Being an aide, I’ve decided, is a bit like throwing yourself at a brick wall, thinking that either the wall is going to come down or you are going to splatter yourself all over it.
Unfortunately or not, what actually happens is you come away bloody and for all your pain, all you’ve done to the wall is put a couple hairline cracks in it.
“If I don’t do it, who will?” This question might feel like it is being asked out of a lack of faith in our fellow aides…like nobody but myself is capable of doing it.
Unfortunately, it is a honest question. Anyone who has been around Long Term Care for any length of time, for any reason, can attest the chronic short-handedness that plagues so many facilities.
“If I don’t pick up that shift, who will?”
The answer might be nobody. Everybody is exhausted and everybody has lives outside the nursing home. They’ll go short that day and frustration will increase.
“If I’m not here in a year, who is going to be there for these people?”
Very possibly, a stranger who will put in her two-weeks notice the next day. The staffing coordinator didn’t tell her she was signing up for a tour in hell, after all. There’s got an easier way to make a living.
The system, as it is set up today, depends on sacrifice. It relies on dependable aides who pick up shift after shift, who will stick it out for little money and little hope of relief. And that’s a problem…and CNAs are not the only victims. The residents suffer too, often feeling like it is their fault. The elderly often feel themselves to be a burden and it is horrible that the current system only enforces that feeling, as they watch the parade of faces come and go.
Perhaps the answer lies in the middle. Set your own boundaries because your supervisors certainly won’t. There’s no ceiling on overtime and if you’re willing to do it, they aren’t going to stop you.
Know how much you are willing and able to give. Stick to your story: if you’ve got plans, you’ve got plans you can’t reschedule. The pathos is palpable in the nursing home and it is so very, very easy to give more than you have when surrounded by desperation. Remember your own needs while you take care of others. There is something in the make-up of a caregiver that wants to make things better. Watch that instinct and don’t be the hero all the time. You can’t give from emptiness.
Give what you can, but know when you can’t. Our only responsibility is to provide high-quality care and compassion while we are there…however long that is. Picking up is (or should be) optional. Pace yourself.
That wall isn’t going to come down all at once and I’ve seen aides break their hearts and shatter their compassion trying.
Hairline cracks are progress, no matter how insignificant they feel.
Don’t burn yourself out.