July 1, 2021
An Appreciation of Professional Caregivers
My 85-year-old mother had been up a few times during a night in early June and still wasn’t feeling well in the morning. I called her doctor, who sent a prescription to her pharmacy, and went about my day’s work. But when I checked in that afternoon, mom was in a full-blown medical crisis that she and her 92-year-old male companion did not think was bad enough to tell me about.
I asked her companion to call the EMTs, who immediately dispatched mom to an emergency room a few miles from her Orlando retirement community. These events marked the start of my maiden voyage as my mother’s caregiver from 1,300 miles away in Boston. It was a high-stress affair that challenged all my organizational skills and stamina – an experience I am, no doubt, destined to repeat.
I’ve heard about the stresses of caring for an elderly parent but had only a vague sense of what that would be like. Nearly a week was consumed with keeping tabs on mom’s medical care at the hospital and what she needed, tracking down busy nurses and doctors – in a pandemic! – for updates on her condition (pneumonia) and treatment. Finally, upon mom’s hospital release on a Sunday, I wanted to make sure nothing else would go wrong at home.
The clouds started to lift when I hired three professional caregivers – Rachel, Nadine, and Rosa – to keep an eye on my mother for the first 24 hours at home. I developed a great appreciation for their kindness and efficiency and the unique talents each one brought to the job.
The hiring process wasn’t seamless, however, due to the COVID. My mother and her partner are fully vaccinated. But Florida has a much lower vaccination rate – 62 percent of adults have at least one dose, compared with 81 percent in Massachusetts – and I quickly learned that 35-year-old Rachel, the first caregiver assigned to mom, was among the unvaccinated.
I was about to cancel the contract with the company employing the caregivers when they offered to give Rachel a rapid COVID test. That worked for me. Having made my intentions crystal clear, the company texted me Nadine’s and Rosa’s vaccine cards for the later shifts.
Rachel arrived at 3 p.m., a few hours after mom was back home. Rachel was adept at figuring out how to help my mother, including supporting her while walking Luna, her Chihuahua, and standing nearby while she took a shower.
The next caregiver, Nadine, a Haitian immigrant – she allowed me to practice my French – was a calming presence in the house. She heated up frozen chicken pot pies for mom and her partner – not to mention offering conversation for my socially starved mother. Nadine couldn’t figure out the blood pressure machine, and there wasn’t much for her to do in the evening.
But she did make sure my mother took her medications and ably performed the most important job: being there through the night while my mother slept. Knowing Nadine would contact me if a problem arose allowed me to finally get some sleep too.
Rosa arrived promptly at 7 a.m., and mom, who was still too weak for housekeeping, asked Rosa to wash a load of laundry and clear the moldy and wilting food out of the refrigerator. I told her the one thing I wanted her to do during her 8-hour shift was buy groceries and prepare a warm, filling meal for mom and her partner.
Luckily, Rosa cooks a delicious pan of chicken, beans and rice. My mother was so overcome by the aroma wafting through the house that she ate the chicken for lunch – she couldn’t wait for dinner.
After Rosa left, mom was on her own. But a couple of my Orlando cousins dropped by over the next two days with chicken sandwiches and a pot of lentil soup. By that Friday – five days after leaving the hospital – mom was ready to play bridge. Mission accomplished.
Many caregivers are immigrants, who work for low pay. I’m sure Rachel, Nadine and Rosa got much less than the $25 per hour I paid their employer. That’s a shame, because their pay should better reflect the invaluable work they do.
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