I can feel it happening and all I can think is “how the hell did I get into this situation?”
Oh yes, I decided to become a CNA. And CNAs are prone to back injuries. I can feel it, a sharp twinge on my left side, just under my shoulder blade…unfortunately, there’s no good way to properly cradle that.
I clutch at it the best I can and hobble out into the hall where I found someone in a position of authority. (I am not going to say which position.)
“I think I really hurt myself,” I sob out.
One of my greatest faults is to get emotional when being rational would be more effective.
“What happened?” the person sighs.
I tell them what happened; when I am finished, the person is silent.
“Well, you’ve been off your game all week and it doesn’t sound like you were using good body mechanics,” they say, finally. My back twinges, as if to echo the sentiment.
I stare at them for a long moment…the truth is no, I wasn’t using good body mechanics. I didn’t brace my back or lift with legs. I didn’t carry the load close to my body. There was definitely some lifting going on in this “no lift facility.” The reason for the bad body mechanics is that I really hadn’t expected to catch a 300+ lb person as they rolled out of bed into my outstretched arms. It is drummed into our heads over and over again: you do not play the hero when someone is falling, you assist them to the floor. Don’t put yourself in harms way to protect them. I didn’t obey this rule…mostly because I couldn’t see a way of “assisting them to the floor” without ending up underneath of them. So instead I had hefted the 300+ lb person out of my arms and back into bed. Honestly, it all happened so fast that I barely had time to register that “holy crap, there is a huge person in my arms” before they were back in the bed and I was on the floor.
The person is staring at me and I’m beginning to realize that I haven’t told this story very well. In fact, I know I haven’t. I should start over. I should stop crying and start from the beginning.
But the person is glaring at me in obvious frustration and my tongue is tied up in knots. I didn’t use good body mechanics and that’s all anybody is going to hear. Sorry that you can’t think well under literal pressure but you must use good body mechanics! You shouldn’t have been changing this bariatric resident on your own! You should have gotten help! If put on paper, everything would be my fault. Because I wasn’t using good body mechanics at the time of the incident. Who in their right mind lifts someone almost three times their size–literally single-handedly?
One of my greatest faults is my tendency to back down from confrontation…and that’s exactly what I do. Suddenly I am very tired and I just want this to all go away.
“You still want to make me send you to the hospital?” they sigh.
“Let’s see if it gets better,” I sniffle and walk away, a bit stiffly, a lot slower than my usual break-neck pace.
On my way home I invest in several Icy-Hot packs. It’s not serious, I tell myself. You pulled a muscle, that’s all. Rest, stretching, Icy-Hot and Advil will make this better.
And in the morning, I do feel better. No debilitating pain, just a slightly more obvious twinge. I go back to work. There’s just a tiny bit of a twinge, nothing major. I was just overly-emotional the day before. It happens.
And for three years, I continue to go to work. I work my regularly scheduled shifts and I work extra shifts. I switch jobs and I finally find the tough skin and backbone you need to survive this field. I learn how to say “no” and I learn how to “yes”; how to stand my ground and how to choose my battles.
But I also learned something else in the years since the above incident: injuries don’t go away because you don’t want to deal them. The damage doesn’t disappear just because the person you went to is irritated. The pain remains. It makes itself known, after too many double-shifts in a row. I have to keep up a strict routine of yoga and a strict obedience to the rules of body mechanics now. I have to be more careful.
My back is not what it used to be. It is by no means broken or debilitating, but I have to be careful or it could be. I wish I had known that day what I know now: injuries and silence breed their own. If you injure your back and ignore it instead of healing it, it is that much easier to re-injury.
If you swallow the pain for fear of a hassle, it becomes a habit. “I’ve had worse happen and I didn’t say anything.”
Back injuries and silence: two problems faced by CNAs. One is more easily treated than the other, I think.