Michael Began Caregiving as a Teen
During one stunning evening when Michael Mullen was a teenager, his life changed and settled into a bright trajectory of helping others.
His mother was preparing dinner and fainted without warning. Michael recalled: “That’s when we learned Mom was a diabetic, and I learned how to take care of her. I’d help with her insulin shots. She’s also done so much for me, including setting a great example. I have a kind mother who is caring and giving. It is an attitude that has stuck with me. When I was in high school, my best friend was disabled, and I helped her out. When my friends get sick, I’m the one who they call for advice and help.”
Michael’s diabetic-care indoctrination came in handy years later. Michael was a teacher’s aide for a physical-education class, and a 5-year-old suffered a diabetic episode. Michael was there and reacted perfectly to the situation.
Michael’s path in life eventually led him on Jan. 21, 2018, to Home Instead ® of Clearwater, an award-winning franchise owned by Julie Castle. In June 2022, Director of Care Professional Services JC Crady announced Michael had been honored as a Care Professional of the Month.
Michael had come well-prepared for the job. He is a licensed CNA who received his education through a vocational rehabilitation center. “I’ve been doing this for years. An interesting aspect to what I am doing is that I have a dyslexic disability. A rehabilitation center found this job for me – Home Instead was at a job fair for people with disabilities,” Michael explained.
On Michael’s first day as a Care Pro, he helped a six-year Home Instead client and made quite an impression. After that day, the client’s son always called Home Instead and asked for Michael. The son noted that his father said, “If you can’t send Michael, don’t send anyone.” One day, the client’s son was trying to figure out what his dad was trying to communicate. “I knew from being around him and observing him closely that the client wanted to shave,” Michael said.
While working with all clients, Michael said: “I love helping others. I always take the tack I am in their home, not the other way around. I’ll do something the way they are used to doing it, such as washing dishes. Do they rinse a dish before actually washing it? I am a very visual and intuitive person. I pick up on weaknesses and needs. I let them talk, and I listen closely. With bonding and cultivating relationships, it usually gets to the point where I can finish their sentences.”
Of course, things are not always clear sailing for any Care Pro.
With dementia, Michael doesn’t view the different behaviors as a challenge. “During challenges, I try to empathize with what they are going through. My approach is, ‘Let’s work together.’ With certain necessary things, I use the idea of, ‘Oh, let’s do this now,’ such as getting them to stay hydrated. I prepare a drink and hand it to them nonchalantly as if it is no big deal and we are doing it out of habit, which is what I am trying to develop. Their natural reaction is to accept it. The key is not demanding and making a big deal out of it.”
Michael added: “When it’s time for the client to eat, I pull out a little snack that I bring with me and eat with them. It promotes companionship. I always sit with them and never stand over them. I always try to get them to talk.”
One client was having a difficult day, referring to it as “one bad mess after another” and kept apologizing. Michael said: “I spoke softly, took a low-key approach and let him know it was OK, that we were going to take care of it. I worked just a three-hour shift with him, and he didn’t want anyone else to help him. He was a great guy. I was a live-in Care Pro with him during his final two months of life. He was funny. He once said, ‘When I was younger, I was a hellion.’ ”
In a serious moment, the client, who was a widower, was wondering why he hadn’t died yet. Michael told him, “You can’t go until there is room at the inn. Jesus is not ready for you yet.” Those words seemed to comfort him.
Michael remembers exactly when his client died. “It was at 7:45 p.m. We were watching ‘Jeopardy!’ He turned to me and said, ‘I am going to die. Should I go change my clothes?’ He said his late wife was coming for him in 15 minutes. I said, ‘No, not if you are going to go, you don’t need to change clothes.’ Then he died. That was two years ago,” Michael recalled.
“He was awesome. He was a trip, and I hustled to keep up sometimes. Things had to be exact, like two eggs over easy, two waffles, tea and orange juice, for breakfast. At 10 p.m., he once said, ‘Let’s have a root beer and talk all night.’ He was so cool. He was not afraid to die. He said his doctor told him that he’d die fairly soon, but he lived on much longer. He wouldn’t die to prove his doctor wrong.”
Professional senior care isn’t Michael’s only interest. “At night,” he said, “I work in cosmetology. I also have a hobby of crafting authentic doll repair, and I do the doll shows. That’s my passion, and some Home Instead clients are interested. I show the doll-repair pictures on my cellphone. I had a man who couldn’t wait for me to tell him about my projects. He was an awesome dude.”