A long time ago and for about five minutes I thought I’d like to be a nurse. The BBC hospital series Angels was on telly, nurses seemed to have quite exciting lives and were very pretty – vital career criteria for a 14-year-old, so I figured nursing might be OK.
The noise my guidance teacher made when I revealed this news was a cross between a patient whose life support machine has just been yanked out of the socket and the sobs of their distressed relatives.
“No!” she cried. “You’d be a terrible nurse.”
Indeed, I’d have been the kind of nurse that ends up on Panorama, secretly filmed bitching about the patients and trying not to actually touch them. I’d last five minutes before being hauled in front of some disciplinary committee and slapped.
Not that I can’t empathise for my fellow man’s plight – I cry at adverts for baby milk, too, you know. But looking after someone who is sick just isn’t ‘me’.
My nursing gene was confirmed ‘missing in action’ as my husband recovered following major surgery. I became Nurse Ratched, grumping at requests that I “nip” to the chemists, moaning about demands for water/food/tablets, griping about being an unpaid chauffeur, cleaner and messenger.
My stint as carer eased off as he got better. But others are thrust into the role every single agonising, stressed-out, soul-destroying day of their lives. They are the hands, legs and sometimes personal punch bag of those they care for – because ill people get very unhappy indeed – with no real calling for the work, it’s done out of sheer love for the person and a sense of duty, not because it’s what you always wanted to do.
For many, sadly, it’s a lifelong role with no end in sight.
How hard must it be for the 18,000 youngsters in Scotland who come home from school to do a shift caring for a sick parent? And the estimated 657,000 adults – lots with careers and demands on their time – who try to juggle looking after a loved one with no time off, little recompense and mountains of stress?
We don’t know the circumstances surrounding the shotgun deaths of Gracemount brothers Bob, 73, and Jack McIlwain, 71, however it seems Bob had acted as carer to his younger brother for years. What a challenge that must have been for two ageing blokes.
This is Carers’ Week, when we’re reminded of the phenomenal self-sacrifices made by an invisible army in homes across Scotland, all in the name of love and family.
Honestly folks, I have no idea how you do it.