Category Archives: Lynn

Time Marches On




One of the things I like about working in Long Term Care (LTC) is the relationships we develop with residents over time. We get to know our residents almost as well as we know our own families, sometimes even better than we know our own families.  This is also one of the things I don’t like about working in LTC.  After Death takes a resident and an empty space is all that is left.  The resident’s bed is empty, where they used to sit in the dining room is empty; there is a sense of emptiness throughout the building and that emptiness can be deafening.

The worst part of a death is the silence that accompanies the emptiness. Their names aren’t mentioned in the daily reports and are removed from the care lists. Their special dietary slips aren’t printed anymore. The name on the door is gone. Their old pictures and cards are missing from the walls of their room.  Their chart is put into storage. The existence of that person is wiped away from the white board of LTC life.

There is a poem called “Funeral Blues” written by W.H. Auden.  The first line of the first stanza comes to mind when that special person leaves with Death: “Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone.” I desperately want the clocks to stop and the phone to stop ringing.  I want time to stand still for 10 minutes, 30 minutes, an hour.  I want to stop moving, to stop marching forward with time and grieve over the awful silent void left by my special resident’s departure.  But clocks don’t stop. Phones keep ringing because the living can’t wait and time marches on.  

Funeral Blues 
W. H. Auden
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone, 
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead.
Put crepe bows round the white necks of public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West.
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever; I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good. 


What do you do for a Living?



The other day I was in a resident’s room getting ready to administer a nebulizer treatment.  Her TV was turned to the Game Show Channel with “Family Feud” going on.   My fellow care givers can attest “Family Feud” is a staple in the LTC environment with Turner Classic Movies a close second.  You can’t walk down a hall without hearing at least 3 different versions of “Family Feud” blaring out of multiple residents’ rooms. 

It was the beginning of the show where the host, Steve Harvey, has each of the family members introduce themselves before they provide an answer to the question he is asking. I wasn’t paying much attention to the show as I am busy getting the treatment ready and assessing my resident’s shortness of breath.  I am vaguely aware of Steve Harvey talking to the first three family members.  I didn’t hear their names, what they did or the answers to the question.  The fourth family member made me stop and look at the TV screen.   I half heard Steve Harvey ask her, “What do you do for a living?”  It is difficult to explain the fullness of what happened next.

She said, “I am a CNA at a long term care facility.”  It wasn’t the words she spoke as much as her tone of voice that made me whip my head around to look at her.  I see and hear so many CNAs when asked what their occupation is a sort of apology tends to follow.  “I’m a CNA but I plan on (insert a perceived better career choice here)…” or “I work as a CNA while I figure out what I want to do.”  The body language that accompanies those statements relays uncertainty, self-consciousness, and/or humility.  

This woman on that game show was different.  Those brief seconds she was on the TV screen showed a confident woman who was proud of her career choice, proud to be a CNA.  Everything about her body language supported the self-assured tone of voice in which she spoke those words.   “I am a CNA at a long term care facility.” End of sentence.  The words “courageous”, “bold”, “empowering”, and “confident” all ran through my brain in those few precious seconds.  She offered no apologies or explanations.  She stood tall, looked Mr. Harvey in the eye and declared her right to be proud of herself, of her career and those in her care.  I am proud of her, too. 

CNAs, be proud of your career choice. Do not ever, not even once, apologize in any way for working as a CNA. Stop feeling like you have to rationalize being a CNA with sentences like “I’m a CNA but…” You don’t have to do that.  Part of changing the LTC environment and other health care settings involves how we speak about ourselves and each other. Talk about your job with pride, with confidence.  What CNAs do is challenging, emotionally rewarding and taxing, sometimes all in the same day.  Not everyone can do the work. It takes a special kind of talent and perseverance to be a CNA for 2 years, 5 years, 15 years.  The more each of you declare with confidence and pride in your voice, “I am a CNA” the more empowered you will become.  The more empowered you are, the more others will want to hear what you have to say. Be bold; declare with confidence your career choice just like that wonderful woman on a popular game show did.  Be confident in yourself. Be proud to be a CNA.  I am proud of you, too.

