Judy Harris has been caring for others for her entire adult life. After graduating from Clemson University with a Bachelor of Science in nursing, Harris worked as a nurse in the pediatric unit of Baptist Hospital in South Carolina. After six years there, she looked for a change of pace, and took a job with Dorn Veterans Medical Center in their critical care units. Harris worked there for 28 years before retiring early due to a diagnosis of degenerative osteoarthritis.
“I was really disappointed to have been pushed into early retirement because of my health issues,” says Harris. “But I suppose the timing worked out, because after having joint replacement surgeries in both feet, my mother ended up needing extra care at home, and I was happy to volunteer.”
Harris spent the next seven years serving as her mother’s caregiver, navigating her mother’s short-term memory loss and complications from falls, until she passed away in August 2018.
“After my mother’s death, I felt lost and lonely,” Harris recalls. “I had to get out and do something, so I looked into caregiving, which, really, is all I know how to do. It’s my God-given gift.”
A Second Career: Professional Caregiver
When Harris was caring for her mother, she had used Right at Home in Columbia, South Carolina, for respite care services. So when she wanted to start working as a professional caregiver, she knew exactly where to turn. Now 63 years old, Harris has been working with Right at Home since April 2019, and already has a full schedule. She provides a range of services to her clients: companionship, meal preparation, light housework, bathing or showering assistance, transportation, and even walking the dog.
“Not every caregiver will help take care of pets, but I love animals and I really don’t mind doing it for my current client,” Harris says. “I also drive her to meet friends for lunch every Tuesday, and help clean her CPAP machine. I do whatever I can to make my clients as comfortable as possible.”
While Harris enjoyed working as a nurse, she loves that she can get to know her clients much better now.
“Many of the patients I saw in the hospital were in critical care and weren’t there for the long term,” she says. “Now as a professional caregiver, my clients love to talk and share parts of their lives with me. They show me family photos, crafts they’ve made or hobbies they keep. It’s so lovely.”
Enjoying Act Two
“I have thought about properly retiring in the future, but being a caregiver gives me so much flexibility when it comes to my schedule that I can enjoy other parts of my life and still do the job,” Harris says.
She would love to travel more and is trying to make plans to go on a cruise this year, and she is interested in learning how to quilt. Her daughter had a baby recently, and Harris would love to make a special quilt for her granddaughter.
Harris is a natural caregiver though, and part of what keeps her going now is being able to put a smile on a client’s face.
“I love being able to help people and relieve some of their pain,” Harris says. “A good friend of mine always said ‘where there’s life, there’s hope,’ and it’s so true. Hope is something that we all strive to have, and it keeps us all going.”