housing and social worker about ongoing harassment by the upstairs neighbour (he has continued to tape ill-written hate notes onto Nick’s door every day for the last month, but mercifully didn’t actually attack anyone. I’m almost beginning to see the notice writing as his hobby.)
So everything was fine and although I did return to a couple of minor annoyances – nobody had changed the cat litter in two weeks and I arrived to find Nick sitting in a stuffy, stinking room with flies buzzing around his table, because the (paid) carer who was supposed to do it had not turned up – apart from that, nothing untoward, and he was happy and nurtured and safe.
“When are you going away again?” said Helen jokingly but I actually felt that it would be possible.
I can’t thank her and the other friends enough for that, and even the usual carers who carried on doing their normal routine perfectly well without me there, even if a few things got left undone without my constant tweaking and nagging.
And it did make me wonder – all the stuff I do, the never-ending to do list and phone calls and trouble shooting – is it all in my imagination and do I make a rod for my own back most of the time?
But then, all the letters about benefits and health appointments and missed payments and PiP assessments and insurance and utilities and you bloody name it, were all waiting for me to deal with on my return and they are certainly not imaginary, I only wish they were.
And last night I popped in with some food for Nick and found two carers standing outside the flat looking fazed. Between them they had managed to take the key out of the keysafe and drop it down the drain a few feet away. Now they didn’t know what to do.
“Do you have gloves with you?” Carers nearly always carry gloves.
So armed with latex, I climbed over the fence around the little garden area and knelt down amongst the weeds to prise off the drain cover and yep, there was the pink key fob glinting down there in the water. Not too deep – I fished it out and wiped the muck off on the grass. The carers looked astonished. I genuinely don’t know what they would have done, but chances are that Nick would not have got his supper.
Then we went inside and I put Nick’s tablecloth to rights as it was sliding halfway off the table onto the floor, and in the process discovered the hearing aid that had been lost for the last week and that no one had been able to find. And found some new batteries to put in the clock that is so old it doesn’t even tell the time properly but is an important little talisman for Nick to reach out and touch periodically on his table.
I felt a bit like superwoman, putting everything to rights in the blink of an eye, or maybe Mary Poppins magically restoring order in the room, but it was just luck really. And the eagle-eye, 360 degree overview that perhaps only the primary carer ever really has; the person who’s there every day in all weathers, dealing with every aspect of the care from A to Z and back again. No-one is indispensible really, but that eagle view can take a lifetime to acquire, just knowing that person so well, understanding their quirks, anticipating their discomforts and getting a feel for what they need but can’t find the words to tell you.
On the other hand, I know I must have blind spots just because I know Nick so well that maybe sometimes I don’t notice the obvious. So it’s really good to know that there are other people, like Helen, involved and getting their own feel for his well-being.
But, “It’s very good to have you back, Sis”, said Nick. And it’s good to be back.
This is often a thankless job and a frustrating one, and goodness knows the admin is enough to drive you halfway round the bend, but for the times I can walk into the room and be Mary Poppins for my bro, it’s all worth it.