Category: Character


Working As a CNA

I’ve worked as a CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant) for 15 years, give or take. That’s a long time, and it’s unusual. Most CNAs I’ve known work, at most, in that position for a few years. Then they either tire of it (burnout is common) or finish up their nursing degree. A CNA with a year under their belt is pretty experienced. Somebody like me is just plain old. It’s funny to consider. I’m in my mid 30’s. I’m not old. It’s just my job experience, honest!

As I said, burnout is common. Looking back over my time in the job, it’s not hard to see why. I’ve had two back injuries, gotten whiplash in my neck from a kick, been bitten, pinched, slapped, and otherwise physically attacked. I couldn’t begin to guess how times I’ve been called names and verbally abused. I’ve been splattered with just about every bodily fluid. I’ve been stuck all day sitting with the crazy and the violent to keep them “safe.” I’ve had to work holidays and weekends and night shifts and therefore missed all kinds of events with family and friends. I’ve worked twelve hour shifts and not gotten breaks. I’ve worked shifts shorthanded and rushed about trying to plug all the holes. Lots of shifts, we haven’t even been shorted staff, and there’s still been far too much to do. Let’s not forget that patients die. Whether it’s sudden or expected, death is never an easy thing to face. And besides all of that, it can be very hard to get respect, to be anything but taken for granted and buried under delegated tasks. It can be dangerous, humiliating, and difficult.

The job can also be boring. To be the one who helps people bathe and to the bathroom, to walk and to eat and to give them water, to make their beds and pick up their stuff and check their vital signs is not exactly intellectually stimulating. Once the basic techniques and precautions are learned, it’s pretty much rote behavior after that. Technique can always be refined, but I don’t find that it taxes my brain. Sometimes, it’s really not good for me. I’m pretty smart. I need intellectual challenge.

So if my job is not so awesome, what I am still doing working at it? I could give a lot of reasons, some of them good, some not so much, but what keeps me showing up when I’ve just had it is that this is the job I believe God’s given to me. While it’s not great for my brain, and it’s sometimes been hard on my body, it’s been awesome for my faith and for my heart. I’ve learned a courage and resiliency I never expected to experience, and it’s a great way to serve.

To serve – healthcare is a service industry. I keep hearing over and over that Americans expect good customer service, and that my hospital attempts to achieve great customer service. We do get very positive feedback, but that’s not really what I’m talking about when I talk about service. You know Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God not only humbled Himself enough to dwell among us, but also enough to wash His disciples’ feet? I’ve seen that done a few times for weddings and what have you. It’s touching, but I figure Jesus probably had some much dirtier and gnarlier feet to clean. People did a lot more walking 2,000 years ago. The climate was hot, and I’d guess the roads and paths were mostly dirt. I’m thinking, “EW!,” but Christ washed them, probably from His knees, hauling around a basin and towel. That’s service.

Service on its own is not enough. I’ve worked with people who are practically automatons performing tasks. They act like machines working with other machines, never engaging on a personal level. That’s certainly been tempting to me. When I started working as a CNA, I was emotionally frozen, and I most certainly didn’t have the tools to embrace people in all the mess and need on any level other than a performer of tasks. I spent lots of time on my face asking God to teach me to love the people with whose care I was entrusted. That’s really what it is all about – loving people – and especially when it came to loving the world full of people around me in not personally reserved and safe ways, I didn’t know anything about that but some pretty words. Pretty words without deeds = pretty lame. I’m grateful for the opportunities to learn to love in a love challenged environment, to practice kindness, compassion, gentleness, and all of that when I am tired, incompetent, and ready to snap. I love seeing God come through and meet not only the patient’s or other staff member’s needs, but mine as well.

Besides all of that, as I’ve spent years fetching water and washing people, their feet included, I’ve realized something. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is a lot more important than I knew. One of these days, the person needing help from strangers might be somebody I love a lot, like my mom or Kimberly. One of these days, it might be me. Who do I want to be doing that? What kind of care do I want to receive or see my loved ones get? I want good care, of course. I want to know that they or I would have our needs met and be treated with the respect, dignity, and care due to every human being. If that is what I wish to receive, that is also the minimal level of care which I should be giving. I think about that a lot.

