In all my years in this field I have never had a person in my care who did not respond better when approached consistently with kindness. Never, not one single time. My most resistant residents have been more willing to be an active participant in their own care when they didn’t feel invisible. My most confused residents had less anxiety clouding their minds when I have been able to coax a laugh from them. Kindness doesn’t cost a thing. It takes no more time to be kind than it does to be resentful and impatient and it takes far less energy.
“You’re going to spoil them”.
“Now they’re going to expect that from everyone.”
“Don’t get that one going. She’ll talk your ear off if you let her”…To which I politely smile and go about doing my job exactly as I see fit. Treating my folks the way I’d want to be treated is not “spoiling” them. It’s being good at my job. I give my best effort regardless of what it causes other people to expect. Quite frankly, I don’t care if that raises the bar or not. My work ethic does not include doing less for those in my care so they don’t expect it from other workers. And I don’t mind having my ear talked off. Why should my night owls feel lonely? If they want to talk and I’m not in the middle of a task, I have no problem listening.
The idea that the people in our care are tasks to be minimized and tackled begrudgingly has to be changed. Not every caregiver treats the job with such apathy; not even most, but there are more than enough that do. Rightly or wrongly, the majority of hard working and dedicated caregivers are stigmatized by the behavior of those who are not right for this field.
We are the frontline of Long Term Care. We are the faces most seen. When something goes wrong, we are the easiest to blame. People see the bad behavior of the caregiver and not the broken system that spawned it.
There is grace, value and purpose in this field. We are needed and trusted by those in our care. There is something sacred about that. If the system has beaten you down to the point of resenting those in your care and basic human kindness is too much to ask, then maybe it’s time to consider another field. As workers we don’t like to feel disposable or invisible so why would we treat our residents as little more than a burden? We can do better. We HAVE to do better…any lasting change that matters will begin with those of us who work the floors. We are the closest to the residents and we have a deeper understanding of the world through their eyes. All improvement begins from within, though, and before we change the system we have to change our attitude toward those who live within it.
In my last post I talked about the value of good work partners. For a caregiver employed in LTC, working with a good crew can make even the most difficult situations tolerable. A healthy and happy work environment isn’t really sustainable without making some effort to maintain a positive working relationship with your fellow caregivers.
In this job, you really do have to take care of the people around you. This includes an awareness of your coworkers’ needs and circumstances. Yes, we are there for the residents, but when we neglect or mistreat our work mates, we are poisoning our own work environment and this will inevitably impact the people who live there. I’ve known some aides that had some great qualities as caregivers, but couldn’t keep their mouths shut when it came to what they perceived as the inadequacies of other workers. Rather than simply dismiss fellow caregivers as unworthy of the work, how much more effective it would have been had they offered their assistance without judgement when they saw a need and perhaps through their actions provide a better example of how to approach the job.
In my current daily routine with Claire, I am blessed with a great work partner: my 4 ½ year-old granddaughter, Aubrey. From a caregiver’s perspective, Aubrey would be considered a part of my “case load.” Indeed, she does demand considerable time and attention – and she can be quite a distraction for Claire. But she also assists me in ways both big and small. In fact, when it comes to Claire’s care and training, she can do some things much better that I can.
Like my old work partner Russ at the Veterans’ Home, Aubrey is very familiar with our care routines and habits, and she knows when to jump in and help. Most of the time, she’ll do this without direction from me. If I’m involved in some task away from Claire and she gets fussy, Aubrey is right there to give her sister a pacifier or entertain her with a toy until I’m able to focus on Claire again.
Whenever I’m engaged in an activity with Claire, I always make sure that Aubrey has the opportunity to participate if she chooses. Just as Russ and I complemented each other with our differing approaches to our residents, Aubrey adds a quality to the activity that I am unable to provide. Claire simply has more fun and stays engaged longer if Aubrey joins us.
Of course, I often have to redirect to keep both girls on task, but I try to do this by example and not through verbal correction. Sometimes the structure of the activity breaks down entirely, overwhelmed by sisterly chaos and mirth. That’s okay, at that point, we just move on to something else.
