Category Archives: Caregiver self-image

The Faces of Respect

Sunflower

May

“Just try to get along,” my supervisor says with a sigh.
I manage a half-nod that says both “You’ve got to be kidding me” and “I’ll try”–and further manages to say both at once.
“Get along”? I don’t want to “get along”. I want to wring her scrawny neck. Why do I have to waste energy playing nice while she’s so…so…disrespectful?

I’m not literally cornered, I know. There’s nothing blocking my exit from the room; I can leave at any time. Mrs. J’s daughter is ranting and raving about something, I’m not even sure what anymore. She started with the state of a shirt and sort of escalated from there to what can only be called an interesting interpretation of my character, work ethic and moral integrity. Snide, I decide, is what she’s being: very, very snide. And rude. And unpleasant. And disrespectful.

Oh good lord. That is perhaps not very original as phrases go, but truth be told, I have no need to exert myself. Mrs. G has already provided me with plenty of labels to slap on her: among the most applicable, I think, are “drama queen” and “so damned particular”.
“I know what you think of me, I know you think I’m worthless and needy and a drama queen wasting your time being so damned particular…”
Really, she’s spent 15 minutes yelling at me and another 15 explaining why she has not, in fact been yelling at me. This in spite of the evidence of my ears. Does she think I’m stupid or suffering short term memory loss? Well, everybody needs a hobby. Although, she’s no amateur at being disrespectful.

This is CNA week, and this year the theme is “I Choose Respect”. When I saw these words, I confess to being a bit puzzled. Respect I got, but choosing respect? All the stories that pop readily in my head seem to suggest that encouraging respect in others might be a better use of energy. Some days it’s hard to believe just how much disrespect is thrown our way.
But choosing respect? What does that look like? What, exactly, are we respecting?

Respect, I think, is a lot like trust…it is the assumption that you are dealing with a human being like yourself, under stress, prone to mistakes and still capable of goodness, like yourself. Respect is, in short, recognizing the worth of another person.
Not always easy, in a job when you so frequently see the worst in people.
The resident yelling before us: human.
The coworker scowling beside us: human.
The supervisor preaching behind us: human.
The corporate boss ignoring us: human.
Even at their worst, when all we want to see is the label, an attitude of respect demands that we remember the person underneath.

Choosing respect is not easy…lashing out is. Saying everything we feel in a heated moment is easy; maintaining control over ourselves and our emotions is not, especially when it feels like we’re the only ones doing it. When it feels like nobody will see or care about how we didn’t loose our tempers. But we don’t strive to be better so others will praise us…we strive to be better so that we can bear the flawed people who look back us from the mirrors.

In each situation that slams into me, I shall try to take a breath and not become the mirror image of the weakness before me. I shall be firm, decisive and nobody’s doormat…but I shall not be disrespectful. I am the professional, after all.

The River and the Dam

Sunflower

May

It’s interesting, how conversations start and change. I have no idea how, but somehow my brother and I have drifted to the topic of art therapy and its uses. He tells me how it is being used to great effect with soldiers returning home with PTSD. Apparently there’s a recurring motif seems to be a mouth sewn shut; the feeling of voicelessness given speech through art therapy.

That got me thinking: how would I depict my job in that kind of art? I’m not much of a visual artist (that’s Alice), and while I might have a slight aptitude for photography, I can’t draw worth a darn. I tend to process my thoughts and emotions through words, not images. But if I was asked to draw my feelings about my job, to find an image to convey my emotions…
Almost as soon as I think it, I see it. A wild river, a gray concrete dam rising up out of it, controlling the flow of the water. It’s solid, sturdy–or so the people on top of the dam tell me. But that solidity is an illusion. From where I stand, waist-deep in the water on the other side of the dam, I can see the small cracks etched in that wall of concrete. The cracks are growing in size, joining up with each other; water seeps and trickles through.
And here I am, one arm jammed into the nearest crack, the other desperately scrabbling, trying to widen the river on my side. The water’s getting higher on the other side, the river swollen and rough: there’s a flood coming and this dam isn’t going to hold. I’m trying to hold up the dam while I prepare the river to handle the floodwaters. There’s no doubt in my mind: this dam is going to crack, crumble. I don’t want to get swept away when all that pressure finds its release…but I can’t leave. Those people on the top, they can run for it: straight off the dam and across the cliffs. I can’t. I can see all too clearly and too personally what will be destroyed if I pull my arm from the dam and make a run for it. I can also see places where I can adapt the river, so we can ride out the inevitable wave. I wish those people up top would come down here and help me, or get off so I don’t have to hold up their added weight too. It seems like more and more are gathering to stare down at me.

