Thanked

When I was hired to be a caregiver for elderly people, the boss told me it would not be TOO different from my experiences caregiving for children (mother, daycare worker). In my experience with the job so far, it is VERY VERY DIFFERENT. For one thing, I get THANKED.

The first time it happened, I thought it was a fluke. Like, “Oh, this particular elderly person is extremely conscientious about politeness, and how kind of her to unnecessarily thank me!” But it has happened now with two additional clients—and that’s out of four clients total, and the fourth one is not in a state of being able to thank.

Also, sometimes there are family members around, and THEY will thank. Sometimes it’s casual, as part of a departure: “Okay, thanks, bye!” Even if we don’t count those, there are other times it is more intense: “Thank you. Thank you for everything you’re doing for us.” “We really appreciate this. Thank you.”

 

Those of you who said this job could be a good stretching experience even if it didn’t pan out career-wise: that has been a very comforting thought. When it is time to figure out dinner and I am realizing as I open a Surprise Refrigerator how much I rely on my own recipes and familiar staples and the knowledge of my own pantry supplies and cupboard contents, I think to myself, “This would be an excellent assignment if I were taking a class on being more flexible and thinking on my feet. In fact, this would make a good game show.” And I am already getting better at it: instead of pure rising panic, I think, “Okay! *clap clap* Let’s see what we can do!”

I am also learning to think things such as “If this one meal is not great, or not what she likes to eat, or not cooked the way she likes it, or not seasoned the way she’d prefer, or not nutritionally ideal—it will nevertheless be okay, and it will be balanced by all the other meals that are cooked by all the other caregivers.”

I am also carrying my Better Homes & Gardens cookbook in my work bag. I’ve had this cookbook since I was in college, and it is like a security blanket. It’s the kind of cookbook that will even tell you how to boil an egg, or how to bake a potato. It’s surprising how many cooking things I’ve never done: I’ve never baked a sweet potato, I’ve never taken rib meat off the bones, I’ve never made corned beef hash, I’ve never cooked a chicken thigh, I’ve never worked with liverwurst, I’ve never worked with horseradish, I’ve never made franks-and-beans. It’s not that I can barely boil water or whatever: I can cook. It’s just that there is a large circle of foods and food processes I’m familiar with, and there is also a large circle of foods and food processes I’m NOT familiar with. Another cook in my kitchen might be saying she’d never made baked macaroni and cheese, never made shredded crockpot chicken, never worked with sriracha sauce, never used ground turkey, never made couscous, never made cinnamon rolls, never made granola, never used a rice steamer, etc.

Summer Activity with Kids: Creative/Academic

The kids and I are doing a new summer activity this year, and I really like it and so do the kids, so I thought I would mention it in case it’s a good fit at your house as well.

I don’t remember exactly how it came about, but I think it started when Rob and I were talking about how there were things we WANTED to do but somehow it was hard to make ourselves do them—and yet if we were SUPPOSED to do them, we’d enjoy it. …This needs an example. So, like, let’s say you would really like to practice sketching/drawing. But every time you think of it, you’re kind of like “Mehhhhhhhh, but then I’d have to stop playing Candy Crush.” But you think that in the LONG run you’d rather you did the drawing. And you think that if you HAD to do it, like if you were back in school and they made you, you’d enjoy it.

Or let’s say you keep thinking you’d kind of like to freshen up your high school French, because you enjoyed that class back when you took it. But you just never seem to get around to actually logging onto the computer to find one of those language sites. Maybe your library has even subscribed to a language program so you could take a cool online course for free, but….well. I mean. Somehow you don’t do it. And yet if you were suddenly back in high school, you’d be looking forward to French class.

Or maybe you feel as if you ought to have read A Brief History of Time, but it drifts right down to the bottom of the book pile underneath all the lighter fiction books. You kind of wish a teacher was MAKING you read it.

So, that’s what Rob and I were talking about, and it was during the first week of summer vacation so I ALREADY had on my list to do some Enriching Activities: like, let’s not just sit around playing Minecraft all summer. (…again.) And so that’s how we came up with the idea.

