Tag Archives: certified nursing assistant

Among Kindred Spirits





In today’s post, I would like to share my thoughts regarding our participation in the 2016 Pioneer Network Conference.

To begin with, this was the first opportunity that Alice, May, and I got to meet each other in person. What a pleasure. After working with my co-contributors via the Internet for over two years, I knew that they were both talented and creative writers who shared my core values as a caregiver. But in getting to know them in person, I discovered two witty, well-read, and sincere individuals who were just fun to be around. It was easy see how their passion and dedication for their creative work as writers blends so well with the compassion and dedication they have toward their elders. This was evident in our conversations and in our presentation at the conference.

As special treat, we got to meet our sometime contributor and much appreciated supporter, Minstrel. This was a huge surprise, because we had no inkling that she was going to attend the conference. It was great “talking shop” with her and getting to know her a little better. Meeting her was definitely one of the highlights of the conference for us.

The conference was a surreal and wonderful experience for us. We were very well treated, not only in regard to the accommodations, which were first rate, but in the support and encouragement we received from the Pioneer Network Conference staff. Public speaking is not exactly our forte, but we felt like we were in the hands of pros, and their guidance and preparation made us feel as comfortable and confident as possible.

Alice, May, and I were given the honor of speaking to the opening plenary session of the 2016 Pioneer Network Conference. CNA’s have presented in previous conferences, but this was the first time direct care workers have addressed a plenary session. While we were thrilled with the opportunity to share our work and were very well received, it became clear after spending a few days at the conference that our invitation to appear said a lot more about the Network and the direction it is heading than it did about us.

The Pioneer Network is at the center of a culture change movement that recognizes the significance and power of the caregiver-resident relationship. While the movement has always placed this relationship at the heart of culture change, there is a growing sense that caregivers must become more active within the movement itself. Last year, only five percent of the attendees at the conference were CNAs. I’m not sure how many caregivers were there this year, but I expect it’s up from previous years. And I think it’s only the beginning.  

In coming years, I would not be surprised to see increased efforts by conference planners to reach out not only to caregivers, but to any class of workers within Long Term Care who have daily direct contact with residents. Moving away from medical and institutional models, and toward person centered models means that how elders perceive their experience in Long Term Care is paramount.  Central to that experience are the bonds they form not only with caregivers, but with housekeepers, maintenance workers, food service personnel, physical therapy aides, activity therapists – anyone, in fact, in the “neighborhood” who has daily personal direct contact with our elders.

There were times before, after, and even during our presentation that I had a sense of preaching to the converted. Obviously, this was friendly territory for caregivers who share the vision and values of the Network. At the same time, the genius of this movement lies in its acute self-awareness. Those at the center of it understand that the movement must perpetually remake itself based on the actual experience of elders and those closest to them. The movement wants and needs to be challenged, lest it become irrelevant to the people it purports to serve. If culture change means a shift in attitudes and behavior of caregivers toward those for whom they care, it also means the development of a deeper awareness on the part of policy makers – and on the part of advocates for change – of how caregivers actually experience the work. I hope that our effort to enhance such awareness did indeed serve as a challenge to the movement.

Of course, through the sessions and just talking to people, we learned a great deal at the conference ourselves. We hope that at least some of this will be evident in our future blog posts. As this movement evolves, we as individuals will have to grow with it.  New ideas emanating from practitioners at every level ensure a steady supply of new and creative approaches to old problems. Personally, I was humbled by how much I still need to learn.

Perhaps what struck me the most was how quickly we felt at home at the conference. While it was a surreal and wonderful experience, there was also something very familiar about the people there. These were kindred spirits who believe in the same thing we do. It was an honor and a pleasure to be among them.

