The longer I’m in this field, the more certain I am that my main job requirement is to improve the quality of life for those under my care. Yes, as caregivers, we are the eyes and ears for the doctors and nurses. It is true that many times we are the first to notice when those for whom we care are “off,” but often our hands are tied after reporting changes and passing along observations. It used to frustrate me to no end, that feeling of powerlessness; that feeling of being dismissed with a pat on the head, as if my concerns were not valid. It didn’t occur to me that perhaps my point of view was askew.
After so many years in this gig, death doesn’t bother me nearly as much as it once did. Oh I still mourn the losses, but I take great peace from remembering the moments; the real interactions and shared memories that make the caregiver/client relationship so unique. This is not a career for the squeamish and there is something quite beautiful about guiding and supporting another human being through the twilight. No, it’s not the inevitable setting of the sun that scares me. It is the horrible quality of life that our elderly and sick are often forced to experience at the end of their days.
Maybe it’s because this time, I was lucky enough to be a part of something different that this point was driven home. I was able to witness a woman surrounded by love and family who were willing to do whatever was necessary to keep her comfortable and active. I saw what that sort of support gave her in a very short time. I watched as she thrived in that environment and when she died, it was quickly, with her faculties intact, after spending a beautiful day with her family.
It was in stark contrast to my experiences in a facility. I think facilities can create a sort of Stockholm syndrome: You know it’s not a good environment in which to live or work, but you adapt because it’s what you know. You tell yourself there are worse places. At least it’s a job. At least you can be there for the residents. It’s not so bad. Deep down, you know it is though. It’s no way for anyone to live. At least in the facilities for which I’ve worked.
That got me thinking. When I strip our job description to the bare bones, the meat and potatoes, it comes down this simple task: improve the quality of life for those around us. Depending on the framework in which we are employed, this can be difficult. Simple and easy are not necessarily synonyms. It’s a simple concept, but at times it’s an incredibly daunting task. Especially when you consider the system in which we work. Still, for me, realizing that truth has brought me great peace. It simplifies it. I don’t have to fix, save, diagnose, manipulate, or perpetuate any negativity. My job is to make life as positive as possible and to preserve the dignity as much as possible for those in my care. There are many ways to accomplish this and I hope to explore those ideas in future posts.