My recent unexpected stay in a local public hospital was an eye opener to the dedication of everyone who worked on my ward. We hear about equipment shortages and long waiting lists but the care I received could not have been better.
Admitted with a suspected blood clot (they never found one), I had to remain in bed for five of my nine-day stay. It was mental torture but, at the press of a button, someone magically appeared to cater to my every request. Whilst the other two patients in my room needed more intensive care, at least I could care for myself and was eventually allowed up as long as I wore very unsexy tight white stockings!
Each patient is allocated an individual daily nurse and auxiliary. I had plenty of time to watch them at work, a constant bustle of activity as they performed their duties with a smiling and caring attitude. However, there was one young lad that stood out due to the vivacious energy with which he worked.
Watching him dealing with elderly bedridden patients doing tasks that are not for the squeamish, always with a smile and a joke to make the patients comfortable, I wondered what made a young lad want to do this kind of job. So I decided to interview him from my sick bed!
His name is Sérgio Cinzas, aged 26, originally from Lisbon. Sérgio has been an auxiliary for five years and absolutely loves his job. I first met him when he wheeled me for a scan, chatting all the way. I asked him if he was always cheerful and received a beaming “yes, always, because I love what I do”!
Sérgio had previously worked in restaurants and the construction industry but he never felt fulfilled. When his mother, an auxiliary at a private nursing home, said they needed more staff, Sérgio decided to give it a try. Almost from day one he loved the interaction with the patients and he discovered a natural ability to make people feel better in what are often sad and traumatic circumstances. He had found his vocation aged 21.
His cheerful banter really does make a difference to the patients, most of whom are elderly and often may not have any visitors. He arrives in the morning asking “how are my princesses today?”, making them feel special as he visibly lifts their spirits and makes uncomfortable treatments less stressful.
Many patients get depressed so, when he can, Sérgio sits to chat. He tells the ladies they are beautiful and shaves the men’s beards. I watched as they reacted so positively to his care.
Sérgio finds the psychological battle the hardest, especially when a patient dies and he has to prepare the bodies or when he has to restrain patients, for their own good, to prevent them from pulling out their drips or harming themselves.
To be a hospital auxiliary is undoubtedly a career that demands great dedication and love for the profession. There are private or state training courses available in Portugal which take a few months to complete and allow for working in the public or private sector.
Auxiliaries are the right hand of the nursing staff ensuring the basic care and comfort of the patients, liaising between the two so that the medical staff can perform their duties efficiently.
As well as caring for the patients, they are also responsible for the cleaning of equipment and the wards. Auxiliaries have to ensure the safety and hygiene of the patients by assisting in the bathroom or with bed baths, feeding and also perform some administrative duties. Sérgio undertakes all his tasks with an extraordinary cheerfulness, attending to the patients’ requests and calling the nurse as necessary to administer medication.
“The ‘bells’ are demanding as patients call for help but the eight-hour shifts pass quickly,” he told me, yet Sérgio sometimes stays on after his shift as the ward has become his ‘second home’.
It is a psychologically and physically demanding job but nearly always rewarding. No two days are ever the same and although the pay is little more than the minimum wage Sérgio feels lucky to have a job that he loves.
Would he like to train to be a nurse? “No. Although my job involves the more messy duties of patient care, if I was a nurse I would actually have less time to spend with the patients because nurses have other responsibilities such as updating records on the computer, liaising with doctors and administering medication. I get to spend more quality time with my patients, get to know and joke with them.”
He explained: “I feel I make a difference, I want to make a difference to their lives. Some of my patients have no-one and I go home at the end of each shift and I feel like I did some good and that I did make a difference to their time here.”
The ability to easily communicate with patients who are often frightened and anxious is paramount, and patients must be able to trust the auxiliaries. A smile and the cheeky banter worked wonders on the patients on my ward and it is comforting to know that there are people like Sérgio, who selflessly choose this career and are able to bring a smile to patients’ faces even when they are so unwell.
In his spare time, Sérgio is a hip hop singer and with his piercings and tattoos you would never guess he is a hospital carer. Some friends question his career choice but he tries to convince them to also undertake the training because his job is so rewarding.
Sérgio’s discrete tattoos on his wrists say ‘Memento Mori et Carpe Diem’ – Remember you are mortal and seize the day.
In his job, Sérgio definitely lives his life to these principles every day.
A big thank you to everyone who looked after me.
So now you know…
By Isobel Costa
Isobel Costa works full time and lives on a farm with a variety of pet animals! In her spare time, she enjoys photography, researching and writing.