Here is what we do. Each day, we spend two 30-minute periods all working quietly, plus we have two short (approximately 5-minute-long) talking/reporting times. For the first 30 minute chunk, each person chooses if they want to work on something “academic” or “creative.” You can see how sometimes a category might be difficult to assign (or the same activity might fit into both categories, depending on how you’re doing it), but here are some of our examples so far:

ACADEMIC:
• learning/practicing a language (we’re using DuoLingo.com)
• doing multiplication facts flashcards or Brain Quest Q&As
• doing online quizzes (FreeRice.com)
• playing an educational game
• watching YouTube CNA/LNA-skill videos
• watching videos on art history or biology or brain chemistry or history or whatever (KhanAcademy.com or YouTube.com)
• reading an educational book such as The Selfish Gene or A Cartoon History of the Universe
• reading about a subject on Wikipedia
• writing a computer program

CREATIVE:
• writing a poem
• writing a story
• drawing a picture
• doing a craft project
• doodling
• coloring in coloring books
• writing a blog post
• writing a computer program
• working through Lynda Barry’s drawing/writing book Syllabus
• doing perler beads
• making a stop-motion animation

The goal is to work QUIETLY. If two people want to work together on something (flashcards, for example, or perler beads), they must go as far away as possible from everyone else, ideally behind a closed door, and they must still keep their voices low.

When the timer rings, we gather together in the living room, and we go around the circle: each person says first if they chose to work on academic or creative, and then briefly reports on what they chose to do. If they want to, they can show the picture they drew, or tell an interesting fact they learned about woolly mammoths. It takes about five minutes to go around the whole circle.

We take another few minutes for going to the bathroom, getting a drink of water, walking around. Then we launch into the second 30-minute chunk, and each person does the OTHER thing: if they did creative for the first 30 minutes they do academic for the second 30 minutes, and vice versa. Then we gather in the living room to report on THAT.

It’s been QUITE satisfying. Henry (age 8) has the hardest time thinking of what he wants to do; everyone else (age 10 and up) seems to find it relatively easy—and it gets easier as we do it longer, because we get ideas from each other (“OH! I could use perler beads!”) and because we’re starting to notice ideas and file them away for the next session. If more of my kids were the younger age, I might do 15-minute chunks of time, and I might make Idea Lists, or have ideas written on pieces of paper that could be chosen out of a jar, or maybe we would all work on the SAME thing together.

While it’s NICE to work on one thing for the entire 30 minutes, we don’t make that a requirement at all: if for your creative time you want to draw a picture and then write a poem, that’s just fine; if for your academic time you want to watch one video on clouds and another on art history and another on Bach, that’s just fine too.

Or if you start reading The Selfish Gene and then discover you are only 8 years old, you can put it down and pick up a book on Mongol Warriors instead.

McDonald’s 60-Second Breakfast Sandwich and Why I Hate This Idea

Elizabeth has an irritating camp-drop-off thing every day this week. So, to keep morale up, I’ve twice this week gone through the McDonald’s drive-through after dropping her off. This is how I know that they’re doing a new thing, which is that if your breakfast sandwich isn’t ready within 60 seconds after you pay, you get a coupon for a free one next time. They give you a little timer to hold and everything.

There are so many things wrong with this idea.

1. Now, instead of being cheerful and efficient and a joy to deal with, the employees are frazzled and tense.

2. The image of them HURRYING with my Sausage McMuffin is not a positive one. DO NOT UNDERCOOK IT. DO NOT UNDERTOAST IT.

3. And besides, I know perfectly well that they will NOT hurry with it: instead they will be forced to make huge piles of them ahead of time.

4. The first time I went through the drive-through, my timer DID RUN OUT. And the employee at the window took the timer from me without glancing at it and tossed it into a bin and closed the window. No coupon. I didn’t even CARE about the coupon until she didn’t give it to me.

5. I thought maybe she just didn’t notice; also, that she was probably in a huge hurry to get to the next customer in time. But today I went through again, and not only did the timer run out, they had to have me pull over to the side for several minutes. The employee took the timer from me, apologized for the delay; no coupon. Do I have to…TELL THEM about their own promotion? Surely the act of taking the timer back from me is enough cueing.

6. Also, the Sausage McMuffin was tepid. So why was there a delay in the first place? I’d thought at least the delay would mean a nice fresh one. I guess this doesn’t really count as a sixth thing wrong with the idea.

