George stood to attention, as best he could, arms rigid by his side, and head bowed. The three medals I’d helped to attach to his cardigan seemed to have lost none of their sheen, despite the passing of time.
It was 11am on November 11th and we’d just watched the parade on TV and wreaths being laid at the Cenotaph, in London.
I was happy to share these moments with George. At 95, he still has a sparkle in his eyes which seemed to shine even more intensely earlier when he told about one of the medals he was proudly wearing.
It was the Burma Star and George had been awarded it during his service in World War 2. He told me he had been a member of a special group called the Chindits and how he had spent some tough times in the jungles of Burma.
I marvelled at his memory and would have liked to have heard more. But George seemed reticent to share much of the detail and I was, in any case, aware there were some jobs I had to get on with.
Comfortable in his own home
I’d arrived about 30 minutes earlier and George’s daughter had already been in, as was usual on a Sunday. On weekdays, it would be me who would help him to get dressed, have breakfast, and take his morning medicine.
On this occasion, as well as having the chat with George, I prepared a light lunch for him and tidied up his bedroom and living room. He’d had a fall a few weeks earlier and was not long out of hospital so I was careful to remove anything that might have been hazardous under his feet.
When I said my goodbyes to George that day, he seemed preoccupied with his thoughts and a little sad. But I could also see he was comfortable in the familiar surroundings of his own home.
The desire to be as independent as possible is a common characteristic of the people I help. And, despite perhaps being frail due to age or suffering a progressive medical condition, they want to make the most of whatever life has to offer.
Of course, sometimes that may not very much. For example, I or another care worker may be the only people they see from one day to the next.
That’s why I try to take time to have a chat and find ways to lift their spirits. It’s amazing some of the conversations you can have between emptying commodes, vacuuming, and sorting a delivery of groceries!
And there’s always that very British cure for most woes … a nice cup of tea and a biscuit!
Not everyone is responsive to conversation and an important part of my role is to read signals and develop different ways of communicating.
On the same day I’d been helping George with his medals, I visited a lovely lady called Daisy.
With a smile as bright as the flower of her name, it is easy to forget that Daisy has dementia. Like on this occasion, you only realise when she appears oblivious to anything you say, as she sits in her favourite chair by the window.
Connection with people
But, after a few visits, I discovered something that makes a difference for Daisy.
I noticed she still had an old-fashioned music player and, as much for my own amusement, I’d put on one of her records.
It was lively music from the 50s and, as the sounds filled the room, Daisy sprang to life, dancing on the spot and singing some of the lyrics. She was more lucid that day and proceeded to tell me how she and her late husband were keen ballroom dancers and had won many prizes together over the years.
She also told me they’d been on “Strictly Come Dancing” but I think she was either confused or mischievously pulling my leg!
So, on this day, I again put a record on Daisy’s player and, within minutes, she emerged from her trance-like state and was mostly back with me. Not dancing this time, but able to answer my questions and understand what I told her about the meal I was preparing for her.
Many of the people in my work diary are like George and Daisy and you get to know little things about each individual.
And, while the duties can cover everything from emptying a catheter bag and cleaning a bath to issuing medication and peeling potatoes, it’s the personal connection with people that provides so much satisfaction.
I’m not sure if I was born to be a carer or what I do is the result of the training and support I’ve been given, but I now wouldn’t choose to do anything else.
There will be other people tomorrow, some young and others not so much, but I’ll never forget George’s tales of the jungle or the joy of Daisy’s dancing. These moments make it all worthwhile.