An 18-year-old care assistant. Not exactly my expectation, but for now, the reality. The routine of a six-hour school day gone after 14 years.
My schedule now? I assist an older lady with her morning shower. I make a widow her breakfast. I dress a gentleman. I hoist an immobile woman from her bed. I give medication, I escort people to hospital appointments, I provide companionship, I care.
After unsuccessfully applying to study medicine last year, I wanted a job involving people that would immerse me in the health and social care world without requiring a degree. I searched for roles as healthcare assistant, volunteer, anything that didn’t involve only a desk and a computer. I uploaded my fresh CV to some sites. Then homecare company Bluebird Care contacted me.
Training was completed in three days. A week later I had my tunic, fleece, gloves and aprons ready in a plastic bag (I like to think of them collectively as my super suit). My alarm set for 6am, I slept, nervously anticipating my first day.
I need to be patient, tolerant, completely calm and understanding at all times. I stand there with 18 years of a life lived, but in front of me is a whole life lived, an abundance of stories and memories, still being lived – and my responsibility. Service users surely have prejudged my abilities given my age. Many clients ask how old I am when I walk in: a pale, rosy-cheeked girl with impractically long red hair. I reply boldly, “18”. Their eyes widen, showing worry and surprise – understandably so. I like to prove their assumptions wrong from this exact point. This is the time to eradicate any negative judgement and disapproval by kicking arse at the job I am proud to be doing. So far, no complaints have been filed.
The uniform has quite an impact on how I am perceived in public. As a teenager, I am used to averted eyes, judgmental sighs and prejudice. When in uniform, people make way, glance a smile, look comforted, thinking if they dropped down right then on the pavement I’d be able to save their lives.
I’ve never truly appreciated the benefits of a good night’s sleep before now. The job requires unrelenting energy, complete attention, and is physically and mentally demanding too. I’m caring for lives, so I need to be at my best. The added pressures of teenagedom don’t make the naps any less frequent: friends, family, hormones, boyfriends, broken hearts, nights out, hangovers, university applications. I’m exhausted, rushing through this year of my life, an age many of my service users refer to as “the good times”.
The truth is though, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Despite the demands and fatigue, I love the job. The people I meet make it all worthwhile, the stories I collect. I come home every day, knowing I’ve made a positive difference to at least one person’s life. There are moments that make me laugh until my sides split, and others when I can’t help but cry. My eyes have been opened to the stark reality of what many people’s lives come to. I have matured, by demand, and taken on responsibilities many people I know would not, and could not, cope with. I never imagined how this job would affect my life. My perspective has changed on everything, my behaviour too. My priorities, values and morals have all been rearranged. I’m trying to appreciate this time of my life, after being advised multiple times by my clients “don’t grow old”.
So yes, at 18, I am a full-time care assistant. The school holidays are long gone, emotions are erratic, partying in town is rare, but I’ve never felt so worthwhile in all my years.
-Jodie Gornall, Care assistant, Bluebird Care Trafford