My name is Sara
I’m a 25 year old junior doctor living and working in South Wales, UK.
I love my job – so incredibly much. I get to work with people, help heal people, I’m challenged and stretched and trusted. Despite all the paperwork, mundane bits and odd hours – it feels good. Yet, if I’m completely honest it’s not the best job I’ve ever had.
I’m quite proud to say that I’ve had many jobs. Yep, ya girl was a HUSTLER. A bit of a crap one if I’m honest… the dog walking business that me and my sister started aged 8 never really took off. No idea why our neighbours didn’t trust us with their beloved pets given that we had owned zero dogs? Weird.
Still, from a young age I’d always get a sense of pride knowing that I’d earned something. It felt good to contribute and to be able to buy my own 50p Snowball Ice cream from the dodgy ice cream van that often came round on rainy cold winter nights…#WhatAreYouReallySelling. I know what it’s like to work for your money. Whether it was washing my beloved fathers car (below minimum wage and, upon reflection, child labour), tidying my brothers room (minimum wage), carol singing (counts as a job if you target the right neighbourhoods), busking, coffee shops, retail, restaurant work – you name it – I’ve probably done it.
It may not surprise you to hear that that the worst job I ever had was working in retail at Guess (I still shudder when I think of how hugely traumatising that experience was). And it’s no secret that I absolutely loved busking around the cities of the UK (still the best money per hour I’ve ever made).
But over my 12 year career thus far, there was one job – a rather unlikely job – which really captured my heart.
A job that I miss. A job that I’d happily do again.
Working as a carer.
When I was a university student I got a job with a private care company. I was also working in a cafe at the time but needed the extra money. Some of the shifts were sleep in shifts – meaning I’d work for 3 hours then literally get PAID TO SLEEP for the next 12 hours. It was the dream (pun not intended but very much welcome) job. I worked 50 hour weeks during exam season. I didn’t always get to sleep as some clients were incredibly challenging. But even on the days when I could rest, the notion of getting paid to sleep wasn’t the best thing about this job.
It was the people. The old and vulnerable people. It was the wisdom that comes from 80 years of consciousness. The life lessons from someone who has actually seen life. The insight and commentary from a different era. The human connection. The long game perspective that I – a young healthy student – was lacking.
Youth is wasted on the young. And the wisdom of the old is wasted on our four western walls of generational segregation.
I’ll never forget the teary eyes of my client as she woke me up at 3am to apologise for shouting at me after dinner. It’s her dementia, she says. It made her forget who I was. But she tells me that she’s sorry. She says she is grateful that I’m here. She says I’m the only one who is ever here. I tell her that there’s no need to apologise. I’d be scared too if I found a stranger in my house. But she says I’m not a stranger. I’m Sara.
We have three wonderful months together. She knows me. I know her. I truly care for her. I notice that some of her comments when we watch Dancing on Ice are becoming pretty sharp. I bring in word searches and crosswords for us to do together. I pick up extra shifts. I know her routine and her signs of stress. I care.
One day my shifts get cancelled. The office tell me that her family who live abroad have decide to sell the 5 bedroom mansion that she bought with her late husband. The one she has lived in for thirty years. They stop the care package and move her into a nursing home. It breaks my heart because I will miss her. But it’s not my job to judge. Although I’m young and emotional, I know better than to judge the choice of direction for shoes I’ve never had to walk in. It’s only my job to care. And I am assigned a new client to care for.
The new care package starts up and this gentleman is nothing like the last lady. Yes he is white and old too, but he is far more politically incorrect. He refers to me as the brown lady while on the phone to his daughter. One day he calls me Sindhu and I realise that he can’t tell the difference between me and the other Asian carer who does the shifts that I can’t cover due to placement.
He LOVES his cups of tea. Literally like 20 cups per day. It’s kind of annoying because I make a banging cuppa but he insists on a particular brewing method that is truly too abhorrently weak to share. And after forcing me to commit such sin, he never actually finishes the cup of tea. But I don’t mind. It’s not my job to judge. It’s only my job to care.
