Oh, man, I read some crappy, bullying internet comments disrespecting Home Health Aides and Home Care Assistants as “bullshit jobs” a little while back, and I am so ready to unload on them. But now I can’t find them. I thought they were on this comments thread about the Fight for Fifteen for fast food workers, but they’re not. Though there is some first-rate toxic bullying on display here if you want to see it.
Now, I want to be gentle with people. I understand you worked really hard to not get very far and be deep in debt, and you’re feeling insecure about what little you have. And it’s easier to take those feelings out on people less powerful than you than on the more powerful people who are the reason you’re so threatened. I respect how good you are at whatever you feel important about- it’s fantastic and should be appreciated. Pray continue being justifiably proud of it. But if it’s the basis for bullying people who can’t pay their bills making sandwiches, and declaring that this is evidently as much as they’re capable of as human beings, so let them suffer, maybe a few deep breaths and a long hug would do you good.
In that paragraph, I’m responding specifically to the tone of that Fight for Fifteen thread. Please just bear with me for the rest of this post and grant that somewhere on the internet, there was a similar one about the work I do right now, which I’m now going to talk about because that $#!t is personal.
See, I’m a Home Care Assistant. Not even technically a Home Health Aide, because that involves certain routine medical responsibilities we don’t have. What this means is, I get called in to help out elderly people who still function pretty well, but are in enough decline that they need somebody around so things don’t go off the rails. First off, the idea that this work is acceptable to denigrate is everything sick and wrong about humanity wrapped up in a tiny little package.
But let’s say you’re looking at it, and it just doesn’t look very demanding to you. “Dude,” you may be saying, because in my internal imaginary dialogue, people always start this kind of thing by saying “dude,” “you take people to the grocery store, and hang out with them, and do minor housework. Sometimes you get to sit and read or play board games on the clock- that is not a real job.”
I can understand how it takes some unpacking to see how this is a real job, and I think it’s very worth doing. I studied theatre and film during my first undergrad (yeah, I’ve got two, plus premedical hard sciences). And I absolutely believe that there are no small parts, only small actors.
To excel at this job, you need to be very closely mindful of your clients. You need to be acutely aware of their physical and cognitive strengths and weaknesses. One of the most fascinating parts of it has been learning the uniquely personal ways to relate to people with mild dementia so that they are at their most confident and highest functioning. It takes time to find the rhythm, but there’s nothing so rewarding as the moments when you can see someone in that vulnerable position really feeling and acting like themselves.
There is no way to excel at this job without actually caring for your clients like family members, which is what they actually need to have around. In healthy cultures, there would be plenty of such people around, and we would all have more of the much needed time for togetherness and caring for each other. Sadly, our culture, built around returns to capital, designates a very small, specific circle for this type of caring inside the sitcom nuclear family. The rest of the time, we are expected to ruthlessly compete with each other and to bully each other over our failure/refusal to do so. Get your strokes at home, right?
So for various reasons which are nobody’s fault in particular, we need structured organizations that pull people like me together to do work like this, establish expectations, etc… When I get acidic about our returns-to-capital culture, it’s not to blame anyone or to be cynical about the professionalization of this work. It’s by far the most rewarding work I’ve ever done, and I think it would be great for us to expand it as a society to make sure everyone can have it if they need it. The way the French provide post-natal assistance to women, as documented in Michael Moore’s Sicko.
I would love to go into more specifics about how wonderful these folks are, how much I’ve gotten out of the opportunity to spend time with them, the tragically lost social resources I feel we squander by warehousing our elderly and under-involving them in the rest of our lives, but you probably get the idea by now.
Suffice to say this:
I’ve worked in Emergency medical environments where the situations are literally life-and-death on a regular basis. I’ve worked on web software projects that coordinate very significant professional activity in our economy, and in various ways have excelled in what are thought of (and outwardly appear) as more demanding and skilled professional work. Doing this quiet, simple looking work well is every bit as demanding and worthy of respect.
The only part of this work I don’t love is the part where it doesn’t pay my bills. And we’ve got too many people, in too many walks of life, in that boat right now.