In a previous blog, ‘The Tea Lady’, I mentioned that I progressed from working for a nursing home to working in the district nursing service. I was a home health aide, not to be confused with home help aide as we were not there to clean but to focus on the human only. We were to make sure they showered, ate, tended to any minor health issues or just provided company. What I mean by providing company is that some of the elderly lived isolated and alone and part of our jobs was to make sure someone kept track of them. One lovely gentleman was 93 years old, healthy and very capable but would not get out of his bed once his wife had died. His only child lived overseas and most of those he once knew had passed away. I would spend 90 minutes with him to coax him out of bed and walk together in the garden on the days I was rostered on. At first, he resented the intrusion but, eventually, we both enjoyed that time together as I listened to him tell me of his interesting past, which included two world wars and the Great Depression. During these hard times his lifelong occupation as a gardener helped to feed his family while others weren’t so fortunate.
I was once sent to a home just to translate Italian. Every morning before we went about our round of appointments to various elderly clients we started our shift at our local main base to see what duties the day required. On one particular morning the head of the whole district service appeared, which was unusual as I’d only seen her once before when I graduated from the home health course. She disappeared into an office with two other district nurses. Not long after I was called in to join them. One of the district nurses was attending a household that contained an elderly mother and daughter who were Italian. The elderly mother didn’t speak any English and was recovering from some open wounds that occurred from slipping in the bath. The district nurse attended every second day to clean and freshly dress her wounds. It seemed that this elderly woman had fresh bruises on her body every time that district nurse attended. The daughter explained that her mother was clumsy and often fell. The district nurse’s time was ending soon with this particular elderly woman as her wounds from the bath fall were healing and no more would be required as the daughter was the mother’s otherwise full-time carer.
What they wanted from me was to pretend that I was in training and to accompany the district nurse on her next visit (which was that very day) with the head of district nursing also in attendance to see if the elderly Italian mother collaborated the daughter’s account of her injuries. We arrived at an opulent house where the daughter welcomed us warmly and offered us a coffee. She delighted in the company seeing that one of us spoke her native language, even though she spoke fluent English. While we sat drinking our coffee I asked the daughter in Italian how things were at home and how she was coping caring for her elderly mother. The woman responded to me in Italian. “Every night I pray that my mother is dead by the morning and every morning that damn woman is still alive”. I responded in Italian that there were services available to help her cope with caring for her mother. She refused that option because she didn’t want others to know she wasn’t coping. She felt it would be an embarrassment to her if others knew how much she wasn’t coping. Needless to say, I informed my other two colleagues of the conversation once the daughter was out of earshot. They both thanked me for a job well done. Nothing to thank me for, really. Fortunately, the daughter was very willing when it came to expressing to a stranger how she really felt. I learned later that both mother and daughter got the help they needed.
Mavis was a very forgetful elderly lady who suffered from the onset of dementia. Her main problem was that she’d forget to eat. So, at least once a day a home health aide would arrive after meals-on-wheels had been delivered to oversee her eating. One time, when it was my turn to see Mavis, she refused to let me enter her premises sternly telling me to go away. I returned to my car as I couldn’t force her to let me enter her establishment. I decided to try and see if she had food at least and returned to knock on her door again to see if she’d let me know that meals-on-wheels had been delivered. “Thank goodness it’s you, dear, that other one was just here. I can’t stand her”. No offence was taken for that was how forgetful our Mavis was.
We home health aides were the nurse's aides for the district nursing services. I loved that job but unfortunately only lasted 18 months. I was 23 years old at the time and that was when my Crohn’s disease first hit full-bore and so I was unable to function. I grieved for that job as I was to grieve for other jobs lost due to Crohn’s disease in the years to come.