6. Customer expectations are now raised. Before, I don’t know if we minded waiting a minute and a half in a drive-through line. Now, our attention has been drawn to it, and we feel discontented. When the promotion is over, we will still be feeling discontented.

 

Anyway, I hate the whole thing. I recently read part of an article that said that McDonald’s is in serious financial trouble. I don’t want them to go out of business: I would seriously miss the Sausage McMuffins, and the McNuggets with the hot mustard sauce they discontinued and then brought back. But I can REALLY SEE why they’re in trouble: they keep making really silly decisions.

For example, that hot mustard sauce I just mentioned. Perhaps this was a single customer service rep, but when I emailed them to cast my vote for undoing that decision, and said that without that sauce I would no longer take the kids to McDonald’s (that sauce is the only thing that makes me willing to eat lunch there), she shruggily responded that most of their customers preferred different sauces, and she hoped to serve me again soon. Meanwhile, the internet was filled with laments about the sauce.

Tip for a business that would like to stay in business: if you are not going to listen to customer feedback, you should still PRETEND to. It’s free! Here’s how easy it would be: “Thank you for your letter about the hot mustard sauce. Customer feedback is extremely important to our decisions, and I will forward your letter immediately to the appropriate department for their review. At McDonald’s, we want to make sure we keep current and fresh with new and exciting flavor options, but we also want to make sure we don’t get rid of customer favorites.” There. That took me less than the time I had to wait for a Sausage McMuffin. Use it as a form letter, and then continue to toss customer feedback in the trash: same action, same cost to the company, but different feeling for the customer.

Another decision they made recently was to charge the same amount for water as for soda. I am all for it when a business wants to charge a small fee to cover the cup, the ice, the straw, whatever—like, 10 cents or 25 cents for a cup of ice water would be okay. But THE SAME PRICE AS FOR SODA is wrong.

Another was to take the fries off the value menu. It meant I stopped buying fries.

They’ve taught me not to bother giving them feedback on these things. Instead we mostly go to Wendy’s.

Kid Party Report

You know how those of us who are not so computery might try to solve every problem by restarting the computer, and on one hand the computery people might roll their eyes but on the other hand this OFTEN WORKS? Another one I’ve recently learned is clearing the cache. I don’t know WHY it sometimes works, but it sometimes does. I couldn’t add pictures to posts, and the link button wouldn’t work, and I kept trying to find out why, but I didn’t even know what to ASK, let alone what the answers meant (“Just insert this code between…”). But I saw a couple of people mentioning they started by clearing the cache, so I thought, “Well, I don’t see what good THAT could do, but I might as well try it”—and it fixed the problem. So! Make a note: to solve most computer problems, first try restarting, then trying clearing the cache.

In other happy news, I am now 80% done with all the 10-year-old birthday parties I will have to throw! Both parties went well, and I am ready to submit my report.

Edward’s party was first. The original plan was to take friends to an arcade, but it ended up being one friend (three other invited friends couldn’t come, or else didn’t RSVP and didn’t come). At first I had my feelings hurt on Edward’s behalf, but it turned out that just one friend was the PERFECT way to do it: they spent a lot of time together, or playing on separate machines near each other, and Paul (Paul is the one who took them to the arcade) said he thought Edward would have been overwhelmed if a bunch of friends were there. And the friend he chose was a super nice kid, AND then later we found out they’ll be in class together next year, so that was even happier.

Because the arcade is about half an hour away and the guest was from our town, we had his parents drop him at our house. We had the cake and presents at our house first, and then Paul drove the kids to the arcade and then back again; then the parents could come back and pick up the guest here. This was inspired by all the times I’ve driven a child to a party half an hour away, and then there isn’t enough time to be worth going home so I have two hours to kill in East Nowhere. I don’t resent it (it’s not like there’s a good way around it if the party place JUST IS half an hour away), but it’s so pleasant to be able to avoid it when possible.

The party itself was a big success: the two boys came up with a cooperative game-playing method that got them SO MANY TICKETS. Edward had been meh on the idea of goody bags so we didn’t do them, and I was extra glad we didn’t because both boys were able to buy SO MUCH STUFF with their tickets. You know how it’s typical to play arcade games all day and end up with 74 tickets, and then you go to the ticket counter and a Tootsie Roll is 10 tickets and the dumbest sunglasses ever are 100 tickets? Edward and his friend had, like, 6000 tickets between them and got GREAT stuff, like a flashing sword, and a lava lamp, and huge inflatable dice, and candy, and really it was a triumph all around. And THEN, there was another party group nearby that had some no-shows so they had extra goody bags, and they offered them to Edward and his friend, so that was even happier.

