Freedom and Safety

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

I have begun a Certificate III in Home and Community Care this week.  Which is a bit scary for several reasons.  One is that health issues mean that I really don't know if I can do this or not.  But exhilaration is what comes straight in after that, if I let it, because being out on the edge of I-don't-knowness feels like freedom.  It is very liberating to acknowledge that I may well not be able to do something, and to do it anyway.

I think I'm gonna get through it, though.  Just possibly in the plan B version, the slow old lady's version of things - doing my classes first, and then doing my placement after that.  Taking the long way round.  Which makes me the perfect person to look after old people in their homes, does it not?  As long as of course I maintain attention and alterness along with the patience that comes from intimacy with the slow walk.

My first unit for the class is OH&S.  Which is about as dry as a nun's, as my auntie's ex-boyfriend would charmingly say.  That's not to say that I don't care about the safety of people -  I do.  I don't want to see anyone needlessly suffering anywhere because of carelessness on their own part or on the part of someone else.

But that doesn't means it's not as boring as batshit.

And it also doesn't mean that we don't lose a great deal in an emphasis on safety.  I went up in a hoist as part of my prac work this afternoon.  Hoists are used to lift some people from their beds into chairs, or to help lift people who have fallen.  They fit in with the no-lift policy that occurs in aged care, where machinery of this type will be used in almost all of those sorts of situations, and which means that far fewer workers are left with back issues, some debilitating.  Which is great.

But the price of the safety is a sort of alienation.  Going up in that hoist was a little unnerving.  I can't begin to imagine how it must feel for an elderly person to be strapped into something and lifted.  I didn't really feel like I was going to fall, but then I'm not frail and aged and in a place that is not my home with a bunch of people that I may know to various degrees and probably care about, but who are not my family.

There is a part of me that lives purely in the realms of freedom.  It would probably die of tuberculosis or accidentally get itself run over by a truck, but I don't care what anybody says - I think I love that part of me more than any other part.  That part of me would hate living in a nursing home, would rather die first.

Freedom reminds me of the birds I saw on the way home, driving through the completely uninspiring streets of Dandenong and Endeavour Hills with all the other unthinking slavelike plebs.  They sat right above it all, in a big flock, doing lazy figure eights.

There's probably a whole lot of reasons for why they do that (circling to land to feed maybe), but sometimes I don't want to know the reasons for things.  I wish to simply watch those things and enjoy the poetica of it, the wastefulness of life that is more beautiful in its function than the rather tedious version we have going on here.  We have a lot to learn from nature.

After all, flamingoes could have evolved to duck off behind the flamingoan shelter sheds for a quickie to continue their species.  But they don't.  They dance their mating rituals.  And I know OH&S practices are there for a reason, but I'm going to try and remember at every turn to keep in balance a watchfulness for my clients' safety on the one hand, while trying wherever possible to foster their freedom on the other.

Running with the Seagulls by Ed Shipul (CC attribution/sharealike)


  1. This is beautiful, Sue. Truly.
    You have such a kind, gentle heart.
    You will do well in the course and be a wonderful carer. They'll be lucky to have you.

    I worked in a nursing home for nearly five years, from age 18. I experienced and saw a lot. A nursing home is not where I would like to end my time on this earth.
    I too value my freedom too much.

    I love your people-eye-view on birds. They represent so much on many levels.

    Funny, your thoughts on OH&S. So true... boring as batshit. I know, I used to work in the industry - yawn.

    1. Aww, thank you, Vicki. My heart is kind and gentle but my many defense mechanisms make it hard to keep it open. Ask my partner :)

      Wow, five years in a nursing home. That's a long time. Did you do the Vicks-on-the-outside-of-your-nostrils act as a way to deal with the smell?

      It's funny, the whole emphasis on safety is important and necessary, but sometimes I wonder how much our death-denying culture feeds into that to over-emphasise it? It's such a complex issue, I don't know if I can tease out my thoughts to explain why the over-emphasis on safety feels bulbous in some way, but I think it has something to do with that. A fear-based emphasis on safety in case someone dies and we're sued, rather than a loving emphasis on safety out of compassion, because you don't want people to be hurt. I wish to focus on the second while trying to diminish the first. There are so many fearful people and institutions out there.

      Here's to both of us having heart attacks on the walking track rather than drawn-out nursing home ends :)

    2. Never thought of Vicks under the nose in those days - we just got used to "the smell" after a few minutes into our shifts.

      OH&S was not the omni-presence that it is these days - but safety was still paramount. We were uber aware, without the looming litigation over our heads.

      Yes, I can only wish for a "natural" end at home before being shunted off - to put it nicely :)

  2. What Vicki said. Have a great time:)

  3. Congrats, Sue!!! Carpe f*cking diem!!!

    The relationship between freedom and safety is one of my favorite contemplations. Did you ever see this blog post I did on that subject?

    1. Thanks for the link. When you talk in your post about how freedom is taken away from some people so that others can feel safer,

      I love what you say too about freedom being a paradox - that committing to a path and limiting your options sometimes means freedom. I am reminded of this when I stand in a supermarket aisle and see 137 different brands of tins of tomatoes. That doesn't feel like freedom; it feels like restriction.

      Also reminds me of the story I heard Clarissa Pinkola Estes tell once, The Three Gold Hairs, which I wrote about in this post here

  4. I'm really excited for this for you. I was an activities intern at a memory care center (home for older adults with Alzheimer's Disease and dementia) and there is a lot of joy in spending time with our elders. They know so much...even if they can't remember what they had for lunch, they can remember amazing life experiences. But, I commend you for going into the caregiving side of it. That's challenging and totally rewarding stuff. I was doing the "reading books and playing games" end of it.

    1. It's definitely challening. Rather scary, to be honest. There have been more than one time that I have been panicking and thinking, "I can't do this, I can't do this." But I'm tired of listening to that panicked voice. Experience will bring confidence.

      Ooh, you were doing activities, I didn't realise that! I would love to hear of your experiences, as I am planning next (if I get through doing this certificate) to do a Certificate IV in Leisure & Health, so that I can become an activities assistant. I'm hoping to do both care and activities part-time - I think that would be a lovely balance.

  5. I so appreciate all of your comments and the time you take to share them. It's food for my soul, dudes.

  6. *Thinking out loud*:

    I think part of my problem with OH&S stuff is the emphasis on safety in a world that does not feel safe to me. It's like policies and procedures ad infinitum whilst ignoring the fact that we have created for ourselves a system that is cutthroat and competitive. I feel the clanging disconnect of that, and the hypocrisy, and I think that's where my chains get rattled.

    1. Bravo! So very well said!
      I can SO relate to your comment, Sue.

      As mentioned, I worked in the OH&S industry, and "policies and procedures" were paramount to cover all bases protecting the company, whilst ensuring "competitive prices". Yuck.
      It felt as though insurance against litigation was more important than the "human side" at times.

      And yes, it has become an industry.

    2. Yes, it's a bit depressing, isn't it :(

      Still, gotta try to work around that stuff while keeping in mind what's really important. I have struggled with that in the past - idealism getting in the way :)

  7. Oh the part about having other people hoist you up struck a chord with me. So important for potential carers to experience it first hand. I'd be terrified.

  8. I was very pleased that they have this as part of the training.

  9. Hello Sue, freedom and safety is a beautiful topic you chose to write an article on and I must say that you wrote it very well. It is informative and entertaining.

    Keep sharing the thoughts. I've bookmarked your blog for future reading!

    Arnold Brame
    Health And Safety Training Peterborough

    1. Thank you very much, Arnold Brame of Leeds :)


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