Take a moment and think about your weekday morning routine. It probably starts with the alarm clock interrupting an amazing dream – you know, the one where Hugh Jackman comes to take you to a secluded island in the tropics. Oh, wait – that’s MY morning. Sorry.
After hitting the alarm, you may stretch in bed or maybe you sit and stretch before standing. Some people may make coffee the first order of business, others may go to the bathroom. You shower, perhaps shave, brush your teeth and get dressed.
Now imagine how your morning would be different if you needed assistance from someone else to perform all of those personal care tasks. My morning starts with the alarm clock but rather than getting up out of bed I wait. At 6:00 AM, my Personal Assistant (PA) comes into my house. I listen to her make my coffee – I’ve trained them all so they know not to come into my bedroom first thing in the morning without a cup of coffee in their hand. She turns off my wheelchair charger, moves the chair next to my bed, helps me sit up and hands me my glasses. She helps me transfer from the bed to my wheelchair, then onto the toilet. While I take care of business, she gets my clothes ready and makes the lunch I will take with me to work. When I’m done she helps me back to my wheelchair then into the shower. She washes my hair, hands me my face wash, and helps me scrub my back and feet. When I am done, she helps me dry off and transfers me back into my wheelchair. She puts lotion on my back and lower legs then assists me as I dress. After I’ve brushed my teeth, she helps me dry my hair and makes sure the back looks good before I spray it and leave for work. Most days this takes two and a half hours but I can do it in two if I have to. And that’s just the morning routine.
I have a staff of thirteen wonderful women who serve as my arms and legs – doing everything I am physically unable to do so I am able to live independently in the home of my choice. Without their assistance, I would have no choice but to rely on a medical model of home care, or live in a nursing home or other medical facility. And really, who wants to do that just because they need help going to the bathroom?! I’m not sick. I just can’t move my muscles the way I want. So, I rely on them. They wash my clothes, do my grocery shopping, help me cook my meals, clean my house, water the plants and kill spiders and creepy crawlies. And they do it all with smiles, laughter and happiness.
My primary team – Michelle, Therese, Tina, Candi, and Margaret – and my back ups – Caroline, Sally W, Crystal, Sally B, Stephanie, Sarah, Ronda, and Karen – are dedicated, kind, empathetic, and reliable. They come to work in blizzards, sometimes spending the night to ensure someone will be there in the morning to get me out of bed. They have come to my house at 2:30 AM when I am about to be sick or when I have diarrhea. When I was released from the hospital last year and required an additional twenty hours of assistance each week for six weeks they took on extra shifts to help with my recuperation.
Although they don’t complain to me, I know I am not always an easy person to work for. I am picky about the way I like things done. You probably are too. If you think you aren’t – let someone else put your underwear on you tomorrow morning. You’ll discover how picky you can be! But my PAs accept my direction and follow the routine I have established. They permit me the freedom to live the life I want to live with the knowledge my care needs will be met on a schedule that works for me.
I have been managing my care since 2008. Sarah, Therese and Stephanie have been on my payroll from the start. At this point, all but one member of my team has been employed by me for at least a year. Through my interactions with them and the PAs in my past I have learned how to be a more effective manager, how to offer constructive criticism without malice, how to interview potential job applicants and how to terminate a working relationship.
November is National Home Care Month. It is only fitting that I start this monthly challenge of thankfulness giving praise to the women who work at my house each day so I can live an empowered life. I am grateful to them, and the others who perform this work across our country.