One of these days, I’m sure I’ll move on and be working another job. I’ll miss working as a CNA, but man! I’m sure richer for having worked the job!

God bless your day!

A Scrap

Hoarse screamed my soul in battle,
Mortal and waged with flame.
Fire and ice fight for dominion
Twisting both triumph and shame.

99%

Don’t be looking for any of Occupy Wall Street’s mantras here. Occupy Portland reportedly cost the city $130,000 in park damages and another $1.29 million for police overtime. To be fair, the movement claims that these figures are inflated. The truth is probably somewhere in between. Nonetheless, even a reduced amount seems like stealing from the taxpayers, as I very much doubt Occupy Portland consulted with those taxpayers and gained their consent before causing damage and expenditure. Not really a fan, am I.

No, the 99% to which I refer came from a conversation with a friend. After a long term relationship, this person and their spouse separated. My friend told me that the spouse has trouble with anger, and that most of the time it’s not a problem, but when it is, things are bad. The spouse can’t understand why it’s such a problem for my friend. The conversation we had went something like this: “99% of the time, life is fine for my spouse,” my friend said. “It’s only 1% of the time that the rage causes problems for my spouse. But for me? I never know when it’s going to show up. Years of marriage and observation, and I still can’t predict what will trigger an episode. It only affects my spouse’s life during that 1% of the time, but for me? It’s 100%. I live with the burden of uncertainty and trying to be right, perfect, and inoffensive all of the time.”

That has certainly given me plenty to ponder.

For one thing, while I knew what my friend meant and could identify the feeling, I’d never put it so clearly or been able to isolate and express it so well. That’s been one of those things I’ve never really been able to explain to somebody who has not experienced it.

Besides that, it’s been a long time since my dad left, and sometimes my memory gets a little fuzzy. I can’t always remember what made it so miserable. Dramatic moments (like having to pull things off the table so that Dad wouldn’t throw them at my brother) stand out, but not the everyday happenings. The drama is what I tend to tell people, probably because it was incontrovertibly bad. People, in my experience, are a lot less likely to argue that bruises and holes in the wall and other concrete proofs of violence are acceptable and seem to have more trouble accepting that the less physically scarring aspects of abuse are also unacceptable. Those parts, invisible like the wind, are just harder to pinpoint and explain.

My friend did a good job of it. See, maybe the aggressive/unpredictable person really is okay most of the time. Something happens – who knows what? – their internal switch flips, and suddenly they’re irrational, menacing, and dangerous to those around them. The storm passes, their steam is released, they feel better, and everything is all right again.

For them.

Until the next time whatever it is causing the aggressor’s internal, personal pressure to build demands release.

For those around them, it may not be okay. If dangerous can’t be predicted, if there is a disconnect between what happens in the aggressor’s environment and their reactions, okay can’t be trusted. Threat of danger still exists, and the people around the aggressor start demonstrating wariness and fear of that threat. The aggressor’s behavior effectively teaches the victims that they should not trust the aggressor. How the heck do you trust somebody who is sometimes just fine and sometimes, with no warning, not?

It makes for a real mess. My friend’s 99% fine spouse can’t understand why that’s not good enough. I don’t think my dad ever understood how much his unpredictable, unreasonable rages affected any of us, how we rewrote ourselves trying to survive.

I suspect, too, that poorly managed, inappropriately expressed, out of control anger isn’t the only unpredictable behavior that causes serious troubles for others. I bet lying would invoke some of the same problems. So might an inability to make and keep schedules and one’s word. It’s also a decent example of how sin in general ruins things for us. So what if I’m awesome 99% of the time? What harm could that 1% of degenerate behavior do?

What harm indeed? Ask my friend. One person’s 1% changed 100% of my friend’s life.

On the flip side, maybe there is also the potential for what is good, pure, and noble in us to have a similar effect, for our moments of good to shine out and touch another.

It’s certainly something to consider and use to evaluate my own life. How am I living? How is it affecting those closest to me? What’s having a greater effect on them – my flaws or my virtues?

May God bless your day.

Came Home Tired

One recent workday sent me home exhausted. I’d started with eight patients and gotten a glowing report from the offgoing CNA. “Oh, they’re so easy to care for!” she bubbled. “You’re going to have such a great day!”

