At 1 a.m., when the 87-year-old man woke up because of joint pain, Han Thi Hien massaged and comforted him. The man suffers from acute gout and is confined to a wheelchair at a public hospital in Hanoi's Hai Ba Trung District.
Since the patient’s pain can appear at any time, Hien, 47, has to be on duty day and night. She feeds him, gives him his medicines and helps him stay clean.
With more than five years of experience in taking care of patients in hospitals, she has been hired to take care of the old man for VND600,000 ($25) a day.
“I lost the support of my husband and children and then had to fight breast and stomach cancer,” she says, adding that she has taken up the job as a caregiver to both make a living and pay off her debts.
Hien takes care of a patient daily at the hospital. Photo by VnExpress/Thuc Anh
Hien has taken care of patients suffering from stroke, schizophrenia and cancer, of people who have to be fed through a tube. Every patient has different struggles, she says.
She remembers most a 93-year-old man who suffered from severe diabetes that led to heart and kidney failure. In taking care of him, she had memorized his diet, his medicine times and learned about dangerous symptoms from the nurse.
Given his age and many underlying diseases, he died a few weeks after Hien began taking care of him. She feels sorry she didn't get to take much care of him.
With nearly 10 years of experience in taking care of patients in many big hospitals, Hoa is confident about taking on difficult cases. Her phone rings with a new request almost every day. Depending on the patient’s condition, she quotes different rates. For the elderly who cannot move and are confined to bed, she charges VND0.5-1 million a day.
For patients with a mental illness or stroke, who are unable to walk or make requests on their own, the price is higher. Hoa guarantees that she will stay by the patient always and constantly update family members with the person's health status.
“For someone who doesn't have money like me, this job is a saving grace, but I don't say yes to all patients,” Hoa says.
Sometimes patients curse, insult and even abuse her and sometimes she didn't get paid, she adds.
The demand for caregivers in hospitals that have many old people like Viet Xo and Bach Mai in Hanoi is large. It's easy and simple to find caregivers nowadays. All one has to do is post information about the patient including condition, home address, salary and phone number on social media groups and in just a few minutes, there are dozens of responses from people willing to take the job.
Caregivers also find jobs by posting their info in these groups.
“We find jobs through recommendations by acquaintances and the patient’s family, so there's always work and I never run out of patients,” says Hien.
Dr. Nguyen Van Thuong, Director of Duc Giang General Hospital, says caregivers have been popular in Vietnam for many years, mainly serving patients who've suffered a stroke, cannot walk and need 24-hour care.
“The hospital doesn't prohibit caregivers, but we need a commitment that treatment and security of the patient will not be affected.”
Thuong says the hospital has enough medical staff to take care of the patients, especially those in the ICU, so it is the non-medical care that is taken care of by caregivers.
This is confirmed by a representative of the Bach Mai Hospital who says when there is demand, there is supply. When patients or their relatives want a caregiver, the hospital cannot manage or prohibit it. Meanwhile, caregivers only do “simple” tasks like daily cleaning. When something happens to the patient, the medical staff is there.
Hiring caregivers is also popular practice in large hospitals in HCMC.
Dr. Tran Van Khanh, director of Le Van Thinh Hospital, says there's a high demand for caregivers nowadays because people have jobs during the day and can't arrange time to take care of their family member. With the increasing demand, caregivers who have medical skills and knowledge find it very easy to get jobs.
A medical expert who does not want to be named says that in fact, taking care of patients is actually the duty of nurses; and that caregivers are filling a human resources gap.
Apart from monitoring the vital signs, nurses have to assist patients with personal hygiene, cleaning bed sheets and blankets; help them eat and move around in the hospital. But there is a serious shortage of nurses. The number of applications for a nurse's job has decreased by 3-4 times in recent years, the expert says.
It is this huge gap in human resources to take care of the sick that caregivers like Hien and Hoa fill.
However, several doctors have noted that apart from experienced caregivers, many people don't know what to tell the doctor when something happens because they are not aware of the illness or illnesses that the patient suffers from.
Several caregivers don't have the required knowledge and skills to take care of patients with mental problems and are prone to get angry and bossy with their wards. This can make the patient’s condition worse, doctors have warned.
Hien says that apart from making a living, the job also makes her life more meaningful.
“When I see people hover between life and death and then miraculously recover and return to normal life, I feel useful. It motivates me to continue taking care of new patients.”
*Names of some characters have been changed.
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