One night he is very confused. He gets dressed at 2am and it is only by God’s grace that the quiet sound of a door creaking wakes me up. He is fully dressed – coat and jacket on. He even has his umbrella. I’m somewhat impressed. The front door is open and he is about to leave.
I’m a little dazed and confused myself. It’s weird waking up in a strangers house. But I pull myself together and ask where he is going. He says he can’t stay the night, he must get home. I tell him that this is his home. He picks up yesterdays paper and insists he must be on his way. My heart starts to pound. He’s pretty strong. I can’t let him leave but these are delicate situations. One wrong word and he might accuse me of being a liar. We’ve had that conversation before – the one where he thinks I’m a liar. It lasted two hours and he became very distressed. I’m keen to avoid that conversation.
So I tell him it’s alright – no worries, it was lovely to have him stay. He grunts. He says the visit wasn’t the best. I offer him a cup of tea for the journey. He declines. He can’t stop for tea or he will miss his bus. I notice that he has wet himself. A strong smell of urine fills the air and there is a dark patch on his crotch. I tell him his bus isn’t for another two hours because it’s 2am and he should probably get changed because that’s the wrong attire for a long journey.
He grumbles about how the buses are always running late and slowly retreats to his room. I follow at a distance and allow him to maintain the conversation by himself. I sit by his closed bedroom door wide eyed as I listen to him getting changed. I think he falls asleep around 5am. I quietly open the door and peep through. He is in his pyjamas, asleep on top of the sheets. I gather the soiled clothes from the floor and put them in the washing machine. I pray he sleeps well. Because I do not sleep well. I’m terrified. Terrified at what would have happened if I had woken up ten seconds later. So I stay awake sat outside his door. I cancel my revision session plans for tomorrow. I sit there for 6 hours, and I care.
The next morning he walks into the living room as though nothing happened. I am sleep deprived. He scoffs and says “You again”. I smile, because although I know he doesn’t like me, I also know that he likes me. I say good morning and make him some breakfast along with his favourite terrible cup of tea.
I cared for a lady with end stage Multiple Sclerosis. That was difficult and heartbreaking. Her voice was too soft and her words too slurred to understand, but after a few weeks I’d learnt her signals. I knew whether she wanted orange juice or water dabbed on her dry mouth with a sponge. I knew what she wanted to watch. I got to know her family. I knew when it was all too much. I knew when we were losing her. I cried when I was invited to her funeral. I cried at the funeral. I cared.
Caring taught me that by God’s grace – one day I may be old. Unable to squat 150kg. Unable to run away. Constantly dependent on the goodness of others.Perhaps I’d wet myself and not even notice. Maybe I’d forget to pluck the hairs from my chin.
Would anyone listen to my stories about my elective trip to Sri Lanka? Would they watch when I whip out an old fashioned youtube video to show them the glory of my youth? Or would they just tell me that it’s terrible quality and I should really upgrade to hologram.
Would they listen to my story about how I did the spilts on the dance floor in Thailand and won a free diving session? Or would they moan that it’s the 10th time they’ve heard it. Would they care how I like my coffee? Or that I hate drinking from china mugs? Would they brush my hair to give me dignity? Or forgive me when I stay stuck in my old ways? I wonder if they’d look past my ageing body, sagging skin and crisp white hair. Would anyone still see me for me.
An old frail woman with nothing much to contribute. Nothing to contribute but my humanity. Would you see value or burden in my vulnerable humanity?
And that’s why working as a carer for the elderly was the best job I’ve ever had.
It taught me to life. To value. Value a love that transcends backgrounds, generations, life experiences and world perspectives. I truly believe every young person should care for the elderly for an extended period of time.
Caring taught me the value of humanity.
And my goodness. It’s the most beautiful thing of all.