The following story was transcribed from Mary's own words.
When I was a bit younger, I worked in home care for a few years. In the 1980s home care wasn’t too different to what it is now. I'd help out with the housework and shopping and take people to their medical appointments, really whatever they needed. Sometimes I did respite care, where I would sit and talk, and basically keep the client company while their usual carer, most often a family member, would get out of the house and have a bit of a break.
I remember most of my clients. When you spend so long in somebody's home, it's hard to forget them, but there is one in particular that I’ll always remember.
Her name was Pat, she was a petite little thing in her early 80s. She lived with her husband George and their beloved chihuahua, I can't remember his name, but he was everything to the both of them. Pat got up every morning and put on her make up and panty hose, her favourite brunch coat and would sit in her favourite chair and bark orders at poor old George. She never actually got dressed, but a lady certainly wouldn't be seen sitting around in her nightie. She did her make up the same way every day; she'd obviously been doing it that way her whole life.
When I first went to their house, Pat was very stand-offish. But that was the same for every house I ever went into as a carer, I had to win them over. You have to take the time to make them feel comfortable, so you’re not a stranger invading their personal space. I'd sit down and listen to their life story and have to tell some of mine. Clients ask questions, they want to know about you, you need to find some common ground.
I went to their home once a week for six hours. Each day, as soon as I arrived, I'd have to sit down and catch up on the events of the previous week. Really, I would just listen to Pat. She'd tell me George had forgotten to bring the washing in, that the kids across the road had been in her yard, and that she'd had a bad day yesterday. She seemed to have a lot of bad days, particularly when George hadn't been doing what he was told. I wouldn't say that Pat was a hypochondriac, but I think she had a tendency to exaggerate a little when she felt she needed some attention. But then again, now that I am almost Pat's age, I understand good days and bad days better than I did back then.
No matter how Pat felt on a Thursday, every Friday was a good day. Friday was when she had her hair done. She'd come home, with a hair full of lacquer. It would be as stiff as a board, to make sure it didn't move for the following week. I'm pretty sure she'd had the same style for 50 years.
There’s one thing Pat shared with me that has always made me smile. She told me that George was only able to cuddle her on a Thursday night. When I asked why, she told me that as she was having her hair done the next day, it didn't matter if it got messed up. I still wonder whether George looked forward to Thursday nights.
One time when I visited, their little dog had been unwell and George had walked him to the vet. It was a long way, across a busy highway, and I made George promise to call me if he ever needed to go to the vet again and I would drive them. A few months later, I got a call to tell me that George had passed away. I went straight to Pat and found out that George had once again taken their little fella to the vet and had made to the surgery and collapsed. He died on the veterinary table.
Soon after, their daughter told me that when they went to pick up their dog the next day, they were charged boarding fees for the night. I couldn’t believe it. I thought you miserable bastard. I told everyone I knew about it and never took another one of our animals to that vet again. You're told as a carer to get in, do your job and not think about it once you've left. I never quite managed to do that.
I'm not sure that having the experience of being a carer is going to make it much easier when it comes to the day that I need care. I'd still feel funny about having someone come into my home. To be honest, I think when it comes to the day that I can no longer care for me and my husband, I'd prefer we moved into the retirement village down the road.
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Names have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.