The Sounds of Pain



After work, I’m hanging out with friends.

This thought keeps me moving all day; I’ve been counting time by the half hours since my shift started. I’m a whirlwind of activity, getting all my stuff done quickly…I’m not staying over late today, no sir!

It’s been smooth and fairly decent, normal routine and no drama. I’m even humming as I make a bed before lunch.

That is, of course, when I hear it: a high-pitched wail that sounds like a ghost out of a horror movie. I’m out of the room in an instant, charging around the corner until I come to the source of the noise. Mrs.___ is sitting in her room, call light clipped to her lap–she doesn’t seem to notice it though. Her head is thrown back and that awful ghost-wailing sound is coming from her mouth.

I’m by her side in another second. “What’s wrong?” I ask.

For a moment, it sounds like there might be words mixed in with the crying, but they aren’t strong enough to make out.

“Are you hurting?”

No verbal affirmative answer, but I take the continued wailing as a yes. I can’t see anything wrong with her–no skin tears, bruises or the like, so it must be internal pain. The best thing to do, I decide, is to get her in bed and inform the nurse.

I have a bit of trouble with the transfer as Mrs.___ doesn’t seem to have the strength to stand up properly. I should probably go get a mechanical lift, but I don’t. I want to get her in the bed NOW and all other concerns seem secondary.

This is how injuries happen, but I’m lucky this time. There’s no stiffness or tell-tale twinge in my back as I straighten up; somewhere in the back of my mind there’s a voice that sounds like my supervisor yelling out: “You’ve only got the one back, girl!”

The nurse comes and looks at Mrs.____. He sighs, shakes his head and leaves, only to return a few minutes later with a pain pill. There’s nothing else we can do, he says, but keep a close eye on her. He’ll call the hospital if she’s still doing this later and see about sending her out.  

Throughout the rest of the shift, I come in periodically to check on her and hold her hand.

She’s crying still, every time; that ghost-wail follows me everywhere I go. No one, it seems, can get away from Mrs. ____’s pain.

By the time my relief clocks in, we’re all ragged. The on-coming aide winces as she steps on to the hall–you’d think by now the crying would be quieter, but it’s only more hoarse and raw-sounding.

“It’s over!” my partner says. “I can’t take this noise much longer.”

I nod wearily. There’s nothing like a resident noisily in pain to sap your energy.

The wailing continues until I clock out and leave the building…as I start my car and drive away, I just know that she is still crying in pain. I have plans and a good time with friends waiting for me…she’s stuck with the pain.

Sometimes I think the hardest part of the job is losing someone; sometimes I think it is the short-staffed/overworked part.

Today, the hardest part is the helplessness I feel. No matter how much I do, there are times when it will never be enough. Some things fall apart faster than I can put them back together.

I can’t make my residents all better…sometimes all I can do is hold their hand.

But eventually, I have to let go.

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