My wife being disabled, I am the not-very-proud possessor of the description 'carer' - a word I don't much care for (if you'll excuse the pun). It's not a job for which I would have applied; indeed, it's not a job for which I am much suited. All the same, it's a job I signed up for more than fifty years ago. Of course, back then the words "for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health" were just that - words. How many of us, when in our twenties, have ever given thought to what life will be like half a century hence?
Please don't think that as I type this I am wallowing in self-pity. That most certainly is not the case. I know full well that there are many, many people who are in situations far worse than mine, and who have been in those situations far longer than I. That, naturally, applies also to the persons for whom the carers care.
But I wonder how many of us, when we see a disabled person with a carer, give a thought to what life is like for the carer? The disability affects the carer as well as the person being cared for. Not to anything like the same extent, obviously, but often in ways that other people just don't realise. Let me simply state a couple of facts and this will be just that - a statement of fact, not a plea for sympathy.
I can't recall the last time I enjoyed an uninterrupted night's sleep. Most nights I am out of bed, helping the Old Bat to the bathroom, twice. Occasionally it's just once, but there are nights when it is three times. Granted, the loss of 20 or 30 minutes sleep is nothing that can't be made up - but it is the disturbance, the waking every two or three hours, that is exhausting. Then there is the amount of time spent during the day simply waiting; waiting for her to finish eating long after me, waiting while she does part of a job so that I can get on with the next part (which she is unable to do). Or, if not actually waiting, walking with her very slowly so that a walk that should take just two or three minutes actually takes nearly ten.
As I said earlier, I know there are people far, far worse off than I am. I have recently read a book (My Life in his Paws by Wendy Hilling) written by a lady who has EB, a rare skin condition which also means her throat is very narrow and she can stop breathing at any time. She and her husband had to take it in turns to sleep for two hours at a time.
In making a plea for people to consider the carers as well as the disabled, I don't mean to suggest that the disabled are not in a much worse situation that the carers. Far from it. I just think that the person behind the wheelchair is very often invisible.