My eyes scanned the unfamiliar environment, quickly assessing potential pitfalls and hidden dangers. Carpet, possible fall risk. No hand rail in the bathroom. Air conditioning vent directly over the only place at the table my client’s wheel chair can fit. No other chair in which she can safely sit. Ok. A manageable if not ideal environment. I had prepared for those obstacles. Thankfully, I thought to put the commode chair in the trunk just in case. All the bases were covered and though I left exhausted at the end of the shift, my client was able to enjoy Thanksgiving at her daughter’s house surrounded by love and family.
When I was told that her daughter wanted to host Thanksgiving dinner at their house this year, I balked inside. It was a twenty mile drive into completely unknown territory and I had no idea what would be needed to keep my client as safe and comfortable as possible. People who aren’t living with or caring for those with disabilities tend to take for granted the amount of effort and time that goes on behind the scenes. This is a truth that transcends all avenues in this field. Get it done. Handle it. Make it happen.
And we do, don’t we? How often have I thought about the impossibility of a problem as I was in the middle of doing my best to solve it. Be it in homes or in facilities, uphill battles are what we do. It’s part of our job description and we don’t falter. Personal life in shambles? Worried about bills? Car troubles? We have to leave it at the door. We don’t get the luxury of falling apart. We have people who count on us.
Today, I was strongly reminded of how much that inability to fall apart has taught me. My dad had to have emergency surgery this afternoon. He is going to be okay, but he has quite the road to recovery ahead of him. I was blind-sided by this news. We all were. My dad, who is the picture of health and stands taller and stronger than most men, both physically and mentally, hit a bump and there is absolutely nothing that I can do about it. After a night of wrestling with powerlessness and fear, I woke up this morning, put on my scrubs and went to work. I don’t have the luxury to fall apart and because of that, by the simple effort of putting one foot in front of the other, I was able to regain perspective.
It isn’t a good situation but it could have been so much worse. I am powerless over his pain, but I am capable of being supportive to both him and those around him. I can offer information about self-care and I have insight that will benefit my family. All of this comes from lessons I’ve learned from the field and the unseen efforts that go on behind the scenes of what we do. Our job teaches us courage. At times, it outright demands it.
Management, regulatory agencies, even the families of those in our care are only interested in the end results; the appearance. If everything looks ok it is ok. If everything looks easy, it is easy. We caregivers know better. We are behind the scenes people, the muscle behind the movement and the heart behind the smile. What I have learned in the simple act of trying to do my best in this field has enriched my life in ways that defy reason. I didn’t want to go to work today. I wanted to hide from the world, but I went anyway. I didn’t want to write this post. I didn’t want to express my fear and vulnerability, but I wrote it anyway. That’s what we do. We tackle the task at hand and keep moving. We do not shrink from adversity and that is what makes all the difference in life.
One of the more unnerving discoveries on my journey in private care has been that caregivers can be very territorial. It makes me incredibly uncomfortable. Maybe it’s because I spent most of my career in facilities where there is a sense of unity and teamwork even when it’s felt begrudgingly. Circumstances force people to work together and even the most likely of partnerships tend to foster a sense of protectiveness as we work together with the common goal of providing the best possible care in such a flawed environment. Not so much in independent home care.
My first encounter with this was my very first family. God bless them, they were lost and desperate for help. Having not expected their family member to suddenly need to live there full time, they weren’t certain how to proceed. They were loving and trusting people with a strong desire to do this right.
That particular job landed at my feet at a time when I desperately needed a change. Now, I had never done home care so at first, I was eager to learn whatever I could from my co-worker. That eagerness faded quickly. Instead of being welcoming, she was…well, bossy. At first, I chalked up the differences in how she expected me to transfer my new client with the maneuvers I had learned in the facility with the change in environment, but I very quickly decided that as much as I wanted my new co-worker to feel comfortable with me, I did not feel safe doing transfers the way she preferred to do them and just like in facilities, within certain parameters, such tasks can vary from caregiver to caregiver. I tried to explain this to her to no avail. That’s how I learned to smile, nod and go about my business working my shift the way I see fit. Unless my client or her family complains, there is no reason to alter how I perform my job and I was told as much by the family who hired me. They explained that the other caregiver was under the mistaken idea that there was a hierarchy.
I’d been in this field long enough that it rankled me to be micromanaged by my peer, especially considering we worked on opposite days and other than showing me the ropes on my first shift, we had never worked together. She communicated with me in long notes that detailed what she wanted me to cook for our client, how she felt I should spend my shifts, what activities she wanted me to avoid and exactly where she wanted each cleaning bottle. Being a rookie at the time, I assumed she had worked for the family for a while. I had no idea that she only started the week before I did.