 

Elizabeth’s party was FAR more stressful for me, since it was an at-home outdoor party. She had a theme in mind, but it was such an unusual one I don’t even want to say it, because it’s the kind of thing where someone might genuinely accidentally find it with an online search. As a stand-in, I will say it was a woolly mammoth party. So for games, she wanted to play Pin the Tusk on the Woolly Mammoth (she drew a big woolly mammoth on a sheet of posterboard, which we tacked to the fence), and Sabertooth Sabertooth Woolly Mammoth (i.e., duck duck goose); and she wanted to have a table set up with a bunch of craft supplies so people could make woolly mammoths out of felt and/or paper and/or pompoms. We went to a craft store and pretty much bought anything brown (fur) or white (tusks, ice, snow) or blue (general coldness/ice/water). The craft supplies were one of the larger parts of our party budget.

We looked in a couple of party stores, but you will not be surprised to hear none of them had anything woolly-mammoth themed. Instead we continued to go with colors. At Target we bought paper plates and napkins and tablecloths and balloons in shades of blue (I’d thought brown and white would be more woolly-mammothy, but Elizabeth disagreed). On the day of the party, we went out and bought two dozen helium balloons in brown and white and blue—but if I were doing it again, I’d skip those. First of all, they popped, just one after another, throughout the party. Secondly, they actually didn’t look better than the non-helium ones, which I’d tied to tree branches from short strings, so that they dangled down over the party. (This worked GREAT, I thought. I highly recommend, if you have low-hanging branches like we do. It gave a sort of fairy feel to the party area of the yard.)

Seven girls came to the party. She had invited thirteen girls. As of a week before the party, we’d had five RSVPs: four yes and one no. In the days before the party, we got two more yes responses; we also assumed one yes response because the child told Elizabeth she was coming and mentioned that she’d bought the present. It is very difficult to SHOP for a party when you don’t know how many people are coming. Should we buy ONE 8-pack of party hats, or TWO? ONE 10-pack of goody-bag bags, or TWO? TWO 4-packs of sparkly rings, or THREE? It was exasperating. Really, RSVP. “RSVP” doesn’t mean “Tell me if you ARE coming,” it means, literally, “Respond [to this invitation], please.” If I ever throw another party, I’m going to write “Please let us know if you’re coming or not by [date].” What we did this time was wait until the last minute to shop, which felt frantic and unpleasant, and then I worried all the way up to the start of the party that we wouldn’t have enough goody bags. My kids were scoffing and saying, “Hey, if they didn’t RSVP, they don’t get a goody bag!,” but I didn’t agree AT ALL: it isn’t the KID’S fault the parent didn’t RSVP, and I didn’t want to punish the kid OR make it awkward for the kid. But no one unexpected came.

The party itself went fine. None of the other parents stayed or seemed tempted to; I had them put contact information on a pad of paper before they left. The craft table was popular and took up probably the entire first half-hour; I should have let it go longer, but was starting to feel as if we needed to move on to the next thing. Then they played the two games. Then someone suggested playing Murder Detective, where you sit in a circle with one person in the middle, and one person is the murderer and winks at other players who then play dead, and the person in the middle has to figure out who the murderer is. Anyway, they called it Woolly Mammoth Detective and that took up a little more time.

While they were doing that, I set up the food table. We had cupcakes, cookies, cheese puffs, potato chips, candy, and little bottles of water. The mother of the girl with a food allergy contacted me ahead of time and said she’d bring food for her to eat. The girls ate almost nothing: I was prepared for them to raze the table to the ground like a flock of locusts, but the table looked almost the same after they went through as it did before. I left it all out in case anyone wanted to come back to it later, and there were a few times when someone took a potato chip or a cookie, but we ate leftover party food for the next week or so. (The suffering! The suffering!)

Then Elizabeth opened presents, and I used the idea of having the gift-giving child sit next to the gift-opening child, and that was a great idea and I will do that for every party for the rest of my life. GREAT photos, and we DID end up having to use them a couple of times to remember who gave her what.

