Care is a two-way street: Val and Shirley

In this delightful new segment, Ian Rose chats with a carer and a “caree”, sharing their stories and the bonds that have developed between them.

Val is eighty years old, housebound, and living with chronic pain. Shirley has been performing homecare services for Val, mornings and evenings, around 5 times a fortnight, for nearly three years.

Here, they talk to Ian Rose about a professional relationship which, after a rocky start, has evolved into a friendship that enriches both their lives.

VAL on SHIRLEY:

She’s so fast and so reliable. This is why we get on so well – she thinks for me, almost.

Funny thing is we didn’t click from the beginning.  I even complained about her. 

I’m not a morning person. (My husband kicked me out of the kitchen after we been married about three weeks because I was so hopeless in the mornings). And Shirley came in so bright and cheery, almost over the moon, that I thought “Oh my god”.  It almost seemed like affectation. She came in so breezy and loud, after a few times I just rang the agency and said I can’t handle this first thing in the morning.  And she was so upset because she never had anyone complain about her nice friendly manner! And from then on, I don’t know, we just got better and better until the point where we are just the best couple that could be.

She’ll bring me things before I even realise I need them myself. Like when I’m getting low on pens – because I’m an artist I’m mad on pens – and she’ll turn up with some. She thinks for you – you don’t have to ask all the time, she’s always one step ahead.

I used to make little cartoons for her in the morning so that when she’d arrive there’d be one waiting for her about what she does for me. I did one when Covid came in with me sitting there in my armchair with toilet rolls all around me, and I’ve got a gas mask on and she’s squirting me all over with alcohol.

I feel it’s not patience we need, it’s compassion. It’s not all one way. Carers have problems too. 

She had some very bad news about her own health at one stage. She just sat on my walker, she didn’t know what to do and how to tell the children. She hadn’t told anyone else, but she told me. She confided in me.  She trusts me.

Last night she came in nearly doubled up with a bad back, and I said right, you’re not getting my dinner tonight. She said “What do you mean?” You’re not doing it, I said, look at you –  have you taken anything for it? She said “No, I had an empty stomach, I couldn’t”. I said, you should’ve eaten something and taken an anti-inflammatory.  “I know I should’ve”. So why didn’t you, I said. There’s the massage chair, go and sit in it. “Oh, alright boss”, she said. Went and sat in it, turned it on and said, “Oh, this is heaven”. 

If we are both a little bit down, within five minutes of being in each other’s company we are    completely lifted. Shirley might be a morning person, but by the time she gets to the evening she’s had it. 

I lift her up at night, she lifts me in the morning.

SHIRLEY on VAL:

What was my first impression of Val? Well, you might not be able to print it. 

I bounced in, full of fun and happiness, and she was such a grump! Not a morning person, Val. I was unaware of that. Of course, I put it down to health issues – she’s in a lot of pain – anyone would be the same.

She reported me to the office because she couldn’t cope with someone being so nice when they arrived in the mornings. My philosophy has always been – well, how would I want my mum or dad to be treated? That’s how I do my job.

Over time we’ve adapted to each other and become good friends.

Now we can talk about just about anything. If I have a problem she picks up my body language very quickly.  

The other day, about five minutes before I got to her, I had a message from one of my girlfriends that one of the residents of the aged care I worked at had passed away, and I was in tears before I went into her, and thinking jeez how am I gonna cover this up, I’ve gotta do this service now… So I went in and started the work and Val said, “Right. Stop. What’s wrong?” And I go, no, I’m fine, and then I burst into tears. She was a real comfort.

Yeah, she’s very thoughtful and she’s great for some advice. There’s real trust. Friendship. So many interesting stories, too. She travelled a lot with her husband, done some amazing things and painted in some of the most beautiful places in the world. 

Those pictures! She knocks them out in five minutes – so talented.

I’ve got a bundle of them here – I was looking for a particular one. 

When I first started, she said “Watch out for Freddy”, so I said “Who’s  Freddy?”.  Val goes, “He’s my spider”, and I thought – you’ve got to be joking, if I see Freddy, he’s getting sucked in that bloody vacuum cleaner so quick he’s not gonna know what hit him. And every time I went to Val’s I’d see Freddy somewhere or other, and I’d think one of these days I know I’m gonna vacuum you up. Then Freddy died and she made a “Rest In Peace Freddy” picture for me and I have to admit I was quite cheerful at his passing!

Of course, I tone it down in the mornings these days.

She’ll still tell me off now, but it’s all part of our banter, all tongue-in-cheek. And if she does I just say, “Well, who’s the boss today? Who’s doing this job – me or you?” 

Val and Shirley’s names have been changed for this article.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. The Story of Val and Shirley made my day . I was in a depressed state then i decided to look on my IPad and saw Hello Care . I read all the story and i smiled and perked up quite quickly. Thank you it was just what i needed. I loved the drawings.

  2. This is not only a delightful but also a most important story that needs to be widely disseminated. It shows what can be achieved in humane care where there is mutual respect and friendship between carer and cared, giving both the best of all possible worlds. And the charming illustrations are a bonus.

    Possibly the basis of a short book?

  3. I loved the story about Val and Shirley. This type of relationship can only develop if the provider is able to send the same carer to look after the caree. Unfortunately my father’s experience of home care was of him pretty well receiving a different person every day. He had no real opportunity to get to know them and have a chat.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

8 Tips to Support Family Carers in Their Role

In Australia there are approximately 2.86 million family caregivers or unpaid carers that provide approximately 1.9 billion hours of care per year. The estimated replacement value of family carers is $60.3 billion annually. It is clear Australia depends on carers and number of unpaid carers is only going to increase as the population continues to... Read More

Cooking, washing, cleaning: The Swiss aged care home where residents continue with everyday activities

  A couple of years ago, HelloCare published an article about giving aged care residents the freedom to eat whenever they choose, rather than at set meal times. The article, Should Aged Care Residents Be Allowed To Eat Whenever They Want?, attracted a flurry of responses saying the piece did not take into account practical... Read More

New program unites young and old: “The power of connection can’t be underestimated”

Residents from an aged care facility in WA’s South West are participating in boisterous, vibrant and fun sessions as part of a new program based at a childcare centre.  Read More
Advertisement