Diary of a PSW: Frank’s Story (Brenda Bondy-Caldicott)

It’s cold in this facility today. Not even a sweater makes it comfortable in here. Sometimes I feel like I’m going crazy. Sometimes I need a moment to process what I’ve heard or seen, because even though I think I’ve seen it all, I am floored by the things I encounter, still.

The first client I see is all snuggled up in his bed. “Frank,” I’ll call to him. He’s wet the bed again, probably more than once, because it has actually pooled up on the mattress. He greets me with a grunt, since he doesn’t want to get up from his wet bed. I’m thinking to myself, How can one not be cold and irritated, being soaked to the bone? Obviously, they haven’t done rounds and checked on the heavy wetters, and obviously, he’s been in it since he went to sleep at five-thirty the night before.

Frank doesn’t just need morning care for fifteen minutes, he needs a full bath. I do the best I can and wash him very well, as I know he won’t get a bath for another four days. He thanks me after, and I know he feels better in clean product, and clean clothes. He has run out of them, so I literally have to borrow from someone else, so he isn’t in wet clothes all day.

The facility is very tight on their products. I think to myself how sad it is, we’re expected to use less than we would in our own home.

Frank has such blue eyes; there’s a sweet sparkle still left. I wonder to myself, How? I’d be empty inside.

Eight more clients to go. I spent much more than the fifteen minutes allotted to Frank, but the need was there. He needed a sponge bath, and he got it on my watch. This is considered a light client load in home care, but for long term care, they would probably have twenty minutes to themselves: bowel routine, morning care, bedmaking, and then preparing breakfast.

I was glad to assist my nine clients within three hours, as I needed to eat my pre-lunch. After all, I knew there was no time to eat lunch at noon. My blood sugars were good, and I needed to keep them that way to remain healthy, in order to help others.

My next clients are in fifteen minutes. They are two children born with their eyelids fused shut. I am there to provide companionship and childcare. The boy, Timmy, is eight, and Crystal is ten. They eat their cereal very fast and, amazingly, know where everything is on the table. Shortly after, they literally run outside and into the yard. At times, I’ve been to other clients and a care plan has not been done. To be effective, you’d figure they would inform the worker of medical issues, especially in regards to mobility.

Well it’s onto my other job at another facility. I cook, distribute meds, and clean up after twelve residents. Our cleaning lady is concerned because one resident is very late for her meal. We attempt to open the door to her room, but we have no key. I’m thinking to myself, Oh man, she’s a deep sleeper. Getting the door open was to no avail, so we had to do the next best thing: call 911.

The officers were so kind. They could see our concern was genuine and that it wasn’t a routine call. The one officer had to climb through the resident’s window. He saw that she had passed away in her sleep. Obviously no one had checked on her since bedtime, the night before. But this is a retirement home, not a government-run long term care. It’s similar to living at home, with perks like meds, meals, and laundry.

The officer is very kind to us and empathetic, and asks if we want some time to say our goodbyes. They do all the arrangements for the coroner, so I can attend to our other residents who are curious. We need to carry on like nothing is amiss, which is very difficult, as we – the senior staff – are falling apart and need to grieve. It’s the worst day I think I’ve had on the job in thirteen years. Worse yet, the daughter calls and is concerned about getting stuck with the cat, and demands to know where her items are. We have to inform her there is a power of attorney and she wasn’t it.

I don’t need this right now, I’m thinking. Shouldn’t the family maybe have been more involved in their mom’s life? I’d be sorrowful if my parents passed, whereas this woman didn’t have an ounce of regret or remorse. It was all about what belongings were of value to her.

My next client, with my other job, is a palliative care lady who needs evening assistance. Her husband is home today. We are there so he can have a break, and get some things done around the house and outside. “I think she has two weeks left,” he tells me, hopeful.

I point out that her skin is pitted and that she’s cold; her breathing is laboured and noisy. To me, it is the death rattle, and the pitting is a sign the end is near. He’s in denial.

I spend the afternoon holding her hand, giving her a light wash, and making him tea. Little was said, but we agree she looks very peaceful and not in pain, so she doesn’t need the nurse to come give her morphine. However, it’s a phone call away if need be.

My shift is over and I leave fifteen minutes late, because it feels like he’s afraid to be alone. I’m thinking to myself, Where’s the family, and the children? I think he knew she wasn’t going to last two more weeks.

Later that night, the agency calls and says her file had been closed, because she passed away.

We deal with so much grief, anxiety, mental health, and other syndromes in this line of work. You realize, people don’t care about the procedure, it’s about validation and assurance, quality, and dignity. This is why we are PSW’s, to make a difference every day in someone’s life, in a big or small way.

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