Well, not “me”. There’s a thousand cracks–that’s true. There’s also hundreds of arms reaching out. Is it enough? I don’t know. I can’t step back long enough to count them; all I know is that I’m grateful for each person who stands with me.

The CNA: From Image to Identity

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Yang

Several things come to mind when we consider the image of CNAs. Stereotypes exist on both ends of the spectrum. On one end, we have the demonized version of direct care workers as presented in negative media reports. On the other, we have the LTC industry’s idealized image, the compassionate yet professional, self-sacrificing “CNA Angel.” Somewhere in the mix we find the clinical version of the CNA: a vital part of the team, but with limited scope of practice – the caregiver defined by a particular skill set and specific tasks to perform. Finally, we have the unhappy image of caregivers as the poorly trained, dispensable bottom of the totem pole, the ones who do the hard and dirty work, or in the crude vernacular of the breakroom, “Butt Wipers.”  Or even worse, “Just a CNA.”

While there is an element of truth in all of these images, none of it really gets to the essence of what it means to be a caregiver. To grasp that, we have to take a closer look at how caregivers actually experience the work and where in that experience they find meaning. When caregivers are able to express this they are defining themselves. In doing so, they move away from image and toward creating their own identity.

One approach to understanding what caregivers find meaningful in their work is to look at a typical response to the notion of “Just a CNA.”

Here’s an excerpt from a poem I often come across online:

Who are you to refer to us,
As “Only” a CNA?

We’re the ones who take the time,
To listen to them speak.

We listen about their lifetime,
In a forty hour week.

We take the time to listen,
By lending both our ears.

We listen to their worries,
Or how they’ve spent their years.

We chose to do this job,
The job did not choose us.

This from a post on a CNA Facebook page:

Yesterday a nurse put me down, went as far as saying that I was “basically just a helper.” I was VERY OFFENDED. Yes I know that a CNA is below a nurse, but when it comes down to it I’m the one that holds the patients hand when they are sad, I’m the one that they call when they just need someone to talk to, I’m the one that will sit there and engage them in a conversation for hours. I’m the one that is on call 24-7 for all of my case load

There should never be JUST in front of a CNA. We are not just CNAs. We are Family when you’re not there. We are here through the good, the bad, the ugly, and even through death. Think twice before you call us just a CNA.

This from a CNA t-shirt:

Front:
I’m Not Just A Nursing Assistant
Back:
I’m A Trusted Friend…
I’m Part Of The Family…
I’m A Comedian That Puts A Smile On A Sad Face…
I’m A Counselor…
I Listen To Stories & Share My Own…

I’m A Proud Nursing Assistant

These examples, as well as just about every response I’ve ever read or heard to “Just a CNA,” have one constant underlying theme: the meaning of our work – and thus how we define ourselves – is inextricably bound with the connection we have with our elders. If we are “Just CNAs” than the people we care for are “Just residents.” If we are “butt wipers” then our elders are reduced to just so many butts to be wiped. You cannot disparage our work without dehumanizing the people we care for. The two cannot be separated.

Our identity as caregivers is not based on the most disagreeable aspects of the job. Nor is it based on a job description, nor on our place in the LTC hierarchy, nor on how the public may view us. It is based upon how our elders experience our interactions with them. This relationship is the single most important factor in how a resident will experience life in long term care. Our awareness of the significance of this bond and our desire to express it is more than just a form of self-validation, it is also a potentially powerful antidote to much that is wrong in long term care.

How we can employ the power of this awareness is the subject for my next post.

