This month has been an incredibly tough one for me. I mean, this entire year hasn't been easy - what with our family almost being killed in our beds by a monoxide leak from our boiler earlier this year, having to cancel our wedding and rearrange a much, much smaller one and so, so much family drama and general life stress. But this month, has been truly awful.
On Halloween, my father sat down for his dinner and all of a sudden lost his vision, all feeling down his left side and became very confused (I'm talking thinking the bed he wanted to go for a lie down on, was in the back garden). I immediately recognised his symptoms as a stroke and asked my husband to call 999 while I check my father's vitals. I'd seen my father go through similar when I was a 10 year old girl, and always knew that his numerous health conditions (high cholesterol, obesity, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes) would put him at constant risk of having further strokes at any moment, so I'm well clued up on these things. It's one of the reasons I make looking after my own health a priority.
So, after I argued with the call handler that this was definitely a stroke and not 'just a hypo' (my dad's blood sugar was the first thing I tested while my husband was making the call, it was fine), he was rushed to hospital for a brain scan, which then confirmed that it was indeed a stroke, caused by a bleed in the brain.
I sobbed my eyes out the night my dad went into the hospital. He's a stubborn soul and normally minimises everything and tells everyone that he feels perfectly fine. He did that even when he had a pacemaker fitted a few years ago. But this time he seemed so very vulnerable, more so than ever. I honestly thought I'd lost him that night and that he wasn't coming home again. I had to stay at home with my son and husband while my mum went in the ambulance with my dad. I went from being useful, knowledgeable and assertive in a crisis to a complete wreck, sobbing like a child on the driveway as the ambulance doors shut and it pulled away with it's flashing blue lights.
I laid down on the bed next to my son that night, fully dressed, in case I had to rush us all down the the hospital should the worst have happened. It was a massive relief the next morning, knowing that my father had survived and then another wave of relief hit me when we walked on the ward later that day and realised that despite his memory loss and confusion, he could still recognise us all.
My father was discharged after just 2 days in the hospital, as they were unable to operate on him because of his age and health issues. We were told he would need 24-hour care as he is not only now partially sighted, but suspected to have vascular dementia (we're still waiting for a formal assessment). It's down to me to stay in the house to care for my dad while my mum is out at work in the afternoons - good thing I'm self-employed and can work from home! As you can probably imagine, it's difficult looking after a 1 year old and an 88 year old at the same time. Since I can't possibly push a pram and a wheelchair at the same time, I can no longer leave the house during the afternoons either.
The discharge was stressful. There was no help for us, as carers, put in place prior to discharge. No guidance as to what we could expect. No wheelchair available for us to take him out of the hospital and across the hospital grounds to the car. We had to beg to have one eventually sent to us on loan to use in our own home. There's been no formal mental health assessment and apart from one phone call for 'background info' no social services assessment or carers assessment either (which as a qualified social worker myself, has massively annoyed me).
I've suffered with intense anxiety and depression these last few weeks. I hadn't long recovered from postnatal depression and PTSD (from the birth and 37 weeks of hyperemesis). I've felt helpless, stretched in all directions, isolated, guilty for feeling so annoyed at the whole situation, scared of losing my dad, and like I'm drowning in paperwork and phone calls...yet we still have bugger all support in place to show for it.
It would be so easy for me to not look after myself given the constant stress and pressure, but I don't want my father's poor health to be my future too. I don't ever want my son to be in the position of having to look after me 24/7 alongside looking after kids of his own and trying to earn a living. So I have to cook good food, get exercise whenever I can and find time (somehow) to relax. I have to keep an eye on my blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol. I really desperately need to crack this comfort eating thing too. I just cannot allow myself to become complacent about my own health. I have to look after myself, for the sake of everyone around me, as they all depend on me.
Sometimes it takes a crisis to show you what really matters. Nothing matters more than our health.