The Best and Worst

Sunflower

May

I swear, some days I feel like a ball in a ping-pong game. Back and forth, slamming into things and rebounding, helpless. No control.
The game rages around me and I’m sailing in midair, waiting for the next collision.

I walk into a room and it’s like I can taste the hostility in the air. I never know what to dread: for this family to speak or ignore me. If they speak, it’s going to be another list of complaints. But if they don’t, it’s almost worse. Being so completely ignored is…unnerving. Disturbing. But either way, it’s a good bet that I won’t hear my name spoken in this room. Actually, they treat me rather like how the aides I’ve learned to despise treat their residents. Like I’m a thing, an obstacle causing inconvience and not a person with feelings and faults.
I think my heart broke a little the day I realized that being a CNA has given me a good grasp of all the ways we humans use to strip the humanity from others.

In a few minutes, I’ll cross the hall and appreciation will slam into me. A different family will be clustered around a different bed. They’re here almost as much as I am; they know my name without glancing at my badge and, even better, they use it. They say hello and they ask how my day was. They’ve learned to read all the things I can’t say from my face–same as I know how to spot the minute expression of agony that are all they allow themselves to show.
I think my heart mended just a bit when I realized not everyone becomes an expert in dehumanization.

Thing is, I’m not rebounding between good and evil here; I’m walking down a hall between the best and worst responses to stress and pain. One family got caught up in the inconvience, got into the habit of casual unkindness. The other learned to hang on to their smiles and even to direct a few my way.
And I can walk away, go home and get away from them. My residents don’t have that option. When it’s their turn to play the ping-pong ball, they can’t remove themselves from the game. I only feel helpless; they are.

Sometimes I miss the days when I sat in a classroom, studying procedures and wondering what it feels like to pray “Not that aide today, please”. If nightmare families are bad, nightmare aides must be a thousand times worse from the other side. I’m not helpless. I can’t really do anything about the nightmare families, but I can do something about the aides. Well, one aide.

I leave the room, muttering a solemn vow under my breath: I will never treat a resident the way that family treated me. Ever.