Sitting on the floor, I lifted the swollen, purple foot from the basin of warm water into the towel on my lap. I gently patted it dry, then soothed the aged tissues with Vaseline and loving touch before working a clean, soft sock on and repeating the process with the other foot.
We talked softly, the man and I, and our inability to understand each other’s words didn’t hamper our ability to communicate at all. Soaking feet is often a good way to begin caring for an elder with dementia. In a world that no longer makes any sense at all, there’s nothing threatening about a smiling woman on the floor at your feet. Besides, feet are almost always in worse shape than any of the rest of the body and it gives the caregiver a good assessment opportunity.
Six years to the day after my final patient passed away, friends needed my skills for one day during a family emergency. The gentleman didn’t know me, but I knew and admired him and remembered a time when he did know me.
Basically I’m a peaceful person, a live and let live sort. I don’t usually get hung up on proper word usage. But every now and again something irritates me fiercely, and what the oyster turns into a pearl, I turn into indigestion. The care of the most vulnerable in our society and the manner in which caregivers are treated and considered is one of those things.
Frequently I hear or read of someone being a “caretaker” for an elder, usually one who has been harmed in some way. The words we use both shape and reflect the world we live in, and this is such a gross misuse of language, such a denigration of those who lovingly care for others, that it frankly makes me livid.
You “take” care of property, like tractors, RV parks or summer homes. You take care of your neighbors’ livestock while they’re gone. It is something one does, hopefully well and honorably. You “give” care to people. Whether they be the babies of young working folks or their grandparents, caring for people is a giving, loving, personal expression.
Every year more Americans require care. I got to stay home with my babies, but now virtually every young mother has to leave her children to earn a living. As life expectancy continues to increase, the number of frail elders requiring personal care also increases. And yet we still hear about “baby sitters” and “caretakers.” They’re paid little and get little respect.
Those who change diapers on our babies and our elders, who make sure they eat right and try to teach or give them pleasure, deserve respect. In exchange, they should get all the education they can in order to bring skills as well as heart to the work. We need to change the perception of caregivers. Most of us are trying to be the sort of caregivers we may someday need.