Paula bursts into my parents’ house like a ray of sunshine. She’s full of energy and optimism and greets my mom and dad with a bright smile. My dad, who is a man of very few words these days says, “How are you to day?” A regular monolog for him.
Paula started helping my parents as a home health aide about nine months ago. She started by coming two mornings a week to help my dad with his showers and to help my mom with the extra laundry and sheet changing as a result of my dad’s Alzheimer’s and incontinence issues. At first Mom didn’t want to have a home health aide there every day. After two weeks, Paula was coming five days a week, every weekday.
Paula knows how to do everything for my dad now. She pitches in and gets him up out of bed if he hasn’t risen by the time she arrives. She helps him into the shower and monitors him while he’s there. She cleans up any accidents he has or messes he makes in the meantime. She helps him change his protective undergarments, helps him dress, transfers him from his walker to his wheelchair. Pushes him to wherever he wants to sit inside the house. Sometimes she prepares his breakfast and sits with him while he eats. Meanwhile she usually has a load or two of laundry going. Sometimes she does small household cleaning chores like vacuuming the carpet or mopping the floor.
It’s a physically challenging and dirty job at times.
But Paula keeps her sense of humor and her smile in place. She treats my dad with sensitivity and compassion and extends support to my mother who often struggles with her caregiver responsibilities.
I’ve watched Paula with my dad and I believe she genuinely cares about him. She seems amused by him at times in an affectionate, non-patronizing way. She’s respectful of his wishes and treats him as an adult, even though often he is silent in return.
There’s no question that Paula is a significant help to my mother just from a purely physical stand-point. But what has surprised me is how much more than that she is.
When Paula’s there, my mom can rest. Mom often lies on the sofa and puts down her responsibility for my dad for a few hours because she knows Paula will carry it for a while.
When Paula’s there, my mom seems more relaxed. If something unexpected happens she has confidence Paula will know what to do. When we were still taking Dad out to see his doctor, Mom started scheduling the appointments for when Paula could accompany them.
When Paula’s there the whole energy of the household shifts into something much more positive, much more optimistic.
When Paula’s there I feel like we might just be able to get through this.
Even with all of that said, the most amazing thing about Paula is that she has chosen to be part of my parents’ lives for this time. I mean, let’s face it. Alzheimer’s is a heinous slow march downhill to oblivion. We are on the path of a final goodbye with many small endings along the way. Frankly, sometimes I’d like to run as fast and hard as I can in the opposite direction. If I didn’t love these two individuals I call my parents, I’m not sure I’d choose to be involved in their lives. Paula did.
Paula understands the way this gig is going to end. And she chooses to be here anyway. That’s really saying something.
So I’d just like to raise a glass to Paula and to all those other home health aides in the world who truly make a difference in the lives of others.