The Wheelchair Test

May    Sunflower


The first time I went job-hunting as a CNA, I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. But that was then and now? Now I at least have a clue. Two years experience has at least given me that.

“Hello, this is _____ Healthcare, ____ speaking. How may I help you?”
So far, so good. The woman’s voice is pleasant and friendly and she doesn’t sound like she ready to rip somebody’s head off.
“Hello, my name is May and I was wondering if you could tell me what your base pay is for CNAs? Um, on first shift?”
There’s a small silence on the other end of the line, then the other woman says, “Give me just a second and I’ll find out for you. Are you looking for a job?”
“Yes,” I respond, still marveling at my decision. It’s been a long time coming, but it still doesn’t feel real. This isn’t an “I’m so fed up I’m reminding myself I have options” kind of call, such as I’ve pulled in the past…no this is the genuine article. I’m leaving. On some level, it feels like a betrayal to feel so relieved.
The receptionist’s voice cuts across my thoughts, pulling me back to the present. The figure she names is decent, slightly below average national pay, but more than my current pay…especially since my current pay includes shift differential! Hello savings account, you might not remember me! I force myself to calm down. The other place I called offered similar pay and a crap-ton of stutters and excuses instead of an answer to the next question on my script. Speaking of…
“And can you tell me what your resident-to-aide ratios are?”
The other woman laughs. “At the risk of repeating myself, give me a second to check.”
This time, the pause is longer. I can’t help but spring to my feet and start pacing the room. My thoughts pound out in rhythm to my steps: please, please, please. For years now, I’ve heard the same mantra thrown at me, “If you leave, you’ll never find as good a place as this.” At first it was reassuring. Then it was annoying and now I’m praying that it’s not true. I don’t want to have to decide between the money it will take to have a good life and ratios that allow me to take pride in my work. Please, please, please.
“Well, our staffing person is not answering the phone, but I just talked to one of the CNAs and she said she’s got eight people today, if that helps.”
“That’s very helpful, thank you,” I reply, trying and failing to keep my glee out of my voice. “Just one more question: are you hiring?”

It’s dangerous to accept a job sight- unseen, so I continue to check my rising excitement until I actually walk through the doors of the facility the next day. To my surprise, the receptionist recognizes me from our phone conversation as soon as I ask for an application. She’s seems as friendly in person as she did on the phone. That’s good.
As I fill out the application, I take time to look around me. It’s not quite as opulent as my current place, but there’s a friendly functionality at work. There’s also no odor that I can detect, no harsh scent of ammonia and urine. I can see aides moving quickly on the halls and some nod at me or wave. They look busy, but not hassled. A few residents are lined up by a nearby nurse’s station and I examine them closely. Men and women both are neatly shaved and groomed, there are no food stains on their faces and they all appear engaged with their surroundings. Quite a few of them are looking at me quite as intently as I’m looking at them. I hand in my application, wondering if I’m about to become their caregiver.
The receptionist asks me if I want to schedule my first interview for today, warning that it might be a bit of a wait. I say yes. I want to get this ball rolling, get this transition over with.
As I wait, I do the last thing on my list. It’s not something I’ve pulled off the Internet or asked other aides about, unlike everything else on my list or script. This is something I came up with on my own, a pattern I’ve noticed in my own experience. I like everything else I’ve seen and I almost don’t want to look. But as I wait, I walk up to a resident and start talking to them. Our conversation is mostly an exchange of names, but it gets me close enough to the wheelchair that nobody looks at me like I’m crazy when I squat down to put myself more or less on eye-level with the resident in the wheelchair. Nobody even notices when I duck my head down for a quick look at the underside of the wheelchair.

See, when you’re short-staffed or overwhelmed, somethings slip through the cracks–things like washing wheelchairs, for example. As an aide, I’m…not exactly okay with this, but I understand it. You can only do as much as you can, and when you’re running late on time and short on energy, primary care comes first. Better to make sure your people are clean than to make sure the wheelchair looks nice.
We’ve all had those shifts. Everyone, no matter how good the facility, has had that kind of day, and a good facility can rally. If one shift slips, the others can still catch up around it. The wheelchair gets washed the next go-round and all’s well.
But if that facility is in crisis mode and has been for a while, if every single shift is short…there’s no catching up. That wheelchair goes unwashed shift after shift, week after week. There’s a big difference between a bad day once in a while and a string of bad days; I’ve learned to tell the difference in the state of the wheelchairs.
And this one is mostly clean. There’s a bit of grime and dust on it, but it’s only a single layer. There aren’t layers upon layers of bad days coating the underside of the wheelchair.
Okay, I can work with that. I don’t expect perfection, but I’ve come from a place that’s been in crisis mode for almost a year and I can’t take it anymore. I’ve learned too many bad habits, too many shortcuts and there’s a bitterness in the air I just can’t breathe anymore. I need a clean break, a new place to make a stand…and I think I’ve found it here.

2 thoughts on “The Wheelchair Test

  1. donna

    Great, May. Maybe you could put together a little pamphlet telling families what to look for when they visit homes to select a LTC home for a family member. This one is especially good because there’s NO WAY a deficient home can clean up a dozen or more wheelchairs as the family approaches the entrance. (Another tell-tail: suggest that families go in and out of several resident bathrooms to see whether there are clean towels and facecloths in the bathrooms!)


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