Monday, August 4, 2014

Random Notes of a Caregiver in an Alzheimer's Unit


          When she was still alive, my mother when asked by her friends what I did in the U.S., always told them that I was a caregiver. Now I can truly say that she was correct. For the last 2 months, I’ve working as a care provider to residents with dementia and Alzheimer's disease.
          One of my first encounters with a resident: he woke up in the morning and upon seeing my Asian features, asked me in a confrontational tone where I was from, and I told him I was from Long Beach. In a much softer tone he said “so you're a local”. He mentioned that has been in two wars. I asked him if it was WW2 and Korean and he said I was right. I’m guessing that because he perceived me as a local and knew about those wars, we made a connection with that brief conversation.
          The difference between a geropsych unit and Alzheimer's unit is that in an Alzheimer's unit, you get to learn the needs and care of the residents (whether easy or difficult) because it is long term care and they live there until their families move them out or until they die. In a psych unit, you may only get to know the patient briefly before they get discharged, but the advantage is if it is a difficult patient, you only take care of them until they're stable enough to return to the long term care facility they came from or back home. After a couple of weeks on the job, I started to question what the heck I've gotten myself into. But, it seems like I'm starting to get used to it.
          Some of the challenges I have encountered especially on the P.M. shift is trying to give showers and convincing some residents to change into a nightgown to get ready for bed. A lot of them have reservations about being cared for by a male caregiver. Good experiences involve communicating with them like that one time when a group of 3 saw me folding napkins in the dining room. One of them (a former teacher) said I did it so well. I told them I learned it by watching short movies on the internet and proceeded to try to explain the internet to them. They were astonished that there was such a thing.
          Before I injured my finger, I was assigned to the advanced care area several nights a week and a female resident complained about having a male caregiver though the other 6 didn't mind. The thing about dementia is that a few seconds later, the resident might not recognize you anymore and it’s like they are meeting a new person all the time. After a couple weeks of seeing me working there regularly, the resident who complained became more friendly.
          A fringe benefit of working at this community are the hugs and kisses one sometimes gets from some of the residents. A disadvantage as I mentioned before is being a male caregiver, because a lot of residents have reservations about a man touching them. Apparently, that goes for private caregiving agencies too since I haven’t gotten any calls from them.
          I always thank my assigned residents for helping me help them. Examples of how they help me: when they transfer from chair to bed or toilet and vice versa, when they bear weight on their legs, when they lift their hips up or turn to their left or right sides when I'm changing their diapers. I also always apologize for having to do what I have to do to take care of them.
          Things that make me feel bad about this job: the frailty and helplessness of some if not most of the residents specially in the back area. And a major concern is the potential of hurting a resident by accident (skin tears, dislocation, etc.) while caring for them.
          In this business, as I presume in a lot of others, a lot of food is wasted - thrown away even when they are not spoiled. Lots of plastic bags are also being used for trash that end up in a landfill somewhere where it doesn't degrade. But then, that’s the secret why the place doesn’t smell like a nursing home. Dirty diapers are bagged right away and lots of baby wipes are used to clean up the residents. So far, I haven’t seen any dumpster divers scavenging for food otherwise they would have had their fill and still have a doggie bag to take home. That is if they can separate the food from the human waste.
          A care manager's job actually consists of 4 positions: nursing assistant, housekeeper, server/dishwasher, and medication nurse - all of which are done by 4 different departments/people in a hospital setting. It's like being a Jack (or Jill) of all trades and you have to master each one of them. Cumulatively, even with just minimum wage calculation (considering that a degree is not required), the pay should be $36 an hour. Instead, it's only over 1/4 of that.
          In the short 2 months that I've been working there, 4 residents died. In contrast, while working for 33 years in psych units, I've witnessed 5 deaths, 4 of which I administered CPR and 1 who was DNR (do not resuscitate).

          It pisses me off that the finger injury happened (as seen in the above photo). Who would have ever thought that the tip of a finger can alter every other movement you have in your daily activities? It's like everything gets unbalanced and uncoordinated. Not only that, I’m getting a physical exam this coming week and I hope that hospital will still hire me despite the injury. The splint doesn’t come off till September 1st.

Public comments below, private comments: E-mail Me!

2 comments:

Holly Murs said...

Hi Noel. I admire the dedication you have to your job. I hope your finger gets better soon and that the hospital will still hire you.

I also love how you wrote your experiences here. Yes, they’re random but they’re very true as well. It provides people a picture of what happens in a long-term care facility based from someone who’s actually there, so we featured this in our Weekly Digest. You can read it here http://www.ltcoptions.com/weekly-digest-changing-insurance-needs-silver-tsunami-elderly-dating/. Thanks and I wish you all the best.

Noel DLP said...

Thank you very much for your nice words Holly. And yes, the hospital still hired me :)

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