Suffering the consequences

MaySunflower

“I just can’t believe it!” my supervisor rants. She’s red in the face, her breath coming in quick and angry. “I hope you all know you’ve done this to yourself! Why do you keep shooting yourself in the foot?”
It’s a typical: something’s happened and we’re in a meeting. The supervisors are informing us of our mistakes and we are silent on the opposite side of the room. Typical. Happens a lot in long term care.

But don’t jump to conclusions. This isn’t a story about the problems of leadership of long term care (that’s for another day). My supervisor might be angry, but she’s got reason to be. This situation is, maybe miraculously, exactly as she’s said.

Anyone who’s set foot in a nursing home knows exactly what I’m talking about. Gossip. Older aides being mean to new staff. Working in cliques. Aides refusing to a call light because “it’s not my resident”. Saying, in the middle of the hall way with residents around “I hate my job!” Acting like it’s an inconvenience to take care of a resident.
You know, shit like that.
My supervisor is asking a valid question when she demanded “Why?”
Why do CNAs shoot themselves in the foot? I’m not saying every aide does it, but I’m not going to deny it happens…more often than it should.

I think, in part, it’s because this is a hard job and so personal in every detail. I was trying to explain to a friend how long term care was a different beast from other kinds jobs. Without belittling the importance and value of other jobs,
“Imagine every mistake you make at work. Now imagine that mistake happened on a human being. Now imagine that mistake happening on someone who has lost the ability to do anything for themselves.”
Is it any wonder we aides get stressed? But it’s not just stress. It’s also guilt. I got in a hurry and tore the skin from this human being’s arm. I walked past that call light because I was so hungry and that human being soiled himself. I got frustrated and the human being, whose wellbeing is my responsibility, heard me say how much I hate this place.
That’s a lot of guilt and you’d better believe it stings.
At the same time, every aide knows all too well that feeling of helplessness. It’s not a good situation and who knows when it will get better. Some days, it feels like it never will.
I did my best today. It wasn’t enough. My residents still went too long between changing. I haven’t brushed their teeth in so long. I did my best today, but it’s not enough. It’s never enough. My personal passion can never cover the flaws of the system.

Guilt combined with helplessness and pure stress turns into frustration. Frustration spills out.
Even worse, frustration can turn some people numb. It’s a losing battle anyway, so what’s the point? Why exhaust myself when the effort doesn’t change a thing?
Have you ever seen a caregiver turn numb? Have you ever seen a caregiver lose their sense of empathy for the resident? When their perception of the resident shifts from “human being whose welfare is my responsibility” to “nuisance in the way of getting my work done on time”.
It’s not good. It’s also not rare.
In this state of mind, it’s easy to lash out, say things we shouldn’t. It’s easy to exude a toxic atmosphere when there’s so much resentment, guilt, helplessness and other negative emotions built up inside us.

I get it. I really do: I’ve been an aide long enough to be familiar with both the guilt and the helplessness. When your best isn’t enough, when nothing you do seems to make a difference, when exhaustion sinks its claws into you…I get it. We’re only human; we aren’t infallible angels. It is too much to ask of us, at times. How can we be positive and cheerful with new aides when we’re just so damn tired?

The flaws of the system do not absolve me of my personal responsibility to take care of my residents. Proper care means proper staffing…means not running off new aides with a toxic attitude. I’m the one who chose to fight this battle…so either I keep fighting for their dignity or I quit. No other options, no other door.

Simply put, CNAs do not have the luxury of shooting ourselves in the foot because it is not just us who suffer from the consequences. Other human beings, whose welfare is our responsibility, suffer as well.

The Public Image of Direct Care Workers

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Yang

 

I wince every time I see the words “nursing home aide” appear in a news headline. More often than not, it involves stories of elder abuse, neglect and exploitation. In fact, the second most common CNA related Google media alert showing up in my email inbox every week involve negative stories about caregivers. The most common are help wanted ads for CNAs. The correlation there is a subject for another post.

Such media reports reinforce negative stereotypes and distort the public’s perception of who we are and what we do. But I’m not suggesting that the media is in any way obligated to balance these negative reports with positive stories about caregivers. It’s naïve to expect it. Unfortunately, the news media in this country has essentially become a subset of the entertainment industry and outrage is a perverse form of entertainment. A negative story gets our attention better than a positive one and it’s not uncommon for reporters to downplay or ignore details that would make the story more accurate, but less interesting. Besides, the headline for a feel good story about what direct care workers actually do would read more like a headline from The Onion: “Caregiver Treats Nursing Home Resident with Dignity and Respect.”

