Nonfiction Serials: Part I: Hiring an Arm and a Leg

One of the necessities of life as a quadriplegic is having a PA (personal assistant). It can also be an enriching experience when things go right so if you’re upset that you need the help, read on! I hope in this series to touch on many aspects of life with a PA.

I’ve learned over the years that there are better – and worse – ways to approach hiring and working with a PA. So I’d like to share a few ideas, suggestions, how to’s and how not to’s to begin with.

First of all, when you’re hiring or interviewing a PA, remember that you will be working with the person as a team. This means that you need to be able to communicate with the person. I’ve found that, by inserting a few requests into the conversation at the time of an interview, I can determine as a starting point not only what my comfort level will be with the person but what his/her comfort level will be with the job. For example, on one interview I asked the person to go to the kitchen and get me a tape measure that was in a drawer. When I began to explain where it was, she interrupted me and said “I’ll find it”. I waited about five minutes and heard her rummaging around the drawers and piped up “It’s in the-” and again she interrupted me. At that point, I’d determined it wouldn’t work.

Tip 1: A PA must be able to take directions so that he/she can assist you in specific tasks. There needs to be a good personality mix. If the person has difficulty listening or even doesn’t like your style of giving directions, it’s best to look elsewhere.

An effective PA will listen to your instructions and be open to feedback and be willing to ask further questions. In this interaction, the focus is on the task, not personalities. Look out for someone who chatters constantly and you can’t get a word in edgewise – this will result in problems since you won’t be able to verbally give directions! Also if the person talks about a litany of personal issues on the interview, beware. Often I’ve found folks whose lives are in such disarray to predictably be unpredictable – unreliable about showing up simply because their own lives are not in order.

Which brings us to Tip 2: It is up to you as the recipient of services to remain within the boundaries of the relationship you have with your PA. A PA is not a therapist, accountant, doctor, or your mother. This may sound obvious, but due to the nature of the job, boundaries can get confusing.

Just as your PA has a responsibility to focus on the task at hand, so do you. Refrain from making unreasonable requests that are outside the scope of the job such as heavy cleaning. Do not ask or expect your PA to deal with your personal problems. Your PA has his/her own personal problems. Sometimes, over time, a friendship will develop. It is then even more important to monitor the boundaries of the relationship so that it is a mutually satisfactory one.

Remember to ask how your PA is doing. Be considerate of what their needs are. Make sure a longterm PA gets a vacation (paid) if you or your family can afford to pay backup. Try not to call your PA for emergencies in between set times unless absolutely necessary. This should be a rare occurrence.

I cannot emphasize enough the importance of expressing gratitude to your PA. These jobs pay an embarrassingly low amount of money and most of those who take the job are certainly not motivated by money. (There is an increasing shortage of PA’s or home health aides). PA’s appreciate hearing that they are appreciated. This needs to be shown not only by your words but by your actions as outlined above.

In Part II, I’m going to discuss ways to streamline what you need done around your house so that you can get the most out of those precious allotted hours you have with your PA.

Copyright 2007 Ruth Harrigan

One response to “Nonfiction Serials: Part I: Hiring an Arm and a Leg

  1. WOW! I have been thinking about moving from assisted living to an apartment. Now I realize I am not disabled, just encumbered! Your information is great. Thanks.

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