I am not an Angel




If someone calls me an “angel” one more time today, I think I’m going to puke all over their shoes.  Really, I mean it.  I am not a messenger of God dressed in a long white robe with wings.  I am a CNA: a certified nursing assistant, a trained professional.  I am a person who chose this career field.  I am a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister, a neighbor, a voter and a human being.  I am not an angel.

I have a full set of emotions and thoughts that you, the family of the residents I care for, will never see or hear.  You will never hear the cuss words that run silently through my brain as I discover your delirious wife smearing her feces all over her bed, the floor, herself and anything else within arm’s reach.  Instead, I face the task at hand; cleaning up your wife and her room while calmly interacting with her.  You will never hear me sharply respond to your mother’s cruel, untrue words concerning my work methods.  Instead, I redirect the conversation in a quiet, soothing tone.  You will never see the frustration I feel showing on my face when your husband refuses to walk even though he is able to do so.  Instead, I continue to encourage him to keep trying. You will never notice as I slowly inhale and exhale to calm myself after your elderly father just threw his meal tray across the room because the cook accidently gave him juice instead of coffee.  You will never see the tears I cry while I apply ice to my bruised cheek after your aunt, in her dementia, punched me while I changed her urine soaked clothes.  You won’t know the feeling of disgust that runs through my body like an electric shock when your aged, confused uncle grabs my crotch while muttering sexually explicit phrases as I help him out of his bed and into his wheel chair.  No, you family members of the residents we CNAs care for will never really know these things.   You see us working and instead of respecting our professionalism you call us “angels.”

These are not the behaviors of angels; this is a professional CNA in action.  We are trained, licensed and trained some more to be CNAs.  We work very hard to help other people’s family members.  I would much rather hear someone exclaim with pride, “She is one hell of a CNA!” than call me “an angel” any day of the week.  I won’t even feel like puking because I’ll be too busy smiling.

The Queen and I




There is always at least one in every long-term care facility. You know, the one.  No matter how many residents you are responsible for, the one sincerely believes they are the only one in the building, demanding precious minutes of your shift.  The one.   Mine, I secretly call the Queen. I have 25 residents on my wing yet I spend more time answering her numerous call lights than any other resident on the wing. I tried to count how many times she used the call light in one shift but when my count was up to twenty after two hours, I stopped counting before I got depressed and resentful.

The Queen cannot walk or transfer herself requiring a two person transfer with the sit to stand.  She cannot see very well, even though she always seem to know what time it is, if her bedspread is too close to the floor, that her wastebasket is getting full, when her window shade is crooked and when my name tag has flipped upside down.  She usually spends most of her time in her room, by choice.  She does not go to the dining room choosing to eat in her room instead.  It takes at least five minutes to fill out her supper slip. Sally from the movie “Harry met Sally” was a novice compared to the Queen when it comes to ordering food.  The Queen does not take to waiting very well. She will not hesitate to let upper management know how much she is ignored, that the “girls” never answer her light promptly and she is the only one who has to wait all the time.

I can’t help but release a really deep sigh as I type this out and I know that I sigh deeply several times during my shift while caring for the Queen.

Yesterday the Queen was in rare royal form, throwing verbal jabs at everyone she could; “threatening” to have our jobs, complaining about supper, demanding her medications NOW and ranting about the length of time it took us to finally start getting her ready for bed.  When she acts like that my best offense and defense is to keep my mouth shut.  I don’t respond to her sarcastic, belittling remarks. I keep my body language as neutral as possible and do the work needed; only speaking to politely give one or two word directions to help prepare her for bed.  She starts her rant over when the nurse comes in with her medications.

