After attending an excellent training course and going out for a couple of days with an experienced carer, I was keen to get started as a Domiciliary Care Worker. I was called by the office to collect my company mobile that tells me where I should be at whatever time, and also serves as a tracking device so that the office knows where I am. The woman who is my line manager switched it on and was about to show me through the app but the battery immediately ran out. “Take it home, charge it up and have a play with it,” she said. Having been told I must not charge the phone in clients’ houses, I asked if a car charger was available. “I’ll put one in the post tonight,” she said, and whilst I wanted to say “Please go and get one now, whilst I’m here. It will save the postage and packing, and we’ll both know I’ve got it,” I thought she must have her reasons and simply said, “Okay, thanks.”
Suddenly it all took off; I got home and had a call to say there were some visits that same evening if I could please take them – and so it went on. I had told them I was flexible about availability but was nervous about starting something so new and we agreed I would be eased in gently with just a few visits at first. I believed this was best for the clients as well as for me. As it turned out, I was plunged in at the deep end over a weekend, starting early and finishing late and being sent to addresses that were difficult to find even with a SatNav. Houses in villages often have names rather than numbers. I was running late and going into the homes of people I had never met before and trying to befriend them whilst also locating and reading the Care Plan so that I had some clue as to why I was there – as well as plugging my phone into a spare socket to charge it enough to tell me where to go next. One night I arrived, apologising, expecting to be told off for being late, only to be made to sit and wait until a TV programme had finished. This was the last visit of the evening, so it was okay. I settled in a comfy armchair and told myself it could only get easier. Next time I would know where to find the addresses and I would know the people a bit better and understand what was expected of me.
Half an hour is not enough time to meet a frail old lady for the first time; read her Care Plan (to learn that she has anything from dementia to a colostomy bag) get her out of bed, washed, cream applied to her legs, dressed, bed made, commode emptied and cleaned, stair-lift downstairs, meds and breakfast given and forms to fill in to say that I have done so. Some require a cocktail of medications to be administered. Never have I had so much responsibility, and never such low pay. It takes me at least an hour to get myself ready in the morning. There is no time to chat – you are in and out as quickly as possible; especially when the next call is a ‘double-up’ with another carer because a hoist is required.
Fresh from the training course, there was one visit where what I saw left me particularly worried. Following procedure, I phoned and told the office, and then again the next day after re-visiting and still being worried. On my next visit to this place I found my new friend in distress and awaiting transport to hospital. I phoned the office and asked them to reallocate my evening visits as I was staying here as long as necessary so that this person was not left alone. I told them this was nothing to with the Company and their half-hour visit because I had QUIT and I was staying here with this person BECAUSE I CARE! Whilst that might sound like I was being assertive, it was more of an incoherent blubbering. I was overwhelmed, you see. The days had started early and ended late. My phone would not hold its charge, so any gaps that were long enough to pop home were spent charging the phone and looking at Google maps to see where I was going next. I couldn’t sleep because I couldn’t switch off from worrying about the folks I had just left (this one in particular), whilst still being anxious about the ones I was to attend in a just a few hours time. I couldn’t eat either, at first. The monkey in my mind would present the memory of the choicest smells and sights of the day in the space between my mouth and the food – but I think I have overcome that barrier now 🙂
They talked me into staying. “It’s because you care that you are exactly the sort of person we need – blah, blah, blah.” They agreed I could take the next day off to reflect and they would call me to renegotiate my hours. Taking a step back I was able to look at my schedule and realise that a twelve hour day only amounted to six hours paid work – an hour’s pay in this job being about as much as I’d get for going for a pee and making the coffee in my last job. Some of the visits are only fifteen minutes; most are half an hour, and some are forty-five minutes. Where the allocated time is clearly too short, they give you more travel time before the next visit – so you work voluntarily to make sure you have done the essentials in the time allowed before the next call. Mileage is paid, but not travel time. I really wish I did not have to think about the money. I have bonded already with some lovely people, and I wish that my connection with them was nothing to do with paying the monthly bills. I think many of the carers are youngsters still living with parents or young mums doing a few hours around child care or else women my age earning a bit of holiday money. I really couldn’t see it paying a mortgage, and I’ve yet to work out whether or not this will make ends meet.
Taking a step back and laying down some rules regarding my available hours, I have realised I can be assertive if needs be. I do have a home life and still want to be able to cook for my fellas sometimes and walk the dog in the evening. I had a call from my manager’s manager – another bossy woman – who tried various strategies and tones of voice to reel me back in on her terms, but by now I had realised they were desperate for carers so I stood my ground and told her what hours I was prepared to work. She agreed and promised to send me a car charger for the phone, and a spare battery. Still, I am getting texts to my personal mobile asking if I can help out by doing some outstanding calls, and I guess the women in the office trying to get the calls covered must be equally as stressed as the carers. The company appears to have taken on more clients than it can care for.
Taking another step back, and after sleeping well last night, I have also realised how much I am enjoying care work. I am looking forward to revisiting my new friends – now that I know how and where to find them. Of course, I have started at the best time of year and trying to do the rounds in winter weather might be a different matter – but I must try to stay in the moment.
Still haven’t received battery or charger for the phone, so I suppose I’ll have to buy them off ebay.