Sep 25, 2020

Sharing the “good vibes” in aged care

Vicki Cain dreamed of being a nurse from the age of four. She would often accompany her grandfather, the local surgeon in Ballina, on his rounds, and it was from that point she decided working in aged care as a nurse was the career for her.

So, after leaving school at 16, Ms Cain got a job at the local aged care facility. “I walked out of there the first day feeling like I was on fire,” she told HelloCare when we caught up earlier this week. She had found her calling.

Ms Cain worked in various roles in the aged care sector, but it wasn’t until the age of 32, when she was reestablishing her life after a divorce, that she set her sights on achieving her dream of becoming an gerontology nurse. 

She enrolled in a nursing degree at university, and worked as a cleaner to pay her way.

Ms Cain gained entry into Blue Care’s graduate program, and it was a “quick trajectory” to leadership roles within the organisation. 

Since then, she has completed post-graduate studies in dementia care, and worked in governance and administration roles. She is now back on the floor as a residence manager with Arcare Aged Care’s new Pimpama residence.

She believes the key to her success is her “genuine passion” for the work.

“I absolutely love what we do. Where else do you get to go on the journey with people and get to know people so intimately. 

“You have the privilege of providing some of the most intimate, personal care that even a resident’s own family would never dream of attending. And you have to take that privilege very, very seriously. It’s such a position of respect and trust that we’re given,” Ms Cain told HelloCare.

“Good vibes”

We reached out to Ms Cain after seeing her ‘Good vibes in aged care’ posts on LinkedIn. Every day she is posts positive stories about her days in the aged care home. She intends to make 30 posts and is currently up to Post 17.

Resident Mary enjoys the company of friendly, Ziggy. Image supplied.
Resident Mary enjoys the company of parrot Ziggy. Image supplied.

Some posts are about incidents that happen during the day.

In Post 4, she said, “Zoom catchup between a daughter and her mum who has dementia in my office this morning and mum could see her dog in the background of the video. She waved and called to him and then stopped, saying “What, am I expecting him to wave back?” Too funny #life #video #children”

Others are about the running of the aged care home.

In Post 15, Ms Cain wrote, “Two polar opposite experiences today. A colleague came to see me and asked what I would think if she did her Enrolled Nurse Diploma at 59 and could a cleaner do it? I made a pact that if she did her ENs I would put her on. I reminded her that I put myself through university cleaning toilets and each role is as important as the other. 

“Second thing that happened is that a client, who was a Registered Nurse and has dementia was sitting with me while I was doing an audit and I asked if she wanted to help. I did mention I wouldn’t pay her, and as quick as anything she replied, “Well that’s an easy no!” We both laughed and ate some more lollies 🍬 #community #mentalhealth #jobs #life”

I began my conversation with Ms Cain by asking her what prompted her to start creating the posts.

“COVID,” she said.

She and her staff had to think outside the box to ensure residents weren’t suffering during the pandemic, and that they didn’t become lonely. 

They’ve been able to keep most of their activities going and have experimented with new ways of running groups. For example, they have residents leading some of their activities, always observing social distancing of course. 

They have been able to continue walks down to a nearby river and the lake, and Ms Cain brings her dogs and bird in from home every week to entertain the residents.

They try to make light of it. But Ms Cain said she also wanted to share the beautiful moments that happen every day, but often get missed.

On the day we spoke, a resident had fallen, and Ms Cain said she had shed a few tears on the way home.

“I had a little cry, because I wanted to give more,” she said. “When I got home, I looked at my husband and he said, ‘You love what you do, don’t you?’ And I said ‘I absolutely do, I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.’”

Resident Jean drove an Austen around Europe with friends. Image supplied.
Resident Jean drove an Austen around Europe with friends. Image supplied.

“I just wish people could see the hard work that we do and to intertwine that with the beautiful things that happen,” she said.

“Wherever I’ve worked, we’ve just had wonderful times. Most of us do aged care well,” she said.

Involving residents in management and the everyday

At Pimpama, residents are also involved in meeting and decision making in the management of the home. 

“We have a COVID-19 meeting every week and we have three residents on that panel, three residents are on our clinical panel. And we have residents interview prospective staff,” Ms Cain explained.

Residents are also involved in day-to-day chores. “Our residents help lay the table, they wash the dishes, they clean the floors and put their own clothes away. I have the residents come into my office and we do filing. 

“They don’t come into aged care not wanting to do anything,” she said.

Not the “poor cousins”

Ms Cain said people who work in aged care don’t receive the respect they deserve, and are often thought of as the “poor cousins” of other healthcare workers. 

Her clinical skills are on par with any other healthcare workers, and she does all she can to encourage her staff to gain as much experience and further training and education as possible. 

“You have to keep learning. We do a lot of clinical education,” she said. “I want them to be proud of what we do and know that we do make a difference to the people that matter, and to be proud of where they work. 

“I’m proud of being a gerontology nurse,” she exclaimed.

Creating positivity

Ms Cain has been through difficult times, which, rather than leaving her bitter, have left her feeling that every day is a blessing. 

“I believe we can choose the impact we want to leave with everybody,” she said.

“It might annoy some people, they think ‘they’re always up’. But we all know it’s hard,” she said. 

Spreading joy 

Some time back, Ms Cain was caring for a woman who was dying of cancer. The woman, who had been an archaeologist, was angry. 

Ms Cain visited her one day, and asked her how she was going. “She said ‘I’m angry. I’m so angry. This is not fair. I’ll never get to see grandchildren. I’ll never get to work again. I’ll never get to make love to my husband again. I’m angry.” And rightly so”, Ms Cain said.

The two developed a strong bond, and the day after that conversation, the woman said, “Do you know the problem with you? You suffer from perpetual cheerfulness.”

“Is that a problem?” Ms Cain asked.

The woman replied, “No, but I bloody hope it’s contagious.”

Image: Vick Cain, right, with good friend and resident, Jan. Republished with permission.

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