Some shifts, caregiving is like juggling while doing acrobatics on a tightrope through a flaming hoop suspended over a pool of hungry sharks. It requires mental and physical dexterity, finely honed observation skills, the ability to multi-task, set boundaries, and meet needs all while maintaining balance and sanity in completely insane scenarios.
It’s a tap-dance. The office people have expectations and yet do not provide us the means with which to meet them. Our residents can be very difficult to please. Frustrated with their own situation, the can lash out with anger at the faces they are most used to seeing…ours. Sometimes our OWN frustrations and lack of communication can have us at each other’s throat. On a tough day, it is inevitable that something will be missed.
I’ve learned to be ok with that…alright, that’s not EXACTLY true, but I’ve learned to accept it. We are human, after all, and no one ever died because I forgot to change a bedspread with a drop of coffee on the bottom or I ran out of time and had to postpone a shave until the next day. I’ve learned to accept that nothing is ever going to be done perfectly in the conditions in which I work. I tend to worry about those small lapses more than my residents do.
What I try NEVER to forget, however the shift may be going, is that kindness is a skeleton key. Doors that have been slammed closed because of fear and broken trust will open slowly if kindness is applied with consistency. It sounds so trite in its simplicity but it really isn’t.
To my way of thinking, there is a difference between NICENESS and KINDNESS. Niceness involves plastering a smile on your face; it’s a people-pleasing skill that enables us to be “yes” people. It involves more sweetness and duplicity than it does any depth of thought. Kindness is a different story. Sometimes, the kindest answer is no. Sometimes, setting boundaries that will upset a resident or a co-worker in the short-term but will benefit us all in the long-term is an act of kindness. Sometimes, it’s simply noticing that someone is “off” and taking the time to let them know you care. Being present, actively listening and responding with honesty, stepping up when needed with no thought of reward, taking a minute to address an issue during a time when you are calm rather than exploding when you are angry are all varieties of kindness. It’s a thoughtful ability that requires practice and introspection and, when applied correctly, it can teach us the art of knowing when to calm the waters and when to rock the boat.
For me, this is the most important skill. I have seen it pull both residents and co-workers through when morale was low and patience was as short as the staffing. A genuine smile and a well-timed joke can lighten the darkest of moods. You never know what another person is going through. You never know who you can reach. Kindness doesn’t cost a thing, but I have found that it pays dividends.