When Elizabeth Amzil began work as a primary school teacher in Ealing back in September 2000, she was full of ambition and hope for her new career.
“When you are involved with teaching – or any other public services – you enter these professions with drive and a mission to right the wrongs of the world!” Elizabeth explains.
Her teaching career progressed well for more than a decade; she even became involved in setting up a brand new school. But all that changed in 2014, when the health of her parents started rapidly to go downhill.
With her father suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, her mother becoming increasingly frail and anxious, and her sister also vulnerable with severe learning difficulties, Elizabeth felt there was no option but to “down tools and take on my parents’ and sister’s care”.
She recalls: “I was teaching in Ealing and helping to set up a school in Hounslow. But I was getting phone calls during teaching from my mother to come at once, and it was getting unpredictable… I always promised my parents that I would stop and look after them and take on board my sister Susan’s care – it was a big wrench, but I had to tell my colleagues I could no longer continue, and I had to give up the teaching.”
During the past six years Elizabeth and husband Stephen, who live in Ealing Common, have kept Elizabeth’s promise and spent much of their time on care duty at her parents’ home in Acton, where the top floor has also been converted into a flat for Elizabeth’s sister.
After her father sadly passed away in 2017, Elizabeth could still take her mother and sister out together to the shops or a local park. But when her mother suffered a stroke last year, trips out in the car were no longer possible. Now bedbound, her mother required a hoist to get out of bed and a special new wheelchair for transport – and transferring both her mother and the wheelchair into her car to go out was a task that Elizabeth could not manage.
“I was quite aware I wasn’t able to take Mum out and about anymore in the car,” says Elizabeth. “She’s paralysed all the way down the right side and she is right handed, and she’s not strong enough on her left hand side to compensate.
“Mum used to enjoy going out to Ealing Broadway, buying vegetables, going to the hair salon or the shopping centre, or having pizza in the café at Gunnersbury Park. Now she hasn’t really taken on board the gravity of the stroke and what it really means.”
Just after the special new wheelchair was delivered, Covid-19 struck and life became even more challenging.
“We were so trapped and locked up here within the four walls, it was awful – we were scared to go out and about,” reports Elizabeth. “Up until very recently, I’ve only been able to take my mother out in the wheelchair just up and down the road.”
Elizabeth had started researching whether there were any local charities who could help out – and she remembered Ealing Community Transport from her teaching days. “We used to hire them for our school,” she recalls, “And I remember actually learning to drive one of the green buses for a school trip – I had to pass a little test!
“I was looking on the ECT website, and I didn’t realise how much they had expanded. I often saw the buses going around with different types of groups they were helping out, including people using wheelchairs. So I phoned up ECT and asked if there was any way that me and my sister could be in the car and follow Mum in one of their buses. I was astonished when they said they could take Mum and me and my sister on the bus since she is disabled and I am the main carer – and they would take us anywhere we liked within the borough!
“We’ve been on two of the trips now,” reports Elizabeth. “Chiswick House with Kim driving and Kam as the assistant, and then we went to Kew, with Rob driving and Kim the assistant. ECT is able to strap mum in her chair, into the bus. I’m sitting next to her because she’s anxious so every bump and jolt I can hold her hand, reassuring her all the time. It was an absolute Godsend because they had Sue in the bus as well. The crew were very careful and wearing masks. It was just amazing!”
She continues: “It was actually the first trip we’ve been on since March 2019 because we had to wait a long time for her wheelchair. That last trip was also to Kew to see the orchid display in the Princess of Wales glass house – and a week or so later Mum had the stroke. So for us to go to Kew again was really good for us. We saw all the cactus plants and tropical plants, we had a look at the alpines which were beautiful, and we walked through the glass house and then the Orangery. We went to the shop and bought some Kew honey and something for my sister – it was really nice.
“With there being a driver and an assistant, it left me hands free to enjoy walking with them all. John and Kim were quite adamant they were happy to wheel Mum around and take on Sue’s anxieties and reassure her like I would do – and I was more or less free to have a look at the trees, the labels, read things and really enjoy going to a nice venue. I was just able to enjoy the trip a lot more without the stress and worry of being responsible for them totally on my own. It was a wonderful respite after shielding for so long.
“ECT also reassured me that if a crisis did crop up where Sue was becoming anxious or if my Mum was in pain, they would be able to take us back. This was impressive because I thought that might be a restriction for us. Susan has never been able to say, ‘I’m tired, can we go now,’ or ‘I’m not happy’ and instead she just becomes anxious. But ECT told me not to worry about that side of things and that they could be extremely flexible – I was delighted that they were able to do this, because it restored a bit of normality for my mother and for me as well.”
Elizabeth says that the ability to go out again has “made an absolutely huge difference” to her mother’s spirits. “I asked Mum, ‘Did you enjoy going out?’, ‘Oh yes,’ she said.
“I don’t like seeing my mum worried and sad,” says Elizabeth. “It used to be so easy to make her laugh and make her happy, but it was becoming increasingly difficult. So to give her this hope of going out again, the three of us, is such a Godsend. It’s given me hope and I was able to pass that hope onto my Mum, and my sister as well.”
Now they are thinking about future trips – and also of using the ECT PlusBus service for GP appointments and to visit the shopping centre.
“I hope we can continue to make use of ECT’s services, it’s something for us to look forward to,” says Elizabeth. “If lots of people got to know about this service I think ECT would be inundated! I do feel we are privileged that we have been able to find out about this and that they are willing to help us out in this way.
“I just find it extraordinary that there is such an organisation – we were really stuck, to tell you the truth, really, really stuck. We had come to a full stop. And it was just a breath of fresh air to find ECT and be able to do something that we always used to do.”