By Alison Cram
Several weeks ago, just as lockdown was beginning, I ended up spending a day in Accident & Emergency. It was bliss.
Earlier that morning I had keeled over in the bathroom. Not in a dramatic tree-being-felled kind of way; more an inelegant crumple to the floor. It gave my brother a shock when he found me, though. He called an ambulance and after a few tests the paramedics thought I should be checked out at the hospital.
By the time I arrived at A&E I was already a lot better and feeling a bit of a fraud. But I was entirely in the hands of the excellent A&E staff and all the decisions and judgements were for someone else to make. I knew Dad was being looked after, so all I had to do was lie there while nurses came in and out and checked my blood pressure and did another ECG and took blood samples. I could hear phones going off, staff chatting and doors opening and closing, but I didn’t have to engage with any of it. I had nothing to feel responsible for, nowhere I was supposed to be and nothing I was supposed to do. I could barely keep my eyes open. I hadn’t realised quite now tired I had become until I was forced to stop.
The attending doctor decided there was nothing wrong with me, but before I was discharged he told me I had to take better care of myself.
I had thought (kidded myself, more like) that I was managing to juggle everything fairly well, but clearly the evidence said otherwise. Now I had to acknowledge that the cumulative effect of caring for six years was catching up with me.
Like many family carers, I’d got used to wearing a lot of different hats. I’ve been known to act as GP, Community Nurse, Personal Care Assistant, Pharmacist, Physiotherapist, Occupational Therapist, Nutritionist, Counsellor, Advocate, Administrator, Chief Cook and Bottle Washer. Occasionally, I get to be simply Daughter.
There was always a to-do list and I’d developed the habit of trying to wear more than one hat at once, in a bid to get through my list quicker. My concentration span seemed to shrink as I was forever hopping from one task to the next, often without taking time to think things through, my mind already on the next task before I’d finished the first one. I’d be putting washing in the machine while thinking about which of Dad’s repeat prescriptions I needed to order. I’d pass the washing machine an hour later and wonder why it wasn’t working, only to discover that I’d never switched it on.
That became par for the course, as a once organised and punctual professional woman became scatter-brained and forgetful. I’d make silly mistakes and forget the obvious - from leaving the shopping list behind on the kitchen table to forgetting birthdays to spending twenty minutes looking for the car keys that I’d had in my hand ten seconds previously. All self-inflicted little hassles that my life really didn’t need.
So, I decided that afternoon in A&E, time to do things differently.
Now I’m trying to make sure that I’m not a slave to my to-do list. As long as I get the urgent stuff done the rest can wait. If I find myself going off to start another task before I’ve finished the one I’m currently doing I will stop. Literally. In the middle of the room, halfway down the hall or going out of the back door. I’ll take a deep breath and return to my original task until it’s finished. Then I’ll take a moment to look out of the window or put the kettle on and make a cuppa before I embark on the next thing.
Of course, life isn’t always that easy but I do it when I can and it’s definitely making a difference. I no longer feel the need to do everything at a hundred miles an hour or juggle several things at once. It’s a little easier in lockdown, when there are no other appointments to keep or other people to see, so perhaps the real test will come later. But for now, my blood pressure is lower and I’m sleeping better at night. That’ll do me.
If life is one damned thing after another, I need to take one damn thing at a time.