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Prisoner Cell Block Home
By Rita Pal


(Page 1 of 3)  

Freedom is taken for granted by each and every one of us. A trip to the supermarket, a visit to the park, buying stamps at the post office or running out to the ice cream van can be done by anyone until, of course, there is someone in the house that requires twenty- four hour care. A fall in the bath may cause death, a drink consumed accidentally may cause choking and, of course, if the relative is suicidal, they may be dead while you visit the post office. These practical difficulties result in the carer becoming prisoner in his or her own home. Freedom is no more and life becomes a determined effort to survive. Accurate figures are difficult to obtain due to the hidden nature of caring. However, it is estimated that Britain has around 5.7 million carers and that one in six households contains a carer (General Household Survey 1995). The numbers of carers providing support for more than 20 or more hours every week has increased from 1.5 million to 1.7 million since 1990. In the northwest 17% of adults - the highest proportion in the UK - are carers. Recent studies suggest that there are an estimated 51,000 carers under the age of 18.

My father was a 50-year-old independent consultant surgeon who was cut down in his prime by a stroke. A man who helped others without a thought became totally dependent on his family.  Overnight, we became carers and learned to empower ourselves with the tools of survival. I am a doctor now, but I remember that at the age of ten I became imprisoned in my own house. My mother spoke little English at the time hence we both supported each other.  Coping with the day to day care of someone who had brain damage was very difficult for her. My father coped with the sense of loss and the psychological impact of being dependant while my mother had to try as best as she could not to give up hope.

The middle class area we lived in isolated us further. The ignorance regarding someone that had a mental health problem and was disabled shone through. Soon avoidance of my family was the mainstay treatment At school, the taunts regarding rumours about my father would haunt me. While the majority of children could have friends and bring them home, I could not. My secret world was one where my mother and I knew the price of discrimination by the public.  Through my fatherís darkened days, we struggled with incontinence, we hid anything that would harm him constantly due to his unpredictable behaviour and had to watch over him twenty-four hours a day. My mother would do the days and I would do the nights. Sleep happened four hours a day while the other stayed awake. We struggled with endless washing, ironing and constant care. My fatherís doctors would come, see and leave while complaining about the smell of urine. In the nights, we heard my fatherís cries for help at the frustration of his predicament. He told us, everyone felt he was ďno useĒ anymore and we would be better off with him dead. The guilt of being dependent haunted my father. I often heard my mother's helpless crying when she thought I was asleep. She was alone in a world where everyone had shut the door. My family had suddenly ceased to exist in society.

It was to be the ten years of our lives where we learned to live with minimal input from the outside world. My father was deeply conscious of his condition after being humiliated at the local shop. He had taken three weeks to build up the courage to face the outside world and a thoughtless person shattered him for years. That was the last time he went out of our house alone. From a witty, friendly man who had friends all over the world, soon there would be no one who wrote, visited or even cared. My fatherís friends had moved on to better things and would poke fun at him calling him a ďfailureĒ.  Through my fatherís suffering we understood the wickedness that stemmed from ignorance.

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