Last night, a nurse saved a little boy’s life. She moved with professional, calm precision as she monitored his heart rate and his oxygen sat level, all while keeping him in the proper position so not to aspirate as his frail body convulsed uncontrollably in a tonic-clonic seizure. The boy’s oxygen sat dropped into the low 80s and his colouring began to change for the worse. Quickly, without missing a beat, the nurse reached for the oxygen tank, turned it on, and put the nasal cannula around the boy’s repetitively moving head. She kept track of the time while doing all of these life-saving activities, getting ready to administer the controlled substance which is a rescue medication to stop a seizure. This time, it wasn’t needed. The boy came out of the seizure just before the 3 minute mark. The nurse then spent the next 30 minutes by the bedside of this disabled boy, who has extremely profound and medically complex care needs, as his body began trembling head to toe in the recovery period after a seizure know as the postictal phase. As his O2 sat reached normal levels, she removed the nasal cannula, careful to turn off the tank and return it to where it would be a reach away, but not in the way. She stayed with the boy, ever vigilant, ever watching, monitoring his temperature and heart rate as he finally drifted off to sleep. She had just saved his life. Again.
But the thing is, it wasn’t a nurse.
It was me last night with my son, Brendan Bjorn.
His full time carer.
If you had read that first paragraph in a newspaper article, or heard it on the TV news, would you have praised the nurse for the tremendous work she does, supporting the well-deserved pay rise her union fights for on her behalf? I know the answer, and it is yes, you would. We all would, and rightly so, for the work of saving a life is a serious job and to be respected.
Yet, just this week, I had (for the countless time) someone ask me, “When did you last work?” Well…when don’t I work? Constantly on call with my mobile attached to my hip if Brendan Bjorn is away from me at school a mere 3 partial days per week, and otherwise he is with me and being cared for by me 24/7, I say the answer is: I am always working. If you doubt that, please do read the first paragraph again, this time picturing a nurse in the A & E, and then tell me if you would dare to tell her she isn’t working. Now that we have that settled, let’s talk about pay.
I am actually a CNA – Certified Nursing Assistant. With that, I have a question: what if carers all had the opportunity to obtain this type of training and certification and, based on the level of care needs of their loved one, they got paid accordingly?
Now hear me out, please.
If we carers had this (or similar) certification, were hired by either the HSE or via a home health care company contracted by the HSE, paid the fair market rate for the professional-level work we do, we would be able to contribute to our own future by paying into a pension scheme, pay taxes, save money, and have far more money than we do now which would surely in turn be put back into the economy by way of our new purchase power.
We could even finally qualify for a loan so to purchase our very own home if we wanted! We would be off of the social welfare rolls that we are currently, wrongly, relegated to, complete with all the negative connotations and economic restrictions that come with it.
We could have a CV that is still being built upon, rather than what we now have which is a glaring, many years long, hole where we cannot show any employment. And that, dear reader, isn’t going to help us become employable when/if the time comes that we no longer are full time carers. Remember, it was only this week when I was once again asked, “When did you last work?”
We might even be able to afford our own mental health counselling, which many of us need due to the demands of our highly stressful jobs. (Yes, it IS a job).
Ultimately, we would be less dependent on charity and government assistance.
We would be more financially secure (including having the increased sense of self-worth that comes with not being forced into dependency) and could rest assured knowing that there is a retirement pension building rather than a future destined to be filled with poverty.
Last night, a nurse saved a little boy’s life. Again.
But the thing is, it wasn’t a nurse. It was me last night.
His full time carer.