Older lady at home

Weathering the storm

WHEN we think of orchids, we conjure up images of delicate tropical flowers that are relatively slow growing, but if properly cared for, can thrive in some of the toughest environments.

Orchids are also Phyl Nicholas’ favourite bloom, particularly as they remind her of her beloved husband, Chris, who died in December 2014.

“They are beautiful flowers. Many people think they are fragile, but they are actually very resilient,” Phyl, 94, said.

Phyl’s fascination with orchids first developed after she and her husband made an impromptu visit to a flower show one evening during the 1950s.

“Chris had a birthday a fortnight later and I bought him an orchid as a surprise gift,” Phyl recalls.

“It started from there and soon we were growing them in abundance – we had three glasshouses filled with orchids at the family home in Moonah.

“Chris was a wonderful man … April 2017 would have been our 70th wedding anniversary.”

For Phyl, who suffers from macular degeneration – a condition that has progressively deteriorated over time, these memories are among some of her fondest.

While she can no longer pore over old family photographs, which she proudly displays throughout her Lindisfarne home, she still enjoys tending her small collection of orchids, despite instruction from her family and senior home care to “take it easy”.

But her daughter, Wendy Nicholas, says her mother’s strong will and determination means she is usually unlikely to take no for an answer.

“We tell her to be very careful, but chances are she will still do it,” she said.

“Often, mum will blame her best friend ‘Will Power’ for egging her on.

“But we owe her a lot of credit. Mum has been on her own since dad passed away which is quite a feat because she doesn’t see very well.”

When Chris’ health took a turn for the worse several years ago, Chris and Phyl had no choice but to move out of the family home in Moonah and into a smaller house in Lindisfarne.

“We lived in Moonah for almost 60-years – I knew the house inside out, so it was hard to leave it behind,” Phyl said.

“But it was a two-storey house and climbing the stairs was too difficult, especially after I had a cancerous tumour on my leg removed.

“My vision and asthma had also worsened and Chris was in a wheelchair, so a house without stairs was the most appropriate solution.”

The Nicholas family purchased the Lindisfarne unit when Chris was in hospital battling vasculitis.

“Unfortunately, dad had a lot of health problems, but it never stopped him from being bright and cheery,” Wendy said.

“His issue with his leg saw him in and out of hospital for months at a time, which turned my parents’ lives upside down.”

The prospect of living alone would be a challenging one to face for most 92-year-olds, but even when Chris passed away, Phyl had her mind firmly set on living independently.

Phyl is quick to credit her “wonderful family” for helping her manage on a daily basis (her children take turns visiting her and help to prepare her dinner and organise her medication).

In addition to Meals on Wheels and Guide Dogs Tasmania, Community Based Support (CBS) also helps to lighten the load through the provision of a number of coordinated support services.

The services, which are delivered under a Home Care Package and tailored to meet Phyl’s specific care needs, include two-hours of social support once a week, enabling her to travel to the shops and attend appointments.

Under the package, CBS arranges for a gardener to call into Phyl’s home once a month and she has her windows professionally cleaned annually.

The Home Care Package also includes personal care, such as assistance with showering, dressing and mobility provided in the home by an experienced CBS personal support worker who visits Phyl three days a week.

“The support CBS delivers has been absolutely crucial to mum’s wellbeing and ability to live a normal life,” Wendy said.

“Mum has always been a very positive person, but having carers in her life who are so cheerful and easy to deal with really brighten her day and help make our role that little bit easier.

“She has actually been very lucky as some have turned out to become great friends.

“There is always a visit to a coffee shop involved and some have even shared her interest with the garden.”

With the Home Care Package aside, Phyl has also directly benefited from the CBS Home Modification Program, which addresses the client’s most immediate needs as they relate to improving safety and accessibility in the home.

Her bathroom is equipped with handrails and a raised toilet seat, and steps were built outside the back door to her home to accommodate her husband’s wheelchair.

“I can make my way around the house just fine, but I still count my steps and make sure I always put something away exactly where I found it,” Phyl said.

“It’s lovely to have carers who come in and know where to get my clothes from every morning without me having to tell them.

“I am grateful for this assistance as I would not be able to manage on my own.”

Phyl said while she occasionally felt lonely or frustrated, these feelings were only fleeting as she refused to feel sorry for herself.

“Sometimes I will put some makeup on and then come out of the room and Wendy will wipe the mistakes off my face or fix up the buttons on my blouse which I have muddled up,” she said.

“You have to have a lot of patience and look at the world positively and if you can, you laugh at yourself and the silly things you do.”

CBS is an independent, not-for-profit community organisation mainly funded by the Commonwealth and Tasmanian governments.

CBS provides in-home, centre-based and community-based support for frail older people, people with disability, people with mental illness and primary carers to enable them to remain living independently in the community.

CBS also offers carer support services and manages the residential respite bookings for southern Tasmania.

For more information about the full range of services available, contact CBS on telephone 6208 6600 or email admin@cbsaust.org.au

Caption: Phyl Nicholas, 94, of Lindisfarne, receives important assistance from Community Based Support.

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