Western Nurse – November-December issue – A New Start.
Four years ago Rachel James received the call every parent dreads – her sporty 22-year-old daughter had broken her neck in an accident overseas and was paralysed. When the news hit her family, Rachel, a Sydney nurse, was relocating to Singapore with her husband Gary’s work, having three adult children living their lives independently. Now, suddenly, she was instead to become her daughter’s full-time carer.
“Five days before we shipped our belongings I received an early morning call, a surgeon told me that my 22-year-old daughter, Emily, had broken her neck in a snowboarding accident,” Rachel told Western Nurse. “It was a C5 spinal cord injury, and she would not walk again.”
“As a nurse I understood the medical terminology, but I was as befuddled as any mother would be, coping with a catastrophic injury in their child. Rushing to my daughter’s bedside in Vermont, USA was the beginning of an emotional journey through repatriation, intensive care, Sydney’s Royal North Shore Hospital’s spinal unit, and rehabilitation.” It was 11 months before Emily, who had previously been living abroad on a working visa, could return home. “I took that time learning how to cope as a carer,” Rachel said. “Evolving as a mother and nurse into a primary carer in the family home required mental adjustment, the realisation that Emily’s injury was permanent, and my role was ongoing as we aged.”
Rachel said coping with catastrophic events is best when supported. She hopes to help provide such a support resource for families, with an e-book titled Suddenly an Everyday Carer, that she launched around the time of National Carers’ Week, which ran from October 16 to 22.
“You need resources, family, friends and time,” Rachel said. “The passage of time gently heals the body and the mind, allowing for post traumatic growth and a new understanding of life.” Rachel has said on her website: “Everything changed for our family in an instant. It is hard for people to comprehend what is involved when caring for someone 24/7. Of course I would do anything for my child, but nothing could have prepared me for the physical and emotional rollercoaster involved. However, there is light at the end of the tunnel and I wanted to share some of my experience to hopefully help others experiencing similar and unexpected trauma.” She said she saw herself as a “facilitator and advocate aiding Emily’s journey towards independence and a new normal”. “Too often carers put themselves last and burn out,” Rachel said. “Being able to sustain the level of care is incredibly important, and to do that I can’t stress enough the importance of health, fitness and wellbeing. Thankfully, Emily is an amazingly resilient young woman who has found her own independence. We want to show people what is possible through finding the right balance.” These days Rachel, 55, continues to be an informal carer, and has returned to work at Cremorne Medical Practice in Sydney. She also volunteers at Lifeline as a Telephone Crisis Supporter, and is a volunteer at Mary’s House, a women’s refuge in Sydney, while continuing to be a blogger on carer matters, and an advocate for carers. Additionally, she speaks at rehabilitation venues and carer events to help others cope in crisis. Meanwhile, Emily, 27, is studying towards becoming a Social Worker.
Nearly 2.7 million Australians are carers, with primary carers comprising almost a third of that total – 856,100 people, aged 15 and over.