Vicki Chalker, Head of Science and Engineering Profession, shares her story of how her mother’s stroke impacted her life and the support she needed to help them both get through it.
I was on the way home when the call came in, “Hi mum, how are you?” I asked, “I’ve had a stroke” she replied. My heart sank. Her voice was not right, she sounded more frail than ever before. I quickly asked where she was and how bad it was. She was in the Luton and Dunstable Hospital, it was not too bad, she said, her face had dropped, she had lost the use of one arm and luckily only one leg was slightly affected, she could still walk with some help. I went straight over.
After the hospital I picked up the dog and spoke to all the neighbours who had helped her when it happened. 24 hours later the ‘new normal’ started in earnest, looking after two primary age kids, working full time, housing and feeding visiting relatives with hospital visits every night and adding 2 dog walks into the routine.
Over time she regained strength and movement. After 2 weeks she was discharged and came to live with us.
We all became carers, my husband and the kids, helping her dress, eat, drink and climb the stairs. She even forged a bond with our cat. But she lost her independence that day, she gave up her own business and never drove or worked again.
I gained more responsibility and we became even closer, oddly benefiting from spending more time together and including her within our family microcosm every day. During this time the work pressures did not let up. I still had a job to do, patient samples to test and report, a team to manage. I was hugely supported by those at work through what was, luckily for us, a relatively short period.
Mum regained her independence after 5 months, moving back into her own space, with visits needed before and after work. She taught herself to hold a pen and write again, something she did daily and loved to do. Although, overall she always needed more support, never regained her previous voice or mobility..
She was frustrated, but she was lucky. For others in the stroke ward with her in those early weeks, fate had been less kind. I don’t think I could have cared for my mum, my family or myself through that time and retained my job without a caring and supportive manager and team. Without them and their support I would have left work, would probably have left science, and would not have been able to take the steps in my career I have been privileged to take since.
Thank you to those of you helping others at work caring for loved ones. Small things you do and say make a difference. Check in with those around you. Make sure they are OK. For those of you caring for loved ones after a stroke, reach out if you need to, those around you care.
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