There is always at least one in every long-term care facility. You know, the one. No matter how many residents you are responsible for, the one sincerely believes they are the only one in the building, demanding precious minutes of your shift. The one. Mine, I secretly call the Queen. I have 25 residents on my wing yet I spend more time answering her numerous call lights than any other resident on the wing. I tried to count how many times she used the call light in one shift but when my count was up to twenty after two hours, I stopped counting before I got depressed and resentful.
The Queen cannot walk or transfer herself requiring a two person transfer with the sit to stand. She cannot see very well, even though she always seem to know what time it is, if her bedspread is too close to the floor, that her wastebasket is getting full, when her window shade is crooked and when my name tag has flipped upside down. She usually spends most of her time in her room, by choice. She does not go to the dining room choosing to eat in her room instead. It takes at least five minutes to fill out her supper slip. Sally from the movie “Harry met Sally” was a novice compared to the Queen when it comes to ordering food. The Queen does not take to waiting very well. She will not hesitate to let upper management know how much she is ignored, that the “girls” never answer her light promptly and she is the only one who has to wait all the time.
I can’t help but release a really deep sigh as I type this out and I know that I sigh deeply several times during my shift while caring for the Queen.
Yesterday the Queen was in rare royal form, throwing verbal jabs at everyone she could; “threatening” to have our jobs, complaining about supper, demanding her medications NOW and ranting about the length of time it took us to finally start getting her ready for bed. When she acts like that my best offense and defense is to keep my mouth shut. I don’t respond to her sarcastic, belittling remarks. I keep my body language as neutral as possible and do the work needed; only speaking to politely give one or two word directions to help prepare her for bed. She starts her rant over when the nurse comes in with her medications.
We’ve had a stressful week on our wing and this nurse was on the last shift of four days working double shifts. The nurse, tired and out of patience, responds to her royal tirade by firmly replying, “You are not the only resident here. We have other residents who need our time too.” ‘Oh no, oh NOOOOO!’ I silently moan to myself. I shut my eyes while crouching down to put on her night time socks and start doing deep breathing exercises knowing full well what is about to occur. And it comes, the royal Queen verbal hurricane. The nurse plays the nurse card and walks out on her mid-hurricane tirade. My partner and I still have to get her in bed. We can’t walk out. We are stuck to weather this storm. My partner starts to open her mouth to say something and I glare “NO!” at her. She snaps her mouth shut and we silently start getting the Queen into her bed.
Our silence has sucked the air out of the Queen’s hurricane. She tries a few more jabs at us (“Giving me the silent treatment, huh? Your boss will hear about this!”) and when those comments didn’t net the response she was looking for, she too became quiet. We finish tucking her in and as I approach the door, turning off the light, she calls my name. I cringe; steeling myself for what may come next.
“Yes?” I say with outer calm but inner apprehension.
“Thank you,” she replies in a soft, sincere, non-Queen-like tone. And I exhale in relief. All that transpired during the last 45 minutes evaporates like morning dew in the sunshine.
I don’t want to talk about the psychology behind her behavior. Instead, I want to share the gifts she has given to me. The Queen has taught me how to be patient when confronted with impatience. She has taught me that silence can be more powerful and calming than words. Because of her I have learned how to tune out the hurtful and sometimes cruel spoken words while tuning into the unspoken reasons behind them. She has taught me what it means to truly care for another human being unconditionally.
This fussy, demanding, insistent, bossy woman makes me a better CNA, a better person. And I can’t help but adore her.