January 19, 2021

A Job With Unexpected Joy

13 Questions with David Naniot
Dec. 19, 2020
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1. Why this field of caregiving? 

It’s so rewarding and there is such a tremendous need for it. Your parents gave you the first 18 years and got you in right direction, now you can repay the favor and give them the same. Be a light when their light is going out. For me that’s poignant — I lost both of both of my parents prematurely. 

2. Tell me about a special client?

‘Bud’ — one of my oldest clients at 103. I asked him, “What’s your secret?” For one, he never watched TV. He wanted real life. Once, he was on the edge of his bed, and because his circulation was not there, I sat down next to him and put some covers on him. And he — figuring I must be cold, too — took part of the covers and put his arm around me. It was such a genuine, pure move.

3. How do you bring joy?

One of my rehabilitation clients has a spinal cord injury. He wants to walk again; I 100 percent believe he will. I work with him three times a week on his range of motion. I ask how he is, and he says, “pretty good, Bill Murray,” referencing the movie Groundhog Day, because every day feels the same. I cleared it ahead of time with his wife to have my stepdaughter meet me there with two of our Havanese puppies. It was a terrific moment.

4. Some of your Comfort Keepers clients receive 24-hour care. With others, you’re tapping in for the family. 

Yes, some of our clients only ask for two hours a day. Some need cleaning and a little companionship, or personal care, or to have someone do the shopping and errands. Some I take to doctor appointments or am there as an extra set of hands. For one client, her husband has Alzheimer's setting in. When I come, her husband my main priority, and I help out while she runs errands. Sometimes she will linger, and I say, “It’s time for you to go now. I got this. Your husband is my buddy, and this is your break.”

5. So those small windows are good for their relationship?

I think that it really maintains some of the good moments, maintains the joy. 

6. Did meeting the owners and staff seal the deal?

There at several nurses on staff at Comfort Keepers, and training takes place at our home office in Petoskey or in TC. We learn safe lifting techniques, how to do personal care properly. They definitely give quality training in all medical aspects and can customize a client’s care plan with you. And then Care Academy — online training — which is 50 hours we take in the first few months of employment to get certified.

7. Work words to live by? 

I do have a battle cry! 1) Nobody falls on my shift. Falls are such a huge thing for an elderly person. If they have fallen, it can become a fear that they can over-focus on. 2) We hold onto what we’ve got and maintain as much as possible. 3) If we can recover what was lost to be called into this scenario, we will.

8. How are you helping people with isolation?
Bring puppies whenever possible. [Laughs]. Once I know clients are safe physically and mentally, I try to give them some hope or offer a listening ear. There is one gentleman, I know I’m really there to watch news and talk. A phrase struck me as a teenager — I had it on my bulletin board in the 80s: Every time an older person dies, it’s like a small library burning down. That is the truth, with all the experiences, jobs, states, neighbors, relations, and setbacks I talk with them about. 

9. Are you able to get out and about in the community, too? 

Right now, we’ve got to do it creatively, but we might go get a coffee at Bud’s Interlochen, or just head to a different setting, like the fish hatchery between Interlochen and Honor.

10. I’m curious what life experience and jobs led you to this, and how would someone considering this field make a similar leap?

If you asked me 15 years ago if I would be doing what I am doing for a career, I would not have guessed it. I worked in restaurants and at a grocery store, owned a cleaning service, was a Tae Kwon Do instructor. Having empathy is key. There are aspects to this that are very real, depending on what level of care clients need.

But, pick your favorite five people — could be family members, someone from school or work — and if something happened to them that they were in dire need, could you help them for several weeks or a length of time? Maybe you’d like to make a move from your current job. Try it part-time. You may really like this, and find it rewarding, unique, interesting work. Some of my favorite people I would not have met otherwise. 

11. And likewise, a part-time scenario for someone who isn’t sure that they are ready for in-home care? 

It might be that right now, you still do something pretty well, but how about in 10 months or in two years? We have that established relationship, and of course we can help you more. Why wait until something puts you over the edge. 

12. It’s the holidays! What are caregivers doing to make it special, especially during COVID?

One of my clients had zero Christmas decorations up — they are 90 and 92 and most of their family is in Canada. I talked them into putting out maybe 10 decorations. They agreed and said it felt a lot better. They didn’t have to carry anything downstairs. And I assured them I will put it all away, too.

13. I think we all would love that.  

[Laughs]. Yes.

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