Only 45 minutes left in my shift, and for first time, I’m not counting the minutes with a mix of dread and relief. I’ve only been an aide for a few weeks and I finally feel like I’m catching on. The physical stuff is becoming muscle memory and that’s freeing up energy to focus on the mental aspects. It’s the first shift in which I don’t feel like I’m drowning; the first shift in which I think: maybe this is for me.
I’m doing my nightly rounds when I hear loud voices coming from a room across the hall. The ladies who live in that room are usually quiet, so I hurry over to see what is going on. In my rush, I saw but did not comprehend the sad look thrown at me by the nurse.
In the room, one resident is awake, wide-eyed and clutching her blankets tightly. Upon seeing me, she pointedly looks over at her room mate. No words leave her lips; none need to. She looks worried, but also irritated, like this isn’t such an uncommon occurrence.
The other occupant of the room is still asleep, her eyes darting about underneath her eyelids. Dreaming, then. Or maybe not. She’s crying in her sleep, great fat drops leaking from the wrinkles around her eyes. She’s talking, too, her voice rising and falling in a mostly-incomprehensible babble.
I wish it was completely incomprehensible…because I can make out two distinct words, repeated over like a nauseating refrain to a horrific song.
This isn’t something I was prepared for. In my CNA course, nobody told that I’d have to witness the nightmares of my residents, have to stand next them while they relive the worst moments of their lives. Why isn’t this something we are warned about? Why isn’t this a facet of long term care we talk about?
Before, the people I was taking care of were little old ladies and sweet old men in my head; the Greatest Generation aging gracefully.
I feel like I’ve run smack into the revelation that whatever else they are, my residents are people first. Not always cute characters from a Norman Rockwell paintings, not always caricatures from nursing home abuse commercials, old people in wheelchairs, neglected and dejected…but always people. People who lived, and yes, people who suffered.
I don’t know what to do. I feel like I should report this–but what’s the point? This lady is in her 90s, “daddy” is long dead, as are all the people who turned a blind eye to the abuse.
I do the only thing I can think of: I wake her up. She’s startled and begins yelling at me. It’s mostly for my own sake that I sink down on the floor beside her bed and hold her hand until she falls into a peaceful sleep. Or at least, a sleep that is free from screaming nightmares.
I finish my rounds late, again. But this time, it’s not because I couldn’t figure out how to roll a resident and tuck a brief at the same time. The nurse tells me I did a good job, both during the shift and during the “incident”. I suppose I should be proud of that, but I can’t get my mind out of that room long enough to think about anything else.
My notations of what being a CNA means and what a CNA does have been drastically altered. I go home and go to sleep with only one thing decided: I hate that man whose sins still have the power to torment his daughter all these years later. Once a little girl, now an old woman; always a person.