Thursday, 10 January 2013

Taking Care of our Treasures

In my life I have received many blessings, but one of the most powerful blessing I have received is that I have been trusted to be a carer, on and off, since I was 15. I started as a volunteer in a nursing home. In my career as a volunteer and paid member of staff I have had many priveleged moments and opportunities. I have held the hand of a 99 year old lady whilst arranging the paperwork for her 100 year telegram from the Queen. I have been with a 96 year old lady in her last days, singing Elvis songs and reading from the Bible to her. I have taken terminally ill children to museums and watched with delight as they have seen a piece of artwork for the first time. I've had hard times too, had pots thrown at me by an irate woman with spina bifida, been kicked in the chest and sustained broken ribs, have at times felt unsupported and undervalued.

The rewards I have received have been immense, and it is with sadness that I approach my last shifts as a carer this week, and move on to my new, equally rewarding role with Bliss. The rewards are not monetary, but I am thankful for the pay I have received over the years, because many people do this, and much harder care tasks for nothing. I never forget that. When I moan about minimum wage I think about the thousands of thousands of people who do this every day with very little support much less pay.

I got into care work because I adore people. I have learnt a lot of skills. Perhaps the hardest thing to learn is when to say "I am not doing this." One of the most valuable people to follow on Twitter, Ermintrude, a social worker and passionate advocate for those whose voice can't always be heard, posted this story yesterday. There is now a further update which can be found here.

Immediately there were tears running down my face. I felt so much for this treasured lady who had given so much in her life. But also, I felt for the two staff, who were inadequately trained placed in a position that was impossible.

I understand economics, I almost have a degree in it. I understand why care homes and home care providers have to pay minimum wage or near as darn it. But I am sorry it's the old adage, if you pay peanuts.....then often you have to pay staff who are inadequate for the task.

Being a carer isn't just wiping bottoms and making cups of tea. The equipment is intricate, and varies so much. Hoisting a person is not the same as using a hoist in a factory or labouring yard.

I think far too much emphasis in "moving and handling" courses is placed on employee safety, which of course, is paramount, but I'd rather 100 carers with bad backs that one 100 year old lady who has died in such tragic circumstances.

For what I have learnt in my years as a carer is this.

a) People are treasures. Sometimes you have to look really hard to see that person's jewel, believe me I know, but each of the people who trusts us is unique and special.

b) Often the things we don't do are more important than the things we do. I have had to walk into a situation, hold my hands up and say "sorry I am not doing this task, its potentially dangerous" and do what we say in Australia "call it out". There is always a safe way but sometimes you have to stop, hush the busyness and reassess.

For sometimes the lives we take care of need us to be still, to think, and to assess. And sometimes doing nothing is the best thing you can do.

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