(Unicorn Beam from Cranky Pants)
Cranky Pants has some pretty serious health issues these days, which is why she’s so cranky. You can watch videos about her ongoing battle with Rheumatoid Arthritis, at her blog (click this link). But at one time, when she was trying to be off disability, she worked as a caretaker for the chronically ill. This included patients with dementia, and patients who were terminally ill.
I imagine that’s one hell of a difficult job.
I feel grateful there are people like Cranky Pants, who are willing to do this kind of tough, dirty, and emotionally-draining work. Here are a few war stories–unicorns she recently beamed over to me–from her days as a caretaker:
My Favourite Client
This is pretty rough, yet it’s about my favourite client ever.
He was a young 67 and quite far gone with dementia. He should not have been at home anymore, but his wife couldn’t let him go. He was locked in his room at night to keep him and her safe.
When I’d come in the morning I’d have to unlock that door. Well imagine an entire room and my naked client smeared in feces, and my client peeing in the heating vent. That was the start of my every morning with him. I think I went every day.
Then I’d have to watch his demeanor, to gauge whether he was going to be the kind, gentle, confused man, or the violent one. It could switch in an instant. I’d have to walk him down a narrow hallway to the small bathroom. I’m stopping here because walking him down that hallway was dangerous. I had to make sure I was never behind him or backed up where I couldn’t get out, lest he switched to violent.
Then I’d have to get him in the shower. That was also dangerous for him and I. I would just hope that he stayed confused but compliant. I had to scrub the night’s worth of smeared shit off of him, then get him out, dress him, shave him, brush his teeth, all while hoping he didn’t turn on me or hurt himself.
I’d then have to get him fed and settled, if possible, so I could clean up his room and do the dishes.
His wife was the sweetest lady ever, and my heart broke for her. She still believed he knew who she was. He had no clue.
So the one day I went through the whole routine until we got to the kitchen for him to eat. I wasn’t standing close to him but I saw him switch into the violent person. He at this point only had a shirt on, and nothing from the waist down. He was not cooperating to get him completely dressed.
He ripped the glasses off his face and crushed them in his hand. At this point, he’s a danger to himself. His wife had come out of her bedroom to see if she could “calm” him. I got on the phone with my work and let them know what was happening. While I was on the phone he was escalating and started to throw chairs. Then he came up to me and ripped the phone right out of the wall.
I had my cell phone so I called work back and told them what he had done. They said to take his wife, get out of the house, and call 911. His wife fought me a bit, thinking she could get through to him. I said, “No, we need to get out now.” She made me promise that if I was calling the police, to ask them not to have the sirens on. At this point anything to get her out of the house and let me call for help.
So the police came, and by the time they got there he was back to his gentle, sweet, confused self. Go figure. The calls I made were following work protocol.
There was a time before this situation where I had my client all ready and settled in the living room. His wife came out to be with him, and he switched again. He grabbed her arm and started twisting it hard. I thought he was going to snap it. I was on him trying to fight him off her. Somehow I managed to get him off her. Thankfully her arm wasn’t snapped, but it was close.
After that incident with the police, my boss and staff came and had a sit-down with his wife and let her know that he cannot be at home anymore. She was really struggling with that, but he was both a danger to himself, anyone coming in to care for him, and her.
That was my very first care aid client, on my own. I don’t know why I loved it. Maybe the excitement of it. I really liked his wife. And I still think of them often, to this day. I wonder if he’s still alive, and how she’s doing without him, whether he is or not.
I think my favourite clients were the dementia patients and the terminally ill patients. I have training to work with the terminally ill as well.
The hard part of that job is that it traumatizes you, but you don’t really know it until years down the road. I developed a fear of growing old, from seeing all the suffering many of my clients went through. And with my own health even back then not being the greatest, I wondered what it would be like for me in old age.
The Sexually Frustrated Husband
Then there was another client who was terminal and had come home to die. Her husband was always hitting on me, even in front of her. One day he was doing that, and then said to his wife, right in front of me, that he doesn’t get sex from her anymore. I was so ticked off, I turned to him and said she’s come home to die.
She said, “Yes, I’m dying.”
Shortly after that, she said she needed to use the washroom, so I helped her. Then, as she was leaving the washroom, she started getting weak and dizzy. Her room was right around the corner. I kid you not, she didn’t make it fully on the bed, and she died right then and there. Her body let go, so I had to clean her up a bit, and we may have had to get her properly lying on the bed, not face down.
Her husband kept asking me if she was gone, and I felt that was not my job to be able to call it.
I called my boss, as was the policy, and she came over. The neighbour had come over too, by then. I don’t remember, but I assume the husband called the neighbour. He just kept asking, “Is she gone?” over and over. The neighbour told him she was. He needed to hear it from me, as the professional, but I couldn’t do that.
My boss, who was a nurse, told him when she got there.
My boss then told me I should go home and not go to my next client. I told her I was okay and she said, “No, go home.” I’m glad that she did, because when I got home the tears hit hard. She knew I wouldn’t be okay.
I am really good in emergency situations. I can think and do what needs to be done. Later is when it will hit me hard.