Not many people know this but working in the aged care industry is much like the Vietnam conflict.
Okay, perhaps not, but it leaves you equally as tired and irritable.
I could never have imagined a work environment that was so… so random. Every day I find myself repeating my stunned mantra of “And to think, other people work in the real world. What dull lives they must lead.”
For example, during my formative years of nursing, an elderly lady urinated on my head. Not on the front or side mind you, but on the crown of my head from a height.
The logistics of this are far too complicated to go into here but let it be known that it involved hydraulics and a moment of distraction on my part which lead to me to the wrong place at the wrong time and… well, your imagination can fill in the gaps.
I have been beaten, prodded, molested, screamed at in alien tongues and stripped of all romanticism regarding the human form.
But I have also seen humanity.
Raw, stripped and bleeding, I have seen the very essence of beauty, as well as sadness.
I have witnessed wails from the depths of the soul, in confusion, in anger; have heard the purest laughter from joy and the simple act of being heard and being seen. The tears that flew so freely upon seeing a loved one again, the cloud of dementia parting slightly, if only for a moment and the fear and anxiety disappearing as the person they thought they’d never see again stood before them in the flesh.
I have had the honour of perching at the bedside of the dying as they clamped on to my hand, their sometimes terrified eyes locked on mine as if to ask ‘why?’ as if needing some anchor point to keep them grounded as they pass from this world to the next. I have surrounded their beds with candles and comforted their loved ones, sometimes with words and sometimes with silence. I have tried to honour every single one who has passed on my watch. I don’t know if I’ve always succeeded.
I don’t remember all their names. There are too many. There is no plaque for those who have passed in aged care, but there probably should be.
If dignity had a shape, the plaque would be in its form.
For it’s the hardest fought battle in this industry; the maintaining of one’s dignity.
Batted from one menial task to another, neglected by the society they helped build and belittled by the indifference of a staff who are also fighting their own battle for dignity; underpaid and under-appreciated. We allot more money to the upkeep of prisoners than we do our elderly. We don’t see them as resources to be drawn from, pillars of wisdom, truth or respect.
We just see them as a burden so place them in the furthest corners from our young and facile image of ourselves.
We miss their humour, their intelligence their oddities and the perspective they bring.
We miss our history, our pasts and in doing so, we place our future in doubt.
Because the majority of us are heading where these souls are now; their future is ours to inherit.
Perhaps we should start looking to that and wondering what we hope for ourselves, what kind of care we are expecting.
Do we deserve better than what we provide now? Absolutely.
Yet those in the thrall of this warped, callous and botched system deserve those changes too.
We need to start seeing, acknowledging our own attitudes towards our elderly before real change can come; before their circumstance becomes our own.