I bounced through a lot of jobs during college. I waitressed for a couple years but finally decided I couldn’t spend another summer reeking of old seafood and explaining the difference between sea scallops and bay scallops. I scoured the want ads hoping to find a new job and stumbled upon an ad for caregivers. I called the number on the ad, left a message, and promptly forgot about it. The search continued.
A week later, I received a call from the owner of the caregiving organization. She asked some basic questions about my age, my background, and what hours I could work. Before I knew it, I had a job with no background check or qualifications. She set up a meeting at my first assignment, a 98-year-old woman with mild dementia who was living in her home of nearly eighty years. I showed up at the house, filled out some paperwork for taxes, and was left with my client.
Caregiving is a strange job. I went into a client’s home and from there, I might be responsible for anything. For one terminally ill client, all he wanted me to do was sit and watch horror movies with him. He had been a makeup artist for the films and spent hours explaining the techniques he used on various monsters and villains. Another client had severe Alzheimer’s and my entire shift would be spent answering where her long-dead husband had gone.
The fact was, as a 20-year-old college student I was severely under qualified for what I was being asked to do. I knew nothing about medications or lifting techniques or the proper way to change on adult diaper. I cheated my way through most situations. The people I was taking care of either required such minimal care there was nothing to worry about or so much care they weren’t in their right mind to realize whether I was qualified or not.
I drew the line at a very ill woman who, in addition to requiring oxygen, needed dozens of medications a day. She wasn’t able to remember what to take or when and wanted me to figure it out. I had known this woman less than a day and the pile of medications thrown in a shoebox next to her bed held a confusing mix of instructions I spent hours trying to get through. I finally called my supervisor and explained to her I didn’t feel comfortable administering these medications. I was told that was tough and I needed to figure it out. I refused to take care of the client again but kept the job. The money was good, the hours flexible, and I was desperate.
Although I worked solo, I met other caregivers during shift changes and the sad fact was, many were much less qualified than me. The wage coupled with the hours attracted a host of caregivers I wouldn’t trust with my dog, the type of people who were completely unreliable and downright negligent. I returned to one of my favorite clients only to discover she had a severe urinary tract infection that none of the other caregivers had caught. Not only did the room smell disgusting but the client spent most of the day sleeping. When she was awake, she hardly made sense. I called her son and then an ambulance within two hours of being there. I asked one of the caregivers who had been working earlier in the week why no one had noticed how sick the client was. The other caregiver told me she just assumed the client was dying since it was nearly her time anyway.
Caregiving was a job I enjoyed but was equally repelled by. There are caregiving organizations that require certification or at the very least a background check but a shockingly high number of caregiving outfits require nothing more than a W-4 and a drivers license.