A Caregiver’s Point of View…
Cockroaches crawling out of the drain...Abort Mission!
Not ever a text I’d imagine myself sending. I don’t do bugs. It’s a matter of principal. They have too many legs, and it freaks me out.
When clients have asked me about my old job in central Maine, they don’t really understand what I mean when I say that working in Belfast is “so much easier.” With my old agency, I worked with a lot of people who had grown up in pretty dire poverty, without the access to healthcare and life education that I had always taken for granted. This was rewarding and challenging in its own way. I had to teach people things that I had never thought twice about: the food groups, proper flossing, how to look at receipts to plan for future expenses… I was a nutritionist, a bookkeeper, a counselor, a maid, and a friend.
My biggest challenge was bugs.
I’ve worked in some dirty houses. Life happens, messes happen, dirt is inevitable, especially when people can’t get up and clean themselves. I have a magic touch when you put cleaning supplies in my hands.
I started with a new client at the end of July. Things were dirty. Not messy, there weren’t piles of clutter; there was a film of grime and nicotine coating every visible surface. I was undeterred. I scrounged around the dingy apartment and found the dusty bleach bottle, some rags, and a very sad-looking sponge. That was enough; hot water and bleach, with a little elbow grease, will clean just about anything. I could, and did, handle that apartment with aplomb. The first day I tackled the kitchen, and the bathroom. All fine and dandy. I left that evening drenched in sweat, with grimy hands, feeling satisfied.
Then things got complicated.
The next day I showed up, smile on my face, bucket of dollar-store cleaning supplies in hand. (This was not the first house I had been in with an under stocked broom cupboard, so I kept said bucket in my trunk in case of emergencies.) I am not easily fazed. This was just another opportunity to have a positive effect on somebody’s day. I’m good at cleaning. I am a Clean Machine.
Counters were scoured, expired food was thrown out, the bathroom was scrubbed from ceiling to floor, windows were washed and opened, and sunlight and the summer breeze were able to filter in. The apartment was slowly becoming a healthy and safe place for this woman to live, and she couldn’t stop telling me how grateful she was.
The first hiccup occurred when I went to clean the bedroom. This was the first carpeted floor I’d had to walk across, although I hadn’t thought about that fact yet. The client was playing some upbeat music, we were singing along, joking, laughing. I started to make up the bed with the clean sheets I’d found and washed.
Then I felt a tickle on my ankles.
I was wearing shorts.
I looked down.
I saw dozens of fleas crawling up my bare, pasty legs.
Folks, I reacted as calmly as I think I could have, under the circumstances. You have to understand, when I say I don’t do bugs, I really mean that I am nearly phobic about bugs and any other type of parasite. I had lice once several years before, which prompted me to get that short haircut I had been considering. Spiders make me cry. I lovingly refer to my better half as “The Most Noble and Chivalrous Insect Killer.”
So, in this instance, not wanting to insult the Nice Old Lady that I had just met, I brushed the offending insects off my legs, popped my head into the living room, and told her that I was very sorry, something came up, and I was going to have to leave a little earlier than expected. She understood, she looked forward to seeing me tomorrow. Smiling, I walked out the front door, phone in hand.
I am, to this day, proud of myself for not losing my cool in the client’s home. I know to some it may seem like an overreaction, but everyone who knows me knows how I feel about insects. I saved the freak-out for the driveway.
As a self-proclaimed neat-freak, I keep a roll of small trash bags in my car, because you never know when you might need one. I grabbed one from the trunk, and as I was on my phone on hold, waiting for my staffing coordinator to get off the line, I stripped down to my under-shirt and skivvies. Everything else, from my shoes to my shirt, went in the bag. I was backing out of the driveway, barefoot and half-dressed, when she picked up the phone.
“Boss,” I said, as levelly as I could, “[Redacted] has fleas.”
“Oh dear,” she replied.
“No, you don’t understand. We are talking dozens. On me. From walking across a carpet. It’s an infestation. I left. I need to go home and change before my next client. They have 3 cats, I can’t bring fleas into their house.”
Thankfully, she understood both my rationale and the barely-contained hysteria in my voice. I called up my mom and asked if she’d leave my bathrobe in the garage and make sure the washing machine was empty. I was able to go home, change, quickly shower (I could practically feel my scalp crawling with the memory of lice), and get to my next client’s house, only a half hour late.
My supervisor and I devised a battle strategy: the following day was a Friday, and the Nice New Client was getting paid. I was to pick up flea powder, cat collars, and spray during my already-planned grocery trip. I did so, even though I had been told that I didn’t need to go back if I wasn’t comfortable. I was ready. I was going to wage a one-woman war on the bugs.
Carpets were powdered, furniture and drapes were sprayed, all the bedding and laundry was washed. Over the next week I did everything in my power to eliminate those blasted fleas, and I won. After much effort and many rounds with the vacuum cleaner, the fleas were gone.
Eventually, I was able to get that dim, dingy, buggy apartment to look like a home. A previously grimy kitchen was now sanitary enough to actually prepare food in. The bathtub would no longer make you dirtier just by looking at it. We were on the up and up.
Then I took a few days off for Thanksgiving.
I admit that I was a bit disheartened when I came back to that client’s apartment, only to find a stack of dishes that was literally two feet high. I knew that my client couldn’t do the dishes; she had mobility issues. It saddened me that none of the 12 guests she had for the holiday had bothered to help her clean up, and honestly, I was not very enthused about cleaning up after them either. I had already been through the holiday gambit at my own house.
Resolved to just get it over with, and get things back to rights, I started to run the water. The dishes weren’t going to wash themselves. And then it happened.
Cockroaches started crawling out of the drain. Not one, not two, but at least 3. I wasn’t going to let any more pop out; I threw both taps onto their highest flow and dumped a very generous amount of bleach down after them. I was not, at the time, worried about the plumbing. I was living my own personal nightmare.
COCKROACHES IN DRAIN. ABORT MISSION.
I did the best I could. I, once again, deep-cleaned that apartment, trying to remove any crumb of cat food, or un-rinsed soda can that might tempt the roaches into the apartment. I called my supervisor, to have her contact the client’s landlord, or the housing authority, or ANYONE. I still didn’t leave this client. I knew if I wouldn’t stay and handle this case, nobody would. I’m not the type to abandon someone who needs help.
In case anyone is wondering, a good way to keep cockroaches out of drains is ¼ cup bleach daily, chased by very, very hot water.
I don’t do bugs.
Written by Zoe Quick, Office Manager at Private Home Care, Inc.