The invisible backbone of healthcare

Old and Young

Recently, I ran a series on my site for Nurses Day and I briefly mentioned the importance of the role of unpaid carers. This week is Carers Week and I want to delve a little deeper into recognizing the essential and all-too-often overlooked resource of informal carers, who are invaluable to people living with long-term conditions, to healthcare systems around the world, and to society in general - whether or not they realize it.

In Canada, informal carers provide more than 80% of the bulk of healthcare for people with long-term conditions, yet we hardly ever hear about them. There is much talk about our public healthcare system, but no mention of the fact that they rely heavily on the work of unpaid carers to remain sustainable.

Similarly to my soft spot for nurses, the work of carers is close to my heart. One reason for this is that I saw my dad, who happens to also be a nurse, look after my mom when she was diagnosed with cancer and in her last days of life. I saw how difficult it was, yet his commitment, unconditional love and care, and steadfast dedication to her wishes never wavered despite the fact he was spread so thin. Through my professional work as a journalist mainly covering healthcare, I have also come into contact with many carers who have been a great source of inspiration.

After running my Nurses Day series to which the response has been great, I have been sent a couple of stories from carers and family members of people with long-term health conditions and in light of Carer's Week, which began on Monday the 8th and which runs until Sunday the 14th, I want to share these with you here. Enjoy and as always, feel free to send me your thoughts or personal stories which you would perhaps like to share in future story series.

With love and appreciation to all the carers out there who are tirelessly providing compassionate care free of charge - this one is for you.

Mark's story Mark Telego is CEO of Blue Diamond International and President of Marco Partners in Grand Rapids, Michigan. His experience of family caregiving began after his father died when he was only 15. Mark's mother lived with insulin dependent diabetes for 45 years, and with Alzheimer's disease for 9 years. Mark was her full-time caregiver during most of her journey with Alzheimer's, during which time he literally became her 'eyes and ears.' More about his story can be found on his website, Eyes and Ears, which is dedicated to his journey as a carer.

Laurie's story Laurie Oakley is a personal care assistant and author of the book, Crazy and It Was—Surviving the Corporate Pharmaceutical Corruption of Western Medicine. Having assisted with hospice for others, she did not hesitate to be there with her sister as she crossed the finish line after a brave, six-year fight with kidney cancer. The experience ended in an unexpected way, reaffirming to Laurie that modern medicine doesn't always deliver what it promises. She is currently working on her second book, Rape Is Not a Metaphor—A Framework for Understanding Everyday Pharmaceutical Harms. She lives in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Helen's story Helen Cowan studied human physiology at Oxford University and completed a PhD in cardiac pharmacology at Oxford. As well as being a carer for her husband, she is a qualified nurse and has worked widely in cardiac surgery, neurosurgery, clinical trials and elderly care. She is a freelance writer and has peer-reviewed for and published in the British Journal of Cardiac Nursing, worked as a columnist in the Nursing Times, and written for local UK and online publications such as Reader's Digest. She lives in Oxford, UK.

Greg's story

Greg is both a nurse and carer who has spent the last two decades caring for his wife who has severe myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME). He works hard to raise awareness about ME and to urge decision makers to acknowledge and treat it. His story appeared in my nurses day series but I have included it again here for those of you who missed it. Greg lives in Norwich UK.

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