Nicky and her husband Mick love to socialise. Before retiring, Mick’s role in the RAF allowed him to travel the world. Getting out and about, as well as catching up with life-long friends from the military community is of huge importance to both of them.
It was a huge shock to Nicky and Mick when, 14 months into his retirement, Mick suffered a stroke and became seriously ill. He was moved from Swindon to the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, where he had a craniotomy enabling surgeons to save his life but leaving him paralysed down his left side.
Both Nicky and Mick fought hard to rebuild their life together. Six months later, they were given private funding for a rehabilitation centre in Salisbury, where Mick stayed for a year – receiving support from occupational therapists to help with his recovery.
“There was no indication that he was at risk of having a stroke,” said Nicky. “The day before, we had just done an 18-mile walk. But when I woke up on Saturday morning at 7am, I knew what was happening. After Mick came home, we decided to extend our house and put in a wet room. He lived in the lounge at first on a hospital bed.
“I was still working full-time and trying to hold down a job, but after Mick had been home for six months, I was at breaking point. I had professional carers coming in as well, which was costing us a fortune. My GP said, ‘something has to give’, so I had a chat with Mick and said, ‘I am going to give up work’. I have been his full-time carer ever since.”
Having adjusted once, Nicky and Mick faced another challenge as the Covid-19 pandemic hit the UK in March 2020. This has been hugely isolating for many, including carers like Nicky who have been unable to access their usual support network. Many have also been following shielding guidelines to protect those they look after.
“Until you actually care for someone, you don’t realise what a lonely job it is,” said Nicky. “With Covid-19, it has been harder for me mentally. At the beginning I was concerned if I contracted Covid-19 and transferred it to Mick he would be seriously ill.
“We have close family. My daughter lives in Swindon, though she has been working through the pandemic. The rest of my family don’t live locally, so that’s been quite difficult. We also have friends that Mick joined up with when he was 17, who visited as often as they could. It has been quite isolating for us, not being able to interact, because they are really dear friends.”
Joining the Swindon Carers Centre Carers Cuppa
One thing that has made a difference during this time is support from Swindon Carers Centre, in particular a virtual group held every Thursday afternoon called the Carers Cuppa, which gives carers a break from their caring role and the chance to connect with others who understand the ups and downs of life as an unpaid carer.
This is just one of the many initiatives our Adult Carer Groups and Activities Team has launched during Covid-19 in response to lockdown restrictions. As well as taking face-to-face cuppa sessions online, they have worked on a full programme of remote activities including dance, singing, yoga, Zumba and craft activities.
“We try and keep positive, but it is hard to keep positive when you are up at 3am,” said Nicky. “It’s lovely that you can speak to someone who knows what you’re going through because sometimes people don’t understand what carers do. Just a Zoom meeting for an hour a week and a change of scenery, it’s a way of breaking up the day.”
Sheila, Ann and Gabriel, are also members of the Thursday Carers Cuppa group, which starts with a short quiz or game before moving on to information, updates and a general catch up to see how everyone’s week has been.
“It’s quite lonely when it’s just the two of you in the house,” said Sheila. “I don’t know any of these people except through the Cuppa, but it’s nice to be able to chat to others. We often think that our own circumstances are just our own circumstances. When you hear there are others with similar things happening in their lives, it is very good to hear.”
“It’s something to look forward to,” said Ann. “Wherever you are that week, you can talk about it and know you can talk to others who understand it.” “My wife and I have been in isolation for 11 months,” added Gabriel. “It’s nice to see peoples’ smiling faces all dressed up and nowhere to go!”
For Nicky, lockdown has made her re-evaluate life in general. Fortunately, Nicky and Mick were able to get married three days before lockdown – they were the last ones in the registry office before it closed at the start of the pandemic. Throughout this time, it has become clear how important family members, friends and having a support network really is.
“Mick is a very intelligent man, we do puzzles and crosswords every day, but he is probably 90 per cent dependent on me,” said Nicky. “It is not just my caring role, it is looking after the house, looking after the car – all those essential household jobs are now down to me.
“We used to get a break at an RAF Hotel, we would go there 3 or 4 times a year for respite. But since lockdown, both hotels have been shut permanently.
“In a way we’re the unpaid NHS. When the pandemic started, it was all about the NHS, care homes, ambulance drivers – nobody said anything about unpaid carers.
“When I started caring for Mick, I didn’t know anything about the support available through Swindon Carers Centre. I didn’t know about applying for Carer’s Allowance. I try to give information to carers or people who don’t think that they’re a carer, because I wonder how many people fall through the net. If only one person is helped then it is all worthwhile.”
To register with Swindon Carers Centre, click here.
For more information about our events and activities, including our Carers Cuppa, click here.