When Aubrey chooses to occupy herself in parallel play, she can still be extremely helpful. In our effort to correct Claire’s dominant tendency to arch her back as a means of mobility, we do a lot of floor work in which we try to keep her focus forward. Sometimes this is simply a matter of sitting her on the floor, placing her favorite toys in front of her, and having her reach for them. If Aubrey is playing nearby, I always try to orient Claire toward her sister with the toys in between. To Claire, Aubrey is the most fascinating thing in the world and she’s more motivated to sustain her forward focus when her sister is in front of her.
Like any work partnership, this is a two-way street. One of Aubrey’s favorite activities is taking care of her babies. When I’m busy with Claire, Aubrey is busy with her “group.” This consists of one or usually several “Baby Alive” dolls, most of which are capable of some bodily function.
Aubrey takes her care activities very seriously and I am obligated to pay proper respect to her efforts and assist her when necessary. Sometimes this means I have to stop what I’m doing with Claire to help Aubrey put some article of clothing on one of the dolls or take a turn feeding one of them or perhaps help search for some microscopic toy part of critical importance. Other times, it can mean turning off the music and tip-toeing around the house, because it’s nap time for her babies.
Here, I was rightfully chastised for taking a photo that happened to show in the background her changing her baby (“You DON”T do that!). I duly apologized for the indiscretion:
Clearly, it would be a mistake for me to dismiss Aubrey’s play concerns as frivolous. If I want her cooperation with what I do with Claire, then she should be able to depend on me to do the same for her group – whatever that may consist of from day to day. That is what good work partners do.
There is something else going on here. Aubrey will often use her babies to imitate my activities with Claire. She’s learning by watching and doing, developing skills that will serve her for a lifetime. In a very real sense, I’m training her as much as I’m training Claire. And while Aubrey does not yet grasp the meaning of Claire’s ACC, she is already learning some valuable lessons on how to treat it. As both girls grow, Aubrey will have more influence on her sister’s development than any of us.
In a couple months, I will be losing my valued work partner. Having recently graduated from preschool, Aubrey will be attending full-day kindergarten this fall. While this will leave me more time to work with Claire, I’m really going to miss my little work partner.
“I’ve had it! Second shift ALWAYS does this and now they want to put an extra shower on OUR shift. I’m going to the office.”
“It’s not like anything will come of it…”
“They left the bed pad in the drier AGAIN!…”
“Don’t do first shifts laundry, Alice. They’ll come to expect it…”
Sigh. Here we go again. It seems that regardless of the facility, the shift, or the home in which I work there is one constant and faulty idea that drives people: a problem can be solved by bitching at it and blaming others.
When I first started in this field, I simply tried to avoid those conversations. It’s difficult but not impossible to do. I would change the topic or find something else to do. A few years into this career, I was hit by the superhero bug. Somehow, not getting drawn into the toxic drama was not enough. I would FIX it! I felt comfortable with my co-workers and got along with all of them. It was only reasonable to impart upon them my worldly wisdom. Being “the Great Reformer”, I was surprised that my long winded and preachy speeches on the value of open communication and a sense of community were met with eye rolls rather than inspired applause and immediate action. What was WRONG with people?!
It turns out that I was asking myself the wrong questions. While blame and finger pointing never solved a problem, neither did dismissing the frustration and very real emotions that those involved in the situation may be feeling. A problem can’t be solved without acknowledging it either. So I started listening without offering solutions. I let go of what my co-workers were doing and began focusing on what I was doing. If I had an issue with a co-worker, I addressed it privately with that co-worker. If I have extra time and there is another shifts laundry to be done, I do it quietly. I know what it’s like to work first shift and any help is welcome. I make myself available to those who may need an extra set of hands when I am able. I make certain that I am consistently trust worthy. I don’t engage in gossip just to feel like a part of the group. I don’t seek approval. In other words, with varying degrees of success, I work according to my own standards. I put my money where my mouth is and let my feet do the talking. And it’s worked!
People work differently with me. They stopped bringing gossip around without my having to ask. If I need an extra set of hands, someone shows up. They know by my actions that I wouldn’t take advantage of them and that if needed, I’ll be right there with them too. The other shifts are friendly and grateful. They listen to shift report and I take my time rather than rush through it. There is a synergistic energy that stems from mutual trust.
Once I freed myself from the cage of minding other people’s business, I was better able to focus and improve upon my own. That is the simple and quiet path to actually making an impact on the world around you. Change is inspired by consistent and sometimes humbling steps forward. It isn’t about what you know and how loudly you know it. It’s about what you DO and how consistently you DO it. It’s a valuable lesson I learned from working the floor that I hope to apply off the clock. Society as a whole could use it right now.
For a caregiver, there is nothing like a good hall partner to make the shift go right. Reliable coworkers that you get along with can help you maintain your sanity even on the most challenging days. They can make the difference between looking forward to coming into work or dreading it. During my 25 years as a caregiver in the veterans’ home, I had many such hall partners. One that stands out for me is my old buddy Russ.
While we worked well together, Russ and I had completely different personalities. Russ was loud, gregarious, and not afraid to speak his mind – to anyone. He was a big guy, with long hair and sported more than a few tattoos and body piercings. I was always more reserved, careful with my words, and more deliberate in my actions. And I was far more conventional in my appearance. However, he did talk me into getting a couple of small tattoos, one of which he did himself as a budding tattoo artist.
On the unit we complemented each other well. We were each assigned permanent groups, but we knew each other’s residents as well as we knew our own. When one of us had the day off, we knew the other would be watching out for our respective residents. “Take care of my boys tomorrow,” Russ would remind me before a day off.
We also knew each other’s routine and work habits. Russ was always around when I needed help. I always pretty much knew where he was and I didn’t have to spend a lot of time running around the unit looking for someone to spot me on a Hoyer lift or assist with a two-person transfer. And I did the same for him. I just kind of knew when to show up in one of his rooms. In fact, Russ referred to this as my “Jedi Wall Trick,” this uncanny ability to suddenly, but quietly appear – as if I walked out of the wall. It actually kind of freaked him out a little; he would grin and shake his head, and ask me to stop doing that.
We each took different approaches to our residents. Russ was more forward, sometimes a little too forward, and I would have to steer some of his interactions in a more appropriate direction. The same level of familiarity with certain residents in a care situation might not be as acceptable in a more public setting. At the same time, Russ had a knack of bringing residents out their shell and could reach them in ways that didn’t come natural to me. He showed me that being authentic, especially when laced with humor can help break down social barriers and actually strengthen the bond between resident and caregiver.
Due to the nature of the beast, caregivers in an institutional setting often have to work with a looming sense of turmoil and even fear. We may like the work and enjoy our residents, but sometimes we’re not so crazy about our place of employment nor the system under which we work. In this kind of atmosphere, we learn to rely on each other to keep it real. And more than anything, Russ helped to keep it real.
In my next post, I’ll talk about my current work partner. She’s a few feet shorter and a couple hundred pounds lighter than Russ, but just as valued.
I never thought I’d enjoy being a floater. I thought I’d feel disjointed; a caregiver without a home. I’ve always had a hall or a family. One place that was consistent and I liked it that way. I cared for the same people, worked with the same co-workers in the nice normal daytime hours. Now my nights are days, my co-workers are scarce and I never know what hall I’m going to be working. Despite the mental fogginess and strange anxiety I feel in the daylight, I am enjoying the newness of this experience. I am not certain I could pull it off for years, like some of my co-workers but for now at least, it’s a good opportunity to hone my skills.
I have worked every hall on every floor. There isn’t a resident in this building I haven’t met. At first the idea of learning the needs, habits,patterns and personalities of so many residents was daunting. I over thought it. Much to my relief, knowing those in my care comes as naturally to me while working many halls as it did while working one.
Room 128 is an exceptionally smart woman and enjoys a good discussion on a multitude of topics. She’s a night owl. She is also a bit possessive of my time and it hurts her feelings when I have to end our conversation to do my final rounds. My solution? Make a 3AM “tea party”. It’s a slow time and she feels special for the extra attention. The gentleman in room 324 will stay up all night if that’s what it takes to finish his 500 piece puzzles. I’m pretty awful at puzzles. He enjoys showing me tricks to matching the pieces. Room 243 is a painter. Room 101 loves a midnight snack. And memory care at night…that topic is going to get its own post.
Being a floater forces me to see beyond just one hall. In order to be effective, I have to be flexible. I work with a variety of people with a wide range of personalities and challenges. Some halls are very active at night and some are hauntingly silent. As a floater, I thought I would feel like a caregiver without a home. It didn’t occur to me that by working every hall, the entire building would become my home and I will be more well-rounded for the experience.
It will get better. I promise… I must have said that a hundred times to our new resident. She didn’t sleep at all. She searched for her mother, father, friend, a child and a pair of shoes that she must have left in England. She paced the floor for hours on ends. She changed her clothes eight times. She knocked on the doors of my other residents and asked me a garbled series of questions to which I had no good answers. In short, she did absolutely everything BUT sleep.
It was an unusually hectic night and by the end of the shift, I was emotionally tapped out. My new resident was so scared, hurt and anxious and eight straight hours of trying to soothe her in between my other tasks left its mark on me. In the end, I walked with her as she paced, rubbed her back when she cried, and made promises that I can’t possibly keep when she frantically asked questions based on the reality within her mind.
It will get better. I promise. I say it all the time. I redirect and calm and search for pets or loved ones that exist only in my residents’ memories. And yes, more often than not using those skills in those moments will bring a measure of short lived relief. But that doesn’t mean it will get better for them. Not in any lasting or impactful way. I can’t stop the loss of her memories. I can’t take away her confusion and unfamiliarity at her new surroundings nor the sense of abandonment and anxiety that comes from being pulled from one reality and placed into different one. I. Am. Powerless.
Normally I am good at compartmentalizing this awareness. It does no good to let those thoughts dance around in my mind. Such thinking only robs me of space in my head that is better used for what I actually can do to make life better for those in my care…normally. There are moments though when I am struck by a wave of such sadness that it robs me of my breath and I feel crushed; paralyzed by the weight of it all. Usually they hit me when I’m feeling powerless in my life outside of work or have been dabbling too long in my mind for my writing. My mind can be a fun place to be, but there are roads in there better left untraveled. The fact is, both on and off the clock, I deal with some pretty heavy shit. It’s kind of what I do. And acceptance of that, even joy in it, is so hardwired into me that I forget sometimes that it takes a toll if I’m not careful. Those short lived crashing waves of momentary despair are my wake up call. HEY ALICE! You’ve been playing too long in the deep end again! Come up for air!
So how do I stick with it and keep the faith without losing the ability to feel? Without becoming hardened? I get out of the problem as quick as I can and get back in the solution. Can I cure Alzheimer’s? No. Can I make someone living with Alzheimer’s laugh hard? More often than not. Can I force someone to get sober? No. Can I offer numbers and resources to someone who is in desperate need of help? Yes. I can do that. There are many aspects of life over which I have no power at all. Some but not all. I can DO. I can consistently and relentlessly keep moving forward. I can brighten another person’s day. I can do my job to the best of my ability. I can be kind and I can never give up. Even when it sometimes feels like the world is begging for it. That I have power over. That is my choice. Powerless and helpless are not the same thing.
I play peek-a-boo with Claire every chance I get. In fact, it’s our default activity. When I can’t think of anything better to do or time is limited, we play peek-a-boo. And it never gets old for either one of us.
In the first place, it’s just fun. Peek-a-boo is an easy way to make Claire smile and laugh. Making my face “disappear” builds tension and its reappearance becomes the exciting resolution. Exaggerated facial and vocal expressions enhance the comedic and dramatic effect. It’s become like an inside joke between the two of us.
The game has a serious purpose. It teaches object permanence, the understanding that when things “disappear” they aren’t really gone forever. That is, things can be mentally represented even when we can’t see, hear, touch, smell, or taste them.
Object permanence begins to develop between 4-7 months. It is a precursor to symbolic understanding, a major building block for language skills and cognitive development. It’s a very big thing.
Claire and I work on object permanence in more direct ways as well. I present an interesting object:
… and then I hide it on her tray table under a screen, such as a small cloth. Her job is to remove the screen and retrieve the interesting object. If she’s not showing sufficient interest or motivation, the object, I expose part of the object.