At that point, we had about 20 minutes to kill. So I let them suck the helium out of the balloons that hadn’t yet popped. I also let them take turns popping all the balloons I’d tied to trees, which doubled as me getting some clean-up done ahead of time. Then parents started arriving and we handed out the goody bags (cheap crap or not cheap crap, the goody bags were Elizabeth’s number-one priority so we did them) and it was over. We cleaned up, and then I had a large drink and then got into a long shower.

Better/Worse Clients and Caregivers

I feel like I’m getting some footing with my job. Not like, stable feet on a stable surface by any means, but if you imagine me before, hanging from the edge of a cliff by my fingers, feet dangling and flailing, and then one foot finds a small ledge that allows THAT foot to take some of the weight off my fingers, so that even though I can’t climb up, I’m not on the verge of falling to my death either, you will have a pretty good idea of my relief. I’m not confident enough to go out and buy more scrubs yet, but I’m also no longer thinking, “I’ll just finish this shift and then I never have to go back.”

After experiencing several more clients and seeing how it went with them versus how it went with the one I’m struggling with, one possibility is that I should not work anymore with the one I’m struggling with. I’m reluctant to give up, and even more reluctant to tell my employer I can’t handle something—but it’s beginning to remind me of when a nurse/tech can’t get the vein and the rule is that he/she MUST call another nurse/tech after X (one? two?) attempts. It stops being about “Me trying to overcome obstacles and SUCCEED!” and starts being much more about not treating the client as a classroom mannequin for my own improvement.

…When I say it that way, it sounds like I’m breaking up with someone “because they deserve better”; i.e., like self-serving bull. And certainly there would be an element of relief in giving up / ducking out: it WOULD serve the self. But the other aspect is also one to consider seriously, as it is with blood draws. I was on my way home from a shift with the client I’m having trouble with, clutching the steering wheel and trying not to cry, thinking, “I’ll just keep trying! I’ll get it someday!,” and my brain said back to me, “Not so sure this is entirely about Your Journey, cupcake.” Like when someone keeps dating someone they don’t really want to be in a relationship with, just because there’s no one better at the moment or because breaking up would be unpleasant.

Another interesting aspect is that good caregiver/client matches are not a straight line of caregivers Best to Worst, and a straight line of clients from Most Desirable to Least Desirable. The clients have hugely varying preferences in STYLE of caregiver: some like the matter-of-fact brusque ones, and some like the sweet lovey ones, and some prefer chatty caregivers and some prefer quiet ones, and a-lid-for-every-pot and so forth. SOME caregivers would be objectively worse than the rest, but MOST of the caregivers seem to fall into a similar range of quality, but with different styles/strengths.

And it’s the same with “better”/”worse” clients. Some caregivers prefer Alzheimer’s/dementia clients, while others prefer the clients who are all-there mentally but have physical limitations; and some caregivers like to be super busy the whole shift, while others prefer the shifts where you sit and read; and some caregivers prefer the companionship role, while others prefer the physical-care role. SOME clients would be objectively worse than the rest, but MOST of the clients seem to fall into a similar range of quality, but with different styles/issues. So while it feels bad or princessy to bail on a “difficult” client, another caregiver would find this client easy and preferable—and the client they’d want to bail on would be the one who wants to sit and chat for hours about her grandchildren, and I’d snap that one up like a Triscuit. It’s self-serving AND client-serving, is my hope, is what I’m saying.

Oh Dear, I Am Afraid This is About Work-Fretting Again, But at Least it Has a More Positive Tone This Time

I can’t tell you how helpful the comments were on my third-day-of-work post. The fact that they ranged from “OMG, QUIT AND RUN AND NEVER LOOK BACK!” to “It is WAY too early to tell, and you should stick with it, and in fact all these things seem like GOOD signs” seems like it would be confusing, but it was both stabilizing and freeing in a way it’s difficult to put a finger on.

I think part of it is that when I encounter a situation where people have a lot of different takes on it, and especially when a lot of those takes are “I THINK such-and-such, but I’m not sure either,” it makes it clearer there’s no One Right Obvious Answer I can keep looking for. I think that must be one of my big fears: that there is a Clearly Right Way, and I’m missing it. If I say, “WHAT SHOULD I DO??” and there’s no consensus, it means that what’s not obvious to me isn’t obvious to us as a group, either. It makes me feel okay about not knowing, which is stabilizing.

