By Heidi Johnson-Wright
I’ve been an employer since I was 17 when I hired my first personal care attendant. In the intervening time – more years than I care to mention – I’ve had some very interesting experiences. And I’ve certainly learned a lot about human behavior.
Like anyone with a disability, I’ve had my share of otherwise good attendants who were chronically late. Most memorable was a quiet little mouseburger who worked for me my first year of law school. She compulsively hit her snooze alarm, often coming darn close to making me miss my morning van ride to class. When I’d finally had my fill of unnecessary stress and her excuses, I insisted she put her clock radio across the room from her bed. She looked at me as if I’d decoded the Rosetta Stone, such was her astonishment at my solution.
Many of my PCAs were young ladies, often allied med students. I typically found college kids to be energetic and motivated. They showed enthusiasm for the job, and I loved hearing their crazy stories about whack roommates and parties with techno records and plastic trash cans filled with hairy buffalo. But students can be flighty and short-sighted. I had several come on strong at first, then quickly lose enthusiasm. They decided a couple weeks in that they’d prefer waitressing, and I had to push the re-set button on the attendant search.
Eventually, I changed my approach and started seeking grown-ups. I figured they’d be more grounded and responsible. Some were; others, not so much. I hired one older lady who, after two visits, said she wanted to “job share” the position with her friend. She brought the other woman – unannounced – with her to my house and started right in on a hard sell. It seems her friend’s primary qualification was her other job as a maid for Sissi Fleitas, the buxom Spanish language TV personality. Did she think hand-laundering Sissi’s generously-sized brassieres was equivalent to showering a gimp girl?
I understand that attendants are people, too. They’ve got family problems, car trouble, migraines and bunions. I try to be flexible and understanding, but I draw the line at crazy. And I never cease to be amazed at how crazies can hold it together during a 30-minute interview, then let it all hang out once they get hired.
I had one nut job who -- five minutes into her first shift – burst forth with a torrent of religious zealotry. She quizzed me about my personal beliefs and expounded on how the artwork in my home was demonic and dangerous. I tried to stick to innocuous topics like the weather only to be told that even overcast days felt sunny to those in the Lord’s bosom. The last straw came when, while shaving my legs, God Girl caressed my shins and inquired if I wanted to “be restored.” I paid her right then and there, and told her never to return.
Looking back, I wish I’d replied: “I am restored, you knucklehead. Six months ago I was a double amputee!”