It’s just not news.

As part of its never ending struggle to improve public opinion of Long Term Care, the industry goes to great lengths to counter these negative impressions of direct care workers and present caregivers in the most positive light possible. In this effort, we are represented by the Brochure Caregiver: the lovely stock photography model with a warm smile and immaculate scrubs. Our model is almost always a few years younger (thus indicating a lesser status) than the stock photography models – also with warm smiles – representing the licensed nurses, assorted LTC professionals and administrators. For the LTC industry, image is king.

Caregivers themselves play a more direct, if limited, role in helping to fashion the public image of CNAs. Every time we interact with visitors from the outside, we represent not only ourselves and our facility, but our profession as well. Like it or not, how we conduct ourselves as individuals and the impression we give visitors is a reflection on all of us.

With the advent of a CNA community on social media, direct care workers now have a platform to address public misconceptions of caregivers that takes us beyond the walls of the work place. And we can do this quite independently from the efforts of our LTC bosses. We have the opportunity to directly address both the health care community and the general public and present something much more real and powerful than either the negative media stereotypes or the LTC industry’s glossy image of caregivers.  How we do this is a matter of articulating how we actually see ourselves and our work. We can – if we choose – define ourselves and create our own identity.

In my next two posts I would like to address how we move from image to identity, and ultimately to advocacy and an independent voice.

A Moment of Zen

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Alice

  At peace. That is what I was feeling. It took me a minute to put my finger on it because serenity is often in short supply for me; a mirage just out of reach that fades as soon as I reach to grab it.

         I always thought it was sort of a tradeoff. I get passion instead of peace and I was more than ok with that. Still, as I breathed in and noticed how relaxed and comfortable I felt in that moment I realized that there is something to be said for inner peace.

        I have run my entire career in this field. Running to the news, running on the floor, running to Long Island and all the while my mind was running too, keeping track of my residents and learning, sometimes painfully, the inner workings of what makes a good caregiver. And make no mistake, that is very important to me. The idea that if we do this right, we are in a constant state of growing and learning.  Ask any seasoned caregiver if they viewed life the same after a year or two on the floor. This is a career that changes you, sometimes for the better sometimes not. The rules and the environment may change, but the very nature of what we do remains the same; we take care of those who cannot care for themselves. I’ve come to know that there is something sacred about that.

       In all of this running and thinking and day to day prioritizing, peace of mind got pushed further and further down on my list of necessities. I only noticed it was missing on the rare occasions when I stumbled onto moments of serenity, followed with fleeting thoughts of “oh! I don’t know what this is but its niiice. I should feel like this more often” and then it was right back to the running.

        Love, loss, frustration, humor, grief, anger, resentment, joy, heartbreak, exhaustion, powerless and empowered at various points, connected, and useful are only a few of the emotions involved in our work. Nowhere on the list is “calm.”  And yet, here I was after a twelve hour shift, perfectly at peace.

          I feel comfortable with my new client. I have slipped into the routine like a favorite pair of jeans. After my first day, I thought ok. This is going to work. It felt like coming home, though it’s private care instead of a facility. There was a familiarity about it and despite the new surroundings, I was in my comfort zone.

       I love that if she wants to take an hour to talk me through how to properly tease her hair because the bigger the hair the closer to God, we can do that. There is no need to rush. I can be on her time frame. I can read to her or just listen. This is a lady with stories and they are my favorite kind of people.

     “I used to be a worrier. Used fret this and that. Never slowed down. Then I had this stroke. That slowed me down. I don’t worry so much anymore.”

       She was only in her fifties when she had her stroke. It hit me like a ton of bricks when she told me that. I do not understand how I can forget so often to be present and embrace the moment I am in when I’m constantly surrounded by such courageous reminders, but I do. I forget all the time.

       I am taking my peace of mind back. Or at the very least I am going to make it a point to embrace the moments and not live so much in self-centered fear. It’s a journey and worrying has never solved a problem. The lives and experiences of every person for whom I’ve cared has taught me this lesson.