She was let go for reasons that I won’t go into, other than saying it had absolutely nothing to do with me. For the rest of my time with that family, I was the sole caregiver. The hours were insane. It was too much and I was awful at setting boundaries. I missed my old facility and I had renewed sense of gratitude for my former co-workers.
By the time I left that family for my current job, I had a much deeper appreciation for working with others and had chalked up my first experience with a co-worker in private care as a fluke…until I met my new co-worker.
She had been with the family for two years and is very…involved. At first, it was off-putting. I had to explain to her that I was not going to question my client’s doctor about her medication. That wasn’t my place. As a caregiver, one of my roles is that of an observer. I note changes in behavior, variations in blood sugar, mobility, mood, urine output, blood pressure, etc. but in no way do I attempt to diagnose. That is out of my skill set. I do not question how my client chooses to spend her money or lie to her about appointment times in order to “speed her along”. It is just not how I do things. For me, mutual trust is sacred in this field and I can’t expect my client to trust me if I am not being honest with her.
For quite awhile I resented my co-worker. She was doing this ALL WRONG! The responsibilities, job duties, and boundaries that were so ingrained in me from my years in facilities were being thrown right out the window! Because there are parameters that I was unwilling to cross, I began to feel a little insecure. I started second guessing myself, especially after she said that from now on, she would schedule the doctor appointments on her shifts.
I got myself in a real tizzy over that one. I vented. I wrote about it. I made certain to time it so that my co-worker’s and my path rarely crossed. I ranted to my friends that this lady thinks she OWNS my client and I didn’t feel that was right. I was reveling in all my self-righteous glory. I did everything but actually have an adult conversation with her about it. I was wrong.
One day, in the middle of a shift, my phone rang. It was my co-worker. She was calling to see how our client was feeling. She sounded nervous and apologized for calling in the middle of the busy time, but it was her only spare moment and she was concerned because our client had been sick.
A switched flipped in my head. Yes, I was uncomfortable about the way my co-worker micromanaged everything. Yes, I thought she was overly involved and territorial, but not once had I sat down and had an honest discussion with her about it. Not once had I considered that maybe…just MAYBE her attitude had nothing to do with me and everything to do with the well-being of our client. That had to change.
So I asked her if she would like to see a movie and hang out and she agreed. After biting the bullet and swallowing my pride, I addressed my concerns and admitted my insecurities and asked her what she thought might be a possible solution. It turns out, part of the reason she was so territorial was that there were many caregivers over the years who were not so great. High turnover and missing meds caused her to be cautious and protective. I could understand that. She opened up about her own insecurities like this bring her first and only caregiving experience. We began to learn from each other. I won’t tell you that things are always sunshine and rainbows between us all the time now, but it’s been much much better. True growth in this field stems from an openness to be honest and a willingness to begin from a place of understanding one another. That is how we stop resenting one another and learn where we can best serve the needs of those in our care. There can be no teamwork when there is no interest in understanding the other members of the team. This was a lesson well learned.
Sometimes I have to dig deep within to find the strength to carry on. I don’t get to give up. It’s a luxury that as a caregiver…as a PERSON, I simply can not afford. It’s really a mixed blessing.
On the one hand, I have my days that I WANT to just fall apart. The tough days, when my personal life is in chaos and my client’s husband is feeling a strong need to express his political views loudly and my client is in pain that no medication can touch…those days bring a feeling of powerlessness that makes it hard for me to breathe. I feel trapped by circumstance and very very small. Emotions that I do not have the time to deal with begin to distort my perception. Those are the lonely days. The grey days that make me want to curl up into a ball of self pity and resent the world for not bending itself to my personal whims and preferences.
On the other hand, I am blessed to work with a demographic of the population who’s very existence is an education in courage. They are the definition of perseverance. My love for these people has defined and honed who I am on a deeply fundamental level. How can I feel anything but grateful when so much of my life is engaged with people who overcome obstacles and live through challenges that I can only imagine? I have a daily reminder not to mistake convenience for necessity.
I used to just brush my emotions aside. Once I got through the tough shifts and started to feel better, I didn’t see the need to think about it. It’s easy for me to focus on what I love about this gig and my own life. I would minimize my negative feelings. I’m known as “Little Miss Sunshine” for God sake! I don’t get to be sad or angry or frustrated or hurt. Those emotions are for mere mortals!
The truth of the matter is that never works. Ignoring a fact does not mean the fact does not exist. And I’ve learned slowly, through much experience that my feelings are no less valid than anyone else’s and that I matter too. If I find myself feeling like I don’t, it’s time to reflect on the reasoning behind it and make some changes.
I depend on the people who depend on me. That leads to one of two roads; co-dependency or growth. Today I choose the latter. In order to grow from others, I have to be honest with myself. I have to acknowledge my emotions, good or bad, see them for what they are and then let them go.