Vanessa’s husband Greg collapsed while mowing the lawn – eventually leading to her becoming a working carer.

On the fateful day when Greg was mowing the grass, he thought he was just dehydrated in the heat of the day, so he had a glass of water and a dip in the pool. Feeling better, he went back to finish the mowing, whereupon his right leg gave way and he tumbled over in a giddy spin.

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Vanessa took him to the local medical centre and they called an ambulance. In hospital, the mini strokes kept happening thick and fast. After each one there would be a sensation of pins and needles down one side, or numbness in the face and jaw, or loss of strength in the limbs… but function always slowly returned.

A multitude of tests revealed no clues – the heart function was good, cholesterol was good, blood pressure was good. EEG was normal. MRI was normal. Vanessa is still puzzled as to why the cause of her husband’s strokes could not be identified.

But with nothing more to be achieved in hospital, Vanessa and Greg went home, assured “everything is fine”. But it wasn’t fine and within two weeks a major stroke left Greg, a finance broker, partially paralysed and unable to speak.

Vanessa, an office manager, had to take extensive time off work to help set up Greg’s daytime care needs and to undertake urgent household modifications.

The bathroom door opened the wrong way and it had to be removed completely. To make access easier, the glass shower doors were also removed, as was the hob, and a shower curtain was put up instead. Grab rails and a fold-down seat were installed. The toilet was too narrow for the wheelchair Greg now depended on, but luckily, a new toilet could be installed in an alcove off the kitchen – not ideal perhaps, but necessity is the mother of invention, as the saying goes.

A ramp needed to be installed to get into the house, and a few small threshold ramps installed inside at certain doorways.

The kitchen bench was lowered so Greg could access the sink, cooktop and gain some clear space where he could prepare basic food.

“We did not have any time to plan or think about what would work best, we just dived in and did what we thought would work to give Greg at least some immediate independence,” Vanessa said.

“In hindsight, we should have planned it a lot better, with some professional help, but you are in such a spin at the time, all you can think is ‘OMG – how are we going to manage this?’

“Then just as we were in the middle of the renovations, I had a frantic call from my daughter interstate, because her baby daughter was in hospital with a severe illness and she needed to stay by her side, but she had no one to mind her toddler or older child as her husband was overseas for work.

“It was just awful not being able to go straight down as I normally would. You really take good health so much for granted until you lose it – and you can lose it so suddenly.

“With Greg no longer able to work, I have become the main breadwinner – but I don’t earn anywhere near what he earned – so the financial implications are major.

“I was able to take a combination of carer leave, annual leave, long service leave and unpaid leave to cover the ten weeks I was away. My boss was great, but she told me that if I couldn’t return to work full-time she would have to let me go.

“I run a busy office in a large organisation and while I was away, everyone tried to pitch in and help, but it all became very chaotic.

“I had not been able to do a hand-over with anyone, because I needed to leave so suddenly. So it is understandable that normal processes and procedures were thrown out the window just to get things done. Proper records were not able to be kept. Certain regular tasks that needed to be actioned were not done, and this had major negative flow-on consequences. An important annual event we sponsor got overlooked. The fallout was significant.

“When I got back to work I had to take my computer home with me for several weeks, to try and catch up and fix all the things that had gone haywire during my absence. I found myself staying up until 2am and 3am, just to get on top of my workload.

“I didn’t want to tell my boss, as she had already been so sympathetic and given me a lot of time off. I felt I owed it to her and the organisation to right all the wrongs as fast as I could.

“But it was incredibly exhausting, because when I got home Greg had a lot of needs to fill, like helping him with his showering and dressing, cooking, and helping him to eat as he was having difficulty swallowing and we were finding that a lot of his food needed to be pureed or finely chopped.

“My daughter was distressed that she couldn’t get up to visit us but her own problems were huge in themselves. Her baby was very sick and she ended up pulling the kids out of pre-school and school and taking them to the hospital with her until her husband returned from overseas, and took time off to support the family.”

Now Vanessa juggles her full-time work with being a carer.

“It was not something I ever contemplated. I never thought this would happen. Greg was a fit 48-year-old in excellent health before this happened. Now he is just a shadow of who he used to be.

“We are both feeling very depressed and despondent to tell the truth. We hope with physiotherapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy Greg will improve, but there are no guarantees.

“I am doing my best at work and at home, and so far I am OK, apart from being really tired all the time.

“Financially we will need to sell our home and move somewhere smaller. We have a big mortgage (who doesn’t in Sydney?) and hopefully we can reduce that substantially by downsizing. Also, I can’t keep up with the maintenance or the big garden anyway.

“If Greg does not get any worse, I think we will manage, but if he has another stroke and loses any more function, I don’t know what we will do. I can’t bear to think about it right now.

“I am focusing on the positives and we still can have a good laugh about things every now and then. Greg always could make me laugh – he has a wicked sense of humour. Even though his speech is severely impaired, I can still communicate with him easily. I just know what he is thinking by a gesture or the look in his eyes. He is a very funny man.”