I have worked in care for over 25 years and been a Registered Manager for 15 years.
Many aspects of the role is grossly misunderstood by anyone who has never worked within it. One of the aspects that is underestimated by lay persons and carers alike, is the impact that the individuals that you support can leave on your life.
Working in care you meet so many people from different backgrounds, with different values and beliefs. These people share “pearls of wisdom” share stories of their lives, their relationships their work and travels. You meet people with different humour, different personalities different ways of communication, different languages, different accents, the list is endless.
One thing though that has recently struck me is the genuine impact of these people on you as an individual.
I have too many to write about, but I can give a few examples of the things that at the time seem unimportant and trivial at the time that you associate people who you work with through.
I remember caring for a gent about 20 years ago. I still remember his name and I still remember his voice. The reason I remember him is because EVERY time I would get onto my knees to do his pressure stockings he would say “mind your patella’s”. This is the only reason that whenever the question for medical term for “knee cap” comes up in a general knowledge quiz I can excitedly shout “PATELLAS”. Yes, it’s the silliest little thing, but something that I think I will forever associate him with! Along with the “tot” of whisky and very specific blue cheese and crackers I would make him every evening.
Funny how those small things can remain in your memory. I’m sure these people would not think for a minute that you still think of them so many years when something like a specific food /drink or general knowledge question can trigger that memory.
I cared for a Polish gent many years ago. He had been in Poland when it was invaded by Germany. Some of the stories of his escape from Poland and the horrific treatment of his family during this period were truly horrifying. Hearing it all first-hand from someone who lived through such a traumatic period in history was enthralling as well as horrifying.
Another thing you never forget is the first person who’s hand you hold as they pass away. The emotions coming from doing years of end-of-life care remain the same as they did for the very first person I did it for. As a carer, you have built up a relationship with that person, a sense of affection for them, but you also know that you are not a relative, you have only known them for a relatively short space of time and know that you must keep a calm and professional demeanour whilst supporting them. You know you have not got the right to grieve for that person in the same way a family member of loved one does. Yet you still grieve, but in a different way. For me personally, end of life care has impacted upon me, my beliefs, and my values in a huge way.
Holding someone’s hand as they slip away, someone who is not your family member of even friend, but someone that you respect and have a relationship with, will fill you with a stream of emotions that are very difficult to describe.
The feeling that you have made someone’s last days comfortable and dignified as possible and then have the privilege of being with them at the end is truly peaceful and spiritual experience. This does not mean that as a carer you do not feel an overwhelming sadness at the loss of the person, or for any family and friends left behind, but just that you know that you have performed your duty and you feel honoured to have done so.
Meeting and getting to know such a wealth of incredible people over the years has certainly shaped the person that I am today. I believe that many of the values and beliefs I now have not only come from my upbringing but also from the impact of my experiences and relationships I have had throughout my career in care. I am not sure that ANY other career would give you that kind of impact personally, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually and socially. I firmly believe that is why care gives you the immense satisfaction and sense of achievement that it does and why there would be no other career I would choose to be in.