Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Caregivers Are Like Windows

I feel like such a grown up lately because I talk about my job a lot, but working is pretty much the extent of my social life right now, so it's on my mind often. My job is great because my co-workers are not just in it for the money, and we're all working together to make life more enjoyable for cognitively disabled (CD) people in the community. As caregivers, our goal is to make life as normal as possible for these individuals. We are the clients window to the world.

The clients live in group homes, which hold two people per home, with at least one caregiver on duty at all times. Most clients wake up at about 7am. They eat breakfast and dress, then are driven over to the Resource room at the office where they meet for the day program. Some clients will drink coffee or smoke when they arrive, and others will chat or just sit there. Every day the company has a planned activity, like going to the movies (today we saw Kung Fu Panda 2), bowling, going on a picnic, a scavenger hunt, etc. Almost all clients also have to walk for 30 minutes a day to maintain their health, so we may go to trails, parks, Wal-Mart or the mall to do this. In the evening, they return home to eat dinner, watch TV, and chill until bed time, and the routine begins again.

Sometimes I wonder if they get really bored doing the same type of thing every day, but most of them really like routine. They get stressed and anxious if plans change suddenly, so it is best to plan ahead, and inform them of any changes at least a few days in advance.

Helping these people can be unpleasant at times, especially when they lash out at me in anger. My second day working, a girl cussed me out, punched me, and hit me in the face with her hat. I learned to keep my distance from her, but I also learned that clients don't just get angry because they're mean and ungrateful. Often times they are upset about something, but they can't express to me what it is that is bothering them, and then the anger just escalates from there. I can't imagine not being able to express myself. Many of them understand a lot more than they can express, so it is also the job of the caregiver to learn how they communicate, and to listen carefully.

The thing that's great about this job as opposed to food service, where I have worked before, is that the job we do here is more permanent. Even if they do get angry sometimes, I don't get as frustrated because I know that my job is about more than just one incident.  Whereas in the food industry, people will flip a bitch if there are tomatoes on their sandwich when they asked for none, or if they have to wait too long to be served, when honestly, it won't even matter in the long run. Caregiving is about helping people with life skills. It's about today, next month, and twenty years from now. The impact we make affects every part of their life, not just what they eat. So even when work gets unpleasant, it is good to know that the clients need us and we're doing more than just filling impatient people's stomachs.

We are the clients window to the world. We are an example of what it means to be "normal". That is a hard term to use, but it is something CD clients long for. The ones I work with are 20+ years old, so they have had their share of high school mockery and bullying. They know that they are not like everyone else and they want to be. Caregivers allow them to experience the community in a safe way. Then through the day program and peer interaction, they are able to create their own community. They are no longer just individuals who feel weird and isolated, but they hang out with people like themselves. Then they have caregivers to help them experience the broader community.

This job teaches me to view disabled people as more than just this other type of human being that we are here to assist. They are pleasant, smart, funny, and kind people. The more I get to know some individuals, the more I grow to like them. We are different, but then again, all humans are different from each other. It is important to find our areas of commonality and I'm constantly realizing I have a lot in common with many clients. My job has been a learning experience, even just these first three weeks, and I'm blessed that God gave me this job and not any other.

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