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.