A shift in perspective



It’s to early in the shift for this, I think…and really, it is. I’ve only been here for an hour. It’s quiet in the break room, this being a nonstandard time for anyone to be less than absolutely slammed. And today has been particularly busy. There’s about a thousand things I need to do, so I stuff the tube in my pocket and head out to the floor. I’m not sure I’m done with it and I don’t want to have to walk back to the break room.

In the hall, I pass another busy aide pushing a resident up to the front.
“Man, something smells good!” she says by way of greeting. “What is that wonderful smell?”
“You can always tell when somebody works in healthcare,” I reply with a grin as I fish the tube out of my pocket. “They’re the ones who think Icy-Hot smells heavenly.”
“That’s because it is heavenly!” she counters. “It’s the sweet smell of sweet relief!”
“Well, I think it smells like toothpaste,” grumbles the resident, Mr. W. “It stinks to high heaven and you girls seem to think it’s a perfume.”
“I think you just made my point,” I tell him. “And I don’t think it’s perfume…I think it’s better than perfume!”
“Second that,” laughs the other aide. “Perfume has never dulled my back pain. I buy my Icy-Hot, Advil and energy drinks in bulk, man. Staple of CNAs, those.”
“That’s…rather sad, actually,” Mr. W sighs. “You girls take care of yourselves, otherwise when you’re my age they’ll be carrying you around in buckets instead of wheelchairs.”
And just like that, nobody is laughing. My coworker and I glance at each other, surely noticing the humor being replaced with horror.
He’s right. We are young and entirely too familiar with back pain. Entirely too familiar with work-related pain in general, in fact. Grimaces of pain and mutters of “oh, my back,” are commonplace.
I don’t know a single CNA who hasn’t complained of often severe back pain…and I know a lot of CNAs. Most of them have been young women in their twenties, like myself. Or, if they are older, than they’ve usually been in this field for a while. Too many of us have bad backs. Too many of us will have bad backs before it’s over with.
I can’t help but think of the statistics: CNAs are among the most likely profession to incur injuries on the job–one of the most common injury being debilitating back pain. I’m stubborn and determined and annoyingly by-the-book; I insist on practicing good body mechanics and using mechanical lifts when needed. I even do yoga…and yet my back still aches from the strain.

Mr. W is right: it is sad. Sad and yet too often overlooked or ignored in favor of other problems. I wonder how much would be accomplished if the policy makers did the same thing I’m doing right now: seeing those statistics for what they really are.
Not numbers on the Internet, but a crowd of young people who stink of Icy-Hot.

My coworker and Mr. W continue on to the dining room; I linger a moment longer in the hall, staring at the tube in my hand. It still represents sweet relief to me…but I’m hoping that the next generation of CNAs won’t have to be so conditioned to love it. I hope they won’t need it the way I do.
But I am grateful it and other pain-relieving creams exist. And I still think Icy-Hot smells wonderful!

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