A shift in perspective

Sunflower

May

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!

To call in or not to call in…

May

Some days I swear clocks are the worst kind of liars. They sit there, calm and inanimate, as the hands spin or the numbers shift, but the time they tell never seems to be consistent. Minutes pass so quickly when I’m trying to get all my people up for a meal; they meander slowly when I’m working a double and can’t wait to get off.
Time only seems to fly when it’s inconvenient.

I’m too tired for this crap, I think…or should that be I’m too tired from this crap? Either one works. I’m clearly succumbing to some form of madness, laying here in bed cursing at my clock. Or maybe the fever has gone to my brain.
Why should it be this difficult? Why is this issue, to call in or not to call in, such a sore one? I’ve reached for my phone half a dozen times now…only to put it down each time. The words are there: “I’m sorry, I’m sick, I’m not coming in,” but I can’t quite bring myself to actually make the call.
I didn’t chose to be sick and if my actions are any indication, I don’t want to call in. I also don’t want to work while I feel like crap.
I’m still awake, so I’ll just analyze the crap out of my feelings. Who knows, maybe I’ll either come to a decision or bore myself to sleep. Why am I having such trouble calling in, even though it is justified? It’s not just me with this issue…I recently read an article (I can’t for the life of me remember where) about nurses and aides not taking their sick days. I’ve seen it in the field too…just few days ago, I asked an obviously sick coworker why she hadn’t called in. Her answer was painfully familiar: “I couldn’t do that to the rest of you. Or my residents.”
I’ve seen this issue from both sides. I’ve been resentful, having to work short because someone called in. I’ve been resentful, working sick so my coworkers wouldn’t work short. I’ve powered through shifts, counting the minutes until I got off and praying for the strength to stay upright. The problem is, I know I can do it again.
But should I? Is it right or fair? And fair for whom? It’s not in the residents’ best interest if I work when I’m feeling like crap…but it’s also not in their best interest if I call in every time I don’t feel 100%. Like many aides, I want to take care of others first. It feels…so selfish to say “Sorry, can’t do it”. And there’s pride, too. Pride can do wonders for your motivation and judgement of your limits.
There’s got to be a line. And I have to start taking care of myself too. I can’t give from emptiness.
Okay, a line. I can work when I’m not feeling good, but not if I’m sick. Not all illnesses come with a high fever. I can’t remember facility policy all that well…Whatever definition I come up with, I’m pretty sure “I think I’m dying and I can’t breathe because there’s an old man snoring in my lungs” counts as sick.
I resolutely roll over in bed and make the call. I make myself stay on the line until I hear someone answer.
“Hi, it’s May–”
“My God, you sound awful!”
“I’m sick–”
“You don’t say! Want me to put you down for a call in? Right, get some rest and feel better.”
As I hang up, I can only think one thing: I seriously overthought this one!

Experience is King

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ALICE

Hope. It is the balm that heals all the wounds that life inflicts upon humanity; that we inflict upon each other and ourselves. Hope is the driving force behind life. It is what keeps us going when we want to give up. Without it, where would we be? I was thinking about that last week, when my own chips were down; how much easier it was for me to handle the chaos of a really really bad week than it once was. All because I had hope that life would once again level out.

There was a period of my life when I had lost all hope for myself. It’s such a sick feeling, that sort of despair. It sucks the life out of you, turning the air around you into heavy shades of grey that rob you of the will to put one foot in front of the other. I wasn’t living in that phase of my life. I was existing, and barely that.

I am one of the lucky ones. I pulled through and landed on my feet. With the help and support of loved ones and ongoing effort on my part, my life has completely turned around. I was given a new perspective and renewed hope.

My biggest challenge and most painful experiences have become my greatest assets in this field. It is part of why I love it. I can in all honesty tell my folks that there is no such thing as hopeless and while life may be difficult, as long as they are breathing, it is more than worth it. They are bigger than their pain. In the world of Long Term Care, liabilities become assets; our own flaws and difficulties help us relate better to those for whom we care.

