The true cost of caring

Neal Furze with his children Sam and Eloise.

Kris Rawlinson gave up a successful career to care for her husband Neal Furze when he had both legs and most of his fingers amputated after falling ill on AFL Grand Final Day in 2017.

Diagnosed with sepsis, a dangerous blood infection, Neal spent 17 days in an induced coma at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, where Kris was told on many occasions he would not survive.

Miraculously Neal lived but suffered several minor strokes and would need full-time care for the rest of his life.

Kris and the couple’s two children Eloise and Sam, then aged eight and 11, adjusted to their new life with Neal at their Riddells Creek home, but his ongoing care consumed the family’s world, a world irreversibly tainted with grief, survivor guilt, and an ongoing battle for systemic support.

Three years after Neal fell ill, Kristine relinquished the burden of being her husband’s full time carer to save her own health, her marriage, and her family unit. Neal moved into a respite care facility.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Neal returned home where Kris resumed full-time care, but in mid-2021 Kristine was admitted to hospital with a suspected cardiac arrest.

Before relinquishing Neal’s care, Kristine was paid $131 per fortnight, since then the cost to replicate the care she provided has been $190,000 annually.

Now Kristine is fighting for a better deal for carers and for their true worth to be acknowledged. Kris wants a call for action so that carers can be remunerated through better government-funding initiatives.

“At some stage anyone could be a carer, so it’s a huge issue,” she said.

“I used to be the health professional and policy maker who used to put extra loads on carers become my focus was getting the best outcome for the people with disability.

“I never actually understood the toll that putting more and more on carers’ plate was taking on their mental health, their physical health and even just the change to live their own best life.

“And that could be to pursue a career, to pursue a social life, to participate in exercise, meditation, or even exploring your faith.”

Kris said she would like to see more acknowledgement and appreciation for all that carers did.

“It’s not just that we do it out of love and care, we do it and it saves the taxpayer an absolute fortune,” she said.

“But it’s not actually seen as a respected career or vocation choice.

“If I earn more than $3000 a year Neal will lose his disability support pension which entitles him to subsidised specialist disability accommodation, subsidised medication, medical support and also subsidies on our rates, utilities etc.

“We’d be financially far worse off.”

Kristine and Neal tell their remarkable story with candour and humour in a new six-part podcast ‘Care Factor – In Conversation with Sara James‘.

The podcast is also available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts.