Tag Archive: people


Taking a Minute

After a busy twelve hour shift, while collecting my things, I saw the wife of one of my patients sitting by herself in a small waiting room. Her husband had had a long surgery. I’m sure the day and the wait hadn’t been easy on the lady.

I took a minute and asked her how she was. We chatted for a moment, and then I told her, “I just wanted to tell you that I think you’re a very handsome woman.” That morning, as I’d been helping her husband, I’d noticed her. She’s not exactly pretty. She’s not classically beautiful, but she’s hardly some unattractive hag. She’s solidly full of life. Handsome suits her.

Her whole expression brightened. I kinda think I made her day, and I know she helped make mine. She definitely took my words as a compliment, and she told me that she hardly ever hears compliments about her appearance. The lady then thanked me several times. I didn’t really do anything. I just told her the kind truth, and it made me happy to be able to share it with her.

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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!

Will You Forgive Me, Please?

I’m going to tell you a story. This story involves one of my sisters, but it’s not about her. It’s really about me. Because I’m the one telling it, and she’s not here to share her side of the story (which undoubtedly differs from mine), please remember that I’m talking from my perspective and how things affected me. I’d leave her out altogether if I could, but I haven’t been able to come up with a clever way to do that while still communicating effectively about what became a profound experience in my life.

I am a pretty competent person. It’s not that I know everything or have some super power that makes me capable of succeeding at whatever I try. It’s has more to do with my dislike of turning out work of poor quality. As Yoda said, “Do or do not. There is no try,” and I’d add that if I’m going to do it, I might as well bother to do it well. I don’t even have to like whatever it is to do a good job of it, and I don’t have to know how to do it. I’ll learn, teaching myself if necessary. I’ve been like this as long as I can remember.

I tend to be right. Some of that is merely accuracy combined with a habit of choosing my words with care. Some of that is conscience. I need to be morally right and try to keep from wrongdoing.  I care about justice in general. Been like that all of my life, too.

I’m not always the most humble or self-effacing person you’ll ever meet, either.  I’d like to think that I’m less arrogant than I used to be, but the truth is that I wasn’t particularly aware of how my pride was affecting me then, and it’s entirely possible I have blind spots aplenty still.

Throw all of that together – competency, conscience, a strong sense of justice coupled with outrage over injustice, and pride – in me, and you get a driven, stubborn, very pigheaded person who would rather drown than give up the ball to the other team. Playing water basketball as a freshman at summer camp did nearly get me drowned. One of the other team felt sorry for me and opted to try picking me up and shaking me. She didn’t get the ball, either. Anyway, get me to the point where I’m convinced I’m right, and I can become intransigent.  I won’t bend, buckle, or back down.

And proud of it.

I suppose you can imagine that this habit of mine occasionally caused problems. My relationship with my sister, who I’ll call P in this post, is a good illustration. P is a little younger than me, so the poor kid got to “enjoy” the same sort of home life I did. It was tough. It was really tough. We all dealt with it differently. I was quite the prig. My dad once called me something like the Pious with all the dark and twisted religious shades to it, and the comment was not completely wrong. P dealt with it in other ways. We butted heads a lot, starting young and continuing into adulthood. My dad leaving the family didn’t magically make everything better. We had all learned bad habits and lessons, and we had to learn new things and norms after he left. Learning, the process of it, is rife with mistakes, yes?

P and I had many, many differences of opinion. There was a lot of conflict, and it frustrated and hurt me. I felt like she was being very unfair to me. It didn’t seem to matter how hard I tried – it was not enough. I couldn’t make her happy with me or what I was doing no matter how nice, tactful, fillintheblank I tried to be. It didn’t improve my attitude or hurt feelings that I thought some of what she did was wrong and/or unlikely to help her get what she’d told me she wanted. I felt as though she twisted my words to use them against me and heard poison where I’d meant only and striven mightily to infuse kindness. I didn’t feel like I could trust her to look out for me. Things were getting pretty sour, and I was getting very tired of what I perceived to be me doing a lot of bending over backwards to avoid giving further offense. I was angry about that.

I had done everything I knew. I had tried to the best of my ability to work things out and improve the relationship. I had failed. It sucked. It was miserable. We were kinda, sorta not really speaking to each other, and I felt grief. She’s my sister. I love her. My guts were twisting into a knot to be on such bad terms with her.

So, in the middle of this confusion of feeling and attitude, I hear something from God that I don’t like . He tells me to show up at her house, ask her for her side of the story, listen humbly, receive, and then ask for her forgiveness. That was actually frightening. It was vulnerable. P hadn’t exactly been the safest person in my life. Her words weren’t safe. I didn’t want to go.

I did, though. I showed up, she was home, and I listened to what she had to say for maybe a couple of hours. I can’t remember for sure. It was a lengthy conversation, though. Somewhere in there, I gave her a simple apology. “I’m sorry. Would you forgive me, please?” No defensiveness, no excuses, no guardedness hidden in justifications, no feedback from me toward her – nothing self-protective. I simply and unreservedly owned the truth that I had hurt her (even if I didn’t mean to do it, even if only through ignorance, I had still caused her pain) and asked her to forgive me.

We parted ways on somewhat better terms, having expressed a desire to have a better relationship with each other. It hasn’t happened yet. Within a year, things had broken down completely, and at her request, I have not spoken to her since.

What was the point? Why did I have to go through all of that? Every once in a while, I roll it over again, and now seems to be the latest once in a while.

Why? What good did that do? I can’t answer that for her. I have no idea if that conversation and my request for forgiveness did anything for her.

I guess the why has a lot to do with why I went. I didn’t go for me. I didn’t go thinking it would make any difference in how my sister and I related. I didn’t even do it for her to “help” her or anything. I went because I believed that was what God was asking me to do. I obeyed and trusted Him with everything I had invested and everything I feared. It may not have helped my relationship with my sister, but it did change some things in how I related to God. It changed me. I might talk about that more in another post, but for now – have a good night.

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.