Having just quit both our jobs as care assistants, Emily James and I recapped on the highs and sticky lows of the last year and a half. Although I personally find it rewarding (Emily disagrees vehemently) it cannot be described as an easy job and there have been many moments of panic and complete despair, some of which we are not yet ready to talk about….

RW: Do you know what I find really odd about care assisting? It’s that sometimes I feel over paid, in that I spend a shift watching someone sleep eating biscuits, and other shifts I’m horrendously underpaid…

EJ: Yeah like that time I was nearly knifed…

RW: You were not nearly knifed!

EJ: I was! This old lady with dementia was getting really upset at the neighbours’ children and was screeching at them through the window. So I closed the window to stop her upsetting them, but she was yelling at me to open it. When I turned round she was pointing a knife at me!

RW: It was a butter knife…

EJ: STILL A KNIFE!

RW: It was from the washing up. It could have been a spoon!

EJ: I managed to prize it from her fingers….I’m practically a hero.

RW: Do you remember those shifts in the hospital? We weren’t paid nearly enough for that.

EJ: Yeah! With that demanding woman we WEREN’T paid to look after?

RW: Ha! Yes! She asked me to help her into her shoes (before I knew she was confused). So I managed to cram her feet into these shoes that were clearly too small – hey, I thought, if she came in them they’re obviously okay. Little did I know she had just taken someone else’s and was now hobbling around in them. That’s some good care assisting right there!

EJ: Ah, I think she had a thing for other people’s clothes. I saw her struggling with this jacket that was half on her arm, and she asked me to help her. I’m not a terrible person, so I did. Mistakeo to makeo. I’m reaching round her, pulling her sleeves on, getting her in and it’s funny because these sleeves look very familiar; I have a jacket just like that. It’s only when she’s in the jacket that I start looking for mine and in that time she struggled into bed and lay there- there was no moving her. Only when another hospital care assistant came and started trying to move her (she was fighting against him) did I say “ I know this isn’t a good time, but she’s wearing my jacket and I’d like it back..!” “It’s my jacket!” the old woman said. The care assistant looked conflicted, until “Well it’s my jacket now!”

RW: Well I think we agree that it’s easily done….

EJ: Yeah made me feel a bit useless though, and that other care assistant rolled his eyes at me.

RW: Don’t worry about it; I looked a right idiot a few weeks ago. At first everything was going swimmingly. I was in a retirement home and moving people away from the dinner table. A care leader approached me, “can you shave Jo for me please?” and pointed to a slightly beardy lady sat over the far side of the room.  Being the confident and able care assistant that I am, I assured her it would be no problem.  I wheeled Jo to her room, set up the warm water, had a chat, and proceeded to shave her. Everything was still going swimmingly. I wheeled Jo back out. The care assistant approaches me, “Where did you take Doreen?”  I answered “er, I was taking Jo for a shave..er..like you asked?” By this point I was starting to doubt that everything was going swimmingly.

“That’s not Joe” the care leader said, “that’s Joe” pointing to a considerably more beardy man. I looked at the care leader, then to Joe (who was laughing) and then to the freshly shaven Doreen.

Well, she could have said something.

EJ: She should have said something. Can’t believe she let you shave her – If you’d try to shave me I’d find that a bit odd.

RW: I know, right! That’s the same retirement home that I had that strange amputee moment.   I was on my break and chatting to these two men who happen to be in wheelchairs and this other man sat opposite in a chair. The conversation went thusly:

Wheelchair Man 1: What happened to your arm?

Me: what happened to your legs?

WM1: Gangrene…

Me: ouch – I was born without it. What about you? (turning to wheelchair Man 2)

Wheelchair Man 2: Lost mine to meningitis.

*Then we all turn and stare at the only fully formed person in the room*

After a number of awkward moments he splutters “I know how lucky I am!”

EJ: Bet it gets really old, telling people about your arm over and over again. You have to tell everyone you meet once anyway, but with the elderly confused types you could be doing that all day.

RW: Ah doesn’t bother me really. Most annoying thing is when the elderly assume I’m unable to help them. That’s only true with things like hoists and stuff, but it tends to be my crippling fear of dropping someone that holds me back rather than my arm (or lack thereof)…what’s your biggest fear in regards to care assisting?

EJ: My first thought is someone dying; I can’t even imagine how awkward the conversation is with On Call…. “Yeah, they’re dead…what?…no I’m sure…er…sorry….”  And I can’t help but think as a care assistant attempting to keep someone alive, that would be a bit of a fail.  My second biggest fear is running out of gloves *shudders*. It’s amazing how resourceful you get without gloves….wet wipes ahoy!

RW: A niggling fear is how I might actually turn into an old boot….you see care assistants who have done it for years and they just look so worn down…so distant.

EJ: I really don’t like how I’ve come to understand dementia logic; all the plastic gloves are in the washing machine because where else are you going to put gloves? And the purse is full of biscuits because she wants to keep them safe….and then sit on them.

RW: The thing that I think is the most difficult about working with people with dementia is the repetition; I had a shift where this one person read me this Macmillan Cancer Support leaflet (no one had cancer) over and over for 6 hours…I did manage to kidnap the leaflet and replace it with a takeaway menu. I much prefer to hear about pizza.

EJ: I love pizza.

And that was the end of our interview/ conversation as we proceeded to talk about our favourite pizza toppings….Although care assisting can often be a huge effort, I think part of its charm is how different people are, and so no two shifts are the same.  Emily wants me to inform you that she hates care assisting and isn’t sure she even likes people. Probably a good thing she quit then.