I've finished my Certificate IV in Ageing Support.
Wow what an experience.
During the class time I met a group of amazing women from all sorts of back grounds and we really bonded over learning about pressure sores, the knowledge that elderly people still do the horizontal tango and how to effectively pull back a fore-skin to wash it.
After we completed our class time and did our First Aide/CPR training it was time to do 120 hours of full time on the job training.
The facility I was placed has levels of care - independent living, dementia/palliative and wing for dementia residents with 'behavioral' issues. I was put in the dementia/palliative wing and I also had days in the 'behavioral' wing. (Behavioral normally means the resident wanders or has issues with aggression)
It was challenging to say the least.
I have to add that during my time there I was completely aware that most of the residents have advanced dementia and so when they would do and say things that are somewhat shocking I never reacted personally. My main focus, at all times, was ensuring the resident was warm, safe and cared for in all ways.
These are some of the challenging situations I encountered.
Poo - I knew there would be poo but nothing could have prepared me for the quantity of poo that can come out of a 95 year old woman who weighs about 30kg. I discovered that I am actually fine with poo and cleaning people covered in poo and sometimes being pooed on. I didn't gag once. I also toileted a person who had done a poo that was the size and shape of a large grapefruit. I was impressed.
Showering - Oh my goodness. This is the area that I really struggled with. Most of the residents cannot walk and a lot cannot follow instruction so undressing someone who is extremely frail and doesn't know to lift their arms or who is very stiff from muscle degeneration is crazy hard.
Add to this the fact that they get FREEZING cold very quickly, you have to shower them with these super super hot heat lamps on. It is like a sauna in there. The sweat was literally POURING off me and into my eyes... but you can't wipe your eyes because you have gloves on. You have to shower every inch of their body and in every crevice while making sure not to hurt them, then make sure they are really dry everywhere and then moisturise them, then redress them.... in a room that is about 50 degrees Celsius.
Verbal - A couple of the little old ladies who would smile at you all day and be so calm suddenly morph into a crazed tiger when it comes time to toilet them. I was called "A dirty girl", "A fucking bitch", "A slut", and told "I'll fucking kill you you whore". This didn't worry me. I was very calm because I know that certain things must be quite traumatic for a person who has dementia. You just have to watch because they try to scratch your eyes, grab your boobs and punch you.
Emotional - I found that I coped better than expected emotionally. There are residents who are quite young with advanced early onset dementia. Like in their 50s and 60s. It's just heart breaking. One of my favourite things that I did was give a lady with early onset dementia a thing called a blue bath. It is like a bed with sides covered in blue rubber. You put the resident in it and wheel them into the shower and wash them as they lying down. The dementia had made her body go into a permanent state of fear and she would be very stiff and when moved would go like a plank and dead weight. In the shower we took our time and massaged her and you could see her body uncoil and relax. I washed her hair and she smiled. I almost broke down crying with love for her. I was so happy that I could give her just 10 minutes of calm.
Physical - I reckon I walked about 20 km a day. My feet, legs, back, arms ... everything just ACHED. You don't realise how much physical effort it takes to move a person who can't help you or is thrashing about.
Co-workers - 98% of the people I worked with were amazing, beautiful caring people who were great. They were patient with me (even when I was overwhelmed and flustered), they explained to me not only how to do things but WHY we do it that way and were really friendly. I only encountered 3 women who I would call tyrants. No patience for students. They were extremely rude. (seriously when a person says Good Morning to you don't just scowl and walk away). They were really abrupt. I complained to the RN and management about them and was placed with new buddies. I'll never understand how people can be like this.
Residents - You aren't supposed to have favourites but I really bonded with 4 residents. 3 have the early signs of Alzheimer's and so you can have a conversation and one lady can't speak but can gesture yes or no.
We all got a teary yesterday when I said good-bye but I promised I would come back to visit soon.
Two of them have no family at all and so have no visitors.
Feeding - I had to feed a few of the residents and I loved doing it. It's a very bonding experience. One lady in palliative LOVED sweets (one of the effects of later stage dementia is sugar cravings). This lady talks incessantly but just a jumble of words and sounds that make no sense. Giving her some custard she swishes it around in her mouth and very animated goes "Mmmm mmmm mmmm mmmm mmmmmmmmmmmm LOVELY". Next spoon full "Mmmmmmmmm mmmmm mmmmmm DELICIOUS". She also loved me humming Andrew Sisters tunes to her.
I learnt a lot about myself over the last 3 weeks.
I am emotionally stronger than what I thought.
I am physically weaker than what I thought.
I have a stronger stomach than I thought I had.
I've learnt to work in Aged Care you need a lot of empathy, compassion and humour.
As much as I LOVED the residents in high care dementia, the physical demands of the job are just too much for me. This old grey mare ain't what she used to be.
I have the rotten fibromyalgia and the heat of those showers kills me.
I have fallen into bed and have seriously had trouble walking because of the pain, swelling and weakness in my legs.
Where to now?
I see myself working in community home care. I have no problem assisting people with showering and dressing and I still feel very passionate about working in the CARE industry.
If I have one word of advice it is is
Seriously, when you get old your skin can become like tissue paper. If you start now it will save you so much pain when you are old. Get cracking with that cream now.