Carmel’s friends call her “the pink lady”. Her life is full of colour. Her hair is shades of purple. And her home is filled with bright tinges. From her pink curtains to her on-display collection of treasured barbie dolls, on the surface, Carmel appears to have a full, vibrant life.
But in Carmel’s case, appearances are deceiving. And while her smile lights up her face, years of pain and suffering begin to show as she shares her story.
Two years ago Carmel’s sight and hearing began to deteriorate. “It was frightening,” says Carmel. “My health took a real dive. I couldn’t hear anything, I couldn’t see anything.”
Day-to-day tasks suddenly became overwhelming. “When I went out, I couldn’t see a bus or a car. I couldn’t even ring a taxi because I couldn’t see the numbers on my phone. It was really daunting,” Carmel explains.
And Carmel quickly became isolated. “When in a social situation, it was embarrassing. I couldn’t hear what anyone was saying. I would go for coffee with friends or family and it was just terrible because I couldn’t join in the conversation. So I avoided it.”
It wasn’t until a week-long hospital stay that Carmel was diagnosed with ‘musical ear syndrome’, a condition that causes auditory hallucinations, thought to result from a problem in the brain’s wiring.
“I started hearing opera music day and night. At first, I’d jump up and ask my daughter, ‘Did anyone have any music on? Can you hear what I was hearing?’ And she said ‘no’. That really sent me into a major panic because I was just hearing this music all the time and it just wouldn’t stop.”
At the same time Carmel’s health deteriorated, she almost became homeless. Living with her daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren, her beloved family was suddenly transferred overseas for work. And because of her declining health, Carmel couldn’t go with them.
“I was very afraid of being alone in the community with my family overseas,” Carmel shares.
As her health worsened and on the brink of losing her home, Carmel reached out for help at her local community centre. “I explained my position that I was about to be homeless because I just couldn’t function.”
They connected her with Wesley Mission. Carmel couldn’t believe how quickly everything fell into place. The next day Wesley Mission met with Carmel and started putting plans in motion.
“I was fortunate enough to be put in touch with Wesley Mission,” she says. “They were so beautiful to me they really looked after me and took me in and they gave me hope.”
Carmel’s Wesley Mission caseworker, Caroline has been a crucial member in her support network during this season.
“They took care of everything – making my phone calls and getting my bills organised because I couldn’t do it,” Carmel says.
“They organised people to come pick me up, take me shopping and take me to the doctor when I needed. They really held my hand the whole way.
“Honestly, I can’t speak highly enough of Wesley Mission and the beautiful people associated with it.”
Thanks to Liesa and the team at Wesley Community Housing, Carmel now has a place to call home.
“Liesa came here to sign the lease with me and she was so welcoming, so kind and so lovely. Whenever I see Liesa, she’s smiling, loving and helpful – just a beautiful person.”
Moving in mid-2019, Carmel is now surrounded by the comforts of her own home and decorated to her own tastes. Carmel’s colourful home matches her bright face, which lights up with a beaming smile. For the first time, Carmel’s life has balance. The strains of her life have come together in full symphony.
“It’s been wonderful being here, it’s giving me time to heal,” Carmel shares. “It’s actually given me time to concentrate on me, walk that path to get to where I need to be. So living here is good because it’s very serene.
“Now I feel excited about living,” she exclaims.
Shortly after moving into her new home, Caroline supported Carmel with her first surgery to receive a cochlear implant to improve her ‘musical ear’ condition.
“It has been absolutely amazing. I still hear the music and radio all the time, but at least with the cochlear there’s a distraction. Now I can hear the cars go by, I can hear birds but before the cochlear, all I heard was music and I couldn’t switch it off,” she says.
Following her cochlear implant came Carmel’s first cataract surgery. And just before Christmas 2019, Carmel received her second cataract surgery. Since her health began to deteriorate, Carmel’s had six surgeries in total.
“It’s given me life. I used to feel like I was in a coffin.”
“With no sight and hearing, if someone knocks at the door, you don’t know they’re there or if someone walks into your home, you don’t know they’re there. It’s just scary but now it’s wonderful.”
Carmel says she’s thankful for her support system, including Caroline who has been there along every step of her journey.
“She’s just a lovely spirit. She’s very kind and understanding. When she comes to visit me, we have morning tea together and it’s lovely. It’s more like a visit from a friend really.”
Along with her new home, Carmel now has a community she can lean on, including her neighbour upstairs she now calls her friend.
“She often makes a meal and passes it over the balcony or she finds something from the shop [and] she pops in and gets it. She’s just a lovely neighbour to have,” Carmel says. “I’m fortunate I’m in a safe place surrounded by lovely people.”
Pottering in her community’s garden has become a new hobby Carmel can enjoy since having her cataract surgeries. Thanks to a partnership between Wesley Community Housing and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Carmel has participated in gardening days organised by Liesa.
Carmel has developed a bit of a green thumb as pot plants now overflow her balcony. She also relishes the easy access to fresh herbs and vegetables from the community garden.
Carmel gushes with thanks for Wesley Mission. Her overflowing thankfulness to Liesa, Caroline and all those who have supported her along her journey, speaks volumes to her true generous nature.
“Without Wesley Mission, I wouldn’t be here and I honestly mean it. They’ve saved my life and I’ll forever be indebted to them.”