30 minutes isn’t nearly long enough of a break some days, I think as I clock in from lunch. It’s not that it’s been a bad day–not by a long shot. It’s just been a day and I’m tired; tired and not really “feeling it” today.
As soon as I step back on the floor, I’m caught by my nurse. A resident has just returned from the hospital and I’m told to go clean her up before her never-very-pleasant family arrives…apparently, Mrs. F is in bad shape. Funny, but I thought that’s why we sent her out; to get her back into some degree of wellness.

As a CNA, sometimes you can just look at one of your residents and know something’s not right. I get that feeling as soon as I walk into her room. She’s still on the draw sheets from the stretcher and there’s just something not right about how her body rests on them.

When I pull back the blanket, it’s only to confirm what I already know. When she left for the hospital, her bottom was red, with one spot just a shade darker…creams and a 2 hour turn schedule valiantly fighting off what it could have become. That spot has grown and deepened. She most definitely has a bed sore now, a bad one. I check her knees, heels, hips, shoulders: all the other likely places to find pressure sores. I can’t really saw I’m surprised when I find them all red, the heels especially sporting blisters.
I am so angry that I am literally shaking. If I worked in that hospital, I would so ashamed of myself, to let someone leave my care in such terrible shape. I know that Mrs. F is old and never going to get well again, that she’s fragile at the best of times. I know all this and I’m still angry. How dare a hospital offer such sub-par care to my resident?
Oh, yeah: I’m definitely “feeling it” now. I clean her up as best I can, then roll her and shove multiple pillows under the draw sheet. She’s completely off her butt and I’ve positioned the pillows so they don’t pull the skin. It’s a low tech, low-cost method of preventing bed-sores…hopefully it helps heal this sore. I don’t know exactly where I picked up the term, but I call this “packaging”. I like my residents to look nice; dressed in smart clothes, clean faces and neatly made beds.

I can’t help but call them “my residents”, even though I’ve heard it said this sounds unprofessional or even too personal. I can’t help how the term might sound to those who wish to be offended–maybe it’s a fault of language, but there’s no other way for me to describe the bond. Some days it’s not clear to me if the label implies they belong to me or I to them. Maybe both.
They are mine to care for; mine to cry over and cry with; they are mine to laugh with; mine to work myself to the bone for. What so many hate about long-term care is why I love it: the heartbreaking bonds you form with your residents. To give so much of yourself to someone who is claimed by disease and death…it always hurts, and you can’t part with the pain of losing them unless you part with the joy that comes from getting to know them.
In the fairy tales, true love triumphs over death. Here in the nursing home, love only eases death and disease.

That’s why it hurts more when my residents suffer in life than when they die. Disease has reduced them from what they once were and I can’t stand for anything else to attempt to reduce them farther.

With her hair brushed, her face washed and the colorful blankets spread neatly over her, Mrs. F looks more like herself. I stand back and allow myself a minute to admire my handiwork. I’ve found my resident underneath the sores.
Her family sweeps in the room not long after I finish and I stand back. I’m a paid worker and she’s not blood; my claim on her is less.
But it’s still strong and real. She’s my resident after all.

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