She was right about one thing. Most of them had few needs. But – there’s always a but, isn’t there? – on day shift, “few needs” doesn’t usually translate to “easy shift.” What it really means is “discharge orders.” Five of those eight left, most of them before lunchtime. The wheelchair’s seat didn’t have a chance to cool off before I was loading the next patient into it. To replace the ones who left, I had five or six other new ones show up. That happens, for sure. It just makes for some chaos!

Unfortunately, my cheerful predecessor did leave out a piece or two of pertinent information. I had one patient whose needs were definitely not insignificant. Thanks to a stroke, he had some mentation, communication, and continence issues. He also needed help with meals. I’d walk into his room to perform a routine task, discover that he had some urgent need, help resolve that, and leave to go do something else. I wasn’t terribly successful in getting other stuff done, because no sooner than I’d start elsewhere, I’d get summoned back to his room.

It was aggravating, all the constant interruptions and the sheer amount of time required. When working with patients, it’s really important to encourage and let them do as much for themselves as possible. This poor guy – nothing was fast for him! Mealtimes required at least 30 minutes to get him to eat maybe half of his food. Since everything else was on a similar scale, I spent at least 3 hours of my 12 hour shift focused on meeting his needs. It may have actually been more than 4 hours, considering that meals alone took an hour and a half. Anyway, at the minimum, I spent ¼ of my shift working with just one fellow.

That’s crazy! In a regular assignment, I don’t spend that much time with one person. I usually can’t, because I’ve got 7 – 14 other people who also need things. This particular day, it was okay. It just worked out. Actually, I made sure it worked. The RN, who typically would have taken care of some what I ended up doing, had an unusually busy assignment and did not have the time to spend in there, so up and down the hall I ran, always rushing back to be in time to help my busy guy.

I went home so tired, tired and yet curiously satisfied. Doing a good job is normal. I expect that of myself. That particular day, though, I felt like I did an exceptional job, and I know the care I gave made a significant difference in that patient’s day.

It’s All In How You See It

Wednesday morning, I woke up at 6am confused. “Why am I awake?” I wondered. “I didn’t hear my alarm.” I checked my clock. It definitely wasn’t my alarm that had woken me. I’d messed up and set it for PM, not AM. Argh! Nonetheless, I was supposed to be at work by 7am, so up out of bed I got to quickly ready myself for the day and drive off for work.

I didn’t even get a mile before I had to smash on my brakes. In the early morning light, I rounded a corner to see a deer lackadaisically trying to decide if it should cross the road or not. It decided that meandering out in smack in front of my car would be a fantastic decision! As I frantically tried to avoid hitting the brainless mammal looming larger and larger, I thought, “What part of, ‘My car is doing 35 – 40 mph and is a lot bigger than you!’ is not triggering  your survival/flight instincts, stupid deer?!?” Scared me good, that encounter did.

In fact, both of these situations triggered feelings of alarm and fright and uncertainty. “I’m going to be late!” “I’m going to hit the deer!” “What if I’m late?” “Do I have everything?” Augh!

And you know what my next emotional step was? I felt condemned. I felt ashamed. I felt worthless. If my inner emotional dialogue was put to words, it would sound something like this: “I should have double checked my alarm. That was stupid! It’s easy to set it for PM instead of AM. I’ve only had the clock for 20 years or so. I should know better. How dumb can I be? Maybe if I’d been more careful and woken up to my alarm, I’d have been paying more attention and not gotten so close to that deer. Stupid deer! It is going to make me late. I’m going to be late and get into trouble at work. What am I going to do if that happens? How…” and on, and on, and so it goes. Dumb, stupid, irresponsible, trouble – these are all lovely words of condemnation and shame, and that could have been my whole day. Waking up on the wrong side of the bed can do that to ya’!

Fortunately, I have a choice. There is no condemnation, right? I don’t have to capitulate to those nasty feelings and let them run and therefore ruin my day. The truth is that I woke up in time, through no fault of my own, to get to work by 7am, and I didn’t hit that deer. Yes, I had some failures in there, but what I also had was grace and provision. God met my need to get to work safely and on time through no effort of my own. How awesome is that?!?