I always struggle between admiration, envy and horror when I hear 15-year-old kids in Grade 10 telling me that they have chosen ‘x’ or ‘y’ as their career path. After all, how can anyone that young be expected to know what they want to do for the rest of their lives? I still cringe when I recall how I blundered into my own profession. Having been accepted into forestry (which I entered mostly because I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life but ‘loved nature’ in a vague sort of way), I ended up in education instead. I didn’t make this choice with any noble intentions: it was only because many of my closest friends had gone into education and – if I may be perfectly honest – I was terrified of venturing out into the world alone. I grabbed onto their shirttails and held on for dear life.
It would take many years but eventually, I did find my own little niche. It didn’t involve teaching in a classroom – I have come to think of those kinds of educators as the gods and goddesses of the education system – and let’s face it, not all of us measure up to that kind of lofty standard. Instead, for most of my career, I worked in adult education, industriously occupied in the background where I have always liked to be, quietly making my mark by training teachers and parents, writing creative grant proposals that would ensure ‘one more year’ of funding and promoting the importance of adult and family literacy.
Since I retired, I have not missed the office politics but I have missed that feeling of being valued, needed and respected. We all tend to define ourselves by ‘what we do’ to make a living and I haven’t really had a lot to say about myself since I left my career behind.
Not that I haven’t had things to do, mind you: as my Mom and my stepfather declined drastically over the past few years, my sister and I have found ourselves playing the role of caregivers (my sister, who lives in the same town as Mom, has carried the lion’s share of this responsibility). This has included everything from emptying their home and distributing their belongings; to managing their finances; to taking them to doctors’ appointments; to calming them down when they’re afraid. Thankfully, my sister and I compliment one another very well: she’s best in a crisis (and by ‘crisis’, I mean that blood is flying); whereas I am best in the situations which involve much waiting and what my sister would define as insufferable tedium.
This past winter, Mom and I happened to be chatting in her room when a caregiver came to stand in Mom’s door to ask if I had gotten the notice about ‘Mom and Charlie having Covid’. I stared at her in some confusion. No, I had not gotten the call. There was indeed an outbreak in the building but since everyone – including designated family caregivers – was vaccinated, we had been allowed to come and go provided we follow the proper protocols.
Long visits with an invalid being my specialty, my sister and I agreed that I would come and take care of Mom until she was better. Every day thereafter, I stopped at Mom’s door to carefully don not just a mask, but gloves, a face shield, and a long, plastic (very hot) gown. The first time I did this, I hadn’t been wearing all that awful PPE for more than five minutes when I added doctors, nurses and every other caregiver in between to my Personal List of Gods and Goddesses (well, they were kind of already on that list but I gave them all a gold star for good measure).
Mom was lucky. She didn’t feel too sick – just really under the weather – and somehow, I didn’t get Covid either, nor did I bring it home to my sister or my brother-in-law. But the caregivers were (as they have tended to be for two and a half years now) stretched thin. I was very glad that my being there meant we didn’t have to call on them too much.
Now here’s the sweet part of the story: at some point, Mom, whose dementia is still very moderate, looked at me in absolute admiration and awe as she declared, “I don’t know how you managed to get them to hire you to take care of me this week, Patti, but I couldn’t have asked for a better nurse!” She kept telling me how professional I looked; how much I had been cut out to be a nurse. To this day, she still believes that I was hired to be her personal nurse that week.
Honestly, it kind of went to my head.
If I could go back to age 20, I likely would become a geriatric caregiver. I have learned that it’s a job I would love, even if the patient weren’t my mother, and despite the inevitable downsides of being a nurse, like say, losing a patient. It hurts my heart to say that my stepfather didn’t survive that week: eight days after he and Mom were diagnosed, Covid quietly took him in the middle of the night.
Losing him was a rough go on all of us. But I guess any good nurse would tell me that losing a patient goes with the territory…
Patti Moore Wilson/© wednesdayschildca.wordpress.com