I have been on both ends of the spectrum. I have been cared for and been a carer. While these two experiences have been very different, both have shown me the vast benefits that home care can bring to someone who is recovering from a serious illness or condition. Spending time in an environment that is familiar enhances both physical and mental well-being and makes the recovery process a much more enjoyable and happy one.
My own story is testament to this. 12 years ago, I suffered a stroke, which affected my right side. I faced the prospect of having to learn to walk, talk, and eat all over again. My wife Joan was with me when I was first diagnosed. I can recall (to this day) only bits about what happened. I can remember being asked in the usual way what day it was and who the Prime Minister was. It was frustrating to me as I thought I was answering the questions, but no sound was coming out. At some stage I tried putting my hand out to Joan to reassure her but could not move it. This obviously panicked me.
Various tests were done throughout, and I did not recognise my own children or some of my visitors, which was concerning for them as well as me. After being in A&E, I was transferred to a ward. I remember being thirsty, but I struggled to swallow when I tried to have a drink. I was only allowed to have a liquidised diet some two weeks later.
I had to have various specialists to help me deal with what had happened. While in hospital I had to receive anger management, as I was trying to do certain things, but I just couldn’t do them. During the early stages I wanted to go to the toilet and had to use a urine bottle and a bed pan. This again was very upsetting.
But then, during the first couple of weeks, a specialist noticed that my fingers were moving. The physio team started me off with leg and arm exercises and I was eventually able to raise my leg unaided. I received a lot of physio, and after about eight weeks, I was told that if I could walk up and down some steps, I could go home.
At the start, I was shown how to use a frame, which at 44 I felt embarrassed using. When I was able to take some steps, it was very confusing to try put one foot in front of the other. I could not recognise certain things in hospital, which again became irritating. Joan brought photos in for me to look at and I slowly started to recognise things.
Given the overwhelming physical and mental impact that my stroke had, it would have been extremely disorientating to be placed in a hospital where I knew nobody and did not recognise anything about the environment. The contrast between care at home and care in a vast institution like a hospital or care home could not be greater: it is personalisation and familiarity vs anonymity and uncertainty. Even little things like recognising framed photos on the wall and ornaments on the bedside table, make home care a much more pleasant experience.
For example, while in hospital I had a set routine for things I needed to do. If I needed to go to the toilet I had to wait for a member of staff to walk with me or wait for relatives to arrive. The hospital staff and physio teams did a fantastic job, but it was not really personalised care. I knew deep down it would help if I was moved to more familiar surroundings – i.e. my own home.
Confronted with such an enormous challenge, when I could finally go home, it made a huge difference to receive care there, where I could see family and friends every day, and enjoy attention and care which was tailored to my individual needs. When I first arrived home, I can remember Joan making me sit on the sofa, so I could familiarise myself. This was very stressful, and I felt like a child in a toy shop taking everything in. Early on, Joan had to clean up after me and help me with basic day-to-day tasks, as my hand-eye coordination was still poor.
It was just great to be in a place where I was able to do things when I wanted, like having a coffee and watching TV programmes. Walking up to bed was a massive task, but with support from my family I achieved it.
Joan set aside time in the afternoon when no visitors were allowed so I could have a sleep and rest. She and my family assisted me with personal care, dressing, food and fluid preparation. I was able to choose what I wanted in terms of clothes, food and fluids. With Joan’s help and understanding I got to where I am today. I still struggle with short-term memory and tiredness, but I am more in control. I strongly believe that having care in your own surroundings improves your healing process.
Don’t get me wrong, nurses and care staff in hospitals and care homes do such a great job every day up and down the country. It’s just natural that home care will feel more comforting. Picture those moments when someone is feeling down during their recovery. Having family and friends making jokes and providing support on a daily basis always raises a smile. Just being able to eat your favourite foods at whatever time you want soothes the pain of the recovery.
The transformative experience I went through at home, during which I drove myself to get better and return to the confident, active version of myself, was what inspired me to become a care assistant.
While recovering at home, I befriended a gentleman from church who was in a wheelchair. After a while, I was able to take him out, which helped me to walk as I could use his wheelchair for support. This benefited me as I was getting the daily exercise I needed, fresh air, and I was also able to help someone else in the process. I enjoyed seeing the smile on his face and this was one of the reasons I decided to change my job and become a care worker. I did this for about two years in Yorkshire. I then moved to Cleethorpes where I started with Bluebird Care and I have been with the organisation for over four years.
Before the stroke, I worked for Morrisons as a regional trainer for the oven fresh department. This included me travelling as far as Scotland, as we had just taken over Safeway supermarket. But after I recovered, I knew I only wanted to help others in the way I had been helped. During my time in the role, the number of people I have seen grow back into physically and mentally strong individuals as a result of home care is countless.
One example sticks in my mind. We once provided care to a gentleman who had been in hospital, but had become agitated, constrained, and cross as a result of living in a regimented setting. Following two years of home care with us, a smile was firmly back on his face. At the heart of the transformation was the independence, choice and autonomy he enjoyed at home. Whether it be taking a trip to the park or going to the pub and having his favoured drink, a shandy, we put the gentleman’s wishes and desires at the centre of everything. In the end, there was an incredible aura whenever you went into his home, such was his happiness!
I am in the unique position to understand the benefits of home care from both the carer and patient’s perspective. Whether looking back at my own recovery from a stroke or thinking about the many people I have helped as a care assistant, I am deeply moved by the transformations in happiness and well-being that have resulted from personalised home care. It is by far the best way to physical and mental recovery.