My case isn’t necessarily typical, but think about it. To whom are our residents more likely to relate? Those who sit in an office or have fewer obstacles, emotionally or financially or those of us who know what it is to struggle on a daily basis just to make ends meet?

Though it not possible to fully walk in another’s shoes, embracing the lessons we have learned by walking through our own pain can help us relate to our residents and, in doing so, help them lower their guard enough for us, as caregivers, to truly get to know them and vice versa.

To me, that is the real art in caregiving. Anyone can learn how to perform skills, but the gift of KNOWING people; of seeing past the obvious is at the heart of what we do. The best CNA’s I have worked with have all had a story, a struggle, a dynamic history that has made them especially gifted at this job.

We are given the unique opportunity to not only embrace our flaws, pain, losses, and obstacles but to put them to the best possible use, helping other human beings. What we do is real; it’s not about what looks good on paper. It’s about convincing a resident who is in great emotional pain to eat. It’s about listening when a resident is afraid or feels alone or is angry and attempting to understand the underlying cause of their pain in order to help ease it as much as we can in our capacity as caregivers. Who better to show our residents the light in the dark than those of us who are walking with them through it? So I say EMBRACE your flaws! Be grateful for the WORST of your experiences. Hold your past mistakes and the lessons you’ve learned from them close! Remember your tragedies while being mindful of the fact that you survived them. They make us more qualified to help those who are currently living through their own.

Endurance

May

Endurance

It started out as a simple request: “Hey honey, can you get me a coffee?”
Then everyone else at her table realized their drinks needed refilling and here I am, reciting a beverage order as I walk into the pantry, trying to keep straight which drink goes to which of the four residents.

Inside the pantry, I assemble the drink order and pick them up: a hot chocolate and a cream-and-sugar coffee clutched in one hand, the two black coffees in the other. I maybe should take two trips, but I haven’t been a CNA for over five years without learning how to wrap my fingers around multiple cup handles at once. Or without learning to prop the pantry door open.

I’m on my way back, eyes focused on the hot liquid sloshing around the precariously held cups when I hear a voice I vaguely recognize, a voice I haven’t heard in a while.
“May?”
I stop first, then look up. The voice belongs to a face that is also familiar: an old coworker. It takes me a good moment to come up with her name…after all, it’s been a good year since she quit and well, I have a lot of ex-coworkers.
“Cindy? Whatcha doing here?” I ask. She was a pretty good aide and she actually gave a notice before she quit, so I add: “Good to see you; you doing well?”
“Yep, I’m great,” she says. “Just visiting. Thought it was time…I can’t believe you’re still here.”
I shrug as best I can with cups of hot liquid in my hands. “Yeah, you know, I still like, so….”
It’s an odd conversation, odder still to be having with someone who left while I stayed. Speaking of odd, Cindy gives me this strangely intent look, like she’s going to say something important. It’s the kind of pause that you just can’t walk away from. Steam rises from the drinks as we both wait on her words.
“It’s funny,” she says finally. “People come and go so quickly around nursing homes, but you endure. You’re still here…and still smiling. Anyway, you look busy, so I’ll leave you to it.”
Then she darts off and I’m left staring after her. I shake my head and continue on my way. What an odd end for an odd conversation and yet as my day goes on, I can’t seem to get it out of my head. It’s still there, echoing but never fading: “You endure.” What an interesting word choice!

The oddest thing is, I’ve never thought of it like that. Never phrased it like that, in my head or in my writing. I endure.
It almost seems…bombastic for describing getting up and going to work day after day, one day at a time, as those days quietly gather into years. I’m not quite sure if the “enduring” she spoke of was in reference to being “still here” or “still smiling”, or both.
Either way, saying that I’ve endured makes it seem…heroic. A hard-won accomplishment.

If it’s heroism, then it’s a quiet sort of heroism–the kind that doesn’t lend itself well to fanfare or fame. Instead, when it receives attention at all, it comes in the form of slight surprise and a mild kind of awe.
And that’s okay, I don’t need fanfare or trumpets or applause. Quiet respect for quiet heroism is, well, rather nice. That recognition of my hard work and stubbornly-held smile is going to be with me a while, I think.

Now it’s back to enduring.