Column: Home health aide recounts trials and triumphs

By Catherine Portman-Laux

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A person couldn’t ask for a more rewarding career than being paid to do good, Cold Spring’s Peg Lijoi has concluded after serving as an independent home health care aide.

Lijoi is hired by clients or their families to pick up the household slack. A typical day might find her running errands, taking a patient out to dine or cooking a favorite meal.

But, then, there’s no such thing as a typical day, says Lijoi, who has worked primarily with Alzheimer’s patients. She tells of the scholarly retired professor with whom she had many interesting conversations. “But, I had to hear many stories a few times over, because he would forget that he told them to me,” she says. “He loved going to book stores, but I had to keep track of previously purchased books because he would buy the same ones over and over again.

Peg Lijoi, of Cold Spring, prepares to take a client on an outing. Photo by Lynn Segarra
Peg Lijoi, of Cold Spring, prepares to take a client on an outing. Photo by Lynn Segarra

“He loved to eat out. After we left a restaurant, he would say, ‘Let’s go get something to eat now.’ I’d remind him that we had just finished eating. I then began to make it a habit, before we left the table, to ask him, ‘Does your stomach feel full?’ I hoped that his full stomach would remind him that he did not have to eat.”

To jog his memory of events, Lijoi made a scrapbook of places they went together. “I added movie ticket stubs, restaurant takeout menus, brochures when we visited Boscobel or Stonecrop or other local places,” she says.

Lijoi poignantly remembers successfully aiding cupid. “I worked with this dear gentleman whose wife was in a nursing home,” she says. “I took him to see her twice weekly. He loved his wife with his entire being. I fought back tears watching how he would console her as she carried on and begged to go home. He would promise her that she was coming home, but she was bedridden and the chances of her coming out of that miserable place were not looking good.

“At her request I made sure to cook him the same meals that she used to prepare. I wanted to see her home once more, even if it was for a short time. So, I set in motion a search for a full-time aide to live there. The family resisted, because having mom back home would eat up money of dad’s that would otherwise be left to them. It was a battle, but we got her home. They were a couple again in their own home, truly together until death do part, as in their wedding vows.

“Then there was a client who refused to get dressed and could not be torn from wearing a mink coat over her naked body. I donned another mink coat and drew her to a mirror, where we laughed at how ridiculous the two of us looked. That solved the problem.”

Raised in Central Islip with a twin brother and six other siblings, Lijoi learned compassion and patience from her mother, a geriatric nurse. Marriage brought her to Cold Spring, where she became known as the person to go to with troubles. Her most recent independent philanthropies involved saving small farms that would otherwise close down. In June, she raised $2,000 in five hours in an event to help a Poughquag farmer whose greenhouses were demolished in a hurricane.

Lijoi has a 28-year-old daughter, Dara, a wine distributor in part named for Lijoi’s mother, Sarah, and a 24-year-old son, Tolon, an asbestos-removal inspector whose name derives from a Mark Brown children’s book teaching the arts of kindness and consideration.

Challenging Careers focuses on the exciting and unusual business lives of Hudson Valley residents. Comments or suggestions may be emailed to Catherine Portman-Laux at cplaux@optonline.net.

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Catherine Portman-Laux

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