Fireworks for freedom

May

There’s a big boom and I rush to the window…I’ve always loved a good firework. Even if I am “stuck at work” for this Independence Day, that doesn’t mean I have to miss the show. In the neighborhood across from the facility, people are setting off firecrackers and fireworks: as I go from room to room doing my rounds, I stop for a second to watch. God, I do love fireworks!

As a CNA, you almost get a sixth sense for when something’s wrong with a resident…at least, that’s how I’ve come to describe that odd feeling of just knowing something. I get that feeling now, and turn away from the window and the fireworks to look at the resident in her bed. She’s asleep–but it isn’t peaceful. She’s jerking and mumbling, but mostly it’s the look on her face that stops me cold.
Terror.

The picture falls into place quickly in my head: this is someone who was in a war zone back in the days of World War Two. The fireworks which to me mean freedom and celebration probably remind her of the horrors of war and the worst part of her life.
Suddenly I don’t feel so fond of pyrotechnics. I move to the bedside and gently shake her awake; I know I’ve done the right thing when the terror fades to confusion. Slowly, her eyes focus on me and confusion gives way to sadness.
“You okay?” I say. It’s a stupid question…I know she’s not “okay”, I’ve just woken her from a nightmare, but you’ve got to start an awkward conversation somewhere.
“I was dreaming of…something awful,” she replies. “Am I…am I…”
“Safe,” I say. “It’s just fireworks, honey. Fireworks for freedom, yeah?”
“Freedom,” she repeats. The sadness is still there, but it’s now bittersweet, diluted, maybe, by time. “Thank you. May I go back to sleep now? Will you stay here until I fall asleep?”
“No more bad dreams,” I say, as I tuck her in again. She repeats these words like a prayer and, as I watch, falls asleep again. While her face is no longer pinched with terror, the sadness still lingers. This isn’t a happy night for her, like it is for the people setting off the fireworks and was, just a moment ago, for me. Truth be told, I don’t think there’s anything I could say or do to make her happy right now. That’s not really my job; my job is to be here with her. To be here for her, for whatever she needs, whether that’s chasing away nightmares or changing her brief.

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