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What I’ve Learned as a Care Assistant

  • All names used in this article are fictional to protect identities

When starting to write this I thought about what the easiest way to describe my job is. By title I am a Care Assistant, but, as with so many things, titles and labels don’t really cut the mustard. A day-in-the-life approach might be better so that’s where I will start.

My alarm goes off at 6:30, I scramble around my room in the dark, eat, brush my teeth, and run for the bus. I arrive at work typically around 7:30. We have a quick handover meeting during which the night nurse tells us how all of the residents are doing, if there are any changes in their moods or behaviours, if anyone is in hospital and other developments. What happens next is when it starts to get tricky.

Imagine: you’ve spent your whole life in a routine, be that getting up early or late, having a shower first thing or just getting dressed. For breakfast you like to eat a full cooked breakfast every day, or just have a slice of toast with a cup of tea. Then imagine you wake up every morning with this routine in mind, but you’re not entirely sure where you are. You don’t remember falling asleep in this room last night and a person in a uniform comes in, a person you might never have seen before or don’t remember seeing before. They ask you if you slept well and if you’d like to get dressed and have breakfast. You think some breakfast sounds good so you suggest you’ll get yourself dressed and find your own way. But this person in a uniform won’t leave your room. They try to help you out of bed to stand up and get dressed (which, by the way is something you remember doing perfectly fine by yourself yesterday). You shout for help; you might try to hit or kick them to defend yourself.

Now imagine being that staff member. It’s always tricky trying to explain to someone that they might need a hand to pull their trousers up and put their shoes on. Don’t even get me started on trying to persuade someone that they need to go to the toilet, or have a shower and how they might need a hand with that too. Actually, sometimes this is easier than others, once a female colleague and I persuaded Ronnie (95) that if he got in the bath we’d get in too. He wasn’t best pleased with us when we didn’t.
After tackling breakfast time, and once all of the residents are washed and dressed, things calm down again. The rest of the day follows like your day does: staff accompany residents to the bathroom if they need assistance, we sit and play games and talk with them and help everyone at mealtimes. Towards the end of the day, we help those that like to go to bed early and make sure everyone else is clean and comfortable. Dolly’s 9-5 doesn’t quite cut it, try 8-8 for a start.

As a student, I typically work once a week. I started at my care home in December 2019, so come March 2020 I knew my role inside out. Initially I didn’t think much of picking up extra shifts at the start of what was back then, the three-week lockdown. Everyone knows how quickly things changed that month. I had to move out of my flat because my other flatmates went home; they weren’t essential workers. My boyfriend, four of our other friends and I, all moved in together for what we thought would be a temporary fix. We ended up living together for three months. It took a while to hit me that me leaving to work two, three, or even four days a week wasn’t normal, whilst they could go for days without leaving the flat.

I guess what I want to express is how grateful I am for my job. The caring relationship definitely works both ways; I look after them, they definitely look after me too. Especially, at a time when everyone quickly had to learn to be patient, I already had months of experience of being patient. At a time when everyone else would speak to 1-5 different people a day, I could spend my day with 30 other people, talking with staff and residents about the incredible lives they’d lived. At a time when people couldn’t see their family or loved ones, I became a part of a new family. It felt so bittersweet enjoying the time I spent with Mabel, learning how she’d spent forty years of her life travelling the world with her husband before he had passed away.

Or sitting with Paul and Joan, a couple who live in rooms opposite one another and have been married for 63 years, waiting to meet their second great grandchild. It’s bittersweet because it should have been their own family spending that time with them, not me. During the winter lockdown (October-onwards) sadly some of our residents passed away, including Ronnie and his wife Margaret. Although it feels so unfair that their families didn’t get to spend the time they should have had together in their last months, I’m comforted by the fact that they had care staff like me with them every day, acting as family.

Whilst working in care isn’t a glamorous job, and though I came home and sobbed to my boyfriend and flatmates more times than could be called cute, I have learned the importance of family and relationships, so far beyond what I already valued. I’ve learned how to be patient, how to respect people, to understand boundaries. I’ve learned there isn’t the perfect way to help someone who doesn’t want to be helped. Everyone has learned things during this pandemic, and an important one for me is that people have learned how important care staff and nurses are. I don’t say that to toot my own horn, but on behalf of my colleagues who work three or more 12 hour shifts a week and go home to look after their own families. I’m so proud to stand alongside them.

Image: Vecteezy.com