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January 02, 2021

2020 CAREGiver of the Year

Written By: Brian Lahm for Home Instead of Mount Airy
Rebecca Michaels Mount Airy CGOY 2020 Picture

CAREGiver of the Year Rebecca Builds Trust, Takes the Lead, Shares Her Heart

CAREGiver of the Year Rebecca Michaels will never forget a night shift several years ago with a Home Instead® hospice client. Everything seemed OK until the client suddenly clutched Rebecca’s hand tightly and asked her to sing “Hallelujah” with him. In a few minutes, the client was almost screaming the words. Rebecca knew the client had not received pain medication during her shift, perhaps because there was no anticipation he’d need it.

As the episode continued, Rebecca took the lead as the client’s advocate. She asked the client’s wife to summon their son, who lived nearby and told the two of them, “He’s in pain and has started to hallucinate.” Rebecca asked the son to call the hospice nurse, who at first did not want to dispense pain medication. Rebecca implored the hospice nurse, saying, “He’s hurting. He needs help now.” While admitting she was running on adrenaline, Rebecca said: “In any situation, I don’t stop until a client gets what he or she needs. It seemed like a night of hell for this client, and the nurse had to leave to get the pain medicine. With the son’s permission, the client finally received a first and then second dose of pain medication and went to sleep.”

The client passed away quietly the next day. “I don’t think he could die until he had found peace. He was the sweetest man, a dear man who’d been a fire chief in a nearby town. The bottom line was, I could not bear to watch him suffer,” said Rebecca, who lives Home Instead’s guiding principles of “Build Trust, Take the Lead and Share Your Heart.”

For Rebecca, the situation was an affirmation that she’d made a difference. “What I did mattered. I had helped someone and his family. I’m closing in my 10th year with Home Instead, and I still feel strongly about what I do, my purpose in life. Someone is out there who needs help, and I can make a difference. I feel confident of my abilities,” Rebecca said.

Rebecca had gained that confidence before coming to Home Instead of Mount Airy in October 2012. From July 2010 to May 2011, while working as a private-duty caregiver, she helped take care of a 73-year-old family friend who had a fast-progressing form of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. The task seemed daunting.

“Getting my arms around her care was quite a process where I learned a lot. There were such things as feeding tubes and methods of providing medication. I did the CNA things. She was so supportive of me learning. I am grateful for her allowing me to be a part of her care,” Rebecca said. “I picked up lots of self-worth and self-confidence. I was terrified at first. One day, she was struggling . . .  I thought, ‘She won’t die on my watch.’ I got it under control.”

Rebecca’s entire life has been about helping people. When she was young, Rebecca loved babies. By the time she was 12 years old, she was babysitting. Rebecca recalled: “I never dated. I babysat on the weekends. I was happiest when I was babysitting. I have fond memories of babysitting. I thought I’d be a teacher when I started college. For some reason that I cannot explain now, I veered off and went into psychology.”

Rebecca’s first job after college was working with developmentally disabled adults. She called it eye-opening and sometimes sad. “I was so young and inexperienced, and I didn’t understand. I tried to do that job to get somewhere else. I became a clinical caseworker and went on to get my master’s degree. I found myself burned out with that career path, though. I did not know where else to go, but I knew I needed to switch gears. I became a full-time live-in nanny. I had a wonderful family for five years, and later I was with another family for two years.”

After having lived in New England since her college days, Rebecca returned to North Carolina 10 years ago. After her stint as a private-duty caregiver, she joined Home Instead of Mount Airy, an award-winning franchise owned by Van and Ann Lankford. “Everything I’ve done has taken me to this point,” said Rebecca, who was honored as a CAREGiver of the Month during her first year with Home Instead. In 2020, Rebecca received the franchise’s highest employee honor: CAREGiver of the Year.

Van said: “Rebecca came to us not long after we opened our Mount Airy franchise office 10 years ago. She is a wonderful CAREGiver and person, and she is well-deserving of this honor. She truly defines the word “CAREGiver” due to the great amount of care and compassion she provides to our clients. We are very pleased to recognize her contributions to this ministry of helping seniors and to honor her as our 2020 CAREGiver of the Year.”

Rebecca said: “I was really surprised to be named CAREGiver of the Year. The franchise has a lot of good people. When I think back to how I got started, I remember that my mother had a friend who worked at Home Instead, and I responded to a suggestion. It was a fairly new franchise when I was hired. They had been there only a year or a year and a half.”

Rebecca now has two regular clients, a 98-year-old woman and man in his 90s. “Both clients are my favorites, and they have good family support. “I’ve been with the widow five years,” Rebecca said. “She is an amazing woman, a plain delight. She is still walking on her own. Among her challenges is that the littlest different thing can cause a disruption. An antibiotic could change her personality. A change in routine can be impactful.”

Rebecca added: “The client’s daughter stays with her. Before the pandemic, her daughter lived and worked in Raleigh. Her daughter is into cooking, and I have learned so much from her about cooking. For example, I made spaghetti squash under her direction, which I never otherwise would have done. She is very innovative, and I enjoy helping her. She will go back to Raleigh when the pandemic is over. The daughter is a cheerleader for us CAREGivers. She’s great.”

Rebecca’s male client has Parkinson’s, so Rebecca is learning new aspects of care.

“He is delight, a sweetheart. He’s a good person who needs more physical care than my other client. With him, I have three overnight and one day shift. He is still able to walk with a walker, but some days he is so weak. He likes old TV westerns, and I hadn’t watched old westerns since I did that with my dad when I was much younger. I wasn’t sure I’d do that again, but now I am into ‘Gunsmoke’ and other western series. He also likes to ride in his Cadillac that he bought before he had Parkinson’s. I take him for rides. He knows the area like the back of his hand. He has three sons who are all supportive and visit every day. All you need to do is call, and they’ll come to do whatever is needed.

When Rebecca talks about her future, she thinks about family caregiving obligations and expresses it this way: “I live with Mom. Dad died in December 2019 and I had been his family caregiver. He had been ill for a while. When I moved back, I decided I wasn’t going to leave until my parents died. Mom is in very good health, and I have no intention of leaving her or Home Instead. I have so much compassion for seniors.”

All Home Instead CAREGivers are screened, trained, bonded and insured. For inquiries about employment, please call (336) 789-4472 or apply online. For further information about Home Instead, visit our website.