We have moments of clarity in our lives that awaken us to our deepest underlying purpose; that whisper truths about ourselves, sometimes scary, sometimes beautiful that will place us on a path of usefulness if we are willing to embrace them. String a series of these moments together and we discover our true callings.
I have always felt that I was searching…seeking some undefined truth or meaning about life. About myself. Like having all the pieces to a jigsaw puzzle but not knowing how to put it together. I felt an unease over this uncertainty, an anxiety. Adrift.
I suppose that for some, having a genuine vocation is something with which they are born. They just KNOW what they want to do with their life. That is not my story.
Nearly seven years ago, I entered the wacky world of long term care, not because I had a calling but because I needed a job. My life had taken a dark detour in previous years and I was just beginning my recovery; just beginning to learn how to stand on my feet.
The facility needed a housekeeper and though I was so insecure that I doubted even my mopping capabilities, I took the job. As they say, it was the first step in the rest of my life. I had a knack with the residents, I think mainly because I SAW them.
The facility had a combination of elderly people and others who were living with a variety of mental, emotional and physical illnesses. Looking back on it, I think I instantly connected with them because I was facing and overcoming my own demons at the time and I was not so far removed from my own struggles. I identified with them on an emotional level. I was promoted to personal care assistant on the Alzheimer’s unit.
I loved my job. LOVED it. I learned everything I could from the seasoned CNA’s. My partner on the floor became my close friend and for a while, everything was great, both in work and out.
But then they relocated the resident care coordinator and the facility went downhill. Fast. They hot water wasn’t working and the handicap accessible toilets were broken. For months. They were short on staff, short on supplies and short on answers. They posted a sign that said we were not allowed to document on our residents in any way. Something had to be done.
When no one, from administration up to DHHS, would listen to our concerns, two of us brought it to the news. I gave them fair warning and lost my job in the maelstrom. I live in a “right to work” state.
In case you were wondering, whistleblowing is not the exciting event that movies make it out to be, where, after you take a few blows, people rally around you and your cause and you get the satisfaction of seeing immediate change. Damn you, Erin Brockovitch! …It was actually pretty terrifying. They dug around and uncovered more than I expected. I was without work, obsessed with reading the comments that alternately vilified me for being a “disgruntled” employee and championed me for stepping up. I kept thinking, “I just wanted them to have hot water.”…I was scared, broke, clueless of what to do next.
It took two years before all of their facilities closed. It took the deaths of five residents in another of their facilities from a hepatitis outbreak due to sharing lancets. It took too long.
I think it was naïveté more than courage that drove me to take action in the first place. I genuinely believed that people didn’t KNOW. It never crossed my mind that they didn’t care. Or maybe it’s the ostrich head in the sand mentality. If an issue isn’t directly affecting us, we don’t see it. To be fair, until I began working in this field, the state of the long term care systems didn’t cross my mind either.
I learned a ton from the experience. I started over again in housekeeping, first in houses and then, when new owners took over that same facility, I went back there. I worked hard, studied, challenged the state test and passed, and was officially a CNA.
Change happens slowly. Both individually and on a societal level. I’ve learned it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Writing for this blog combines two of my passions. Collaborating with Yang and May has deeply enriched my life. While I still have a nature that seeks purpose and meaning, I no longer feel adrift. I feel inspired.
I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that I landed in this field. Call it fate, or synchronicity, the lessons I have learned, both personally and professionally, from this career I could not have learned any other way. Some people pick a calling. In true “Alice” fashion, I tripped over my own feet and fell face first into mine.