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Caregiver Spotlight: Ellen

Ellen spent the first part of her career in entertainment and the arts but found caregiving in her 50’s…with no plans to stop! Read her story and the great experiences she’s had in our “Caregiver Spotlight.”

What’s your background and how did you get into caregiving? 

I have a degree in fine arts, and I worked in animation and TV/film. I worked on 25 films over the years doing special effects and animations. After that, I became an illustrator and illustrated all different types of magazines and a couple of children’s books. But as magazines started dying out it wasn’t sustainable anymore. I was getting older (in my 50’s) I saw that medical workers were in demand.  I couldn’t really see myself in a hospital, but I had done some caregiving, so I went to school and got my CNA and my home health aide certification.  

I’ve now been caregiving for 8 years.  I started out with another agency in Santa Rosa for my first year, but then I heard about Sequoia and once I started, I never wanted to leave.  It’s so much better here and I am totally happy!

My experience in caregiving started with my own family. I helped to take care of my father for the last few years of his life when he also had other caregivers.  I watched what they did, and also observed the interactions with hospice. I witnessed the load that was placed on my mother and realized it was a lot for her to handle alone.  When a caregiver came in even for 3 hours in the morning to do the showering, grooming, dressing, and cleaning, it made a big impact for my mother. 

With the extra help he could stay at home and ended up passing away at home in his own bed.  I was able to see up close how important it is to age in your own home.  He was mentally alert at home but when he went out to the hospital he was completely confused.  

What does an average day look like for you?

Over the years, I’ve had a lot of different clients with different conditions.  I’ve been with one client for five years now, and the first thing that I do at the start of the shift is a quick check that she is physically healthy/ok. Then I help her with her showering and dressing.  During that process I’m watching and asking more probing questions to assess her health.  

During the day I do housekeeping and prepare meals for her. We go shopping, go to any medical appointments she has, and we get exercise in. She loves to swim, so we go to the pool so she can do that, and we also walk. Basically, I’m her house manager and I organize her schedule, return phone calls, make coffee, refill prescriptions, etc. She also loves to eat out, and part of my job is finding a new restaurant to try (we get takeout).

Food becomes a real nostalgic pleasure as you age. Another client had an old recipe book and really wanted to make recipes from her mother.  She didn’t have anyone to do it with her and she couldn’t do it on her own, so I started making them for her. It became a real thrill for her and was a really fun thing to do.

I also try to protect them from scams. It’s almost a daily activity! The scams might be by mail or online. I also help them with basic computer issues and tech stuff like uploading photos, emailing loved ones, or online shopping. 

Another important duty is advocating for my clients at medical appointments.  They need someone to speak up for them.  Knowing what questions to ask and when to push back for the client.  Seniors are often afraid to ask questions or they feel apprehensive when talking with the doctor.

What do you like about being a caregiver?

I enjoy the different things that I do and like the variety.  I don’t think that many of the tasks are really work, it’s more like just being a personal assistant.

I also love doing things that make a difference. Everyone has something that they want to do but just can’t, like my client who wanted to cook from her mother’s recipes. I was able to help a lady write her life story.  I wrote them down as she told them, and it ended up being about 16 stories and taking a few years. The stories were always special moments in her life, and it also helps the client with processing the end of their life. Everyone has interesting stories and I love listening to them. 

And it could be something small. One woman had a broken lamp and she was frustrated that she couldn’t fix it. I fixed the lamp and it made her really happy. It could be that they need something written and mailed.  They need someone to listen to them and figure out what is important to them. What do they really want to get done?

What’s the best part of working for Sequoia Senior Solutions?

The team and the owners treat everyone with respect and are encouraging. They’re very professional and organized and have a good communication system. There’s teamwork and camaraderie that I didn’t find at other places.  They reward your education and training. I’ve done all of the specialty program training several times and I use the knowledge in my work. The training and videos are very motivating. 

What surprised you most about caregiving?  

I didn’t really know about aging. I have, through the job, have learned a lot about aging, health, and the medical system.  And I’ve learned to appreciate and value the elderly.  I had no experience with death and dying and wouldn’t have thought about doing hospice. I honestly didn’t want to know about it and would have been freaked out to assist in hospice or just not considered it as an option.

Only until I had some experience with clients on hospice in addition to the experience with my father did I recognize it was a beautiful thing.  There is a special intimacy that comes with the process of dying.  I feel honored to be one of the last people to be with them in this important time. It has helped me to grow as a person.  

What do you like to do outside of work? Any plans for the future?

I love art and going to art museums, and still paint and draw. I also enjoy going out to eat, gardening, swimming, and walking my dog. My hobbies and being creative are priorities, and I like the flexibility of this job to do that. I’m going to be 70 next year and want to keep working – it keeps my mind sharp! I think this is the perfect job for me.

Any advice for those who want to become a caregiver? 

To be a good caregiver you should enjoy one on one relationships and really pouring into one person. You should also be organized and be good with housekeeping and the tasks that come with it. And take the classes and learn! 

Want to learn more about how to get started on your own caregiving journey with Sequoia Senior Solutions? We’re hiring! You can learn more about the job here, and check out our Top Ten Reasons to Be a Professional Caregiver post. You can also read more caregiver stories on our blog.

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