Tuesday, 25 February 2014

I'm a carer

I'm a carer. When people ask me what I do and I tell them, they either assume I spend all day drinking tea with old dears or they think I spend all day performing personal care (I'm putting that politely, because nothing infuriates me more than when people groan "eeeew not cleaning shitty bums all day!! How gross!!")

How ignorant. 

I'm a carer. My job does involve performing personal care for individuals who are no longer able to, I help them wash their backs because they can't reach, I help them clean their teeth and put their clothes on. I make them cups of tea and ensure they can drink it safely and comfortably, even the ones who can no longer get out of bed. I help them turn over, so they don't get sore or any more achy than they already are. 

As part of a team in a private company, we have to maintain a high level of professionalism and continuously exceptional standard of care. We aren't allowed to call our clients pet names or colloquial terms. We aren't allowed to be overly affectionate to any of them. We have to be mindful that these ladies and gentlemen are older than us and therefore should be fully respected for their seniority, vast life experience and their current state of health should not alter that.

But I didn't know your mum or your dad when they were raising you. I didn't know them even before that, when they were courting. I didn't know your grandma before she had Alzheimer's. I know very little about their past because it is my duty to ensure their present is so full of goodness and happiness and unicorns and rainbows. I will always endeavour to provide each and every one of my clients with the best care, and that's where the problem lies.

I looked after a gentleman for the last 18 months of his life. We'll call him Jake for the purpose of this blog as confidentiality is vitally important in the care setting. Jake was extraordinary. I knew nothing of his past other than his wife's name and that he was a butcher and enjoyed a good steak. 

I loved him with my whole heart (not professional. At all).

Every day I would walk into work and he would greet me with the biggest smile, like I was an old friend and he had an inside joke to share. He would laugh and joke with me (I never understood the half of it) and I would laugh and smile and feel so at home with this lovely man. 

He would get so frustrated with his family. I never understood what had gone off and it wasn't my business. But Jake would cry after his family left, and I'd be the one to soothe him with kind words and an arm around his shoulder, perching precariously on the arm of a chair. 

The last time I saw Jake was shortly before 2pm on a Monday afternoon. I was having to leave halfway through my 14 hour shift as I was poorly and he had been put into bed as he was not well at all. 

I told him to get well soon and that I loved him very much. He smiled and said "I love you too" like it was the most normal thing in the world.

He passed away an hour before I re-entered the building a week later and I have never in my life cried so much for a practical stranger. 

This isn't professionalism. We aren't allowed to cry, or love out clients like they're our own family. We certainly aren't allowed to tell them we love them. 

But how can I be expected to care for these people without developing those natural familial reactions and feelings. 

Yes, these are your mums and dads and you knew them in that capacity. And despite me being young enough to be their grandchild, I'm the one in the maternal position. The psychology of it reverses the "normal" or expected age relationship. The hierarchy changes.

So please, when you see your mother being cared for by someone young enough to be your daughter, and cringe at the use of a pet name, or the hand holding or the little cuddles, or the patronising tone of voice we use (I hate it too but sometimes it's all we have), please remember that it comes from a place of good, a place of care and comfort and love.

And that everyday that we do that job it costs us. Every time I lose a client, it takes part of me, losing Jake cost me such a large part of myself that I've barely functioned since (it was a month ago now).

We can't give those exceptional levels of care and meet the required levels of professionalism expected of us because they don't go hand in hand. It's such a contradiction. We give good care because we care so much.

Also, on a final note, these elderly ladies and men are often confused, and the first feeling they have every morning is fear. They are scared. Put yourself in their shoes. Sometimes when I'm scared all I want is a cuddle and a reassuring word. Most of the time they just need their hand to be held. They need to know they are not alone and that we are their friends and sometimes the only familiar face they see now. They make us their family. 


No comments:

Post a Comment