CAREGiver of the Month Catherine Cox had been warned before she walked into a 100-year-old client's room in a skilled-care facility. The client was sleeping, but she had stopped breathing briefly three times that morning, and the nurses didn't expect the woman to live through the day.
"The client's health had been in a steady decline, so this was no big surprise. As I sat alone next to her, I thought to myself, 'What should I do? What can I do?' " Catherine recalled. One of the CNAs noticed Catherine's concerned expression and said, "You know, you don't have to go through this. It would be hard for anyone."
Catherine said: "I gathered myself and said, 'I want to do this. I want to stay with her and make it meaningful.' I am Catholic, but I had not said the rosary for a while. So, as I sat next to the client and watched her sleep, I said the rosary and continually prayed for her. I cried my eyes out like a baby. When my shift ended at 6 p.m., she was alive. She died shortly after I left. I had been with her for about three months, but it was meaningful to me. I wanted to hang in there until the end."
Working for Home Instead Senior Care® of North Austin, Round Rock and Sun City, an award-winning franchise owned by Tyson Murphy, has had more happy moments than sad ones. Even the poignant times, Catherine pointed out, are more significant and relational than her other jobs.
"Being a part of corporate America wears on you. I was in a quality-control manager's position and had spent 12 years with the same company. Sometimes, I had 16- to 18-hour days," Catherine said. "There is a peace that goes with being a CAREGiver. You see the smiles on the clients' faces. They know someone cares about them and has their best interests in mind. It was the best decision I've ever made. My job has been gratifying in every way."
Asked about previous senior-care experience, Catherine laughed and said with a mischievous grin, "Previous senior-care experience? None, but I felt as if I was sometimes an adult babysitter as a manager." Before joining Home Instead Senior Care, Catherine nearly embarked on a tag-team family caregiving endeavor with her mother to assist her grandparent who had shown signs of dementia. But the situation did not materialize. "Then I saw a Home Instead Senior Care online ad and decided, 'If I can't help my grandmother, maybe I can help someone else's grandmother,' " Catherine said.
Catherine joined the franchise in Round Rock in February. She was seeking a job that allowed flexibility with her family, including her 9-year-old daughter. "I have missed out on a lot of things because of long hours on a previous job, including my daughter's growing-up milestones. I want to make memories with my family like camping, hunting and fishing," Catherine said. "Management listens and responds. Communication is good. My boss is wonderful. I can call her directly whenever I need help. I feel good about Home Instead."
Catherine also feels good about two 85-year-old clients, a husband and wife, who have been regulars clients since mid-February. They reside in an assisted living community, and Catherine has been their only CAREGiver, which likely will change when their service is expected to increase in the coming weeks. Catherine anticipates that she'll share the expanded hours with another CAREGiver for seven-day-a-week coverage.
Both clients have said Catherine is like a daughter to them, and the husband told Catherine she is like the daughter he never had. Catherine quipped: "Since there is a 50-year difference between the two of us, so I told him, 'Put a 'grand' in front of that daughter.' "
Catherine spent significant back-to-back days with them in December. 'I joined them on Christmas, and it was a positive experience despite an illness the husband had suffered. It was an extraordinary Christmas because we spent it with the husband in the hospital, and opened presents there. There was a special feeling to it and made me feel even more like family because you never know if it is someone's last Christmas. I also spent their 25th wedding anniversary with them on the day after Christmas," Catherine said.
Catherine is well known at her clients' assisted living community. "All of the gentlemen residents are happy to see me and hug me. Seniors are great people, and they are forgotten people sometimes. Lots of people see me day in and day out with my clients in the dining room. I am part of the family at the assisted living. Whenever I see a death notice on their bulletin board, it's like losing a family member. It's usually someone with whom I've talked at one time or another," Catherine said.
While helping the clients and taking them on outings to restaurants, stores and coffee shops, Catherine serves as the clients' advocate. She alerted the couple's doctor in early December when the husband developed a cough, and subsequently was in and out of the hospital. "With the client's chronic condition, if you catch a cold or the least little thing, it can get bad quickly. My grandfather died of lung cancer when I was in eighth grade. Although the client does not have cancer, his situation was like a flashback to my grandfather's," Catherine said. "I talk to one of the clients' adult children every day about how they are doing, keeping the family updated."
Catherine loves watching over the clients and feels good about her impact on them. "At age 36," she said, "this job is a good fit for me at this time, good for me mentally, physically, spiritually and emotionally."
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