what is being a carer like?
August 31, 2011 11:30 AM   Subscribe

What is being a carer like?

It is a small care home in the UK. I'm aware that there is poop, and personal care, what else does a carer do as opposed to a nurse?

A friend referred me and I said in no uncertain terms that I've never done such work before, am not qualified in it, in my app. But I know it is useful and important work and it must be more interesting than retail. I'm not afraid of hard work.

Interview is on Monday, anything I can read to inform and prepare myself would be great. This is in the UK.

If you have experience in this field I would be interested to hear about anything that would prepare me for interview, particularly questions to formulate. I'd also love to hear information that can help me determine whether I'd like to do this work.

posted by anonymous to Work & Money (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I assume a carer is basically the same thing as being a nursing aide or orderly in a nursing home over here in the states?

Of the folks I've known who have had this job, there have been three major complaints: 1) There is a lot of heavy lifting involved. Lifting of supplies, lifting of patients to wash them or replace bedpans, etc, which can lead to chronic back pain/problems. 2) As people age, their skin weakens. Sometimes, even a gentle bump to an elderly patient can cause their skin to rip open, which can be alarming. (And gross.) 3) It can be very depressing.

I don't know if knowing those things would help you prepare for an interview, but they're probably things you want to consider before committing yourself to this sort of work.
posted by phunniemee at 11:42 AM on August 31, 2011

Hard, physical work for minimum wage. That said: it's one of the most rewarding jobs I've ever had, and beat retail by a long, long way.

Things I was responsible for:
- helping residents get up, washed and dressed in the mornings, and putting them to bed at night;
- feeding residents/helping them eat;
- taking residents to the toilet and helping them wipe, or changing incontinence pads;
- changing beds and bedclothes;
- moving residents with limited mobility (into/out of their wheelchairs, chairs and beds)
- sweeping and cleaning rooms;
- bathing residents;
- making teas and coffees;
- (when there's time, which was sadly never enough) just generally spending time with residents, chatting to them, hearing their stories.

Carers worked in pairs for some of this (changing beds and lifting residents) and alone for other parts. Homes should all have hoists now to help with the lifting, and with the consequent back problems, but hoists won't do all the work for you, so there's still heavy and hard work involved. If you're squeamish with bodily fluids, you'll struggle, but to be honest people usually get over that quite quickly.

Nurses take care of medications, change stoma bags, etc; there'll be at least one on every shift, working with a larger number of carers, who might help people take pills/medicines already measured out by nurses but won't usually do more than that. Things to emphasise during an interview: that you care about people, that you can work both on your own and with others, that you can learn fast, that you're not squeamish, and that you're not easily rattled. Questions to ask? I'd want to know what their training system was (they should basically be letting you shadow a carer or pair of carers, then work with someone else for a while) and what range of needs their residents had, and if it's a big home, whether they had anything like a specialised dementia ward. You'll pick up a lot from the way whoever's interviewing you talks about the residents, too, and what the place generally looks like; there are some awful homes out there.

People usually think care work is horrendously upsetting. It can be - you are basically working with people whose brains and bodies have degenerated to a level they're unlikely to be happy with, people who will often have severe dementia, people who can get very upset about their living circumstances. Also, sometimes people with dementia can get violent; I've only been smacked in the face once, but I did a fair bit of dodging. Sweet little old ladies sometimes get to a stage which I can only really explain as hitting ninety-plus and realising they've been sweet and kind all their lives and they have had it with sweetness, and letting you know exactly what they think, as and when they think it. Also... people die, which sort of sucks.

But... these aren't necessarily bad and awful things about the job. You get the feeling that you're really doing something useful, which is always a good way to counter feeling upset over dealing with the very fragile elderly or dementia patients: "well, I'm making them comfortable and as happy as I can." Without wanting to sound too wanky about it, you're dealing with the full complexity of being alive and facing death on a daily basis, and that is surprisingly less upsetting and more rewarding than you'd expect. Dementia patients (especially once it's moderate/severe dementia) aren't usually anywhere near as upset about their situation as you want to be on their behalf (I've related this story on MeFi before about one of mine). And the little old ladies who sling insults at you are, truly, pretty amazing even at their bitchiest.

I've chatted with people about their childhoods, about the history of the town, about my own grandfather (who they remembered but I didn't), about their own teenage lives working in the mills. I've sat and looked at somebody's photo album with her, where she showed me fifteen pictures of the boy next door she grew up planning to marry, and then the last picture of him in his army uniform before he was killed in the war... and it was horrific, and upsetting, but it's a story she wanted to tell and I was honoured to hear it. I've heard women who couldn't remember their children's names sing Christmas carols absolutely flawlessly, and then correct us for getting the words wrong. I've had ninety-five year olds get way too involved in my personal life, as they did with all the carers ("Are you courting, dear? Why just the one boyfriend at your age?"), and a 104-year-old former nun swear at me, and an angelic-looking resident ask me what I thought about penis implants, just to see the expression on my face. And yes, it was upsetting sometimes, and it was hard work all the time - but damn, it beat working on the foods till in M&S. I would absolutely recommend it.
posted by Catseye at 12:15 PM on August 31, 2011 [9 favorites]

From a MFite who would prefer to remain anonymous:
"Would you be working with the elderly? Who are living in an elderly care home and rotating in and out on shifts with other carers? Or some other arrangement? Lots of different types of people need care, so you may get a range of answers based on those varied experiences.