It also feels massively supportive, which is freeing. That is, I felt like I could stick with it, I could quit right this second, I could give it a few more shifts and then quit, I could decide not to make any decisions yet—and all of those decisions had significant back-up. I know from popular culture that I’m supposed to feel confident in my OWN decision without caring what other people think, but I’ve never been like that. I’m not sure I even admire people who ARE like that. And in any case, that concept only works for people who DO have a strong, confident opinion about something. Wafflers can’t stride ahead confidently.

Anyway. The upshot is that each comment made me feel better in its own way, and snippets from them go through my mind whenever panic starts rising. I was going to give a little string of example snippets here, but every single comment I was looking at had at LEAST one snippet, and often SEVERAL snippets, so suffice it to say there are abundant comforting snippets. My decision for now is to not decide yet. “Give it some more time,” I say to myself. “Think of the scrubs.”

In the meantime, while waiting to decide, I played my own psychologist. “What would HELP?,” I asked myself, “And is that something you can HAVE?” What kept springing to my mind is that MORE CO-WORKER TRAINING would help. I wanted to follow someone on the same shift I would be doing, and see everything they did, and ask questions. This felt very embarrassing to ask for, but it had gotten to the point where I was thinking, “I will finish this shift, and then I will quit and never have to go back,” and when things get to that point it seems as if some risk is worth taking if there’s ANY hope that the job is salvageable.

I composed an email to my supervisor, then came back to it a few hours later and changed it around, then read it again the next morning and sent the final version. And she answered back saying absolutely, and I got to spend a whole shift following around a co-worker, and she told me a million things I didn’t know, and I asked her a million questions, and I took notes in my little notebook, and I watched her doing the job and absorbed some of her casual and comfortable attitude, and in general I ended up feeling a lot happier and hopefuller. ALSO, and this is another reason I think this training should have happened ANYWAY, the CLIENT ended up feeling a lot happier with ME: letting them see me WITH someone familiar really helped to break the ice.

My other answer to the “What do you WANT?” question was that I wanted some videos or illustrated instructions or something that would show/tell me how to transfer people (i.e., help move them from chair to walker, or from walker to bed), something I could watch/read again and again until I felt more comfortable. If I follow a co-worker, I can only see the maneuver once: obviously we can’t put Mrs. X in and out of her bed again and again until I get the hang of it. I want to STUDY.

So I emailed the staff nurse and asked her if she knew of any resources. And not only did she say she’d send me some links the next day when she was in her office, she also said that if she’d had any idea I’d be working with Mrs. X, she would have recommended more training for me, because Mrs. X is one of our more difficult clients. This gave me two huge wallops of relief. ONE, that I was thinking I’d been put with this client because she was one of the EASIER clients, so I was thinking there was no way I could hack the job if this was the easy setting—but it’s NOT! it’s the HARD setting! TWO, that I’m not silly to have asked for more training, and in fact if I want to I can imagine the nurse feeling considerable relief that I asked, since I SHOULD have had more training and that had slipped through the cracks. And third bonus wallop of relief: just the way she said “if she’d had any idea”—as if it were a little outrageous that I’d been put with this client. It was balm for my panicked soul.

Third Day of a New Job

When I took this new job, saying to myself, “I can always just quit,” I thought of that as mere anxiety-suppressing reassurance: I did not ACTUALLY think it would be such a failure I’d want to quit. I thought I was just helping myself over the hurdle.

I’ve NEVER quit a job in the first week or even the first month. I’m always anxious and upset at first: that’s normal. But I don’t make panicked plans to quit. On yesterday’s 5-hour shift, on my third day of work, I spent quite a bit of it mentally composing what I’d say to the employer. “It’s just not a good fit.” “I’d thought it would be great, but actually it’s not working out at all. I’m sorry.” “I hate it. It turns out it is every single thing I hate about everything.” “Please, don’t pay me for hours worked so far: you’ve had to go to considerable trouble and expense to background-check, hire, and train me, and I would feel awful if you also had to PAY me for this failed experiment.”

