Tell us a little about yourself and your family. Where were you born, your family of origin, your family now.
I lived in the Philippines my whole life well into adulthood. My mother raised us alone and taught us the value of hard work. One of eight children, we were always poor and had to learn to be creative to put food on the table. My mother taught school, and even in her difficult circumstances, she impressed on us to never complain and always be positive. Those values are part of me today.
I attended the school where mother taught and later became a nurse. I worked in the community, in the Regional Epidemiology Surveillance Unit of the Department of Health. The work served the World Health Organization.
I met and married my wonderful husband, who was always supportive, and we had our two boys. When I married, we lived with my in-laws, my first encounter with elders except for brief visits from my grandparents, who lived in the States. Later, when father-in-law later became sick, his dying wish was that my boys live in Canada.
I was afraid. I didn't know anything but my home, and immigrating was a long and difficult process. I moved here, leaving the boys with the nanny they had known from birth. I took the required courses to upgrade and practice as a nurse in Canada, but my first job experience was horrendous. They treated me like a slave but I was afraid to say anything and jeopardize my family's chances of coming here. A friend encouraged me to find another position, which I did, and at this one, I lived with my employers who were elders. I was so much happier. One of my fellow students encouraged me to apply at Christie Gardens, a continuum for elders in Toronto, which includes independent living apartments and life lease suites and a care floor. http://christiegardens.org. For a long time, I didn't, but when I worked in a long-term care home across the street from Christie, I'd look at the building and wonder about it. Then a position was posted and I applied. I'm so thankful they took a chance on me. I have worked here ever since. I was able to sponsor my husband and our boys, so now our family is together again in Canada.
As a nurse, you could work anywhere. Why did you choose to work among the elderly?
I don't believe I made a choice. I think it is my destiny. Although I didn't grow up knowing my grandparents well, each step of my journey thus far involved elders and each of them taught me so much. I believe I'm where I'm supposed to be.
There is no denying it, some elders are more difficult to serve than others. How do you handle a situation when someone is challenging?
I think you have to look beyond what is happening. Often there is a reason, an unmet need, which is the root cause of the problem. Many are dealing with so much--losses in their life, sickness, pain. We have to listen with our hearts and look for why they are acting this way. Compassion, patience and active listening are important. Sometimes what they aren't saying is also significant.
Tell a story about how you served an elder and met their needs in a non-medical way.
When I was living with the elders in my second job in Canada, there was a sight-impaired family member. Because of this, her hair was cut crooked, as were her nails. She tried to vacuum, and it hurt me to watch. On my break, I did things like style her hair, cut her nails and help her keep her place clean. I told her she felt like family and it pleased me to do it.
At work, there are so many non-medical things I can do. Simple things like helping someone with their socks and shoes, assisting them in the toilet and taking their tray back to the dining room. Nurses work as a team with all other care partners, and everyone can help.
What is the most rewarding aspect of your work?
I love when I'm able to make residents smile. If they are comfortable and happy with the care, they relax and appreciate the time you give them. They have so much to give. When they share their wisdom and knowledge with me, I learn from them. I respect them and their contribution to my life.
If a student is planning to work as a nurse in eldercare, what advice would you give them?
I would encourage compassion and to provide caring as well as nursing care. Sometimes it can be unbelievably busy. You have medications to give out during a certain time and then maybe someone has a fever and someone else falls. Sometimes I feel like I am running in all directions. The important thing to remember is that they are people, and to really listen and give compassion with the medications.
Another thing that's important to remember is to look after your other team members. No one can do the job alone. We need each other, and we have to care for each other to make that happen.
So much of what you do goes beyond dispensing medications and treating wounds. How do you develop relationships with the elders you serve?
Trust is important and must come first. As residents get to know me as a familiar face, they relax and feel more comfortable. I always smile and try to spend some time chatting with them as I give their medications. I listen to what they have to say and I'm interested in their lives. Knowing who they are and sharing who I am, means we become friends.
Compassion, active listening, genuine smiles and love. And a sense of humour helps, too.
This is what I have learned: Elders may not remember your name. They may not be able to say what you have done for them. But they will always remember how you made them feel.
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Care Partne Wednesday--Who Is A Care Partner-Maria