When Home-Care Feels Like Family-Care

Eighty-two-year-old Sandra told her staff that they’d have to carry her out of her Sydney office before they’d ever get her to retire. Work was her life, especially after her husband passed away and her son grew up.

Sandra is founder and managing director of a personalised relocations service that first opened its doors in Melbourne in 1981. Back then, she and her husband had just moved to Australia from the USA. She hadn’t expected the move to be too daunting because she’d moved many times as a child. However, moving countries while trying to be productive at work and take care of a family gave her a brilliant business idea. Moving is complex, and it would be great if there was someone at your destination who could help you get settled. Now her company facilitates relocations to many destinations across Australia and New Zealand.

In late September last year, however, life took a different turn: “I was working all days except Mondays and Thursdays. One of the girls noticed she hadn’t seen me, so she called my son and said, ‘I think you’d better go and check on your mum.’”

Sandra was found lying unconscious and in pretty bad shape. It appeared that she had fallen and hit her head some time during the night.

“They said that if they hadn’t got me when they did, I wouldn’t be alive. I had a clot on the right side of my brain, stopping the blood flow. It damaged my brain and paralysed my arm and leg on my left side.”

Over the next two and a half months, Sandra received care and medical treatment at North Shore Private Hospital and Sydney Adventist Hospital. Once strong enough, she was able to take the next step to rehabilitation at Mt Wilga. Before the final transition home, her house was modified to accommodate her wheelchair and she engaged Private Care in-home nursing and personal care services.

The stroke has meant a major readjustment for the capable and fiercely independent Sandra. Two carers stay with her at all times. “The girls treat me like I’m their mother. They’re lovely. They provide 24-hour care and nothing is too much for them. They’re the nicest bunch of ladies.” When we spoke with her, it was Janet and Hellen’s shift.

“I keep telling them, you don’t have to change your life around me. If you have to be someplace else, I don’t mind someone else coming,” says Sandra – which just goes to show you how hard it can be to receive care when you’ve built a life and career around taking care of others.

Sandra still leads a full, busy life. Besides her medical appointments, her son takes her out to lunch every Wednesday or Thursday. Her daughter in law and three grandchildren (two boys and a girl: 22, 21 and 17 years of age) come to visit, and she regularly catches up with friends and her boyfriend. Leaving home requires three helpers to transfer her from wheelchair to car, then back to the wheelchair, which means she has the company of at least two carers and her boyfriend or son, who are trained to assist.

“They’re all superb. When you see people for 24 hours a day, you develop a pretty close relationship with them,” she says.

These days, Sandra’s successes are not so much measured in profits and happy customers, but in smaller, less obvious things: like her strengthening legs that means she can take a lot more of her weight while she’s being transferred from bed to wheelchair, like the smiles and small kindnesses of people she’s come to see as extended family, like spending quality time with family and friends who are just thankful that she’s still here, like incremental goals that mean, one day, she may just walk again and sooner or later, she’ll “get out of that hospital bed that I hate, and get back into a normal one.”

Sandra says that with all the lovely meals they make, you’d think her carers would be good enough to try out for MasterChef. “But they can’t leave me! They are my family now. They’re there when I get up in the morning and when I go to bed at night… I think the most important quality of a great carer is liking what you do. It’s not all cooking and eating and being nice to people. I mean, they work hard! They do the washing and cleaning, fold the washing, they bathe you, and they do a lot of things that I wouldn’t like to do. They either enjoy it or they’re pretty good actors!”

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