Paul was about to descend the stairs to the basement.
I call from my La-Z-Boy in the den, “Do you think I can do it?”
“Be a nursing assistant. You know how much I enjoyed looking after your mother. I just wonder if I would feel the same way with people other than family.”
His reply, “You’ll never know until you try.” The journey to be a CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant) began.
As it turned out, there was a small little medical school just three miles away. It was accredited so I was able to be state certified.
I have always had a penchant for older people. I went to this school to learn how I could be of assistance. I wanted to do hospice care, but then realized that would cover all ages, not just older folks.
The instructor told the class of a young mother in a hospital who lost her baby. I don’t remember the specifics or circumstances. What I do remember is the mother wouldn’t let go of her deceased baby.
For hours, the staff came to try to take the baby away so it could be tended to. The mother remained steadfast, but eventually let them pull the infant from her arms. I can’t imagine the heartbreak.
That sealed it. For certain, I couldn’t be around children in hospice or anyone else. I don’t know how much I cried as the nurse was telling this story. I’ll never forget it. And that’s when the nurse told me I wasn’t suited for hospice care.
First CNA job
I passed the state exam. I stopped in a parking lot on the way home and called my mother-in-law to tell her the news. She’s the first one I called because she was my inspiration.
Sunrise Senior Living hired me as a CNA at their assisted living community. Later I was promoted to Concierge and then Activities Assistant (loved that).
The job was tough and the pay pitiful for what the CNAs did. Naturally, you assist residents with the activities of daily living. I tidied rooms. Washed clothes. Changed linens. Took care of the trash.
Went on walks with the residents. Plus there was the recordkeeping.
I served lunch or dinner depending on my shift. The big round trays with plates of food were heavy. Afterwards we vacuumed the dining room.
Sometimes I worked in Memory Care. Those were some of the most rewarding days.
We were assigned about seven-eight residents to look after during our shift. I had a tendency to visit rather than “just get the job done.”
I remember one evening I was helping a sweet lady get ready for bed. I got out her pajamas. She didn’t want to wear those. I got out another pair. She wasn’t sure about those either.
We worked on the situation a little more. I’m losing time, but I wanted her to wear the pajamas she wanted to wear. At that age, they ask for so little.
Somehow my supervisor caught wind I had spent too much time with the kind lady. So noted — don’t dilly dally.
This was a good spot. The residents visited with you. They’d vent. They’d talk of their childhoods and their young lives, college and careers.
One man once told me on his way out the door he was going to the drug store to get some gas, “You know, get my medicine so I can keep on going.”
I was uneasy at one point. A marketing executive wanted me to interview this delightful lady who was about to turn 100.
I really didn’t want to pry into this lady’s life. I didn’t want to ask how it felt to be 100. “What do you think about being 100?” “What’s your secret?” “Have you had good health through your life?” I felt it such an intrusion on her privacy.
I stalled doing it for as long as I could. This was unlike me not to obey promptly. One day I seated myself beside her and asked a question.
She said she didn’t want to talk about it. Music to my ears. The marketing executive was unimpressed.
This is where I was most comfortable. I loved interacting with more residents, other than the seven-eight on the daily work list I used to have.
I led exercise class after breakfast. We sang songs while doing it. “If you’re happy and you know it and you’re not afraid to show it, clap your hands.” Such fun! Some days I accompanied residents to their doctor’s appointment.
And then there was Bingo. This was a huge draw. The residents were serious about Bingo.
One of the most important things about being an older person is staying hydrated. Our instructions were to push hydration for the residents as much as we could.
Then something unfortunate happened.
Bingo was played in the activities room. I knew the regulars who attended. If they weren’t there, I’d round them up.
While waiting for them to arrive, I set out pitchers and small paper cups for water or juice. Always thinking of hydration.
I started calling Bingo. It was kind of early in the game when someone spilled their juice. My supervisor was in the room and instantly said, “See, this is exactly why we don’t have hydration during Bingo.”
I was stunned. I didn’t know water/juice wasn’t allowed. I’m pretty sure I had called Bingo before and we had hydration.
A humbling experience happened one Sunday evening. This was when the Community had its church service. The off-site minister was ill and unable to make it.
Several of the residents were adamant about having their service. My supervisor was off that day. It fell to me to conduct the religious ceremony.
I have never had again the feeling of being so scared. The thought of public speaking was terrifying. And this was more than that. I was leading the whole shebang.
A couple of us hurriedly put something together. I had a bulletin to go by that I guess was pre-prepared. I read Scripture. Hymns and singing. Prayers. There was no collection.
The residents expected Communion. I filled paper cups with a little juice. I put them on a tray and went to each resident in attendance to see if they chose to partake.
It lasted maybe 20 minutes. The residents were not particular. They had their service and went their merry way, seeming content. Again, they ask for so little.
This experience left me with a warm heart and a place of peace in my soul. I was also unsettled. This was so unusual. I never dreamed being in a position of doing such a thing. I was truly touched. I hope I did okay in His eyes. It was an honor.
My supervisor was pleased I wore white gloves. I don’t know the significance of this.
End of the line
You know from reading this blog, I am usually shown the door on my way out. Let’s add this job to the list.
One day there were several residents hanging in the bistro chitchatting away while waiting for popcorn.
I passed by them twice. They were asking for hydration. I had been told not to give it to them so I didn’t.
But on that third time by, I couldn’t take it anymore and I gave them hydration. If a man is thirsty, give him water as the Bible says (Proverbs 25:21), though these people were not enemies. I couldn’t not give them hydration.
Every so often the residents went on a field trip for lunch. We went to a restaurant where you were seated but not served.
My supervisor took everyone’s orders and placed them with the waitperson. When the food was ready, she had me pass it out.
She helped, too. She gave me the food and said this is so and so’s order. Some had gotten a couple desserts.
I observed some things I didn’t think were quite right. Plus I felt I had been treated a tad inappropriately a time or two. I called the Employee Helpline. I mentioned a few things.
I said I thought the Community was a little lax on keeping residents hydrated. I said I had been called down for providing hydration.
There was an 100-year-old lady repeatedly calling in a strained voice from her room she wanted something to eat. I went to the kitchen and made a peanut butter sandwich.
I stated there were roof nails hanging exposed in the attic. This is where the yearly celebratory decorations were stored.
I wore my bicycle helmet brought from home if I had to go to the attic. I kept it in my work locker.
A week or two went by. My supervisor’s boss called and said she wanted to speak with me. I showed up. I was fired.
Several people were there. They started out swinging. Seems my main crime was I had given diabetics sugar. Remember the restaurant when my supervisor ordered dessert for a couple of residents?
She handed these to me with instructions to deliver them to two of the residents — and I’m the one guilty of giving sugar to diabetics. I was following orders; I didn’t know their health status.
If I had caused a diabetic to go into shock, I don’t know how I could ever get past that. As far as I know, everyone was fine.
As always, I survived another firing. This one was not mentally-related. It was a little after this fiasco I became companion and friend with Mormor. Boy, did we have some fun times.
She was the silver lining in what was an unpleasant experience. Mormor was manna from heaven. Thank you, family.
Sunrise Senior Living taught me two things for which I am glad. We were instructed never to use the word “diaper” when referring to a resident’s undergarment.
We were to say “brief” instead. To me, this shows such respect and dignity to the individual. I applaud them for this.
The second thing they taught was to use the word “community” in lieu of “facility” when referring to where the residents resided.
Again, a show of respect and dignity for our aged. I’d rather live in a community than a facility. Words matter. More applause.
Thank you so much for reading. If you have any stories or situations you’d like to tell, please don’t be shy.