I currently live in the UK with a young woman who is in a wheelchair and has carers who rotate in and out of the house on ~1-3 week schedule. I often help out with things and of course I see a lot of what goes on and how it all works. The biggest challenge I think is the transfers...comfortably and safely moving the client on/off the toilet, into/out of the bed, from chair to chair, etc. But there's minute-to-minute stuff...unwrapping/opening things, picking dropped stuff off the floor (I do not even understand how her cell phone still even works, it's amazing), performing small tasks (ex. making calls and lists, changing the DVD, fixing tea, clearing a path, letting the dog in/out, moving objects around). But a lot of it is thinking ahead and knowing likes/dislikes, schedules, quirks and preferences. Anticipating what is needed like a friend would, but taking responsibility and safety measures like a healthcare professional. And then there are all the cleaning and organizing tasks. Many things need to be done a certain way or with extra care. Like sheets always needing to be ironed (so that they're soft and supple and not sore-inducing, since one can't easily smooth out a crinkle or fold on one's own). There are a million details and it's not a job for memorizing, but understanding what needs to be done, in what order and to what level of care/detail, based on the particular context of an individual's needs and ability.

There's a social aspect to this too. You can't be an automaton and you can't be a best, chattiest friend either. You need to figure out how to be – while still being yourself of course – that is peaceful and pleasant and nondisruptive. Your headspace can really foul up a room. Or make it a wonderful place to be. Which is important, because in many cases, the clients don't have much choice in the matter. They need you and this isn't about you.

Good luck; I hope I've helped encourage you towards the right decision, whatever that may be."
posted by jessamyn at 12:20 PM on August 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

My Dad recently spent five months in a nursing home earlier this year (he passed away in May). Our family took turns spending many hours at his bedside (because he became agitated and confused if one of us wasn't there) so I had the chance to observe many nursing aides at work. The good ones (and there were many more good than indifferent ones) all have my vote for sainthood - they not only clean up nastiness like vomit, excrement, urine, and runny noses, they also help patients get dressed and undressed, assist them to the bathroom if they're ambulatory or else assist them on the bedpan. They help them in and out of wheelchairs and answer the buzzer approximately 1,293 times per day to adjust the bed, bring an extra blanket, remove the blanket because now it's too hot, turn the overhead lamp on, turn it off, and notify the nurse or doctor at the first sign of any type of medical distress/problem. They're tough when warranted but in a compassionate way - Dad was often not a jolly patient and really hated having to get out of bed to take the 10 steps his doctor ordered per day, or later sitting up for X amount of time. He'd cuss at the aide, call her Hitler, things like that, and most of them laughed it off and joked with him as they put him through his paces ("Oh, you know that deep down you really love me, George.") They unflinchingly put up with very rude comments, especially from elderly men whose libido seems to be the last thing to give out after the kideys, heart, etc - I heard many men (even Dad, who unfortunately was hard of hearing and spoke loudly so EVERYONE heard his remarks) would say things like "Where is that other girl?" (asking about another aide) "Who do you mean?" "You know, the one with those great big boobs."

Long story short, the best nurses aides are physically strong and mentally tough while simultaneously maintaining a friendly, compassionate demeanor with both patients and families of patients.
posted by Oriole Adams at 12:28 PM on August 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

You might find this previous thread helpful. I answered there, so I won't repeat it here, but feel free to MeMail me if you have any questions.
posted by penguin pie at 2:57 PM on August 31, 2011

I agree that it is physically demanding work and very low paid. You should have a strong stomach for dealing with bodily fluid cleanup, etc. Also, be prepared to not get much respect from higher-ups in the workplace, admin, etc. And depending on how good the place you're working for is at hiring, be prepared for some difficulties with coworkers, only because the bar for hiring for these types of jobs is often criminally low (to match the pay). If you're lucky, most of them will be hardworking dedicated people, but every once in a while there's a bad apple and it will end up being on you to pick up the slack, moreso than in other jobs, because you have real people depending on you for their basic needs.

On the other hand, if you are good at what you do and kind to the people who you care for, they will love you forever and there is a very real possibility of making a difference in someone's life - something you definitely won't get from retail.

As to the interview, I'd focus on your dependability, willingness to work hard and your strong sense of compassion. Most everything else can be learned.
posted by Jess the Mess at 8:21 AM on September 1, 2011

I've been a carer, it was never meant to be a long term thing- but I knew I could do it and it was an adventure. Not sure how your interview went, but you might try doing agency work first... you'll get to see a lot more places. I didn't like working with the elderly, but I did like working with clients with severe autism, physical disabilities, learning disabilities... then the agency had me do some other stuff... like support work at kids homes... that launched me into a career as a project worker which pays a lot better and I love...
posted by misspony at 6:21 AM on November 12, 2011

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