Wants vs. Needs



I do not want to do this. I AM TIRED AND I DO NOT WANT TO TACKLE THIS!…those were my thoughts as I tried to come up with the best way to explain to my client that it just isn’t possible to attempt a planned outing at five in the evening. It was hot. It makes me nervous to drive her car in rush hour traffic. Her mobility was off all day. She was having stomach troubles. A “politician” who’s name I will not mention because I adamantly refuse to give him the satisfaction of free publicity on our blog was having a rally in town, guaranteeing the nuts will be out on the roads in droves, plus I was on the last day of a long stretch of back to back twelve hour shifts and I was tired…at this point in the day it was just a bad idea all around…and then I saw the expression on her face. Sigh.
“Ok. Let’s DO this!”
We had made plans for the outing two days before, when we found out that her husband was going to the rally of “He who must not be named”. It seemed like the perfect opportunity for one of our “Girl days”. We’d go to Belks, and she wanted to try on some new orthopedics at the shoe outlet, maybe hit Starbucks and grab dinner at a restaurant nearby. We could spend the whole day out and still make it home in time to read a few chapters of Little Women (a book she has never read and we are both thoroughly enjoying)! I knew she had been feeling cooped up for awhile and this would be good for her.
I arrived at work prepared and excited for the day’s adventures! She called out a cheerful good morning as I got the coffee brewing and went in to get her up for breakfast. As I helped her transfer from the bed to her chair, I noticed that her mobility was a little off. That happens. Some mornings take more effort than others. I wasn’t too concerned. Besides, she was chattering happily about the day ahead. I pushed her to the table and set up her breakfast: Greek yogurt, Cheerios and as an extra treat on our special day, some fresh peaches…it was those damned peaches that started the domino effect that would threaten to ruin the day.
I lost count of how many times I cursed myself for giving her that devious fruit. Now ordinarily, I would be thrilled that her engines were running so smoothly. One of the side effects of her pain meds is chronic constipation, but on that day, it just wiped her out completely. I watched as the hours went by, counting the trips to the bathroom. Noon, 1:00, 2:30…still no end in sight. By 3:30, her pain level had flared up. She thought if she could just rest in her recliner for a minute, she would feel better, so I transferred her, elevated her legs, sat down next to her and folded the laundry as she rested. 3:45, 4:00, 4:30…Ah well. The best laid plans of mice and men. I knew any chance of fulfilling our goals for the day were shot, so you can imagine my surprise when I heard her say with great determination,
“I feel better now. I’d like to go out now. I’d like to try…”
I didn’t want to go at that point for the reasons I mentioned above. They were all valid concerns. Loading her car with the wheelchair, walker and various other sundries alone takes at least thirty minutes…I would be at work FOREVER and I was supposed to get off at nine. And it’s not as if we would be able to accomplish any of our plans. What’s the point? Besides, she would do better to rest…but one look at her face put all of that nonsense in my head to rest.
When an elderly lady who had a stroke in the prime of her life and manages to keep up her spirits says that she wants to paint the town red after a day of what could only have been hell for her, who am I to complain, even to myself, about a little heat and loading a car?! So we loaded up and off we went. And it WAS hot and there WAS traffic and it WAS difficult…but it was also wonderful. We went to the shoe store and she got shoes that may ease some of her foot pain and we sat in a restaurant and enjoyed a leisurely dinner, just the two of us. For a few hours, she felt perfectly normal and it did her a world of good. It did ME a world of good.
It occurred to me that absolutely everything that matters in my life has been a direct result of facing things I didn’t think I could and doing things I didn’t want to do. I didn’t want to put down the bottle but in doing so, my life was not only saved but put to good use. I didn’t want to be a housekeeper, but that job in a facility led to my caregiving. I was terrified of blowing the whistle on a terrible facility, but doing so taught me how to effectively advocate and eventually led me to writing for this blog and the remarkable experience with the Pioneer Network in New Orleans. I didn’t want to go out with my client so late after such a challenging shift, but in doing so I was able to make a wonderful woman happy and feel a sense of accomplishment that no amount of money could buy. Sometimes, we confuse what we want with what we need. It turns out that adventure is exactly what I needed on that day. I stopped watching the time and enjoyed the moments.
After we made it home and I tucked her into bed, carefully adjusting the pillows around her, she hesitantly asked if I would read her a bit of Little Women if I wasn’t “too tired.” I settled down in the cozy chair beside her bed, opened the book and began to read,
“Your father, Jo. He never loses patience, never doubts or complains, but always hopes, and works and waits so cheerfully that one is ashamed to do otherwise before him.”…and I quietly slipped from her room after she fell asleep.


The Illusion of Normal




If life has taught me anything, it is that there is far more beneath the surface than meets the eye. Most of us wear our damages and wounds on the inside where they are safely tucked away from the view of others. This allows the illusion of normality for some as they walk through their 9-5 lives, thinking and engaging on a surface level with all whom they come in contact. 

     Some people cling to that normalcy as if it were a lifeboat that will save them from the crashing waves of genuine uncertainty that threaten us all from time to time. But is it real? I mean, what IS normal, other than a setting on a drier?

      These very normal people are the ones who walk past my client and I in a store and look at her with a mixture of pity and fear, as if they very sight of a woman with obvious physical challenges reminds them that their illusion of normal can smashed in an instant. They are the same people who would pay an obligatory visit to a relative once or twice a year at the facility for which I worked and try unsuccessfully to hide their distaste for the residents that weren’t their family members. As if my people were nothing more than their diagnosis or age.

       For a long time, I felt actual rage at the short-sightedness of these normal people who are more likely to grumble about people looking for handouts when they see a homeless vet than actually consider the fact that he is a human being with a story just like the rest of us. It would ruin my peace of mind. The CALLOUSNESS of it. But then it hit me. They don’t even realize that’s what they are doing. It’s a subconscious reaction to distance themselves from such potential outcomes. They HAVE to see the sick or poor or ill or elderly as somehow lacking or broken in order to protect the mental image they have of themselves. After all, any other insight would force them to accept the fact that we are all one cataclysmic event from becoming what they most fear.

       Ah, but I know what they don’t, both through my own life experiences and those for whom I have been blessed enough to have in my care. I know that when you are forced to accept life as it is, you learn how to create a new normal. You learn how to adapt. What my residents and clients have shown me time and time again is that life is a balance. When one ability is lost, another is gained. My client lost mobility, but she gained perspective, perseverance, a higher tolerance for pain. She has a level of empathy for others that she said was a bit lacking before her health failed her and never once have I heard her say that life is not fair. Think about that. It is truly humbling.