Sometimes Claire finds the screen to be sufficiently interesting in itself and simply picks that up, mainly for chewing purposes, and ignores the original interesting object. One way I counteract that is to use my hand as the screen:
And it works thusly:
Another twist in object permanence training is to add a second layer of screening, such as placing a box over the object with a towel over the box.
Peek-a-boo can also evolve into more complex games. In one variation, the adult leaves the room all together and then reappears, or speaks to the child from the other room. This form of play can help ease separation anxiety.
But even in the most basic version with hands covering the face, there is a lot going on when we play peek-a-boo. According to child development professionals, peek-a-boo can help with things like developing self-recognition and teach cause and effect. And it is a form of social interaction. Combining this social aspect with the gross and fine motor activity associated with the game has a synergistic effect on development. Experts tell us that symbolic understanding is a complex operation requiring the integration of a number of processes and as in any aspect of child development, it all works together.
Claire and I will continue to play this game every chance we get. And I expect we will find new ways to play.
In my last post, I listed a selection of conditioning exercises I do with Claire during the day. These exercises address some of the developmental deficiencies associated with her ACC. The hope is that by doing these things now, we can avoid bigger problems as Claire grows.
Like a caregiver working in a long term care setting, my efforts are subject to the limitations – and the opportunities – presented by my work environment. While good caregivers strive to focus on the wants and needs of a resident as an individual, they must do so while accounting for things like the facility routine, the well-being of other residents on the unit, the concerns of family members, and the need to assist coworkers. One of the great disconnects in LTC is that regulations, policies, and training fail to adequately account for the environment in which they are to be implemented. Caregivers do not have that luxury and must learn to balance the needs of the individual with these other concerns.
While the venue is different, my work with Claire involves the same kind of balancing act. I would prefer to spend most of the day focusing on her developmental training, but the reality is that other matters limit the time I can devote to these exercises and I have to adjust accordingly. I think the best way to illustrate this is to share what our Tuesday was like last week.
On Tuesday mornings, Claire goes to physical therapy from 8 to 9. Her mother, my daughter Hiliary, takes Claire to these appointments while I take Claire’s sister, Aubrey, to preschool. After Claire’s appointment, Hiliary drops her off at my house and goes to work…
It is 9:30 now and Claire has been up since 6:30. She always needs a nap within a couple hours of waking. She often does not sleep well at night and these mid-morning naps are essential. And she’s obviously tired from her PT session. I would really like to work on some gross motor and strengthening exercises, but my first task is to change her diaper and get her down for a nap.
Claire wakes up at 11. I have to pick up Aubrey from school at 11:30, so we have to leave the house by 11:15. She was due for her bottle at 10:45, but that isn’t going to happen until we return home with Aubrey. I hold in her my arms and walk around for a moment or two, just to help her transition to being awake. I change her diaper and then go out and warm up the truck. It’s a cold and rainy day. Now it’s time to leave.
We return home with Aubs around 11:50. Claire is overdue for her bottle and that’s the first thing on the agenda. Meanwhile, Aubrey retrieves from the refrigerator a small lunch that I prepared for her when Claire was sleeping. As Claire takes her bottle, Aubrey and I talk about the things we did the day before and whatever else pops into her active little mind.
By 12:15 both girls are done eating. I place Claire in her bouncer and turn on PBS, hoping for an animated kid’s show to keep her occupied while I get Aubs ready for her swimming class held at the middle school pool. Super Y turns out to be sufficiently engaging. I wouldn’t mind sitting down and watching it myself. Another diaper change for Claire and we are out of the house by 12:30.
We get to the school by 12:45. I unload both girls and sign in at the school office. We scurry down the hallway toward the pool locker room, dodging several knots of loud and obnoxious middle schoolers along the way. It’s the last few minutes of lunch time and the chaos is palpable as the kids stream out of the cafeteria. I look down at Claire, still in her car seat. She’s smiling, clearly amused by the excessive animation of these strange and boisterous beings.
In the locker room Aubrey continues to entertain Claire by throwing her shoes and socks at me. I allow this. I take the girls into the pool area and we wait for the instructors and the rest of the students to arrive. Claire watches everyone, but is especially interested in the kids, who are all close to Aubrey’s age. As the teachers start the class, Claire and I retreat to the bleachers. The teachers ban family members from the pool deck during lessons to keep them from offering their unsolicited expertise.
