Joys and Perils of Caregiving
It was a real joy and privilege to be able to do a “job swap”, organised by the New Zealand Nurses Organisation, with caregiver Dilani Perera. You can read about it here but I just want to share a personal view of it and a couple of stories that residents told me.
I’ve never been a paid caregiver. My primary memory until this experience was as a child singing carols and visiting at the old folks homes in Invercargill (yes I was that kind of child). I can still remember the large empty room with the edges full of old people sitting and staring out from their immobile chairs. I never associated those old people with any possible future of my own but I was still a bit scared and horrified by the vulnerability and a terrible aching stasis.
So it was really wonderful to spend some time with Dilani who is so very generous, warm and loves caring for people. Her favourite part of the job is helping people with the most intimate tasks. I’m sure it’s not because those jobs are the most fun but rather because it means so much to the residents to have someone they trust.
When I went back on National Caregivers Day, one of the residents Sylvie read a poem to the caregivers. It brought a tear to my eye. I can’t remember it all but the last line was, roughly, ‘if I was to scatter roses at your feet in gratitude, I would need your help.’ When I spoke to Sylvie afterwards she reinforced this saying that she really doesn’t have the words to describe what it is like to be so dependent.
I spoke to another resident Thomas, who had been given two days to live about a year ago but was pushing on. From our chat I learnt that he had previously been a senior public servant and was still absolutely engaged in what was happening politically in New Zealand. We had a really good chat about the state of our nation.
The whole team at Enliven, is a wonderfully multicultural team of staff originating from many continents. Thomas indeed commented on this and said how wonderful it was to live in a place where you really felt the world was getting on. I think he described it as a functional United Nations. How wonderful is that.
He read a letter of thanks to the caregivers, and then needed rescuing while trying to return to his seat as his legs stopped working. It was impressive to watch the caregiver work together to avert any accident and ensure Thomas was able to recover calmly.
My brain resists truly understanding what it must be like to have lived a full life having grown into yourself and then find yourself so completely dependent on strangers. Kindness surely has never been more important. If your caregiver is inattentive or grumpy, you could end up physically hurt or maybe even worse, stuck in a place of complete misery.
These caregivers are paid the bare minimum wage and it would be very easy for them to be grumpy and resentful. It is a testament to the good of people that after 16 years Dilani and others are still fully engaged and focused on caring for their “extended family”. They bloody well deserve to be paid and valued a whole lot more than they are now.