By Judith Kelly
Being a caregiver was the most rewarding part of my life. If any of you out there are passionate about giving and want to dedicate your life to helping others, caregiving is the job for you.
The following is the story of how my career started.
It was 1997 and I was just about to graduate high school in my small suburban town of 3000 people. I knew almost everyone who lived there, albeit not by their first name but definitely by face. Everyone was friendly and got along with each other. The local economy consisted of many stores and service oriented businesses. Like any other regular town we had a few cleaners, pizza shops, mechanics and hardware stores. We even had a big manufacturing plant which hired about a third of the locals. However, in my senior year in high school, none of that really interested me. I didn’t necessarily want to become a lawyer or a doctor, but I knew I wanted to do something to make a difference. I wanted to do something that while making a living, I would also be accomplishing. That is when I thought of becoming a caregiver. While the idea wasn’t something entirely new to me, what I was about to get myself into was totally uncharted territory.
There was a childless widow we knew who lived by herself a few blocks away from our home. Every once in a while, she would ask me or my mom to do some small things for her, things like driving her to a doctor appointment, carrying her shopping bags in or getting stuff down from her attic. As time went on, though, she became more and more dependent on others and was almost completely home-bound. That’s when I decided that maybe I could volunteer to be her caregiver and let her live her last years in peace and tranquility. I approached her and tentatively told her my idea, and I was happily surprised when she quickly jumped at the idea. I moved in a few days later, all prepared for my new journey of being a caregiver.
I had always appreciated that caregiving isn’t a simple task, but I only realized then just how tough the job really is. It’s not a part time job; it’s a full time job that demands full attention. Soon after I moved into my new patient’s home, she lost the ability to walk on her own, so she sold her walker and starting using a manual wheelchair which, thankfully, she was able to push herself. As time went on, however, she lost even that ability and had to get a motorized scooter.
As her caregiver, I was always looking for ways to give her back her independence. One way I was able to do this was by finding daily living aids for her to help her get her shoes and socks on without my help, as well as close her buttons and zippers. I searched the web and found so many amazing things designed for men and women like her, and was able to utilize many of these products to help her feel independent and capable.
For me, the hardest part was when my patient become incontinent. I had to change her adult diapers numerous times a day as well as the disposable bed pads I placed under her to protect the bedding and furniture. When we went for her doctor’s appointment, I was told (among other things) to apply different barrier creams to keep her skin safe from the bodily fluids. It was all extremely exhausting, difficult and very time consuming. There were times that I felt like I couldn’t, wouldn’t, change another diaper. It was emotionally draining and physically straining… but somehow, I still loved my job. Most days, I had the patience, had the love, had the strength to pull her through another day – and the smiles and laughter I received in return for my efforts were enough of a Thank You for me.
Looking back, it was an amazing learning opportunity. Although my caregiving career began when I was simply an eager teen looking for an inspiring vocation, I learned that there are unsung heroes out there who go mostly unnoticed and unrecognized; the caregivers who are truly devoted to their loved ones day and night. People who do things that most of us won’t do. People who give their love, expecting nothing in return. People who perhaps aren’t quite people, but rather angels!
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