Thursday, 2 June 2011

Diary of a carer who cares

Ok, so I was going to keep this to craft only stuff, and keep my personal issues private. It's taken me six whole weeks to change my mind, and that is because of the BBC Panorama investigation into the care of adults with learning difficulties. That's what I do for a living, so it's a bit "there but for the grace..."

I'll start by telling you a bit about me. I have worked with people with additional needs for nearly six years now and hold a nationally recognised qualification. I love my work, but I get extremely frustrated by the lack of social and financial respect it's given. Millionaires and politicians may have flash cars and posh foreign holidays, but one day soon enough some poor mug like me will be wiping their bums and helping them dress for barely above minimum wage.

6:30am my alarm goes off and I hit snooze for 5 more minutes. Then I get up and force myself to eat breakfast because my anti-depressants don't work unless taken with food. I surf the net and drink coffee before leaving at 7:30 for the ten minute walk to work.

8am my shift officially starts, although I'm usually about ten minutes early so that I can hand over with the night shift. I make a coffee and chat to the night carer, making sure my dudes (A who has physical, communication and learning difficulties and is in a wheelchair and B who has memory and communication problems) have slept well, and if they're up and dressed yet. Normally, they've chosen to get up and dressed and have breakfast, sometimes they like a lie in. I administer the medication (for which I have received extra training) then sign to say I've done so and assist A to the bathroom, encourage him to do his physio exercises and make him a cup of tea. B's cd has finished so I suggest a few until I work out which one he wants to listen to. I take a slurp of my tepid coffee.

By 9am, I've usually done the compulsory jobs - cleaned the bathrooms (4 - two ensuite and 2 used by staff and visitors), dusted the lads' rooms, recorded the fridge and freezer temperatures (don't forget, this is also a professional kitchen), and checked that the money is all correct (I am my dudes' accountant). If I get time I'll run the hoover round too. Today, I had also assisted A to the bathroom again and helped him change his clothes where they got a bit damp. I down the last of my now-cold coffee then chat to A about what he'd like to do today. I've noticed that he hasn't been out for a day or two so I ask him if he'd like to, suggest a couple of things and we decide on a plan.

By this time, the boss has arrived (technically non-contact but I have an amazing manager) so I make us both a coffee. There are two chances of either cup being drunk hot - slim and fat - but we chat about what A would like to do, plan what "big" trips we're able to offer and that would appeal to them both. Then I head out with A knowing that B will be well looked after until I get back.

A is in a wheelchair and we are supporting him to make healthy meal choices as he is putting on weight which is affecting what little independent mobility he has. As we're out, I'm pushing him and his wheelchair, a combined estimated weight of probably 19 or 20 stone. In total, I reckon we walk a couple of miles, and we try to get out every time I work, even just down the shop for a treat.

4pm we get back to the house and I assist A to the bathroom. B also needs the bathroom so I support him, returning to check on A when I can. I sign in the money, make the boss a coffee (the first one is still on the desk half drunk and stone cold), record what money I've spent and on what, put a load of clothes out to wash and hang out the previous lot. I wash my hands, support B to choose a new cd as the previous one has finished (he's in a musical mood today, sometimes he asks for a film and will probably choose that later), wash my hands again and put on an apron so I can cook dinner. Two courses - main with plenty of veg and pudding. I try and make sure this has some fruit in somewhere, but that's not always possible with what the dudes have chosen to eat.

I serve dinner as close to 5pm as I can. I don't like to risk institutionalising my guys, but a mealtime structure is important so they know what's happening when. Neither is particularly fussed about clocks so our days are divided by breakfast, lunch, dinner, sleep. A doesn't want his pudding so I cover it and put it away for later. He might fancy it for supper. I slurp my nearly-cold coffee as I go. I'm thirsty and haven't got time for a fresh one. Luckily today A wanted to go out for lunch, otherwise I'd have grabbed a couple of rice cakes or a bowl of cereal from whatever I've got stashed in a cupboard in between serving lunch to the lads.

I wash everything up, dry it and put it away and sanitise the kitchen, by which time it's half past 6. I make a coffee (which I finally get to drink hot!) and sit down with the recording. I need to record what each person has eaten, whether they've had their bowels open (so we know their digestion is working properly), whether they've been able to do everything they've asked, whether they've enjoyed the activities they've been offered, what their mood has been, and any behaviours that are unusual.

I finish work at 8pm. By this time, my feet, shoulders and back are aching. I'm so tired I want to cry, and have been since about 3pm. On top of this job, I support a family with two autistic children (direct payment work earns me nearly £2 more per hour) and I do youth work one evening a week.

Tomorrow, I'll rinse and repeat. Now tell me the governement pays too much for the care of our elderly and vulnerable.

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