My 89-year-old father-in-law recently spent a month in the Golden Harvest frail care centre, recuperating from a torrid hospital admission. The love and care that he received there was extra-ordinary. Particularly the personal care received from the caregivers played a vital role in speeding up his recovery.

In my dealings with persons with quadriplegia I have observed how really good caregivers kept themselves in the background, but intuitively came forward to assist where assistance was needed and quietly withdrew after they did what was required. Often not a word was spoken; it was as if they were in sync with the minds of their clients.

Caring for the aged frail and caring for quadriplegics require two very different dynamics, but it seems to me that the caregiver mindsets are very similar. This prompted me to write an article on what motivates caregivers to carry on performing this very onerous and emotionally draining profession, often for many years.

I interviewed Brenda Mogorosi and Eunice Jibana from Golden Harvest, Simon Maake who has been a caregiver to quadriplegics at Ry Ma In since 1998 and Maureen Sangweni, who has been caring for a person with quadriplegia for four years and before that cared for an elderly lady until she passed away. I wanted to know from them what motivated them to stay in this profession, how they cope with their stress, what is it about the work that inspire them to carry on, how they deal with the unpleasantness of aggression and rudeness from their clients and what advice they would give to young persons that enter the profession of caregiving.

While their reasons for entering the profession were very different, all four shared a strong sense of compassion. There was a shared feeling of love and empathy for their clients. Nursing teaches an arms length relationship – don’t get too personally involved. But not so for caregivers. Eunice, Brenda and Simon emphasised friendship and companionship – becoming family. They spoke of sharing the good and the bad of personal lives, laughing with one another about the joys in their personal lives and crying together and consoling each other in times of sadness or tragedy - as families do.

But for me the strongest statement came from Maureen; caregiving is in her blood.

I listened to Brenda and Eunice talking about a caregiver that was able to reach into the confusion of a patient with dementia, to intuitively understand her needs and to be able to comfort her. I heard how these four caregivers controlled their heartache when those in their care would abuse them, swear at them and even hit them. They also explained anger management in this environment. Their instructions include just walking away and allowing things to cool down, or don’t get angry so that at least one of the parties involved remains friendly…

Their advice to young, newly appointed caregivers:

Be patient, learn to love, be kind, show compassion, your heart must be in the job…

As I listened to all of this I came to realise that really great caregivers have something very significant in common - a very well developed emotional intelligence – the ability to manage their own emotions as well as the emotions of their clients, in order to make the most of a situation and to achieve the best outcomes. They all realise the importance of behaving according to who they are and not just to loudly vent their feelings. They appreciate that a humble heart is a much stronger attribute than a proud mind. They understand the value of a kind word and a friendly smile. Out of this they grow, they get better insights and they experience greater understanding. They understand the value of serving a purpose that is greater than them. Furthermore they differentiate themselves from the mediocre and poor caregivers.

A final consideration:

What do these really great caregivers expect of you, the client?

As it transpired, very little: To be seen. To be noticed. To be appreciated. To be respected. To be taught what is required of them and then to be trusted to do their work. To be valued for who and what they are.

When we value our caregivers, they will in turn value us. Together we must build one another so that together we become a formidable team. As our caregivers develop their emotional intelligence, we must also build our own emotional intelligence. If we have the good fortune to be associated with a really good caregiver, we need to be not only great employers but also persons that earn their trust, their respect and ultimately their love.