The stories I am about to share with you are real experiences I have encountered in my seven years of house cleaning. I am willing to share my experience with you as long as you keep an open mind and understand I have learned from these mistakes and have shared them with my employees so they can also learn from them without having to go through the trauma themselves. Among these encounters includes getting poked with syringes TWICE, ruining a very expensive stove-top, running over a pick-ax, and losing someone very dear to me.
I’ll start off with the syringes. These are two separate encounters, they both happened within months of each other and about a year into my cleaning career. I was 18 and cleaning a regular customer's house, we had been there once a week for the past year and I was well acquainted with these two people. He was an older man battling diabetes and unfortunately, brain cancer. He had a wonderful sense of humor and was always happy to see us. She was an older woman that revolved her life around her dogs, her husbands’ health, and her three grandchildren. During one of their regular cleanings I was visiting with the husband while cleaning their kitchen, I was not completely paying attention to what I was doing as I picked up a blood sugar testing kit that had a needle sitting on it to clean underneath. Had I been paying more attention I may have noticed the cover was off of the tip of the syringe, but that would have made for a boring story. I lifted the kit up and immediately got stuck by the needle. My heart sank into my stomach, I looked down at my hand, my face turned white and panic set in. The first question out of my mouth (in a panic mind you) was “Do I have a possibility of getting diabetes now??” He just started laughing! He assured me I had nothing to worry about in a very calm voice. He told me that since he was battling cancer he had been tested for every disease imaginable and no, you cannot get diabetes from a needle. I was astounded that somebody could be laughing during a situation like this but he reassured me that I was fine. Being an 18 year old kid with no health insurance at a part-time job I decided (against my better judgement) not to go to the doctor and get looked at. The second time this happened was a couple months later, at a different customers’ home. We had only been there once before and I had never met these people face to face. I was taking out their garbage, as I picked up the bag to carry it to the dumpster, it hit the side of my leg. A sharp pain immediately ran up my leg. I dropped the bag totally confused and looked at my leg which had a tiny prick mark. I looked at the bag and saw a very thin needle point poking out of it. Panic set in once more as I dug through the bag to uncover a syringe. I called the home owner and told her what happened, she said her son has diabetes and he throws his needles away sometimes on accident. I was furious, not just at the lack of consideration for other peoples’ safety but also at the fact that had just gotten over the trauma of the last time this happened. After a long discussion with the homeowner and my boss, I decided to see a doctor. At the cost of my car payment that month and a day off from work I finally got peace of mind because I was alright. I have no animosity towards that customer after-all we are told not to let the bag touch us when taking out garbage just in case that situation ever happened.
All of these stories take place in Denver Colorado while I was working at an amazing cleaning company down in Lakewood. This company had very dedicated management, they paid us weekly, and they supplied us with a company car to drive. One day, while heading to our second house, we were on the highway and a flatbed truck with spools of wire, shovels, and other tools was driving in front of us. We are watching the spools roll around the truck bed and it was clear that nothing in the bed was strapped down or in its correct place. They hit a bump and some of the wire fell off of the bed. I was the supervisor at the time so I was the one driving, I swerved to avoid running over the loose spools and then look back at my crew checking to see if they are okay. At that moment, my co-pilot yelled “look out!” When I looked back at the road I saw that a pick-ax had fallen off the bed and there was nothing I could do to avoid a collision. It’s a good thing I was far enough behind the truck that the pick-ax had time to hit the ground before I ran it over and it popped the tire. The situation could have been much worse had I been closer, the ax could have come through the windshield! I learned a very valuable lesson on following distance that day.
You find out fast when entering people homes that some people have exotic pets. I have met snakes, expensive dogs, lizards, hedgehogs, flying squirrels, and a large variety of birds. One customer had a pet cockatoo, I will admit it is not irregular to keep a bird as a pet. The out of the ordinary detail in this story is that these people let this particular bird fly around the house with total freedom. Now is a good time to mention my phobia of birds, actually I put that lightly. I’m terrified of birds, even the ones caged up. With that being said, there I was walking into the house, I gathered my supplies and headed upstairs to start cleaning (unaware of the bird, you see I didn’t read the notes on that house warning me of this terror). To go from completely calm and confident in what I am doing, to turning my head (Because of a movement in my peripheral vision) and being face to face with a rather large bird is an indescribable feeling. I immediately over-reacted (of course) and dropped to the floor. Army crawling my way to the bathroom, I locked myself in until a member of my crew (after laughing for a good amount of time) caged the beast. Only then did I come out and help finish the house. I would have been warned about the bird if I would have read the notes on the house and the situation could have been completely avoided. It is mistakes like that, that leave deep enough emotional scars that ensure I read the notes from then on. I may be over- exaggerating on the deep emotional scars but it was very terrifying.
As a house cleaner, we need to know what every surface in a house is made of so that we can be careful with certain chemicals and tools. For example we need to know if a stone counter is granite or marble because marble is not resistant to acidic chemicals and can scratch very easily. Granite however, is very chemically resistant and difficult to scratch. If we mistake marble for granite, the outcome could be very expensive. While in my first year as a supervisor I came across a stainless steel gas stove. Everyone knows not to get the igniters on a gas stove wet, that's beginner stuff. What I didn't know was that I was using a highly abrasive cleaner accompanied with the rough side of a sponge and the consequences of this were colossal. Turns out after drying the stove it looked horrible! the stove top was incredibly scratched and the shine was taken off of the stainless steel. It is a very good thing our company had insurance. Let me repeat myself in saying that these are all mistakes I have made but now that I did, nobody else has to. We can all learn from these tales.
I could go on and on with these stories (I have quite a few, if you noticed I learn things the hard way) but I will finish on a story that isn't so much a "horror story" but more of a situation I don't think people realize cleaners go through. Cleaning companies clean a lot of different peoples houses: single moms or dads that need help, rich people with giant houses that can't keep up on it, people that leave town a lot, but my favorite type of people to clean for are the elderly people that physically just can not do it anymore. They are usually home and they are so interesting to talk to. Now I know when it comes to customers you shouldn't pick favorites but, Mr. and Mrs. Beck were my absolute favorite. They had a relationship that I aspired to have, they were both 93 and had been married for 70 years. They had met in 1941 at the beginning of World War II, she was a waitress he was a sailor. He sat in her area everyday after work and bugged her for a date until she said yes. A great beginning for two wonderful people to have a wonderful marriage. At 93 they still held hands and called each other "babe". I will admit I was always excited to go to their house and hear their stories about raising their daughter and different troubles they had run into during their long lives. He had a smile that could light up a room and their house was filled with loving pictures and little notes they would write each other. I loved talking to these people and looking at those amazing pictures. Two years into cleaning that house Mrs.Beck was diagnosed with leukemia. When my team mate and I found out, we brought her flowers during her next clean. We both loved Mrs.Beck, we held her hand for a long time and listened to the strong words this lady had to say. She was very optimistic, unfortunately no amount of optimism can cure cancer. Every time we returned to that house, she looked thinner and weaker. Mr. Beck lost his ability to light up a room because he lost his smile. They would just lock themselves in the basement while we were cleaning. I moved away from Denver not long after she was diagnosed so I'm not sure how this story ended, for that I am somewhat grateful. Most people might think of us as just the cleaners, but there are those that we run into that we get attached to and actually look forward to seeing like someone would their family. When I think about Mr. and Mrs.Beck I do get sad. There were quite a few customers I grew attached to in Denver and I know they would look forward to my visit also. It is relationships like that, that keep me in this line of work and situations like the ones I have shared with you that have humbled me over the years. Thank you for taking the time to read my stories.