In sickness and in health
Peter Beech has been married to wife Betty for 59 years, and his support has taken on new importance since she was diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension. Here, the 80-year-old from Nottingham explains his role in their changed life together.
“It took a couple of years for Betty to get her diagnosis and it was quite stressful watching her struggle with her symptoms when we didn’t know what the problem was.
When we were told that it was pulmonary hypertension, I think I was probably in shock more than anything else. All I could think about was that it was such a serious condition, and I didn’t really understand what it was, or whether anything could be done. After speaking to a nurse consultant, the situation was made a lot clearer.
I don’t think you realise the impact that a diagnosis like this has. On reflection I would say that it made me more concerned about Betty and what her capabilities were; what she couldn’t do and what assistance she required. I found that initially quite stressful.
We’ve always shared our duties, but Betty couldn’t do anything herself. She found walking and breathing difficult and I felt I couldn’t help her to relieve those symptoms.
I have to manage everything now. On a number of occasions, she has tried, but it’s been too much for her.
It’s been very difficult to find out what is available in terms of social care. Betty’s got district nurses who attend twice a week for a leg ulcer, and they put me in touch with a charity for carers, who sent me some literature about what helps would be available if we needed it. It made me realise that as much as I could get on by my own to begin with, there are places and people who are prepared to help you.
The hardest thing for Betty is trying to maintain some form of dignity. She can’t shower herself, or dress herself, as she can’t stand for long. She needs practical help, which I provide, but she gets frustrated that that is unable to do the things she is accustomed to doing.
I can leave her at home alone to go shopping but I’m very conscious that I’ve only got 90 minutes because her medication means that she needs to go to the toilet after that time, and I have to help her with that.
Despite all of this, I don’t think of myself as a ‘carer’ for Betty. We’ve been married for 59 years, and this sort of situation puts you into a different light. But I don’t use the terminology of ‘carer’ unless I need to explain why I need to accompany her somewhere.
We have family who are extremely good, and I can ring them whenever I need to. I also have an old work colleague who phones me every week and always offers his help.
I don’t have time to pursue my own hobbies or interests because of the need to help Betty with the toilet so often. I used to go and watch cricket, but I can’t do that now, so I watch it on the TV instead. I do walk the dog once a day, which gives me a little bit of a break.
We used to go out once or twice a week for a meal, but we can no longer do this due to Betty’s deteriorating health.
It’s very difficult to try and give advice to others in our situation as they may feel differently. But I would certainly say it’s helpful to have a good understanding of exactly what the condition is, the medical terminology around it, and what effect it can have on a person.”