spinal-cord injury

Falling in love with my carers

I have historically thought of myself as a relatively strong and independent person although I am discovering that I am much more dependent and weak than I had thought. One of the strange things is that I find myself falling in love with my carers. That sounds weird, I know, so I better clarify my meaning.

I’m sure you have heard of patients falling in love with their nurses. Some of these passions end in marriage but most go unfulfilled. Aside from hospital codes of practice that probably prohibit such relationships, a nurse/patient bond is not an equal one. It is a relationship of dependency, where one person is needy and the other giving. In reality the “love” that a patient is feeling is that of a child for a parent – except the carer inevitably views the relationship very differently than does the cared-for. For them, the connection is a professional one, and it invariably ends when the professional connection ceases and the next stage in the patients recovery occurs. It has to be so – the carer has more patients to support. But it is really hard for a patient to get used to.

My first experience of this was when my occupational therapist, Peta, changed jobs. It is hard to describe what she meant to me. She had spent countless hours helping me do tiny tasks on the way to being able to function with this stupid damaged body. She was also the person who got me out of bed and into a chair. I was shattered when she told me that the hospital was moving her to a different department. My concern wasn’t just functional. It wasn’t just the thought that the next person would not be as capable of doing the job. I had come to love her, not in a boyfriend/girlfriend way, and it is hard to label my feelings toward her. Love probably is the wrong word, but for me the connection was deeply emotional, and its conclusion took some getting used to.

Surprise, surprise, her replacement, Ally, turned out to be equally “lovable”. Again she gave diligent attention to my care, and was a constant source of inspiration and joy. Leaving hospital was something I very much looked forward to, except the thought of ending the relationship with Ally. It felt something like a divorce. We remain friendly but for all intents and purposes the close friendship we had shared was over. It had to be, since the functional reason for the relationship had ended. I knew this in my head, but the emotional dependency that had formed within me – my neediness – struggled to adapt to the change.

There are at least two others in hospital that I felt the same way about. The first was a nurse, Louise, who looked after me in the acute spinal ward. These were the days long before I could feed myself (a task I can now perform even if I am messy enough to still require a bib!). She would feed me, encourage me, and look after all the yucky things that come with broken bodies, and all the while encouraging me, helping me to smile and laugh, and simply being a light in a dark place. My physio, Keira, was likewise an amazingly beautiful companion. She spent more time with me then anyone else, and was part of my care for pretty well the whole time I was in hospital. I remember one time a couple of young guys talking about Keira as young guys do. I felt like beating them to a pulp, except of course they would have been fairly safe (my seven-year-old nephew can beat me in an arm wrestle). Keira is easy to fall in love with. She is caring, genuine and encouraging. And again it is hard to describe what it is like to realise that such friendships are largely professional. And I don’t say this to imply any criticism of any of these amazing women. They are of course all still friends – but perhaps as time goes on it is a “Facebook” type friendship.

Now, lest one thinks that the real motivation behind my “love” was the fact that all of these carers were pretty, I should note that I once fell in love with a man. Peter was a physiotherapist involved with saving my life in ICU. He would give me assisted coughs when I couldn’t breathe during the early days of my recovery. His care, like that of all the others, went beyond the merely functional. He was an encouraging friend and, yes, when the situation moved me on it was simply difficult to face the fact that I would have to get used to not having him around.

Well I am now out of hospital, and my care has been transferred to the spinal outreach service. My key contact is another amazing woman, Emma (most of my carers have been women – a fact that says something about gender tendencies/stereotypes that I should discuss another day). She is a generous and beautiful soul. Unfortunately, the SOS service is only provided for 18 months after discharge. I am already finding this thought challenging. It is not only my worry about the support that I won’t receive after this time. It is also the realisation that another care relationship will end. And I really like Emma!

Yesterday, two of my personal home carers resigned. These two lovely ladies had looked after me morning and night for six months. They had become part of the scenery of the home – dealing with my intimate personal needs. I wasn’t always pleased to see them – waking me up in the morning and putting me into bed sometimes too damned early! But they made it bearable and sometimes even enjoyable. Now they’re gone and next week someone new. Rachelle, Paveen  – don’t leave me!

Now, I realise this it is an utterly strange blog post. I hope it is not one that makes my carers uncomfortable – that was not my intention, since they are all amazing people. What stands behind all of this is the realisation that I am needy – not just physically, but emotionally. I am most fortunate that the deepest love that I have is for (and from) my wife, an amazing intelligent, creative, supportive, caring, generous and beautiful person. Beyond the care of all of the amazing professionals that have helped me along the way, my wife has been there from beginning to end. I simply could not have survived without her. I am loved by and I love a lot of people. But so much more, I am deeply in love with and utterly dependent on Elly.

About Author

Shane is an ethicist and theologian, Honorary Associate for the Centre of Disability Research and Policy, the University of Sydney, and Assistant Director, Policy, at the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect, and Exploitation against People with Disability. Shane is proudly disabled, and an occasional blogger on


  • Matthew Del Nevo
    October 28, 2011 at 10:08 am

    Shane, what you experience and describe is called transference in psychoanalysis. It was first discovered and named by Freud at the end of the nineteenth century and in psychoanayltic cures the transference and counter-transference are the core of analysis. Right on my desk I have Lacan’s Seminar on the transference 677 pages. Just shows it is real. Matt

  • Tania Harris
    October 28, 2011 at 12:45 pm

    Shane, I am simply loving your posts. So raw, honest, profound, very beautiful. I pray that the treasure inside you will continue to shine out to everyone you meet even when your body means to hold it in… Thank you.

    • Shane Clifton
      October 28, 2011 at 12:53 pm

      aww shucks, I’m embarrassed now

  • john
    October 28, 2012 at 1:30 am

    i understand how you feel as been there with my carers , i have been lucky to have had one for 2 years , and would be gutted if she left as i feel at ease and she knows my needs , john

    • Shane Clifton
      October 28, 2012 at 4:14 pm

      yes indeed. I had one leave earlier this year (Rachelle, who I mentioned above) – quite stressful. It always used to amaze me in hospital how badly some people treated their carers – as though we were living in the era of slavery. We need to treat carers with great respect and much appreciation. Of course, in reality, having to rely on others does not always bring out the best in us. nice to meet you John (well, sort of)

      • john
        October 28, 2012 at 5:43 pm

        thanks shane did not get good care in hospital to rushed in there , but have good home care there like a frend , you can talk to them , are you in uk ?

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