I work the night shift and I hate it. I get to work at 8pm and work right through till the early hours of the morning. I drive home when it’s still dark and the streets are empty. On the way home I entertain myself by looking at the people in the other cars on the empty roads and imagine what their lives are like, why are they driving around at this time of night? I get home just before the kids wake up. I scrub myself in the shower to get the smell off me. A mix of sweat and bodily secretions, disinfectant and room deodoriser. It gets ingrained in my skin, in my hair and in my clothes no matter how hard I wash and scrub.
In the shower I reflect on my night at work. I have good and bad nights, but im always exhausted! Last night was not one of the good nights. I looked at my body, it had bite marks and scratches, and I knew there would soon be bruises too. They don’t get violent or hurt me very often, but when they do, there isn’t much I can do, I just have to keep going, and do my job. My back aches too. Sometimes I feel pressured to do things im not comfortable with, because there is no one else to do it. I know I shouldn’t but I just want to fit in and earn their respect, so I do whatever it takes.
I remember my first day. I had showed up with no experience or training. They chucked me in the room with some brief instructions about what was expected from me, and everything else I learnt from the other workers. I hated my first day. By the time I finished that long shift I was sweaty, sore, broken and tired. I hated what I had done, and I was confronted by what I saw. I had been there for a few months when I started to get used to it. I was used to seeing and handling naked bodies in many different forms, I was used to dealing with bodily functions, I was used to dealing with people’s psychology, I was used to working hard. I was used to doing things and being someone who I wasn’t always comfortable with, and I was used to feeling sore, exhausted and exploited when I came home.
I had heard from the workers that there are other places I could work. Nicer places. Places where im not forced to do things I don’t like, places where they treat people with respect. After I drop the kids at school I lay down and try to sleep before I have to get up and do it all again. I lay there dreading the next night at work. I hate doing it, but I need the money. I consider my options, work and pay the rent, or quit, but with limited skills or experience I wont be able to find other work, and so the rent wont be paid.
Maybe I should take the plunge and try somewhere new. Filled with dread and loathing, I decide that this is the day to do something about it. I flick through the paper and make some calls, it’s not long before I have an appointment at a place a friend recommended.
I’ve been at the new place for 6 months now. At this new nursing home you can pick and choose your shifts and they offer training for new workers and regular workshops for the rest of us to keep our skills up to date. This has really helped me learn how to deal with those couple of residents who are violent or aggressive. They have also taught me how to lift properly, and so now I never need to hurt my back when I lift the residents. This has ment that my back problems have gone away and im no longer covered in bruises.
The rest of the carers at this nursing home are so friendly and supportive as well, If I need some one to help me I know I can ask someone. At this new nursing home we treat the residents with respect and courtesy, so now I don’t feel like im doing something wrong or unethical, in fact it’s the opposite I feel as though im doing something worthwhile and contributing to a happier life for many people.
Now I have found a better place to work and have the training and experience I need, I really love my job. I now know that we don’t need to outlaw nursing homes, just because some are bad, but infact we need to create better OH&S regulations, increase access to training, and build power for those of us doing the work.
It reminds me of the other industry I work in. The sex industry. So many parallels. But the biggest difference is the stigma I face and ofcourse the money I make.