When I suffered a catastrophic accident while living in a different state to her she got the call.
She was a part time teacher living with her husband in a town about 1 and a half hours north of Brisbane. She drove 100km two times a day three times a week to the rural remote school where she taught Grade 1. She loved every minute of it. The kids loved her. She had been teaching for the better part of 40 years. It wasn’t just a profession, it was a vocation.
Less than 8 hours after she got the call from the hospital in Sydney telling her that her only child may not survive, she was in the waiting room of an intensive care unit sitting beside her husband, my dad in a different city in a different state. She had in the period of a couple of hours left her home, her state, her job and her class. She would not return to any of them for 3 years and she would never teach again. The job that she had done for the better part of 40 years would cease on the morning of my accident. Her priority was me. Plain and simple. That much was clear.
She was certain that it would be her face that I would first see when I woke up from an induced coma some days later. Her bedside vigil in intensive care would go on for days until finally I was admitted to a ward where I would stay for the better part of six months.
Her presence never waivered. Every day of every week of every month for six months straight she made the trek up to the hospital from where the bus dropped her off. She was 59 years old. About to turn 60 and for each of those days she fought the fight alongside me. She had left her home and would leave her husband for a period of years but she was determined to be there for her only child
She did it all. She washed, changed, toileted me when I was bed bound and she sat beside my bed and provided constant comfort and reassurance. She liaised with friends about visiting, nurses and doctors and physios and OT’s and social workers and pain relief specialists. Basically she did it all.
She lived the devastation of facing bad news from doctors, the heartbreak of having to watch her 23 year old daughter look at her incredibly disfigured legs for the first time. She watched as I took my first steps, mopped the blood off the floor that flowed from my legs as I struggled to walk the corridor of the hospital. She lived and breathed every moment of every day that I was in hospital for. Even when I started my Master of Laws and got a bad infection in my legs she took notes for me at the university, bringing them up to the hospital the next day for me to re-write.
And that was just the beginning. On my discharge from hospital she continued as carer but at an apartment we had moved into just down the road from the hospital. She maintained similar duties, helping me in and out of cars, pushing my wheelchair, supporting my crutches as I slowly began to walk again, helping me bathe, cooking and cleaning. She did it all. I was 24 years old and I needed significant help. She was that help.
She eventually moved back to her home state but as operations continued some 6 years after the accident she again took over the role of my carer as I had major surgery which required me to be wheelchair bound for 6 weeks. At this stage she was mid sixties, five foot nothing and helping her 5 foot 9 daughter in and out of cars, lifting a heavy wheelchair and basically doing once again what she had done years earlier. This time it really took its toll. Less than 3 months after my surgery after her caring role had been reignited she had a heart attack. She survived it but her role as carer had, I believe, taken a considerable toll on her health.
Her role, her duties, her responsibilities, her failure to have much if any respite had caused or contributed to her nearly losing her life. And so it is with so many carers. The stressors are so significant, the role so all-encompassing, the respite so inadequate that ultimately something has to give.
This week is a week where we must acknowledge, celebrate but mostly thank all those people in our community who act as carers. Thousands of us would not be here without them. I know I certainly wouldn’t.
Clare Sultmann is a wife, mother of 3 and the founder of Dear Molly. As a survivor of a catastrophic accident, former barrister at law, published author, and nationally accredited mediator Clare has returned to work in a different capacity. Relocating to Noosa shortly after the birth of her first child, Clare found it difficult to make meaningful and real connections with other like-minded women away from her own network of friends. With this in mind, Clare’s idea was born. Dear Molly aims to provide connections for like-minded women in a real, meaningful and positive manner. It a platform to share, communicate and inspire other women about their ‘real’ life.