The tragedy of “Ann”

Sunflower

May

It’s the same old story I’ve watched play out too many times.
“Ann” is a new aide–she’s going to be a nurse, she tells us. She’s young, pretty, smart and compassionate. She seems like she’ll be good. She does the job well and really seems to have a heart for this.
About time we got a good one.

The first time she walks in a room to find a resident dead, I watch something break in her. The resident was a special one to her; “Ann” said he reminded her of her grandfather. I think she would have stood there forever if I hadn’t reminded her of the living residents who still need her.
“How can you stand it?” she asks me.
“You never get used to it,” I try to tell her, “but you do learn to deal with it. You have to, or you’ll break your heart.”
She goes back to work, but there’s a spark missing from her eyes. From then on, she never fully engages the residents like she used to; she’s afraid of getting hurt again.

We’re short-staffed and overwhelmed and we’ve just been told to work harder. That being short and overworked are just excuses. We’re all angry at that, but Ann’s anger seems to know no bounds.
“They don’t care about us,” she all but shouts. “I could go flip burgers and get paid more and then I wouldn’t have to deal with this crap!”
From that moment on, a bitterness creeps into her attitude. She no longer tries as hard as she used to–why waste her energy, she says.

I’m walking down the hall when I see a resident approach Ann and ask to go to the bathroom. Ann rolls her eyes.
“Oh, sure it’s not like I’m busy or anything,” she grumbles. “Well, you’re just going to have to wait. I have too much to do already. Go find somebody else who isn’t completely swamped.”
Then she turns and walks away from him.
I stand there for a moment and wonder how the girl who used to care about her residents is now treating them like an annoyance. Is she just too exhausted to care anymore?

In the end, there’s no one catalyst in this tragedy where compassion fades to apathy and bitterness–just a series of tiny cracks joining together.

The last time I see Ann, she’s storming out the door mid shift. I wish then that I could hope that she’s just taking a breather, but I can’t. I know she’s gone for good. Walking out isn’t something you can undo. No more Ann the CNA, not here and maybe not every again.
I sigh, remember her dreams of becoming a nurse and wonder if those too have been smashed into the dust.
Part of me feels pity for her, anger that this job has pushed her beyond her limits. It’s not right, that so many hopeful people crash and burn out here in long-term care. She had a right to be angry about every single one of the things that drove her here.
Part of me is angry with her. She has, after all, just left the rest of us hanging–we were already short-staffed and now we’ve just had even more dumped on us because she decided she couldn’t take the pressure. Everyone has fault lines and mine are creaking under this added strain…because it’s not just today that we are going to be feeling the effects of this. At least if she had given a notice, we could have gotten somebody in here to replace her.

I turn back to work, telling myself that not everyone is cut out for this job. Not everyone can handle the pressure.
Not everyone calls it quits in the middle of a bad shift.
In the end, it’s a tragedy, and not just for Ann.

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