Dear Mike Rowe

If I wrote a letter to Mike Rowe, host of the former Dirty Jobs show on the Discovery Channel, in regards to a dirty job I know of, this is what I would say. (And there is a good chance that this might have ended up sounding more like a rant. Which I might or might not apologize for, let’s just be honest.) 

Dear Mr. Rowe,

I always enjoyed watching you shine the spotlight on the unsung heroes of the work force. As a daughter of a dump truck driver and a para-educator, I understand hard work and determination. Since I was 14, I have worked hard and continually, helping put myself through college to graduate with a Master’s degree in Pastoral studies. I never once shied away from the idea of hard work. Also just because I have now succeeded in getting that degree, that does not mean that I still won’t work hard with my hands at every opportunity.

I held down a full time janitorial job on campus during the school year and then worked as a full time caregiver during all school breaks. I was actually told by one classmate that he could never “clean up after the professors who teach me because I’m better than that.” I was completely baffled by that thought. Being a janitor is a good, solid, respectable job. I have always been proud of doing that job for my 7 years of undergrad and seminary, and even now continue to be a housekeeper, as the opportunity arises around my other full time job.

Since I was 14, I have worked as a caregiver. Mostly, I have cared for clients who have either Dementia or Alzheimer’s, both of which are terrible diseases that can drastically change the person you love into a stranger. You might have to watch your sweet grandma turn into an aggressive banshee, who chases you around the house, trying to hit you over something already forgotten. Or see as your loving father struggles with the fact that he knows he is forgetting something and becomes extremely agitated over that knowledge.

There are so many emotional ups and downs involved with being a caregiver. There is a balancing act that many people don’t see. I always get variations of two comments when someone realizes that I am a caregiver, “Wow, I could never do that job! Wiping people’s butts and stuff. Wow. I admire you.” or “That would be so awesome to have a job where you could sleep all day!”

They totally miss the purpose and the wonderful aspects of the job.

It is my job and my pleasure to attempt to be all things to one person.

My client is knocking on her 100th birthday in a sliver of years. She has lived through riding on a horse drawn wagon, to seeing a man walk on the moon, and now being ignored by her great grandchild in favor of watching a small handheld screen. The amount of unplumbed history just sitting there, watching the world spiral out of control on the news, is staggering.

Through this job, I wear many hats. Gardener, chef, housecleaner, counselor, chauffer, bookkeeper, dog walker, spider catcher, bird feeder, and whatever she might need at a moment’s notice. To say the least, I do not have time to ‘nap’ because my client, though nearly 100 does not nap.

Caregiving is not a easy white collar medical job. So many people think that it is an easy job because there is so much demand for care of the aging Baby Boomers that are filling the retirement centers.  Too many ill equipped care givers are now in the system. This is why I vote for finger printing and background checks of all people who are charged with the care of these precious clients. Too many abusers now have in their care, vulnerable adults. As like with most public care jobs, you hear too much about the bad ones that destroy the lives of those put into their keeping, rather than showing how someone who deeply cares for their charges, can go about making their last years comfortable.

Despite working in a private home or adult care facility, while the clients may change, my job stays the same. That job is to give my clients compassionate care that protects their dignity and gives them respect in all aspects of that care.

If I find myself scrubbing a bathroom into an inch of my life due to the ferocious cleansing agents of prune juice and promptly having to do it again within two hours, it is just par for the course. If it’s about driving one of my clients over a hundred miles just so they could get out of the house, I do so with a smile. It’s about biting my tongue to keep my opinions to myself, because my job is to listen rather than advise.

Caregiving is not about MY desires or wants. It’s about keeping them happy and healthy. It’s about cooking the same meal 20 times because you finally found something that they will eat and will hopefully gain a few pounds. It’s about being a pharmacist who has to beg her clients to take their pills. It’s about defending your client’s rights to live their lives as they see fit. It’s about speaking up for them when they are too scared to do so. It’s about neglecting your own sleep so that you can make sure that they are sleeping well. It is about treating them the way you will hope and pray you will be treated when it is your time to be in the care of someone else.

Caregiving, in my book at least, is a dirty job. I always wanted to write in and ask you to do something in regards to it, but with privacy laws,  you wouldn’t exactly be allowed to shadow someone on the job! I would just love to see a nod to those in this noble profession who, as you put it, make civilized life possible for the rest of us. It is one of those jobs that is over looked but is so diversified.

All said and done though, I am very proud of being a caregiver.

Thank you, Mr. Rowe, for doing all you do. I agree 100% that Americans don’t understand what hard work is anymore. Most of my generation has lost touch with work ethic and it is translating down into their young children. It is so sad to see that juxtaposition between the ‘Greatest Generation’ who were such hard workers and the stereotypical ‘Generation Me’ who is more focused on ‘what I can get for myself’ attitude.

I might be called old fashioned for some of my ideals and morals, but taking a look around me, I’m glad for that old-fashioned value set. It has held me in good stead my whole life, and I get to listen to all the untold stories that are just waiting to be let free from the minds of my quiet elders.

So, my hands might be gloved in vinyl blue, and while I might not be crawling under houses or putting my hands in some animal, I  think all dirty jobs are the jobs worth doing. Because at the end of the day you know you have accomplished something. And me? I am accomplished in my job when I see my client face another day, knowing I’m in her corner.

Keep dirty and work hard!

Ranelle Gildersleeve

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