My Humbling Experience As A Carer In Wellington

Only a few people knew that I actually worked in New Zealand for a while. As I was on a career break, I didn't pursue my career in Nursing. I was adamant that I wanted to do something different and learn new skills. However, it dawned on me that Wellington was perhaps not the best place to make a career change (for me anyway). After months and months of tediously tailoring my CV and writing endless cover letters, I remained unsuccessful. My more or less than 100 job applications got rejected one after the other. It was humiliating at first but then I met a few people who were also going through the same ordeal, so I was reassured. At least I was not alone. Eventually, I took the drastic decision to join an agency.

During my interview, the recruiter asked if I was sure of my decision to become a carer because of my qualifications and my experience. All I could say was, "I wouldn't be where I am professionally now if I didn't do the things that a carer does". She offered me NZ$18/hr, few dollars more than the basic salary of a carer, apparently because of my professional background. I accepted the offer without knowing the real value of NZ$18. I just needed a job (because I had other obligations).

When I got home, I excitedly told J that I finally got hired. When I told him about the job and the salary, he was not convinced. He was concerned that I would do heavy lifting, all the nasty work and get very tired for a small amount of money. He said I really didn't need to work and that he was happy if I just stayed at home and honed my writing and painting skills. We ultimately came to an agreement that I should at least try one shift and see how it goes.

My first assignment didn't come until about a month later. I received all the information about my client on the phone. I was told that the client was quadriplegic and that I had to do personal care and some housework. For all my sins, I said yes to it.

I arrived at my client's motor lodge residence 30 minutes before I was due to start because I was excited- not. I was basically expecting a handover from someone. The door was slightly opened so I let myself in. The lights were dimmed but I heard some noise, so I said, "Good Morning". Before I could say another word, the lady asked me, "who are you?". I introduced myself and asked if there was anyone who could tell me more about her care. She raised her voice and firmly said, "you should know". The truth is, I was not properly orientated about the client. I was expecting a handover or at least a careplan as mentioned during my training. But there was nothing at all. I didn't know what to do. I had to be honest and told the client  that I have not been a carer before and that it would be helpful if she could tell me a bit more about her routine. She looked at me as if I was useless and I could feel the tension rising. She reminded me that I came too early and that I should arrive exactly at the time I am supposed to start work. I apologised and reassured her that it won't happen again. And then I realised that she wasn't quadriplegic. She was indeed moving her arms! Hoorah! 

The first thing she asked me to do was to make her a cup of coffee and she was very specific with it. I was worried because making hot drinks is one of my weaknesses. Surprisingly, the lady liked her coffee and she brightened up after just one sip. She then instructed me to do little things while she woke herself up. After I finished tidying up her sink, she turned the lights on and looked at me. Finally, we could see each other clearly. I smiled at her but she looked away. 

My next task was to empty her catheter bag. She asked if I have seen a catheter before. I almost felt insulted. She watched as I disconnected her night bag. She was clear that I should flush the night bag with warm water four times, shaking it vigorously each time and leave it hanging on the side rail with the drainage valve open. I was deep in my thoughts when I heard her say, " Can you please stay in there for now while I empty my stoma bag?". I closed my eyes and thanked God. 

It wasn't long until she asked me to empty her bin. Afterwards, she enquired if I have assisted anyone with ROM (range of motion exercises) before. I confidently said yes, but as I expected she had her own way of doing her exercises. She talked me through it and slowly, I felt that she was warming up with me. She was talking more and was actually looking at me in the eye. And then she apologised for being grumpy when I came in. We shared a quiet laugh and then she explained why she has lost confidence in some of her carers and the agency. Listening to her speak  made me realise that she has been let down by so many people so many times that she no longer had room for any more disappointments. 

After 7 reps of lower limb abduction and then pelvic rotation, she was finally ready for a shower. She wondered if I knew what a transfer board was. I told her we call it banana board as it's shaped like a banana. Her eyes lit up and she gave me her biggest smile of that morning. I helped her transfer from bed to chair and wheeled her in the shower. I thought I was going to assist her with her shower too, but she politely told me that she could manage on her own. I made her bed instead and washed the dishes. I anticipated that she would need a drink after her shower so I made her a fresh cup of coffee much to her delight. I helped her back to bed and helped her dress up. After which, I helped her transfer to her mobility scooter. Everything seemed to have been going well until I tried to navigate the scooter. I thought I was going to be told off for being so careless, but instead she patiently taught me how to drive it. When she was comfortable on the scooter, she drove outside for some "fresh air" while I cleaned the shower room.

By the time I finished, it was past noon. She signed my form and thanked me. She asked if I was ever going to go back again. I said I'll be back in the morning. She smiled and I left.

And that was my first day of being a carer. I wasn't the same since.

