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.
There were hair dryers and curling irons hanging from the ceiling. That was my first impression as my client and I entered the front lobby of a high end salon. With her family reunion coming up, she wanted to look her best and after five days of rain, she was more than ready to get out of the house for a bit. She had a week of poor mobility and high levels of pain because of the weather but come hell or high water, she was going to find a new beauty salon and get her hair done.
My client gets like that. Her sheer determination to achieve a goal often overrides what I think is best. Where she saw gorgeously coiffed hair teased to perfection, I saw transfers in the rain, maneuvering a completely unfamiliar environment for both of us and the potential for her feelings to be hurt like they were by her last stylist. One look at her face was all it took. Sigh. Ok. Let’s do this. So off we went! Despite the rain, her pain and the garden variety challenges, we were women on a mission and would not be deterred.
As we entered the salon, carefully maneuvering around subtly placed displays of make-up and hair supplies, I couldn’t help but be impressed by the atmosphere. There was an artsy, creative feel to the place and the front staff was energetic and engaging. It was a world away from my own regular salon, Great Clips (the price is right, so keep your fingers crossed and hope for the best).
After transferring my client into the shampoo chair, I sat down and took it all in. As I sipped on the cucumber infused water that they offered me (which is every bit as gross as it sounds), I noticed how engaged the stylists were. They were genuinely interested in what my client had to say. When her stylist heard that she used to be a cosmetology teacher, she began to ask her questions and discuss the pros and cons of the beauty field.
My client was given the princess treatment. For three hours, she was simply a former stylist who offered valuable insight and a valued customer. They did and said nothing that made her feel awkward or different from anyone else in there and it was all done with authentic enthusiasm. For three hours, my client forgot her pain and embraced being pampered and I found myself moved to tears, which I hastily wiped away lest it ruin my reputation for being a bad ass.
I write a lot about the apathy I see in this world. I write about the challenges and difficulties and need to overcome. I know all about the struggles we as caregivers face on this journey to improve this flawed and broken system and I want badly to help inspire the change in thinking that will enable these lasting improvements. All of that is hard wired in me, but I have to be honest here. It was beautiful to have this moment to write about this week. This simple, pure event that renewed my spirit and reminded me that there are people in all walks of life that are capable of seeing through the diagnosis to the person beneath. Such a simple thing, a trip to a beauty salon full of genuinely kind people, had a profound personal impact on me. In this world where kids are getting shot, the sick and elderly are so often mistreated, refugees are considered terrorist threats, racism is still a thing, people scream online about guns, and he who must not be named may become president, there are more genuinely kind people who look past the obvious than I realized. In my heartfelt zeal to fight apathy in all its forms, I sometimes forget that there are plenty of people who’s small and daily acts of kindness shout volumes about the goodness inherent in all of us. I do those people a disservice by forgetting that everyone isn’t either a hammer or a nail. To all of you quiet heroes out there, I apologize for my shortsightedness and I thank you for the reminder.