If I approached you on the street, in your office or at the dinner table, and asked you what the worst part of your job was, how would you respond? Would you even talk about your work? Does the public understand what you do?
I’m 31 years old, and have been a hospice worker since I was 19. While most of my peers were flipping burgers, pumping gas or doing grunt work for construction crews, I was holding frail hands, cleaning human mess and, inevitably, performing post-mortem care.
I’ve been married 9 years. I met my wife two months after I turned 19, and six months before I started doing hospice work. To this day, she has never asked me point-blank what I do on a daily basis. She doesn’t want to know. My two gradeschool-age boys don’t know what dad’s job is. I don’t know how to tell them; death is still abstract.
Those of us that work in this business keep our mouths shut regarding our jobs. We get paid minimum wage to do a job that many cannot even fathom, and frankly, don’t understand. Despite our best intentions we form emotional bonds with those that we care for, and when they are no longer a part of our daily lives it affects us deeply in a way that I cannot and will not attempt to explain. We are not nurses. We are not housekeepers, cooks, or shoppers. We are all of the above and then some. We provide a hand to hold, a shoulder to cry on, and a scapegoat to blame when things go wrong.
It took me a long time to acknowledge what I did for a living. I called myself a caregiver, personal aide, personal assistant, and numerous others. I’ve worked in long-term care facilities, and have spent several of those years as a supervisor. Since 2007 I’ve done strictly in-home work, visiting and caring for dying people who wish to remain in familiar surroundings. While working in a facility I had very negative preconceived notions of hospice workers – notions based on the owners and managers I had dealt with rather than the caregivers. When I finally admitted to myself that the work I did was hospice work (I was not working for a hospice agency but was caring for terminally ill people and therefore could avoid the title) I’m ashamed that I ever spoke negatively of hospice work.
Two recent events – events that have centered on the general public’s total ignorance of hospice work – have caused me to examine just why I do it. Unfortunately, when I examine objectively what I do every day I cannot answer that question with any degree of certainty.
I can answer many others.
Despite mostly lurking I have an incredible amount of respect for the people that make up the SDMB. This is a vast, wide-ranging community, and one that has suffered much grief in the last several weeks. I would like to publicly thank Marley23 for discussing with me this thread and the timing of my OP before I posted it. I have given a lot of thought to the timing, and felt that, due to recent events that have affected the board members I would post this now. Perhaps that isn’t wise, however I want to give the board a chance to ask questions that pertain to rarely discussed and poorly understood aspect of healthcare. I want to emphasize that the intent is not to open up wounds or cause grief, but rather increase understanding.
Ask me anything.
(Keep in mind I am bound by HIPPA and will answer accordingly. In addition I have worked my entire life in Oregon and my answers may be state-specific.)