$2.83. That is the balance of my checking account. Two dollars and eighty-three cents to last me for the next five days. I checked it repeatedly, as if money would magically appear if only I willed it…It didn’t.
“Well, Alice, rent is paid. Nothing is going to be shut off this month, you have plenty of ramen, cereal and milk that is only mildly questionable”, I thought to myself as I laced up my sneakers, strapped on my back pack and headed out to work.
I always chuckle to myself when I hear other caregivers say that someone is only in this field “for the paycheck”. WHAT paycheck? Honestly, you could make more money and have more room for advancement and growth in the fast food industry than in the long term care system. Anyone who takes on this gig hoping for a lucrative future either has bad business sense or is delusional.
Our world is not the neat confines of the office. Our language is not the detached, clinical observations of the doctors or nurses who visit occasionally. No. Our place is on the floor, with the people. Hands on.
It is a gritty, raw, deeply emotional reality filled with equal amounts of devastating loss and bodily fluids. It requires a unique skill-set; an adaptability and stamina that few are able to maintain for long periods of time. If done well, this job will break your heart every day. If done correctly, it will test your limits in every way. It is not for everyone.
So why are there “bad” caregivers? Why do some seem to phone it in? My best answer, in the most simplistic of terms, is that it is an emotionally, physically, mentally exhausting job that usually goes unappreciated by those in charge. Often, the only incentive we have is to not get fired. We are underpaid and overworked by people who do not understand what we do. Many caregivers burn out because they cannot see past that wall.
Well then, what makes “good” caregivers? Simply put, they do not give up. They do not let the deeply flawed system define them. They reach down and discover their own personal reasons for their commitment to this field and hold on to it when everything else seems to fall apart. They find their own leadership and they never stop learning and growing. It is an emotionally fulfilling, physically challenging and mentally stimulating job that never goes unappreciated by those for whom we care. Even if they don’t or can’t say so. The truth is in the moments and the moments on the floor are abundant.
As for this caregiver, I never lose sight of the fact that having money and being rich are not synonymous. I do not underestimate the value in what we do or the depth it has added to my life. For me, it far outweighs the difficulties we have to face in order to do it.
Good, bad or indifferent, it isn’t about the money. It’s about the perspective. We make an impact on the lives of other human beings, sometimes breaking ourselves in the process. There is no way to put a price tag on that; no adequate way to measure the give and take required to do this job the way it should be done. I only know that it is so very worthwhile. $2.83 in my checking account and I wouldn’t trade places with an heiress.