I packed a number of toys to keep Claire busy during the lesson: her touch activated music maker, a small gang of Sesame Street figures for her chewing and tossing pleasure, a multi-function teething toy with mirror, and a stuffed Mickey Mouse that she has put through all the hell her little piranha like mouth can deliver. I take Claire out of her car seat and try a little object permanence exercise (more on this in the next post), but she isn’t interested. Freed from her cocoon, she now has an entire visual world to explore. The high ceiling and the lights in the pool room are captivating. The activity going on now in the pool is way more interesting than any object I might be hiding at that face towel.
The people around us in the bleachers are the most interesting things of all and she’s not shy about looking at them to get their attention. Her little head swivels back and forth, checking out everyone in her radius. An adult to the left of her is deep into his phone and doesn’t notice. Ditto for the mother on the right. Somehow they’re unaware of all this amazing stuff happening all around them.
It’s a strange and wonderful place that I’ve taken her to, but even with all that it has to offer, she becomes fussy after a time. It’s hot and humid in the pool room and I can tell she’s getting uncomfortable. I remove her socks and we leave the pool area. The hallway is pleasantly quiet now as the little heathens are safely sequestered in their classrooms. The cool air refreshes both of us and we spend some time checking out the shiny objects in the trophy case. She studies them for a moment, then turns her head toward me and smiles. Do I get how remarkable these things are? We wave at our reflection in the window of the deserted auditorium entrance. And we spend a little time gazing out the window toward the parking lot. All the while, Claire is content and engaged.
We slip back into the pool room just as Aubrey’s lesson is ending. I strap Claire into her car seat and we hustle back to the deck area to help Aubs wrap up in her towel. As we return to the locker room, Claire is visibly tired, but not yet fussing. She’ll probably fall asleep in the truck on the way home.
On the way home, the girls’ father, Andy, texts me that he just got out of work. This means I’ll be taking the girls to their house and I won’t get another chance to work on Claire’s exercises. My day with her is over.
A Good Day
While I was frustrated over not being able to work with Claire on Tuesday, I know that regarding her development, it was far from a wasted day. I had to remind myself that Claire’s day started with a physical therapy appointment. So while I didn’t work with her, someone else did. After her PT session, my job was to address her most immediate need and that was to get some rest.
While we didn’t have a solid block of time that we could devote to Claire’s training exercises, we were able to fit some things into the day’s activities. Following each of her diaper changes for example, we played peek-a-boo, which is actually an object permanence exercise. When we took our little walk in the school hallway, I made sure that she always had to look to her right to see the interesting stuff. Her weakness is on her right side and she has a strong tendency to look left. So in effect, this served as a kind of conditioning exercise. When I handed her one of the Sesame Street figures, I made her track them left to right and then reach up to her right to get them. And while I’m not sure exactly how all her social observation and interaction works in her development, I’m guessing the experience connected a synapse or two. All of this counts.
Once a week, Claire and I meet with an occupational therapist. She’s a really good one. She has over 30 years’ experience and is tremendously knowledgeable. But what I’m most impressed with is her ability to improvise with whatever items she finds on hand and alter equipment in order to meet Claire’s specific needs. I’ve worked with a lot OTR’s in the past and the great ones have always been master improvisers.
An experienced caregiver is also an improviser. But instead of improvising with things, we improvise with time. Even on the busiest days when other concerns dominate our time, we can find opportunities to address the individual needs of those in our care. The circumstances may not be ideal, but our efforts will make a difference.
And as a postscript to our Tuesday, Hiliary posted the following on Facebook that same night. So, it was a good day after all.
This blog started with the idea that the voice and experience of caregivers has been a vital missing ingredient to the improvement of Long Term Care. A conversation about reform that doesn’t include our voice is like bread being baked without yeast.
When Bob found me on a CNA support site I had been searching for answers. For quite awhile, I had felt lost. I was appalled at how those in our care were being treated by the system as a whole. I was beyond frustrated that nothing my fellow co-workers and I said seemed to matter to those in charge. I was saddened by the fact that this was accepted as a matter of course and I was unwilling to believe that nothing could be done about any of it. By providence, fate, or incredibly good timing, I was ready to jump in when Bob explained his idea for this blog and asked me to be a part of it.