I’m not quitting yet. But. This job is so different from what I had in mind. Here are the ways:

1. I’d thought, “I will be keeping people from having to go to nursing homes when all they need is a little help with a few minor things and going to a nursing home would be ridiculous just for that!” I didn’t realize I’d end up thinking in some cases, “Wait. WHY not a nursing home? Because that makes WAAAAYYYY more sense here.”

2. In my fantasy, I was an expert at this. In real life, I am not. I am barely trained. My training was nine hours of educational paperwork that made me want to go to a fall-out shelter with 50 gallons of bleach, and four hours of following someone on their shift. That’s it. That’s all. That’s how trained I am. Hi! I can take care of your elderly loved one! I’m used to the CO-WORKER mode of training, where at first I spend all my shifts working with another co-worker who tells me everything and corrects everything I do wrong and shows me all the best ways to do things and is there for all my questions. I’m not used to this thing where I just…start working.

3. In my fantasy, I was comfortable with everything, an angel of efficiency and competence. In real life, I am not. I am IN SOMEONE ELSE’S HOUSE. I don’t know how ANYTHING works there; I don’t know where anything IS there. I don’t know where the sink-disposal switch is. I don’t know where the trash goes. I don’t know how they like a BLT made. I have never made tapioca before. It is everything I hate: trying to do the right thing when I don’t know what the right thing is and can’t figure it out and in some cases can’t even ask (and in other cases feel like I’m driving people crazy with too many questions); I have to guess. It’s my own personal nightmare. PASS THE TEST! YOU HAVE NOT BEEN TO THE CLASS.

4. Worst of all, if someone doesn’t want my help, or doesn’t like the way I do things, I take it personally. EVEN THOUGH I KNOW FULL-WELL I’M NOT SUPPOSED TO. If an elderly man doesn’t like the dinner I give him, and later rejects my help with the lid of his medication even though his daughter told me to help him, I TAKE IT PERSONALLY. I feel like he’s not rejecting help, he’s rejecting MY help. The caregiver I trained with was totally shruggy: “Whatever. Some days they don’t want help. Put ‘refused’ on the form.” THAT is the way to be.

Well. The only thing keeping me from giving up and quitting right now is the slim hope that even though I haven’t felt this way with previous jobs, this is nevertheless New Job Anxiety, and that soon I WILL feel comfortable and WILL know what I’m doing and WON’T get so upset about things. Well, and that it would be so embarrassing to quit, and that it was SO HARD to make myself go through this process and I don’t want to have it go to waste and/or have to do it again for another job. I’m not sure how long to give it, though.

First Day of a New Job

I had my first real shift at my new job, and today I am feeling very low and sad, which is completely expected. I feel like I bumbled everything, like I radiated idiocy, etc. But that will get better. There is just no way to skip the newbie stage.

One of my major issues was that about 90% of the job is “you just have to know” as opposed to “it’s written on the sheet of duties.” So for example, “make dinner” is on the sheet of duties, but here are the things I don’t know:

1. What they like to eat
2. Whether they like the gravy on the mashed potatoes or on the side
3. Whether I should cut up the food
4. Whether they like a frozen dinner to be microwaved, or put in the oven
5. Whether they want condiments/salt/pepper nearby
6. Whether they use a napkin or a paper towel, and where the napkins are
7. What plate they like to use, and whether it can be breakable
8. What utensils they can handle
9. Whether they eat at the table or in front of the TV
10. Whether they’ll tell me if something is wrong
11. How to work this particular microwave
12. What they like to drink with dinner
13. What cup they like to use, and how full to fill it
14. If they generally eat dessert afterward
15. How much warning they need that something is hot
16. How to know if they’re done eating
17. Whether they’d clear their own dishes or if I’d do it
18. How dishes are done in this household (this is a huge multi-part unknown thing)
19. Whether leftovers are saved and, if so, in what and with what markings?
20. And if leftovers are NOT saved, are they trashed or sink-disposal’d?

It was completely exhausting. I felt like I didn’t even know how to cook. Like I was new not just to the household, but to ADULT LIFE.

And there were many, many other things like this. Such as that the client likes to have a glass of juice poured and left in the fridge before I leave, and that I should close the curtains in the living room, and that I should leave a light on in the stairwell. None of these things are written down: the caregivers just learn to do them, and then they Just Know. (In my case, a member of the family was there and told me.) I think they should be written down, but I can see how that would be difficult to do times two hundred households.

