I Hope I’ll Never Get Like That

What do you think of when you hear the words ‘old age’? Grey hair, hearing aids, pensions…? We all know it’s coming. When I think about it, I think of my job. I’m a care assistant and as a young woman working with the elderly, it crosses my mind more times than I like to care about. Before I became a carer, I had a cushy job in a shop. Nothing terribly nasty to deal with, except the odd rude mother. I had never thought about what will happen to me when I’m old. And I’m pretty sure many people older than me still haven’t thought about it either.

Where I work, I have had to deal with a large range of people, all old, but all very different. Some can walk, some can’t. Some can, but won’t. Some have a great sense of humour, and some are the rudest people I’ve ever had the misfortune to meet! So when I’m helping all these different people, I’m wondering to myself: will I end up this way? Will I end up relying on a person to wash me, clothe me and take me to the toilet? I want to know at what point in my life I might say, “Hey, you know what? I can’t be bothered any more, you do it for me.” It’s not the way I want to grow old, but I’m pretty sure that the people I have to help thought that too. I’m not saying that everyone is like that, but I’m sure some are. There’s always someone worse off than yourself, and I wish that some people could see how lucky they are.

Being very young and being from a town where 90% of my school friends all have two or more children, you’d expect me to be familiar with poo. Well, let me tell you, I wasn’t. Until I did this job. I was literally thrown in the commode at the deep end. All of a sudden, I was experiencing the world of incontinence (not personally!) and you can’t be squeamish when someone’s in a ‘bit of a pickle’. As long as you’ve got your gloves on, it’s down to business! And unless you’re in some sort of care role, I’ll bet you’ve never come across the Bristol Stool Scale. Yes, you got it peeps. Exactly what it says on the tin. I’ll be honest, it’s always a low point in my day when I ask a colleague “So, what type do you reckon that one was?”.

And so on to the inevitable. You’re born, you live, and then you die. Death seems to be a bit of a taboo in our house. I’m quite happy to discuss it, perhaps because I deal with it on a regular basis, but Ben does not like to talk about it (It might be because I tend to strike up at conversation about it at bedtime…). But I find dying very interesting. It’s something people rarely get to watch happening. Sometimes it’s quick, sometimes it’s slow. The first thing to notice is that a person will fall into unconsciousness, and their breathing will change. And believe it or not, there really is a smell. I can only describe it as a sickly-sweet smell. It seems to emanate from the body; it’s not unpleasant, but it’s not pleasant either. Then you begin to notice hands and feet go cold. Once the skin begins to change colour, that means the body is shutting down. It almost works its way up (or down) the body, going from the extremities and then, I suppose, to the heart. And that’s it. All that personality – gone. Strange to think about it, really. Does it go somewhere? We’ll never know… Until we’re there ourselves. I’m not such a big fan of death though, it freaks me out a bit. I’ll leave the whole washing the body thing to the others!

So although I’m only 24, I’m very worried about what I’ll be like when I’m 84. I’d rather not get to that age, but knowing my bloody luck, I will. And you try and keep your dignity while someone’s washing your bottom because you’ve wet yourself. I have so many people say how embarrassing it is for them to be in such a situation, and I totally understand it. But I’ll always smile and say “Believe me, I’ve had worse.”

And it’s bloody true!

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