In her fifties, a big change came into her life. She lost her job and had to decide what to do next. Ingrid Kuželová (52) picked up the gauntlet, fought back, learned the language, was not afraid of foreign countries and today she is babysitting in Germany. What she experiences in her work, she revealed in our interview.
Ingrid babysits for her elderly husband, with whom they have grown accustomed to each other. But in the beginning there were funny and embarrassing situations, tears and crises. “Today, I’m paying off everything I fought for,” says the Banská Bystrica woman.
You were fifty years old when you decided to go into nursing. What happened in your life then?
For a long time gardening was my bread and butter, I graduated from a horticultural high school in Nitra and worked in a flower shop in Banská Bystrica. But then they downsized and I lost my job. For half a year I thought about how to proceed, until I made a decision. I did a nursing course.
Because I’ve always had a positive relationship with people, and that’s been confirmed in this job. In it, it is explicitly a requirement to like people and get along well with them. So I started working for a Slovak private agency looking for caregivers for seniors for a few hours during the day. I liked the job, but it was poorly paid, so I decided to go abroad through the Atena employment agency.
How did you do with the foreign language?
Very wrong. I never had German at school, so I had to learn it from the basics. I bought a DVD, a book and signed up for a language class. The exams, it was torture. I made them for the third time. When I held the certificate in my hands, I was proud of myself, but then I came to a German household and found out that everything was different.
The agency found me a German husband and wife, both mobile, with no major health problems. I walked over to their house, said hello and introduced myself. The gentleman was very nice from the first moment, he told me, we’ll be chatting and you can call us grandpa and grandma. We sat down and he started asking me about my family and my job.
Then he asked me something I didn’t understand at all, so I just nodded my head and smiled. The old man looked at me and said, you don’t understand, do you? I turned red. I thought, well, now he’s going to send me home. But he surprised me with something else.
He wrote dictations with me every day because he wanted to teach me German. I have a thick notebook at home with our daily exercises in it. At the beginning it was literally a sea of red, but the more we wrote, the better I got at German.
How old are the spouses you care for?
Old man 82 and old woman 85. We laughed a lot while we were learning, but I can tell you that I speak German much better today. We talk a lot because they are both communicative. This also helps me a lot.
What is your relationship?
Excellent. They tell me I’m like their daughter. They’ve gotten used to me and every time I leave they get very nervous about it. We found our way to each other because they were patient with me. I have patience with them too, without that it wouldn’t work. In this job, that’s probably the most important thing and more – to have perspective.
What does your day look like? What are your responsibilities?
We have an agreement that my grandfather prepares breakfast, I come downstairs at half past seven, my grandmother and I go to the bathroom, I take a shower and help her get dressed. Then they read the daily press and I always go at nine o’clock to buy a new newspaper. I make the pudding and start cooking lunch.
The funny thing was that my grandfather didn’t eat soups before, but I was used to them, I used to cook them and he learned to eat them too. In the afternoon we sit with coffee and cake, then I go for a walk. I come back by six, make dinner, and after dinner I go to my room and have some time to myself. I inject my old man with insulin five times a day, that’s my whole job.
So you cook the lunches, did you pass as a cook?
My grandmother told me from the very beginning that we were not going to experiment and we were going to cook German food. She showed me how to prepare them, because they also cook goulash differently than we do in Slovakia. So we cooked every meal together first. I had to get used to the fact that they like their food served literally hot. I once got a complaint that it was cold. There, the plate must literally be steaming.
When did your first crisis come?
After the first week. I was scared to go downstairs, telling myself I wouldn’t be able to talk again. I cried too, but then I said to myself, relax, you have a good family, they try to teach you German, you learn the language for free and you have complete freedom.
It takes a while to get used to it. I actually came to this family as a substitute because the previous nanny had to leave. The old man fell in love with her and the old woman has been very jealous ever since. So you can imagine what our first contact was like, she was looking me over, not smiling.
You know, she didn’t like the previous babysitters very much, but I have patience with people. The important thing is not to provoke and to understand the person. I wanted to avoid any sign of trouble, I never provoked, I always wear loose shirts. My grandmother liked me so much that when I left for the first time, she took my hand and said: But you’ll be back, won’t you? You’re not lying to us, are you? Now, when I’m supposed to come, she doesn’t even go to sleep, she waits for me so she can greet me.
Were there situations that taught you something new?
When my grandfather and my grandmother had a fight, I took it. Since then, whenever they have an exchange, I pick myself up and go into the room. I’ll tell the old man when you’re done, ring the bell and I’ll come down. That way I avoid conflicts, I’m not on one side or the other. And this is very important.
Have you set any rules?
Every time I leave, I show them the things I’m taking home. This idea is not from their head, they don’t want me to do it, but I stand by it. I had a bad experience because the babysitter I took turns with in my previous family stole the master’s gold ring. No one has accused me, but I don’t want that to ever happen. Thanks to this rule of mine, I’m in psychological peace, we are very clear on this matter, and this is very important for me.
How long do you go to Germany for?
For three months. It’s been a long time, but I’m coping because I really feel like they’re my grandparents. They don’t forbid me anything, they don’t discipline me, I just always have my cell phone with me when I go out. It happened to me once that I got lost. I was walking down the aisles beside the church and suddenly I didn’t know where I was. I excitedly called my grandfather and he says calm down and read the street name on my house. In five minutes he was at my side.
Up to what age can this work be done?
As long as you have enough strength. Retired women also travel abroad with me. If they are vital, they can handle nursing.
Are you prepared for the possibility that the couple’s health may deteriorate?
Yes, I am. In Slovakia I worked in a social care facility where there were really difficult conditions. I have cared for these seniors and I have seen them die. But that’s also what this job is about, you have to reckon with that. Good relationships are very important, but so is being professional. Do the work with love, but keep the necessary distance.
What kind of person is a good caregiver?
Definitely tolerant and patient. She has to reckon with caring for people with dementia who have different conditions and don’t mean everything they say. A good caregiver must genuinely like people, if he doesn’t, the job will be a misery for him.
I have the gift of being able to win people over. Even those who are aloof at the beginning start to smile after a while. When this happens, that’s when the ice breaks.