Paul points out that if I’m in this situation, that means EVERY caregiver is in this situation with EVERY new house. That IS somewhat comforting. It’s not that I alone am inexperienced, it’s that the system is set up so that even a caregiver with ten years of experience will come into a new household just as bumbling and dumb as I am. Whether it SHOULD be that way or not is irrelevant: the upshot is that it’s not just me.

Then there are ALSO the things I don’t know because I in particular am inexperienced. Things like, don’t close the toilet lid, and keep fresh gloves in my pocket, and make sure there are no wrinkles in the absorbent pad, and call the office if this or that or this other thing happens. I’m not even smooth yet about when to wear gloves and when not to.

This is what I miss about working with co-workers. In all my previous jobs, I worked WITH CO-WORKERS, which means someone is always right there to ask, or to volunteer a correction, or to show a trick for doing something better or more efficiently. Working on my own, I feel like I have to figure out everything from scratch—and there’s no one to ask. It takes “fake it until you make it” TOO FAR, I think.

What I would LIKE is to be allowed to follow around some other caregivers on their shifts, but I don’t know how to ask my boss for this. It feels as if they’ll think (1) I must be a poor fit for the job, if I need more training than they usually give, and/or (2) I’m trying to get paid for more training, instead of for real work.

SCRUBS!

I am extremely happy: for my new job, it turns out I get to wear scrubs. SCRUBS. Long have I waited for this day. Back in my daycare years, my co-worker was working on her nursing degree and she brought in a scrubs catalog one day, and I remember the envy that suffused me: SHE was going to get to wear SCRUBS. We co-workers pitched in to buy her a set as a graduation present, and it was so fun to CHOOSE: there were so MANY! TONS of fun patterns! TONS of pretty solids! MIX-AND-MATCH FOR MILES.

Scrubs look so MEDICAL. I remember when I got to wear a white coat for my pharmacy job, and people mistook me for a pharmacist. In scrubs, I might have nursing training! I don’t, but I look like I do!

Plus, I was freaking out about what to wear, and now I don’t have to worry anymore! Because I’ll be wearing scrubs!

Better still, I MAY wear complete sets of scrubs, but I may INSTEAD wear my own pants (even jeans!) with a scrubs top. This is great. It’s just GREAT! The perfect thing.

The company gave me two sets of scrubs to start out with, but they’re the leftovers of a failed experiment to have company scrubs, so there wasn’t much choice of color (i.e., none choice). Also, they’re unisex sizing, so the tops fit me so tight in the hips I can barely tug them down, and so loose in the shoulders and waist I look like I’m wearing a deflated balloon. Also, the office manager said apologetically that all of them “ran small” and we should take one size up, but the highest size they had was my actual size. (Not because they are cheeseheads who don’t recognize the full range of body sizes, but because it’s been years since these were ordered, and the higher sizes ran out way before the lower ones.)

BYGONES! This means more shopping. I went out and bought two sets of extremely cute scrubs, and I will be buying more soon. I didn’t want to buy too many all at once, in case I find I prefer one style or type, or in case I find unexpected shortcomings in the ones I bought (“Wait!! These don’t have POCKETS!!”).

Lift with Your Back, I Mean Arms, I Mean Legs

Oh my glob, I cannot believe how much busier I am with this new job, and I am only TRAINING, which means I’m only doing two hours here, one hour there, doctor appointment here, form-filling-out there, reading-employee-manual here, watching video there. Well. I will just trust that I will get used to it, and that New Thing stress is part of what makes it FEEL busy. And the good news is, I now NEVER sit at home in my house thinking, “It is stupid to be bored like this. Anyone else would make good use of this time.”

I do my first real, just-me, not-training shift in a few days, and I am kind of nervous, kind of excited. Sixty-forty, probably. My guess is that as we approach the actual day, the nervousness will take over a larger portion.

Also! Guess what! I have NEVER known what “Lift with your legs, not your back” meant! NEVER. It’s like “Steer into the skid”: it seems to make sense to the person saying it, but it never makes sense to me. I’m NOT lifting “with my back”! I am using my hands and arms! Except apparently I AM lifting with my back, and now I’m going around the house practicing not doing that. It’s surprisingly hard to remember, and surprisingly hard to do. Also, I feel like I’m sticking my butt WAY out, which makes me feel self-conscious.