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'There is no fallback when it is the carer who needs to be cared for'

Siobhain Topping’s mother, who is the full-time carer for her husband, has recently been diagnosed with cancer. They could only get 14 Home Care hours.

Siobhain Topping

THREE WEEKS AGO, my Mum was diagnosed with stage 3a lung cancer. It has travelled to her lymph nodes, which reduces the chance of recovery.

She was told that she has a one in five chance of beating this disease. The tumour was found by accident on an x-ray while undergoing an operation for a hernia. Mum had no symptoms.

Her first question to the doctor on her diagnosis was “Can I get extra help in the house?” Her second question was “How long have I got to live?”

Full-time carer

My mum is now 64 years old. She is married to Noel who is 86. Mum is Noel’s full-time carer.

My step-dad’s mobility reduced in recent years with the diagnosis of metastatic liver cancer. This is kept under control with injections into his liver every three weeks.

Along with this, he has asthma, arrhythmia (an irregular heartbeat) and stomach upset due to the medications that he has to take four times a day.

He is no longer able to drive. He broke his Achilles tendon about six months ago when he took a wrong step.

Mum, as his full-time carer, would bring him to hospital appointments, x-rays, visits to GPs, and collect prescriptions along with running a home.

Getting a Home Care package

When Noel was diagnosed, the local nurse came out to assess him for the Home Care package. We hoped it would give mum some respite so she could go for a swim in the local pool.

She was granted 10 hours a week from the HSE. However, instead of being able to use the time for herself, she would buy groceries, arrange doctor appointments and collect prescriptions.

The whole application process took around six weeks from assessment to implementation.

Now after my mum’s diagnosis, it was assessed again two weeks ago. Mum was offered an additional four hours Home Care, which is clearly shy of the hours that my step-dad needs for his care requirements.

Need for extension

Mum’s cancer is being treated aggressively with a combination of chemotherapy and radiotherapy daily for seven weeks between Vincent’s and Luke’s hospitals which are a 40-minute drive from her home in Wicklow.

Mum had her first cycle of chemotherapy last Monday. It took six hours. When she returned home at 7pm, she couldn’t rest. Instead she had to attend to her husband’s needs by making dinner, administering medication and making his bed.

It’s imperative that the Home Care hours are extended.

We have a letter from Noel’s GP documenting a list of his ailments, stating that he needs the maximum care that is available. Similarly, we have a letter from mum’s oncologist verifying the treatment that mum will be enduring, and that this will make her unable to care for her husband.

Mum’s treatment involves her travelling to Dublin and leaving her husband alone in the house. He has fallen numerous times along with the house being burgled three times.

My mum is terrified of what the future is going to bring.

Unfortunately, I have been advised by the HSE that they have received no funding despite Minister for Health Simon Harris’s announcement in June that €40 million would be invested in the Home Care package.

If I could make a change in the system, it would ensure there is a contingency or emergency care available in these circumstances.

There is no fallback when it is the carer who needs to be cared for.

Siobhain Topping is a senior programmer from Wicklow.

Read: My wife would have died without a blood transfusion

Read: ‘My sister was failed in life and in death’: We need to restore the bereavement grant

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Siobhain Topping

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