I didn’t have a good day today. One of my Service Users died. It sounds very cold when you say it like that, doesn’t it? Her name was Rose and she was 97. I’ve been going to see her for about 6 months. She was very independent; she lived in a little 1 bedroom flat, on the ground floor.
I knew she was dead as soon as I went in the flat. She had a key safe in case she couldn’t answer the door so I used the key to let myself in. I called her name and said it was me like I always do but there was no reply.
She was in the living room lying on the sofa. Her mouth was open but her eyes were closed and she was very pale and rigid; it was like she was made of marble. She must have laid down on the sofa for a rest and died in her sleep. She looked quite peaceful.
I used her phone to log in and then I called the agency. They said I should call an ambulance and then go to my next client.
‘I can’t leave her,’ I said.
‘Why not?’ said Jenny. ‘She’s not going anywhere.’
‘Because it’s not right to leave someone when they’ve just died. Where’s the dignity?’
‘It’s only a half hour call,’ said Jenny. ‘If you stay longer you’ll still only get paid for half an hour.’
‘Can’t you call a Social Worker and get the call extended? This is crazy.’
‘You’re right, it is crazy,’ said Jenny. ‘But that’s what we’ve been told. Cut backs.’
‘Cut backs will kill us all,’ I said. ‘Isn’t there any leeway?’
I stayed anyway. It wasn’t right to leave her. The whole home care system in this country relies on people like me working either for nothing or for virtually nothing. When are the politicians and ordinary people – and let’s face it it’s ordinary people who are going to have to pay more taxes to pay for it – going to realise that? I did some tidying up and cleaned up in the kitchen but I didn’t touch her.
It was 45 minutes before the ambulance turned up; they said they’d been busy with urgent cases.
‘You know what the health service is like,’ one of the paramedics said. ‘Cut backs.’
I told them who I was and the time I’d arrived.
‘You couldn’t make us a cup of tea, could you love?’ said one of them.
‘You can’t drink her tea,’ I said. ‘That would be stealing. And I’m not your love.’ I was angry.
‘Only asking,’ he said.
They checked her over and did some tests. Then they brought in the trolley and moved her onto the trolley and covered her and took her out to the ambulance. I used her phone to log out and then closed the door and put the key back in the key safe. The ambulance was still there.
Lots of my Service Users have died over the years. It’s sad but you get used to it. Rose was nice and I used to go and see her a lot. I would like to have visited her out of working hours but the agency has very strict rules about that sort of thing so I didn’t go even though she asked me to. There are lots of rules like that and I don’t really know why; it’s not hurting anyone. I remember one time I was passing her place on my day off and I thought she might need some milk so I bought her a pint and took it round to her. She was grateful but another Care Workers saw me and told the agency about it and I was suspended for a week with no pay while they investigated. A whole week with no pay for buying an old lady a pint of milk, I couldn’t believe it. But what can you do? Two hundred years ago I could have been deported to Australia for stealing a pint of milk so I suppose that’s progress, of a sort. I think maybe we should get a union involved in care work and then people like me might have a bit more protection. But no-one likes unions now, do they. It’s Thatcher’s Britain, even though it’s not Thatcher anymore, but it is really, if you know what I mean. We’re all on our own.
I don’t understand why they have rules like that; I was only being kind. But kindness is not valued very much now, is it?