So often I am asked 'what made you become a carer' and I answer with some sort of flippant remark with no real depth like 'I just enjoy it' or 'it makes me happy' but as of late it has not felt enough to provide these simple responses; so here is the message I would like to send to all those who have asked or even just pondered this question. Yes, it is a little soppy in places but it is also honest and I am proud to have experienced it.
My hardest case...
*(Please note all names have been changed).
I go in to see *Alexandra, I have never been here before and as I walk in the atmosphere is damp, there is an acrid smell of urine in the air and as I walk through the hallway I am curious as to what may be awaiting me. I call 'hello' and say my name on my way down the short corridor but with no response. As I enter the bedroom there is a large lump underneath floral bedding which looks as though it has not been changed in some time. I say hello again and let her know who I am, she stirs and grunts at me- not clear words but some kind of hello. I ask her if it is alright to open the curtains and she mutters something that sounds like ok. As I draw back the curtains light floods the room and she turns her head away, I can now see a dusty dresser scattered with pictures of family members who, I learned later, have long since passed. There are clothes in piles around the room and some hanging out of drawers, a full commode sits to the side of the bed with soiled toilet tissue both in and around it, there is faeces on bed sheets where she hasn't managed to clean herself properly before sitting on the bed. A slightly dented zimmer frame also sits to the side of the bed with a pair of worn slippers in-between it's legs. I ask her standard questions to begin with, how she is this morning if I can get her anything before we go through to the bathroom, would she like a drink perhaps as I know I'm always thirsty in the mornings! I am chipper, I am trying to ignore my surroundings and focus on the human being in front of me who is depending on me to assist her. She barely responds and begins to get herself up, I offer to help- she declines. She makes her way through to the bathroom and rudely tells me she doesn't need any help, she mutters swear words at me and struggles on alone, I can help her but she will not let me, she is proud and can do it herself.
I shrug off her rude behaviour, I am in her home and I am a stranger. She is confused; I had not noticed it at first but she is repeating things and asking me the same questions, she cannot remember my name and keeps asking for it. If she will not allow me to assist her with her personal care I need to know I have done something for her so whilst she is dressing- not washing in the bathroom I change her bedding, I pick up the soiled tissues and put them into the commode ready to empty, I call through the door what would she like for breakfast to which she promptly responds 'I don't need anyone to get my breakfast, especially you, I'll do it myself' So I fill the kettle, only a quarter full as I do not know what her strength is like. I clean the kitchen sides and wash up what appears to be 2-3 days worth of dishes, I put the washing on and check her food is in date- most of it is not so I decide I will go to the corner shop and pick her up some of the basics.
Whilst I am busying myself I notice the pictures which fill up her lounge, some of them clearly her younger self, she appears someone who is proud of her appearance, beautiful, in pretty colours and smiling- she has not smiled once this morning and looking around I cannot help but think why would she.
She is dressed now, unwashed and still smelling of urine and faeces. She is in her kitchen, preparing her breakfast with great difficulty and shaking with each movement. As she has refused my help I try to talk to her, I tell her about myself and talk about my love for old fashioned music- I had noticed some old records in her lounge, Frank Sinatra and Nina Simone were particularly prominent in her collection. She softens ever so slightly and speaks about how she would dance to them as a teenager but, as quickly as she softened she closes down again. She forgets she has put sugar in her tea and so puts in a second, she cannot find the tea bags or work out which way the fridge opens. I have noticed bird ornaments scattered throughout her flat so, when she is determined to eat mouldy bread I tell her she would be depriving the birds of a feast, there is in date bread for her and wouldn't she enjoy feeding them?
I do as much as she has permitted me to do and when the time is up I ask her if I can do anything else? when the answer is no I tell her I hope she has a good day feeding the birds and I have left the mouldy bread torn into small pieces in a sandwich bag, I'll be back tomorrow. I am disheartened as I leave knowing that I have not left her better than when I came, that it appears she has no one visiting her regularly and she, whether she realises it or not does need my help. I know it will take time but the feeling of satisfaction knowing I have improved her general well being over time will be more than enough for me.
So, the days go on and each day she refuses my help, I do small things every morning and evening to improve her environment, I pop to the shop on my way round and grab the essentials, I fold the clothes and put them in the drawer, I change the sheets every Thursday/when they're soiled, I fill her sink with warm soapy water when I arrive and put fresh towels and a flannel out, I get clean clothes out without asking and her muttered objections become fewer and further between. As more time passes she begins to leave the bathroom door open just a crack and then all the way and finally a breakthrough! I notice she is trying to wash but cannot balance properly to stand and clean herself so I silently walk through with a stool and put it behind her, she sits and hands me the flannel, I lay a towel over her lap whilst I wash and dress her top half. Not a word is said between us but she lifts her arms, breasts and feet for me to clean. When we are finished I tell her I am going to make her some breakfast and she tells me we will make breakfast together, I do most of it but she butters the toast and stirs in her milk. More time passes and she tells me about her life, her mother, father, sister and her husband who have all passed away, she tells me she does not know how she became the woman I see before me- I reassure her that I see a woman who has rather impressively managed longer than she should have by herself. Now I leave her home knowing I have fulfilled my duty to her to provide her with the best care I can, to make her life easier and reminded her she has not been forgotten.
So why care? because it doesn't require qualifications? because it is an easy job to get? the money? No. I am a carer because I can think of no superior feeling than changing someone's life and ensuring you come through for someone who is solely dependent on you on a daily basis. In what other role could achieving something so simple as assisting a person to bathe provide you with such a feeling of elation! So, those are some of the many reasons I am a carer. Care work is not an easy choice, it is challenging and sometimes you are alone in emergency situations but; it is one of the most rewarding professions a person can enter into so long as you recognise that the small moments are the rewards. Good carers will not be the ones who clock of bang on time with no flexibility, nor will they be the ones who perform the role solely for money; They are the one's who cannot help but care about each and every individual in their charge. We do not go home at the end of the day and easily switch off from our client's, we think of them throughout our day's, even if we are on holiday and worry about them if they are taken ill, we go above and beyond and do whatever we can just to make their lives a little easier, on occasion we get too close and learn the hard way why we shouldn't. I did not necessarily choose to be a carer, I believe it is in my basic make-up but I am glad that it chose me- It may not be for everyone but I strongly believe that if more people tried it they'd discover they are capable of more than they ever imagined.