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Sunday, August 4, 2013

'Tis The Season: Thoughts on Hiring New Personal Assistants


The nitrile “healthcare grade” gloves are on sale at Costco, I'm trying to compress my life into a color-coded chart once more, and nearly prepared to tell you what time I will be showering—in November. That can only mean one thing… it is hiring season for personal care assistants. For those of you who don't know, a personal care assistant is someone who assists people with disabilities with all those decidedly awkward, unsexy tasks that are necessary to survive… dressing, bathing, going to the bathroom, fixing that wedgie you've had since you got up this morning, but haven't had a tranquil moment to take care of. Basically, anything related to basic survival and care that you thought was sacred, my PA has probably done it. Something that sets we cripples apart from the rest of the world is that after a certain amount of time, it stops feeling weird, and only when taken out of context does it sound quite questionable. For example, I assure you I would not make many nondisabled friends, or classy ones anyway, if I announced that I pay someone nightly to take off my pants. It's all too easy to forget that in most circles, there is no legitimate way to interpret that idea. Needless to say, I’ve had to come up with other things to chat about at dinner parties.
Although I’m used to it at this point, there’s still a slight uneasy hilariousness to the beginning of hiring season, as I sit back and attempt to advertise the opportunity to get a job, maybe the only job besides a nurse, that involves the bathroom, the shower,  changing someone’s clothes, and money without falling into that category of degrading side jobs you’d never tell your grandmother about. Writing the ad feels like a strange cross between a personal ad, a job opening, and an autobiography, as I click through the online job board trying to find a place for my performer of essential life functions among the calls for tutors, research assistants, house cleaners, and parrot sitters. “Student with a disability”… no too wordy, “Disabled student”… the word games go on for a while as I try to make butt wiping sound fun, educational, and more life-altering than washing dishes, bartending, or handing out popcorn at the home football games. Then, come the emails, as people inquire about what exactly they will be doing, leaving “including, but not limited to” as an indication that necessary skills may also mean good oatmeal making, getting a chip from yesterday out of my seat, or making certain that my Miralax doesn’t clump at the bottom of my morning milk. Then, there’s the first day, and it so often feels like a weird speed date that went a little more speedily than planned. There’s nothing like a new hire (read: ambulatory stranger), opening your bedroom door on the first day of school, exchanging favorite colors and zodiac signs with him or her, and moments after discovering we have the same favorite movie, winding up in the shower. Let’s not forget The Awkward Silence, as I become accustomed to yet another bathroom buddy, and clarify that can’t walk does in fact, mean can’t without the walker I mentioned in the brief overview of my disability. Soon enough, my friends at home know the heroes and villains of the personal care legion, and let’s not forget the brief cameos by those substitute overnight aides that answer the pager when I least expect it (introducing myself during a nighttime bathroom trip when my eyes are crusted shut is always fun!).
Hunched behind my laptop, reading through resumes, all of this comes to mind, and I cross my fingers that applicants’ “caretaking experience” refers to more than tending to a houseplant. Then, there’s the magic moment when I’ve finally hired someone, and alas, I know I will not be trapped in my bed eating bon bons after all. Replying a confirmation email with “Thanks for your interest! We’ll be pooping together in no time!” isn’t likely to charm new employees, so I type a quick “Looking forward to working with you!” and the adventure begins again.

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