I went back the following day and things have changed. When I knocked on the door, she actually called out my name. She was happier. I turned the kettle on soon after I dropped my coat and my bag on the chair, then made her a cup of coffee exactly the way she wanted it done. Then I emptied her catheter. I was complimented for washing my hands afterwards. Thank God, I have obsession with hand washing. Then I prepared her breakfast. I felt more confident that day. I was doing things naturally, almost oblivious to the fact that I was in someone else's place. ROM exercises followed breakfast and then I applied cream on her legs. She refused shower that day so she asked me to iron some of her clothes and go to the shop instead. And when I got back from the shop, she asked me to sit and have a cup of tea. I politely declined her offer of tea but I sat anyway. And there, we finally had a proper conversation. And every shift since then, we couldn't stop chatting. 

We talked about politics, religion, culture, travel, art, books and other random things. I later found out that she was a scientist before she had the devastating accident. She told me that more than ten years ago, her truck fell off a cliff. She sustained a spinal cord injury that left her paralysed. I tried to hold my tears back listening to her heartbreaking stories but all I could see  in her was strength and determination. I wondered how, after all these years, after all she has been through, she managed to stay strong and positive. She proudly said that after the accident, she became a journalist and eventually published two books. She also mentioned about her husband and her two children. Our conversation flowed so naturally, and it was just my third shift with her.

I tried not to mention anything about my personal life especially my profession, but how I assessed her sacrum and described her pressure ulcer confirmed her suspicions. The praises I received from her since were rather nauseating. She introduced me to her District Nurse as her best carer ever. I was very embarrassed. She even requested the Nurse to pay a visit only on the days that I was working so I could also check on her ulcer. 

I turned up to work one day to find another carer in the client's room. I thought I had my days mixed up but apparently not. She was sent by the agency to shadow me without my knowledge, but of course. The following day, I received a phone call from the agency telling me that they received a letter from my client saying good things about me. The lady thanked me and asked if I could increase my hours. Unfortunately, I was also committed to my volunteer work so I said no.

I looked forward to every 3-hour day shifts with her because I knew that she was looking forward to seeing me too (because apparently I can talk). She still had bad days especially when someone dropped her foot or someone didn't treat her well, but they got easier to deal with as days went by. 

Seemingly, I became her favourite carer. I became her "to go to carer" if things didn't work out with her other carers. I would get a phone call even if both my client and the agency were informed that I was away. I received phone calls from the agency asking me about how I did this and that. One time I was working out in the gym and got called at 8pm because apparently, they couldn't get a carer and the poor lady has been on the chair since I left her that morning. When I turned up, the lady was crying. Her frustration was palpable. That was the first time I saw her emotionally weak and I was glad I was there for her. Unfortunately, that was the last nail on the coffin. For days, I listened to her complain incessantly about how unhappy she was with the agency, so it didn't come as a surprise to me when she finally decided to cancel their services. I was sad of course because I really enjoyed looking after her, but she deserved an agency who could provide her with better healthcare services.

Every now and again, I think about the lady and wonder how she's been. The reality is, she touched my life as much as I (probably) have touched hers. If I didn't accept the carer job, I would still probably be confused as to what I want to do with my career. At that point, I was confident to give up the passion that I was once very good at. But working with the lady made me realise that caring for people remains the only thing that I am good at and passionate about. I just needed a new working environment to realise that.

I knew that as a carer, I was working for far less than what I am actually worth, but that wasn't important to me. What mattered to me was the fact that I was helping someone, and somehow making a difference in her life, no matter how small. It was enough for me to see my client smile every time I turned up for work. I would like to think that my presence brought her some kind of hope. I could feel her sincerity everytime she said thank you and wrote little notes on my timesheet. For the first time, I could honestly say that I wasn't working for money.

I will always be proud that at some point in my life, I took a huge step backwards and became a carer, because if it wasn't for this opportunity, I wouldn't have met such a strong and inspiring woman. I wouldn't have appreciated myself as much as I do now. I wouldn't have believed that "anyone who becomes a part of my life is lucky" (according to my client).

And now, whenever I look back at this experience, I am reminded that indeed, one simple smile, one gentle touch and one kind word can really go a long way. 

My friend Kemi is right. I should never ever doubt myself.



  1. Hi Manang,

    I think that being in the healthcare field, we have to have more patience and grace in performing our duties in making sure that we give the best care possible.

    And yes, you're right, a smile or a thank you definitely makes a difference. There are days when I'm swamped at work with both patients and paperwork and am just about to implode but when a patient tells me that they are getting better, it's all worth it.

    As always, great post manang 😍


    1. Thanks Ading. I'm due to go back to work soon and the anxiety grows deeper everytime I think about it. I hope that I'll be able to bring this experience with me when I go back. :)

  2. Hey gerl, indeed you were not alone. As I said, we had very similar experiences...
    But we’ve learned attributes that can only be taught by real people... we’ve grown and matured emotionally... we’ve learned that money isn’t all that makes up a person, but passion, determination and compassion. These are gems nowadays. We are gems!


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