Interviewed by Sister Malia Dominica Wong, OP Hawaii Catholic Herald
As a young woman aspiring to become a religious sister, I used to go with other young women to the infirmary of the Dominican Sisters to assist in the care of the elder religious women. I remember one sister telling me that you need to treat the old sisters like Jesus and Mary. That really struck a lasting chord in me. Fast forward, the other year when I applied to do my certified nursing assistant clinical practicum at Pearl City Nursing Home, the director asked me the question, “How would you treat your residents if you worked here?” I responded, “I would treat them as if they were my own parents.” I enjoy my work.
After I entered the convent, I was sent for studies in caregiving. When my teacher asked me why I was taking the course, I simply replied that there were a number of elderly sisters that needed care. It wasn’t a chosen profession, it was chosen for me. With the help of God and by prayer and my community, all went well. After completing the course I did work in the infirmary a year. But, tides changed and I was sent to help in the school system for a few years before coming to Hawaii to help in our House of Aloha care home as a caregiver.
Culturally, things were different in Hawaii. I did not know how to play mah jong, hanafuda or black jack with the residents, but now I do. I did not know how to cook either. But, by doing an Internet search I came upon “Panlasang Pinoy,” a website where I could type in, say “adobo,” and it would give me a list of all of the ingredients, measurements, preparations, procedures, and even show me a video that I could play and pause while managing the pot on the stove myself. Making sandwiches was another challenge. There were chicken sandwiches, bacon sandwiches, turkey sandwiches and more. I needed to learn how to put the tomato inside, along with the cheese and mayonnaise when called for.
Another cultural challenge I faced was learning what individual residents meant when they said “yes” or “no” as sometimes their “no” meant “yes.” There were also demands of the elders that sometimes I did not know how to cope with, or how to be firm with them on. Whenever things go over my head I help myself by singing “Into Your hands I commend my spirit” quietly. And then I may take a walk in the garden or just sit in the chapel for 15-30 minutes, just sitting quietly, until it passes.
In caregiving, you have to be patient, be respectful of their cultural background and their privacy. If a resident is agitated or not in a good mood, it could be because he or she suffers from dementia or forgetfulness. The important thing is to love your work. How do you love your work? By being faithful to it.
Sister Lorlene Panaligan is a Dominican Sister of the Most Holy Rosary of the Philippines. She is 13 years professed. She arrived in Hawaii three years ago and is a caregiver at her community’s House of Aloha in Waianae.