As a young adult with Pompe disease, I rely on personal care attendants (PCAs) to help get me ready in the morning, assist me with showering, make transfers from my bed to my wheelchair, and be an all-around friend. Now that I’m a rising junior at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, I know firsthand the challenges of finding the right PCAs when you are away from home. In sharing this, I hope to help others navigate the challenges of finding PCAs. As you’ll see, it is a very personal process.
The summer before my freshman year I had no idea how to find a PCA, nor how to manage one on my own. Previously, my family had found my nurses. But it was thanks to family and a little coincidence that I found Annie. The summer before I left for college, my cousin, Nancy, a nursing student, had an internship at Duke Hospital. One of her fellow interns, Annie, was a shy girl from Saint Mary’s College in South Bend, Indiana – which just happens to be where Notre Dame is located.
Nancy explained my situation, asked if she might be interested in assisting me and suggested that she fly out to meet my family. At first Annie was a bit wary (why wouldn’t she be?), but then she called her parents (who freaked out, undoubtedly), but then decided to take a chance. Soon after, she flew out for the weekend so my parent and I could meet her.
Annie was the absolute sweetest person I’ve ever met. We hit it off right away. The only downfall was the fact that she was going to be a senior, which meant that we would have to find another PCA in just one short year. Nevertheless, Annie became my PCA. We grew to be really close and loved every minute of our time together. When it came time to search for a new PCA for my sophomore year, Annie suggested we look at the nursing program at Saint Mary’s and recommended we find another rising senior to ensure as much nursing experience as possible. When I went home for the summer, Annie and I had an extremely teary goodbye. But we still keep in touch, and she serves as an actual nurse for me from time to time.
I met Claire in mid-March of my freshman year so she could begin training. Again, we hit it off right away, and, again, we grew to be really close. We have loved every minute of our time with each other, and it’s hard to believe our year together is already over. Both Annie and Claire are incredible people, and I would not have had the experiences I’ve had the past two years without them.
So what can others learn from my story? First, there are all sorts of ways of finding PCAs when you’re going to college. (Check out MDA’s tips for finding and hiring PCAs, including sample ads and interview questions here.) You can stalk a complete stranger like I did. Or you can put an ad in the local newspaper (in the town where you’re going to attend college) or other online job forums. You can also reach out to local nursing agencies. Perhaps there is a nursing or physical therapy school nearby. Second, if you aren’t having any luck with the above techniques, an acquaintance at your school might be a good fit too. However, a word of advice: I try my hardest to let my friends be my friends and my nurses be my nurses. The way I figure it, if you’re really lucky, you’ll find some people who are both.
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