Over the last few years you have walked with us as we expressed the frustration, beauty, humor, love and loss that comes as part of the package in this field. Many of you have shared your experiences with us in the comments or emails. I had no idea how far reaching this blog would be or how much I personally would be affected by writing for it. I did not realize at the time that by simply writing a post a week not only would I be an active part of the solution and have the ability to reach others, but I would be opening a door to allow all of you to reach me.
You…yes YOU, reading this, give me hope. You aren’t sleep walking through life telling yourself that one person can’t make a difference so why bother trying. Instead you are reading a blog that’s very existence proves otherwise. It is an incredibly inspiring and deeply moving experience to be a part of CNA edge. In the process I have learned that I am not alone, that we can and are making a difference and that we all have a responsibility to keep speaking our truths, even when we feel it falls on deaf ears.
If you are reading this, you have impacted my life. You inspire me. Writing these pieces force me to look beneath the surface to the deeper essential realities in this field, to dig deep, be honest about my emotions and fears and face them head on. I can never give up because of you. You force me to be brave because how can I ask you to be willing to take a stand and consistently work for change on every level of this field if I am not doing so myself? How can I expect you to believe that you can make a difference if I don’t believe it myself? What experience is more rewarding than to inspire and be inspired? So, from the bottom of my heart, thank you.
As a caregiver, I cut my teeth on first shift memory care. For years that was my world. Fast paced, short staffed and unpredictable, first shift was nonstop action. I remember thinking it was ridiculous that there was a pay differential for third shift. After all, there work load was so much lighter than ours. It just didn’t seem fair. I thought along the same lines about private care. One client? How hard could it be? Why were they paid so much more than those of us in facilities? Their job was a cake walk in comparison. Of course, at the time I had no experience with private care or third shift but it seemed like common sense to me. I was wrong.
Contempt prior to investigation. My thinking at the time can best be described by that simple concept. And we are all guilty of that from time to time; Viewing people, events, and moments solely through the lens of our individual perception without the benefit of direct knowledge. If the past few years have taught me anything, it is that the remedy for such thinking is actual experience.
Private care was not easy street. In many ways, it was much more challenging for me than working in a facility. Sure, I occasionally lamented the pace and amount of work we had to accomplish on first shift in my facility, but truth be told, that is when I’m at my best. It was harder for me to pull back and refocus my energy than I expected. The hours were long and it was difficult for me to set work boundaries without the guidance of an agency. It could be very lonely and at times I felt very isolated. The flow of the shift was entirely based on other people’s moods and level of pain. There were also amazing aspects of private care. I loved the family. All of them. I loved the freedom of working independently and having the time to really get to know my client. I loved being involved in bringing holidays back into the house and making her laugh. I loved the deeper connections I was able to forge because my focus wasn’t split eight ways to Sunday. That also made it very hard to leave when a new opportunity arose. My two year journey into private care has enriched my experience in this field and added skills, abilities and insight into my work that I would not have gained had I not taken that path for a little while.
Though I’ve only just begun my jaunt into third shift, I’ve already made some realizations. I understand why they offer a shift differential now. It’s true that the work load is much lighter but that is all I was right about. When I worked first shift, I ran hard. I bled for the job, but when I clocked out for the day I was able to leave work at work. For the most part, anyway. Not so on third. So much of my time in the day is spent trying to effectively work sleep into my schedule so I can be awake and alert through my shift that even when I’m not at work, I’m thinking about work. Or thinking about sleep. And everything else has to be worked in between those two things. The extra money isn’t about what happens on the clock. It’s about the willingness to rearrange life off the clock in order to work when the worlds asleep. It’s about the toll that takes on your mind and body. Sad to say, I would not have connected the dots on that had I never taken this position.
So I am very glad my experience in this field has evolved and hope it will continue to do so. These experiences will remind me not to engage in the “shift wars”. We do not need to tear each other down, ESPECIALLY without having the first clue as to what it’s like from first hand experience. I consider it a lesson well learned.