A tide may have turned.
On Friday and Saturday, I shadowed two super-helpful care workers, on their Chelmsford round visiting elderly clients. The aim being to see how this job works, and if I might be suitable.
The shock to my system was immense. Thrown onto the front line, with no filters. The first client, visited at 7 a.m., lives alone. No family visit him. He takes a huge amount of medication. I didn’t know what to do with myself, or where to direct my eyes, while he was given a full body wash. I was an intruder. His hearing is poor. But made a cup of tea for him and coaxed from him that he is a Tottenham fan.
The second client was bed-bound, with sores on her hunched back. Doesn’t want to carry on living. She was stripped, washed, placed on the commode, fresh nappy attached. Moaning about the hot water not being scalding, so she cannot get her hands clean. I felt helpless, unskilled, so far out of my comfort zone. She had a Midlands accent, so I asked where she came from. Stratford-upon-Avon. Chanced my arm and told her I lived in Birmingham for 4 years. Bingo! We talked. As we departed, she said ‘Goodbye Kevin’.
The day proceeded thus. The next client’s husband suggested I was too old to be learning the job. By the time we left, he was telling me about his love of boxing and allotments. Nonetheless, I looked at the tender care accorded his wife with the feeling that I was hopelessly useless in her presence. She has almost lost her power of speech; and cannot move much of her body unaided.
We did about 7 hours of this steep learning curve before I clocked off. I came home depleted. Had to walk and meditate to decompress. It’s hard to witness such a raw range of human decline. The colossal indignity of ageing and losing control. Although I’ve witnessed my dad’s short-term memory disappear in recent years, he remains physically competent, as his 92nd birthday nears.
Saturday was easier though. I focused on the logistics of the job; the entry procedures, the logbook at each house, the box ticking of all the tasks using the phone apps, etc. And again my trump card – talking with people whose conversational spectrum can often be limited to a loop of the same people and subjects. I reckon listening and responding can be my shoe-in, if I can somehow master the range of tasks, and squeeze them all in within the strictly allotted time span.
I came home less depleted. Maureen’s reaction has helped. Her face has lit up and her mood has soared at how I’ve decided to plunge into something that will help the wider world, in its own small way. And the flexibility of a job where I can be hands-on with the hours, allowing me to maintain the journalism. Hopefully the £10/hour rate will fill the finance gap I have moaned about since May. It’s not great, but I’m grateful.
The post has been offered to me today. Starting in the new year, I can learn and knuckle down to the new occupation as the days fatten and the sunshine kicks back in. A tough ask, but the best challenges always look daunting.
Better, something else has happened in a few short days. The only way to describe it is the feeling of slowly starting to fill up my empty tank. Knowing that I’ll be involved in a network of carers and cared for is a big, big deal. I crave company.
26 years of writing about finance, oil and business had left me in a parlous condition, terribly bored and unstimulated. Hating most of what I do, and – over the past 5 years – withdrawing from the people that I used to interview and occasionally socialise with. I could no longer be false, pretending to be interested in what they do. And so I have operated alone, out at the margins (emails, and, decreasingly, phone calls), rather than letting my disdain show. My kindness has nowhere to go. A frustrating, dangerous rut to be in.
My choices, nobody else’s fault. But the clouds are lifting. Every part of me feels more optimistic.
Which tends to open doors. One of the ladies I shadowed needs occasional drivers to work cash-in-hand for her dog rescue centre. It’s a time in life to say yes, yes, yes.
Happy Christmas to everyone who takes the time to read these blogs. Knowing that an audience is listening, however small, is one of the key things that keeps me going. Thank you.