From mopping floors to a fully-fledged care worker
What started out as a cleaning job at Stepping Stone Hospice & Care Services has turned into a journey of growth and self-discovery for 47-year-old Lizzie Khoza.
“Early last year, the company I was working for moved to Krugersdorp and I found myself without a job,” she explains. “I had been a cleaner there and my friend Lorraine told me about a cleaning position that had opened at Stepping Stone’s In-Patient Unit in New Market Park where she works as a care worker.”
Lizzie admits to being hesitant at first: “I didn’t know what hospice care was about. In my culture, when someone is dying, only the family is allowed to be near them.”
Lizzie is no stranger to loss. Her husband died in a car accident in 2002, leaving her to raise their four children.
What sparked the transformation from ‘Lizzie the cleaner’ to ‘Lizzie the care worker’, believes Stepping Stone CEO, Tersia Burger, was when Lizzie was asked by Nursing Manager, Sr Sheryl Newman, to help turn a patient who was very large and difficult to move. “After that, we noticed that Lizzie would stay later and later every day,” says Tersia. “Instead of leaving at 4pm, she would help the day-shift nurses until they knocked off at 7pm – anything from preparing a room for a new patient to assisting with meals and making coffee for visiting family members.”
Lizzie recalls Tersia phoning her one Sunday and telling her to get herself a uniform; she was ready to become a care worker. At Stepping Stone, a care worker is seen as someone who undertakes work out of affection or a sense of responsibility for other people, with no expectation of immediate pecuniary reward. It includes all tasks that directly involve care processes done in service of others.
Lizzie was sent to do a palliative care course and it was there that she truly set herself a lofty goal. The facilitator of the course gave each participant a piece of clay and told them to turn it into something that told their story. Lizzie turned her piece into nurse’s epaulettes and put them on her shoulders. “This is where I’m going,” she told everyone. Her future path had become clear.
Speaking to Lizzie and listening to her talk about the patients she’s helped care for, it’s difficult to believe that she was once mopping floors. “There was this patient who stayed with us last year. He called me to his bedside and said that he wanted to give me a new name. Instead of Lizzie, he said, he was going to call me ‘Blessing’ and he made the sign of the cross when he said it. He gave me a beautiful wooden cross that he’d made, with pink beads on it. He’s no longer with us, but I am glad that I got to know him and made a difference in his last days.”
Lizzie is about to start an auxiliary nursing course, which will see her dedicating a week a month for the next year to learning more about patient care. She can then go on to become a staff nurse in future.
When asked what has been her biggest lesson at Stepping Stone so far, she says: “I’ve learned that it’s important to say goodbye.”