A little late, but as the saying goes: Better Late Than Never.
Happy CNA appreciation week, fellow aides. We are the pissed on, the shit on, literally more days than not. We do the work that not only are doctors and nurses not trained to do, but that they really, really, don’t want to do. We are the front line, keeping our elderly and sick happy, healthy, sanitary, and sane (to the best of our abilities). Without us, the healthcare world comes to a screeching halt. Without us, the doctors and nurses cannot do their job effectively or with any dignity. Dignity to a CNA? What is that? I don’t think I have any of that left and I am perfectly fine with that. In fact, without my dignity is why I can clean your ass with a smile 9 times out of 10.
This past week was not exactly a banner week for me as a CNA, but it really is what my job can be like in a nutshell. I love my job, but our bad weeks – damn do they suck.
Think on this for a minute. Think of the most important person in your life. Is it your mother? Your spouse? Your sibling? Now imagine that as they age they start to change; and I’m not talking the normal sort of change that comes with aging. Yes, they’re starting to forget things, like your name, or where they put their keys (but, hell, you call the kids the dogs’ names occasionally, so you ignore it). Then you realize that maybe they’re not taking care of themselves the way that they should. Maybe they’re no longer brushing their teeth, or they’re showering 3, 4, times a day. You find yourself helping them more than you ever expected. You’re in the bathroom with them when they shower, or setting out clean clothes so they don’t put on the same dirty outfit for the fifth day in a row.
Suddenly there’s another change. And it’s bad, this time. The most important person in your life no longer knows who you are. “I don’t know who you are, but I know I love you.” When they speak they make absolutely no sense. Maybe they know what they’re trying to say, but their brain can no longer find the appropriate words. They might stop talking entirely, are they still in there at all? Are they communicating with their eyes? Their personality might make a total 180. Suddenly you’re being screamed at and spit at for attempting to help them. They might know that this is not appropriate, and apologize later, but they cannot help it.
Suddenly the most important person in your life is no longer the person that raised you, that you grew up with, that you fell madly in love with. All people, all ages, it doesn’t matter a whit how old you or your loved ones are – this can happen to you – this can happen to the ones that you most hold dear.
And then you make the decision that is the hardest in your life. You can no longer care for the person that you love so damn much. You make the decision that your loved one needs more help than you can provide. You make the decision to help this person move into a place where they can get the constant help that they need. Most of you think “nursing home,” but remember there are other, more diverse options out there now (of course you need a buttload of money to live in those places, but they exist).
You want the best care possible for your spouse, for your sibling, for your mother. And there’s now a team of nurses and aides in place to give this care. You hope that maybe, just maybe, by putting this kind of care in place, you’ll start to see a glimmer of the person that was once there.
I want you all to remember something. The people who live in these places. These people have families and friends who miss the dearly. But these people are people. And they deserve to be treated as such by every care giver, every other resident, every visitor. They may not be the people that you remember – but the aides who spend five days a week, 8 hours a day, with them, know them for who they are now. We have intimate relationships with the people that you hold dear. We have our own inside jokes, we know which marks on their bodies are new, we are there to pick them up when they fall, we know their habits and when they’re having good or bad days. We know what they’re capable of and they’re capable of a hell of a lot, including making their own decisions. Let me repeat that:
These People are Capable of Making Their Own Decisions.
So remember, when you come to visit your loved ones, the care givers are doing the very best they can to make sure the person you love is happy and healthy. Sometimes they may not be dressed the way you imagine, or they may not be participating with Recreation the way you imagine. But remember, their personalities have changed and every person, every single day is different.
The care givers are doing the best they can, and remember we are still human. We form relationships with the people we care for, but we also have our own bad days, our own off days. And not matter how damn hard we try not to let it affect our work, our caring, sometimes it does. Sometimes it’s the very nature of what we do. We give and we give and we give. And then we give some more. Sometimes it wears us down. Most days we get some of what we give back from the people we take care of. Almost all of the people I care for can put a smile on my face. But everyone that lives here, that works here, we’re all human and sometimes, Sometimes, it sucks. Sometimes we cannot connect. Sometimes putting on that happy face means crying in the bathroom when you get home. Sometimes the happy face slips. Sometimes there are people that we don’t work well with, our personalities clash. It happens. And it’s awful for everyone involved. Our jobs, our lives, revolve around making relationships and fostering growth within our communities. When we can’t do that it’s like we’ve failed you, we’ve failed our resident, and we’ve failed ourselves.
“There’s nothing we can do,” is not a phrase that we like to hear or say. We try, try, and try again.
We know that making the decision to put your loved one here was the hardest thing you could ever do. We really understand that better than you think we do. When you tell us that we’ve made you or your loved one happy, or brought back some of who they were, we float. We float for days on that sort of comment. But let me tell you, that it’s also that easy to crush us. We really do try our best – and sometimes we miss something. We want to know when we do miss something, we want to make you and your loved one happy. Just remember that we’re people too and there’s a difference between telling us that we missed something and telling us off.
So here’s to us. Here’s to us CNAs. Here’s to the abuse. Here’s to being puked on. Here’s making a million beds, and then making them again the next day. Here’s to all the bad shit. Here’s to all the crap we do, to all the crap we put up with. Here’s to the bullshit that’s all made worthwhile by one smile, by a bedbound resident out of bed for the first time in years, by someone picking up a fork all by themselves. Here’s to all the fuckall made worthwhile by the little things.