At the age of 60 Paula Sapietis found herself unexpectedly becoming one of Scotland 650,000 unpaid carers. At that point her role changed from being wife within a loving relationship, where responsibilities were equally shared, to that of carer as her husband’s eyesight began to fail due to macular degeneration.
Zigi Sapietis was diagnosed with the eye condition almost 15 years ago. A respected artist working in wood, stone and ceramics, Zigi’s eyesight deteriorated to a point that caused his wife, Paula, to retire from her job. Paula swapped her role as a teacher to children and young people with additional needs to that of full time carer to her husband.
Originally from Zimbabwe, Paula moved to Scotland in 1979 where she met Zigi, who is Latvian, and they settled on the outskirts of Edinburgh. They both love Scotland, seeing the country as their spiritual home and themselves as adopted Scots. Zigi is now almost 90 and quite frail with very poor balance and can see only vague images. He’s shown a lot of courage in adapting to his loss of eyesight, especially given the close work he used to do as an artist.
Paula said: “I’m helping him find an identity for his old age. Together we’re learning about old age which is a huge journey but we look for the light and joy. I am very involved in Zigi’s vulnerability and that brings out a different type of love. A lot of my life is solo because I’ve had to given up a lot; my book club, pilates, the types of things you do when you retire. But, I have a deep interest in life which keeps me going.”
After a service at the local Church that Paula and Zigi went to, someone slipped Paula the number for Woodburn Day Care Club: “This lady who hardly knew me had spotted my care worn appearance and knew I needed help,” commented Paula.
“The Carers’ Association at Woodburn Day Care Club is the best thing that ever happened to me. I get a lot of strength from our monthly meetings, networking and sharing with people in the same situation as myself. We are universally united in a terrifyingly solo journey.”
Janette Hope, Project manager at Woodburn, and Donna Hyslop, Carer Support Worker have helped Paula enormously. They provided help with legal matters, practical support, strategies for dealing with paper work and a weekly befriender for Zigi which gives Paula two precious hours a week to herself.
Paula’s position as carer includes being her husband’s personal assistant, his spokesperson, his advocate. However, they are now setting in place Self Directed Support which will give Zigi the personal support he needs when it suits his schedule and Paula some much needed respite. It also catapults Paula into a new role of employer as she must interview and select Zigi’s personal assistants.
For Paula, being a carer has been like a gift of personal growth, “It’s been such a surprise. You go into this with a certain amount of naivety because no-one learns how to be a carer but it’s evolving me into a different person. It’s almost a spiritual learning curve, multi-dimensional learning with love.”