After the rather fast paced training that was delivered in less than 3 days instead of 5, I was slightly worried that I would have no idea what to do.
The lady I was to take over the assignment from had been asked to thoroughly explain me the nitty-gritty details of the job since I am a fresh starter.
The Greek lady was very kind, handed me an A5 sheet and showed me the so-called MARchart. She kindly explained what medications to administer when and how, introduced me to my old-lady and got into the taxi I arrived in. For the first 3 days I was looking for things and asking the most stupid questions that drove my old lady bonkers. I stayed on the assignment for two weeks which was a speedy course in caring for an elderly lady who was mobile, slightly forgetful and only needed attention to her meds, meals and dressing.
Easy-busy you may think. Well, not knowing where to find basic items and looking for everything you daily need all day long can be a daunting task.
I soon realized that the training does not prepare you for the job. Obviously it is not meant to be. It is for ‘health and safety’. No part of the training deals with creating and maintaining a relationship with a person who is 50 years older than you or has severe dementia. The training ‘only’ focuses on the practicalities of the job: how to hoist, use a wheelchair, administer medications and similar. Useful. But how to ‘care’ is simply not included in the table of contents.
I have been contemplating writing about this topic for over a year now that is when I started to work as a carer. My life style is rather sporadic so I needed a work that I can do between jobs that I actually like doing. Not as if caring was not a noble job to have but at times it is daunting and underappreciated. It seems to me that caring is a ‘profession’ that is mostly done but professionals of other trades. Over the past year, I have met teachers, child care workers, engineers, economists, etc. doing care work mostly because they could not find a satisfactory position in their field of interest or they are between jobs, like myself.
I intend to give an account of what it is like for me to work through an agency and the kind of customers I work with.
My first observation upon starting to get involved with this agency which is one of the biggest in the UK was how professionally they deliver some rather badly organized and managed work. By now I understand that this is the case basically with any care-work companies. They are extremely understaffed.
I was surprised to realize how much the company does not care about the people who care for its customers on whom all business depends. The company’s single most important attention is focused on being in alignment with government’s health and safety regulations no matter how impractical they may be.
It is not my intention to complain about the company or the job. I understand how how and why this industry works the way it does. Until it changes the problems described in this article can not be resolved.
Underappreciated – Most people outside of this industry think that carers are basically overpaid cleaners. Some of us are. Most of the live-in carers are rather under-educated people with not much common sense. I often wonder how they still manage to take care of sometimes the neediest of customers. I think the answer is that they can completely ignore themselves.
Recently, my old lady developed a skin rash that was treated by one of the district nurses. We, live in carers, are not allowed to treat wounds and such. One of the nurses kindly explained my old lady that nurses are better educated and more highly qualified than carer that is why carers are not allowed to treat wounds. Though, the information was correct, I could not help feeling put down somehow. I hold a B.A. degree and I am working on my Master at the moment, and I still felt rather patronized and belittled by her comment.
I often feel that live in carers are disdained. Though, it is true, that most live-in carers are not particularly educated, they are also responsible for the well-being of a person 24 hours a day. Huge responsibility!
Carers officially make themselves available to their customers 13 hours a day, from 7am till 10pm with a 2-hour break. They are asked to actually work only 8 hours a day out of the 15 which is impossible since one cannot refuse an old lady/gentleman to get to the toilet because her/his request comes after the 8 working hours are up.
Health and safety fails right here.
Many carers work between 4-6 weeks without a single day off with only 2 hours a day to themselves. Occasionally, there are more than one person to care for that makes it rather hard to relieve one’s duties even for those two hours a day. It is not a glorious job to clean someone’s bum 3 times a day but none of us do it for the glory, anyway. Some appreciation would be great.
Ridiculous – the wages are! We are expected to do a good job without knowing what it is that we are to do. Though, we are given a thorough general training, each customer is unique with individual needs and requests of personalized attention besides the cooking, washing, ironing, cleaning that we are meant to do. All for approximately 4.20 GBP an hour.
What this job gives us, however, apart from a reliable income is the freedom of the freelancer. Though the company registers us as full time workers because of the time we work monthly, we actually work with a rota. You go into an assignment for 4-6 weeks than you can take a few weeks off and do what you like. This job allows one to attend university part-time, save up for a great journey around the globe or pay for a dream venture you have had for a long time but you could never realize it while in a 9-5 job.