We’ve had a stressful week on our wing and this nurse was on the last shift of four days working double shifts.  The nurse, tired and out of patience, responds to her royal tirade by firmly replying, “You are not the only resident here. We have other residents who need our time too.”  ‘Oh no, oh NOOOOO!’ I silently moan to myself. I shut my eyes while crouching down to put on her night time socks and start doing deep breathing exercises knowing full well what is about to occur.  And it comes, the royal Queen verbal hurricane.  The nurse plays the nurse card and walks out on her mid-hurricane tirade.  My partner and I still have to get her in bed. We can’t walk out. We are stuck to weather this storm.  My partner starts to open her mouth to say something and I glare “NO!” at her.  She snaps her mouth shut and we silently start getting the Queen into her bed.

Our silence has sucked the air out of the Queen’s hurricane.  She tries a few more jabs at us (“Giving me the silent treatment, huh? Your boss will hear about this!”) and when those comments didn’t net the response she was looking for, she too became quiet.  We finish tucking her in and as I approach the door, turning off the light, she calls my name.  I cringe; steeling myself for what may come next.

“Yes?” I say with outer calm but inner apprehension.

“Thank you,” she replies in a soft, sincere, non-Queen-like tone.  And I exhale in relief.  All that transpired during the last 45 minutes evaporates like morning dew in the sunshine.

I don’t want to talk about the psychology behind her behavior.  Instead, I want to share the gifts she has given to me.   The Queen has taught me how to be patient when confronted with impatience. She has taught me that silence can be more powerful and calming than words.  Because of her I have learned how to tune out the hurtful and sometimes cruel spoken words while tuning into the unspoken reasons behind them.  She has taught me what it means to truly care for another human being unconditionally.

This fussy, demanding, insistent, bossy woman makes me a better CNA, a better person. And I can’t help but adore her.

My Suitcase & Ruth




Most workplaces want their employees to leave their personal drama at home and come to work with a positive mindset. This is especially true of a CNA. We are reminded frequently to “leave your baggage at the door and smile as you enter.”   I have always taken a small measure of pride in how efficient I can be at packing my emotional “bags” and leaving them to wait until the end of my shift like suitcases piled up on a hotel bellhop’s trolley.

Suitcases are all zippers, straps and heavy nylon materials these days. I remember when suitcases were made of a hard substance and had snapping locks that required both hands to open or close them simultaneously. If such a suitcase had too many items stuffed in it, the thing would spring open letting loose all of its contents for everyone to see.  

My mother-in-law passed away about 6 weeks ago unexpectedly. She was like another mother to me and I love her fiercely. Due to a series of uncontrollable circumstances, I couldn’t go to her funeral. I find myself grieving every day since. Some days are harder than others but like the good CNA I am, I pack the grief neatly in my suitcase and leave it waiting for me in the parking lot while I tend to my elderly residents.

One of the residents I care for regularly has severe Alzheimer’s. She doesn’t know who her children are when they visit, most days she can’t remember how to walk and she can no longer chew or swallow food.   The other day the gnawing pain of my mom-in-law’s death was eating away at my spirit. Ruth (not her real name) was sitting in her wheel chair quietly humming and watching me finish up some paperwork while the other residents were at supper. After I finished my work, I knelt down next to her so we were at eye level. I asked “How are you, Ruth?”  

“I’m fine. You are sad,” she replied.

I didn’t know what to say back to her. My mind was racing, trying to think of something that would have meaning to her and I settled on the truth. I said, “Yes, I am sad.”


“Because I miss my mommy.”

“She died.” Ruth said as a matter of fact, nodding her head knowingly.


Ruth stretched out her hands and gently started to stroke my hair while tears started welling up in my eyes.

She stared intently into my eyes and with her hands still stroking my hair whispered ever so softly, “you are loved”.

The tears ran freely down my cheeks and I found myself resting my head in her lap while she continued gently stroking my hair and whispering “you are loved” over and over. My suitcase packed with grief and regret unwillingly sprang open for Ruth to see and she responded with love. While I cried she comforted me in a way only a mom knows how.  

I’m not sure how long we stayed like that, only a few minutes probably. Time seemed to suspend itself for us. I felt loved and cared for in that small moment. I will never forget what happened between us while Ruth’s mind already has let it go. I like to think her spirit remembers when we quietly folded my grief with love and repacked it in my suitcase minus a few tears allowing it to close even if for just a little while.