254. More questions than answers



For most blogs, it isn’t too difficult to think of a handful of main themes and points, then sew them together with some carefully chosen words. But it’s proving different with my new, part-time carer’s job. These are early days. I’m swimming in so much uncertainty that no easy structure comes to mind. The idea popped up of asking myself some questions. Seemed as good as anything.


What is the point of Keith’s life?

I’ve changed his name. He is one of the clients. Probably in his mid-80s, Keith is terribly afflicted with COPD. Constantly linked to an oxygen pipe. His back gives him chronic pain. His leg is ulcerated. Keith’s sight is blurred, his hearing poor. He lives with his two sons, who have to work five days a week. He is seen 4 times a day by my new company, with 30 minutes officially designated for each slot. We got him out of bed yesterday morning, dragging him from peaceful, warm slumber into a house that was empty by the time we left.

Once washed, dressed and provided with an incontinence pad, Keith is left to sit on a sofa all day, hemmed in by cushions. The radio or TV is switched on to provide background noise. He drifts into reverie, and gradually becomes more uncomfortable, but lacks the strength to stand on his own. He can get too cold or excessively hot, with no recourse except to wait for help. His coughing depletes him. Urination or defecation is a protracted effort. Food sustains, rather than cheers him.

Each care rota checks his pad, adjusts his sitting position, feeds and hydrates him, and makes sure the medication is imbibed.

Keith wants to stay in bed. He asks me why he is left unattended. I have no answer, except that his family makes the decisions. I try to tease out his past. He went to school in Rayleigh, Essex. He likes an antique show on TV. I have no mental comfort for him. His care leads nowhere. It feeds a loop of eternal discomfort. We are shovelling snow in a wilderness.

How can Sheila tolerate her circumstances?

Sheila (name also changed) is a lovely lady, kind and gentle, eager to chat. Lost her husband many years ago. Very happy to detail her life, and to ask about mine. Her dog, Olly, is her best friend.

She lives with her son, who is “a coke-head”, according to fellow carers. They say he steals his mother’s money to feed his habit.

She was sexually abused last year. It is alleged that either her son or his friend were the perpetrators. No definitive proof, and so no charges brought. She sleeps downstairs, while the son sleeps upstairs.

What aspects of the job give pleasure?

When clients show their appreciation. It can be a bright, honest smile, or a genuine ‘thank you’. When I can take the initiative, suggesting something helpful, or can strike up a conversation that takes the client out of their head and their circumstances. When I have learned something of their routines; and can deploy that knowledge without prompting. When I learn stuff that I can use to help my dad, whose dementia is gradually increasing. Getting through a day, thinking ‘I did it’. Getting into bed, deliciously tired.

And to hear a guy who lost much mobility, via a recent stroke, call his far less mobile wife ‘sweetheart’. The love in his voice was inspiring.

Are there other positives?

I’m happier. I notice it at home, when with Maureen, and when I’m out and about. When I go to sleep and wake up. That’s huge. Priceless. There is more purpose to life. It feels like a clear message – that the old, stagnant ways of sitting at home and writing about business and finance have been mood depressants.

Do I gel with fellow carers?

Sometimes. They are mainly young girls in their 20s. All very helpful, given my raw novicehood, but regularly distracted by their phones. I try to pull my weight. But am at the foot of a learning curve in terms of intimate care and the technicalities of the hoists. So I need their teaching. Some of the gap is bridged by my listening skills, and ability to get people to talk. Maybe, in time, a single round would work better. So that I can spend time in quality talk with clients, running the show and giving them undivided attention.

How does it compare with looking after my father?

The key difference is quality time. I get to dad’s, make a cuppa, and sit down for a chat. Then get some shopping, put out his rubbish, sort out his week’s medication, and indulge in more chat. We look up obscure questions on Google; and dredge up his past in as much detail as his Stage 3 Alzheimers allows. We watch football. Chat some more. Maybe I cook something for him. Check his washing and his bedsheets. I try to spend three hours being of service.

The carer job tends to be split into half-hour allocations. There is electronic clocking in and out, with phone locations tracked centrally. If the time is exceeded, the next client can suffer. It can give a ‘factory’ feel to the whole process.

Is it for me?

There are drawbacks. Gaps between jobs, wear and tear on the car. Already, a feeling of over-familiarity with some clients. I’m easily bored, and fear that under-stimulation will kick in as routine surpasses novelty.

For clients like Keith, I leave in despair.

Also, the need to write a log at each visit. The pen on paper method will soon switch over to electronic (mobile) notes, which will add to existing reliance on mobile technology, to clock in and out and record medication given. Clients already watch us tap away at mobiles, while the time that they pay for ebbs away.

