This does not fall into my job description I thought as I struggled to remember exactly how the photographs were situated on the coffee table I just waxed. My client’s husband is quirky about that. He is OCD about the way pictures or papers are placed.
As I put away the polish, he came through his upstairs study.
“Thank you so much, Alice! It was making me crazy!” That was true. His anxiety level when his surroundings are in any way out of sort is noticeably high. I could argue that his anxiety isn’t my issue. After all, it’s his wife who is my client not him but it isn’t that cut and dry.
Until fairly recently, I have always worked for a facility or an agency. There was a care plan that was already in place and my job was to implement it as effectively as possible. The Do’s and Don’ts were clearly defined. Working independently has been very different. While there is definitely a routine in which certain tasks remain the same, twelve hours is a long time and quite a bit of it is flexible.
It is so much more personal working in a home. My priority is still my client, but her mental and emotional well-being is closely intertwined with the happiness of her loved ones. If her family is happy, she is more at peace and if she is at peace I am at peace.
As caregivers, we have to wear a lot of hats regardless of where we are employed. I have found this to be especially true when working independently in people’s homes, where mutual trust is so vital. The family is a unit. It’s impossible for me to take care of one member without taking care, albeit on a more superficial level, of the others. As always, there is so much more to this gig than assisting with the activities of daily living.
Confidant, cook, nursing assistant, professional redirector, advocate, comforter and friend are a few of the hats we wear on a daily basis. Some of these skills come naturally to me. Others…not so much, though I will say that for a single woman who subsists on Slim Jim’s and Ramen, my cooking skills have dramatically improved as a direct result of this home care experience. Seriously, I can now make a meatloaf that is out of this world.
My point is that I have discovered that there is no one size fits all job description for a caregiver, regardless of what the state registry may indicate. I have never worked a shift in any area of this field when I used only what I learned in a text book. There is so much more to it and most of it I’ve had to learn as I go.
I know that I am going to have to set better boundaries. Clearly, landing in Long Island after the passing of my last client was outside of any scope of practice, but it is equally clear to me that it was an incredibly valuable experience on many levels. We work with people; individuals with a variety of struggles and needs to be met. I can’t ascribe one idea of caregiving to every client when each situation is unique.
When my client suffered a major stroke at such a young age, her husband did not leave her. He did not hesitate for one second to do what he could to ensure that she is cared for well within their home. In the twenty something years since, they have had some fantastic experiences with caregivers and some horrendous ones. Facilities do not have the monopoly on troubles in long term care. My client has had her meds stolen. She has had caregivers who have ignored their duties and betrayed the family’s trust.
The world is full of people who will take advantage of those who are most vulnerable and it’s full of people who will turn a blind eye until it’s shoved in their face when such stories show up on the news. Then they will care for five minutes until a newer shinier issue flashes across their TV or Facebook newsfeed. Those of us who are in the know, who have seen this and feel it’s effects on those in our care have a duty to ensure that we are not now, nor ever will be a part of such apathetic, short-sighted, and dismissive thinking. We have to care. It’s right in our job title. Caregivers. It is the one hat we should never take off.
The best way to ensure that I won’t be part of the problem is to do my best to be a part of the solution, even in a small way. In that moment, the best solution for all involved was for me to wax the table. We wear many hats. I may not love all of them individually, but as a collection, it is a sight to behold.