HERE’S A DOOZEY!
Continuing with this month’s theme of “Got problems? We solve them!” -- here’s a doozey. A couple of weeks ago we received an email from a flustered caregiver – we’ll call him Larry. He’s had plenty of experience working with senior clients, elderly parents of adult children and has been an in-home caregiver for quite some time. He does a good job for SYNERGY HomeCare of Seattle…but he and Gwen didn’t see eye-to-eye during their last visit!
Larry reported in his scathing email that Gwen was verbally abusive; “I was called a mother f****r, a dumb s**t and a pompous b*****d.” Now, as an employer, we certainly don’t force our care givers to work under such harsh circumstances, especially if they don’t have the special skills needed to cope with such “anti-social” behavior. However, since we pride ourselves on “solving problems” and doing what we can to serve our clients, I’m pleased to tell you that we will continue to provide excellent care and service to Gwen, as we've done over that past 4 years. Maybe you are asking yourself, “HOW are they going to do it?” I’ll tell you.
HOW DO WE DO IT? – THERE ARE TWO STEPS
#1 – Get to know people. #2 – Be a good matchmaker.
Today we will discuss step #1 – Get to know people. Next week, we’ll talk a bit about step #2 – Be a good matchmaker.
STEP #1 – GET TO KNOW PEOPLE
From the very beginning we knew Gwen was a special person…and would require some special attention.
Back in the mid 70’s, in the city of Seattle, lived a young, bright, up-and-coming professional woman - Gwen. (Not her real name.) She was smart, energetic, thoughtful and very opinionated. Her future was bright and she was poised to make the world a better place. She was involved in local politics and was connected to state power-brokers through her work managing construction projects and other high-profile assignments for local authorities. One day…Gwen’s life changed forever. Just steps away from her Capitol Hill apartment, a man approached her. He brandished a gun. The assailant barked: “Give me your purse and be quiet or I’ll shoot you.” Gwen, who had a flair for colorful language, responded with the following words….”f**k you.” The criminal shot her in the head, at point blank range, with a 22 caliber revolver. The ensuing injury left her paralyzed on one side of her body.
Gwen suffered more difficulties in the late 1970’s when state aid to victims of crimes was cut. We came to know Gwen about 4 years ago. As a matter of fact, she was our very first client. She was having trouble staying on her feet and getting along with her peers in an assisted living facility. The staff grew tired of her demanding and “abusive” behavior.
GETTING TO KNOW GWEN
We took the time to learn about Gwen’s past difficulties, which gave us a window into her life. While Gwen was living with a bullet lodged behind her left ear, usually in significant pain, she was no fool. She also had no tolerance for feeble minds or silly procedures. While most of us feel the same way, Gwen had no automatic politeness filter. If you made a daft comment or said something that did not make sense, she let you know in clear terms…often peppered with expletives that would make a sailor blush. I am an ex-Navy guy, so while I did not blush, I did notice that the folks in the retirement community were not accustomed to a regular flurry of f-bombs just because the soup needed salt.
LEARNING FROM GWEN
I was able to learn plenty from Gwen, such as empathy and how we need to listen to our clients in a more thoughtful way. Some older folks communicate in non-verbal ways that are not always noticed. Words alone, more often than we realize, do not tell the whole story.
One day, early on, a caregiver called in sick – and we had nobody to send to Gwen. As a new owner of a homecare firm, I had no choice but to go there and take care of Gwen myself. She needed help to get up and out of bed, go to the bathroom and get dressed. As I mentioned earlier, I’m an ex-navy guy, so this was a first for me. To add to the challenge, Gwen is 220 pounds of feistiness; her compact body is as weighty as her blustery banter. I abruptly vacated my “comfort zone” as I helped her onto the toilet. My bubble of self-consciousness shriveled into oblivion when I heard Gwen’s voice! In language that sounded more like a master chief boatswain’s mate, she growled: “drop my f**king drawers, dammit. That thing won’t bite you!” Let me just say for the record that there are images and smells from that day that I would like to forget, but have not been able to so far.
Another time, I gave Gwen a ride to her doctor’s office. She gave me an earful that day, but I mitigated her outbursts by taking her out for a cup of coffee -- like she used to do in the old days. In the coffee shop, she was a regular person again (perhaps able to forget her troubles for a little while)…and I could tell she liked the feeling. It turns out that some folks have an instinct about handling awkward situations – and through my interaction with Gwen I learned that this old sailor has a knack for dealing with “difficult people.” I’ve discovered such instincts are enormously valuable in the homecare biz and I thank my friend Gwen for bringing it to my attention early in my home-care career. I guess you could say I have a sentimental attachment to Gwen, even though she’s sprayed me with appalling invectives for over 4 years. Who knew that being raised by a mom from South Philly, plus many years in the Navy, would make me so impervious to colorful expletives...and prepare me to take care of Gwen?
Is there someone like Gwen in your life? Give me a call if you think I can help.
All the best,
Ray Fitzgibbon, General Manager, SYNERGY HomeCare of Seattle
**Please visit us next week for the final installment of this series.