On the other hand, it is a welcome learning curve, and will fill the ‘finance gap’ I’ve banged on about since last May. Outside the job, I’m feeling lighter, better, more cheerful.

Long-term? The jury is feeling the breeze, copping a smoke and checking its phone.


12 thoughts on “254. More questions than answers

  1. It sounds very much like a day in my life buddy, the only difference being you’re out and visiting various people.
    I get the demoralising feel of your words when you talk about Keith. Such a shame for him, and you’re right, is it worth it for him.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I tend not to look forward to the shifts, John, but to feel more exhilarated as the day passes.
      Working Saturday and Sunday this weekend. (First time in ages that I’ll miss watching West Ham on the live streams…. maybe just as well!)


  2. Ah, I was mentioning the hope for a silver lining in your other blog entry, and here it is, in all its splendor.
    Happier, lighter, more full of purpose? That’s amazing. Your assessment of the pros and cons is enlightening: heartbreaking details about Keith competing with money fulfillment and blossoming hope.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes….a constant competition inside my head between gratitude for plunging me into the moment, widening my compassion and toning me up physically, versus the draining sight, sound, smell and feel of humans heading towards death with few of the comforts we all crave. I just have to roll with it as best I can!


  3. I used to be the head of patient experience for one of the biggest NHS trusts in the country. I wondered whether, being an empath, you would struggle with the processing of clients. I chose the word processing carefully. It’s a business, there is no room for empathy and there is no time because time is money. I knew of patients who were just left in the chair, that is all that could be done, alone with nobody to talk to for hours on end, nobody to click the heating on, and no visits from carers arranged. They would literally sit there for days. When in fact talking and interaction is what they look for, to take their mind away from where they are. The world can be cruel Kev, and sometimes in that type of job it can leave you in despair. But there were people who were so grateful for that moment of kindness, that kind word, and that gave them hope, even in all that despair. Just as that lady’s dog gives her love, and that helps her cope with her despair. I do think that an AP issue should be raised there though. She is at risk. Just keep being kind Kev, you will be surprised at how much difference that makes in those people’s lives. Sending a hug ❤️

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Moisie. I’m in at the deep end, but staying afloat. Trying to make a difference with small kindnesses, as you suggest. With no training other than my help for my father. The surprise and revelations of this new job made me think of your view that life will take us where it will, no advance warnings.
      Another unexpected consequence of this new job is that I no longer check e-mails with the avidity and regularity of the past. The virtual world seems a little less important. Face to face is the new reality, for at least a while. ❤️

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes Kevin, it is very hard, and I pick up you’re an empath like me. Strangely though during this adventure I have found the virtual world kinder than the real one at times. It makes me wonder if people are going there to seek solace, perhaps that is the way the world would go. Just think if some of your clients had Alexa, or anything like that, something that would interact with them. I always think of the advert, with the old man and his carer and it made me ask myself, is that such a bad thing? Life is short, live every day to the full, every moment. Sending a hug, I know what it’s like. ❤️

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I get your take on the solace of the virtual world Moisie.
        Most of us are stranded away from whatever ‘tribe’ it is we want to be part of. Finding like-minded souls elsewhere around the world can be thrilling, comforting and encouraging.
        Actually, the guy I called Keith does have Alexa, but his hearing is so poor, and his mind so raddled by pain, that it’s of no use. But yes, technology can definitely come into play fore those still able to master it 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Rosie and Kev.
    If I was doing that kind of work, I’d take Rosie’s words to heart. It IS a business. That’s the facts, right? The only way to not make it a business is to be a millionaire/billionaire philanthropist running a program solely for the purpose of being able to take the time to include extra time for clients and empathy and all that *extra* stuff. You would literally have to pay for those things yourself in order to for them to be part of the whole system. Sorry to bring US politics into it, but it makes me think bitterly that Bloomberg and Styer shouldn’t be running for president. They should be doing something like THIS with their money. But then again, if they were a romantic dreamer like I evidently am, they wouldn’t be super rich, would they?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. My way around that harsh reality is to forget that I’m being paid, Stace. If the calls go over the allotted time, frankly, I don’t really care…..but that doesn’t always apply to those I work with.
      On a weird kind of detour to this conversation, I was reading Putin’s speech to the Russian parliament a few days ago. (As any normal person does!). This arch-villain and nemesis of the West has taken the outrageous step of bringing in decent levels of child benefit for mothers of kids between 0-5 , and further welfare payments enabling them to purchase nursery care.
      My point being that governments within capitalism can still choose which way they swing, however charitable or not the oligarchs decide to be. 🙂 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

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