    I have seen people in perfect health have a complete meltdown over a coupon in a grocery store. I have heard countless versions of “why me’s” from those who have all they could possibly need to be happy.  If “normal” means taking life for granted until catastrophe teaches you otherwise, I’d just as soon learn from the outcasts.

Just a Perfect Day




Ah, the Family Guy. I love that show. I can put it on after a long shift and all is right with the world. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, though, so you can imagine my surprise when I heard the opening tune through the door in the bathroom as I was getting my client dressed. Well, this should be interesting. My client’s fourteen year old granddaughter was over for the day. I couldn’t be happier about that. It’s something that I had been pushing for behind the scenes for a while now. I thought it would be good for them both. 

    One of the benefits of being an independent caregiver in a family’s home is that I have much more influence than I did in a facility. This comes with a lot of stressors and frustrations that I will save for another post, but it also puts me in a unique position to do some good. So it was GIRL’S DAY! And the kid was watching old episodes of the family guy. How this would gel with my client’s ultra-conservative views, I could not say, but hey, at least we were all together. 

     I pushed my client to the living room and positioned her in her lounge chair. We had plans to go to the movies, but her level of pain and the weather did not cooperate so we had to come up with a new game plan. In the meantime, Stewie was beating up Brian. 

      “Why is that baby beating up a dog?” she asked.

       “He owes him money!” her granddaughter replied. I knew this episode well. Time to redirect a little. My client’s social morays may not be able to handle the family guy for very long. 

    A self-described “emo kid”, the granddaughter was absolutely beautiful, though she didn’t realize it. Her hair was so rock and roll, that if I could pull it off at forty, I totally would. She’s a creative, sensitive, interesting kid trapped in that unforgiving age of fourteen. I hated fourteen and after knowing her for ten minutes, I felt a real kinship.

     As the day went on, I realized that this was not only about my client. Her granddaughter was enjoying it every bit as much as she was. So was I, for that matter! All of our plans fell through, so we rented a movie on TV and ordered a pizza. Because it was just the three of us, both granddaughter and grandma opened up to each other in ways that they may not have been able to otherwise. I reached into my bag of things that I don’t know about and listened enthusiastically as they both eagerly shared make-up tips that I would most likely never use. We had fun. In this field, it was as close to a perfect day as we can get. 

     I grew up with that bond with my Grandma. It is one of the richest and most meaningful connections in my life. So much of who I am is because of her so to see that bond begin in others…I can’t put into words how incredibly important to me that moment was. It was beautiful.

     By the end of the day, we all made a plan for her to come over every Tuesday she has free this summer. We brainstormed ideas for outings and the joy was contagious. This. THIS is why I do what I do. As caregivers, we get to be a part of these moments and we know that they are far from inconsequential. There is a lot of shit, both literally and metaphorically, that comes with this gig. Ah but the moments when I get to know that I had a hand in directly impacting another’s day for the better? So worth it! We get to lift people up. We get to fight for something bigger than ourselves. We get to have our lives impacted by others…what’s BETTER than that? It really is a hell of a job perk.

The Life Coach




“I wish I could run around with my grandkids,” my client said wistfully, “I feel like half a Grandma.” I sighed to myself. It isn’t the first time she’s mentioned such things. I wish I could help my husband clean out the store. I wish I wasn’t such an ordeal to everyone. I wish…I wish.  It made me so sad! What could I say to any of that? Sure, I could be a supportive listener. People say that’s helpful. I get that. I do!…but I’m wired to try and solve problems and I couldn’t shake the idea that I wasn’t quite as powerless to help as I thought I was.x

       So I went home and obsessed about it, as I am prone to do. After about an hour of over complicating a fairly simple problem, I had a EUREKA! moment. HAIR! I know absolutely nothing about hair. I’m lucky if mine meets a hairbrush every other day. I know nothing about a LOT of things! Fashion! Apparently my Blossom hat is no longer en vogue. Who knew?! I’ll tell you who knew! My client! She taught cosmetology! She raised two daughters and has an eye for fashion! My limited cooking abilities give me ample opportunity to ask for recipes! She loves to read and could quote Shakespeare. THIS was what I need to be focusing on! Instead of feeling sad for her, I needed to remind her of all the things she could still do, not with words but with action! 

     The next day, I pulled up a chair as she ate breakfast. I looked her straight in the eyes and said with complete honesty, “My life has gone nuts! I’m going to New Orleans for a once in a life time opportunity, I’m on a big writing kick, I’m learning water colors, my paintings are hanging in a coffee shop, I drove back and forth to Long Island twice this year, walls that I spent years building have melted in a matter of days by the person who motivated me to build them in the first place, and I don’t know how to cook a steak. Most of that is amazing but it’s all overwhelming. You are now officially my life coach.”

       She recognized the honesty and knew immediately that I wasn’t being condescending. I could see her eyes light up as we looked at pictures of dresses and discussed what would be appropriate for public speaking. I asked her for recipes. I sought her guidance. I watched and listened and learned. It was mutually beneficial. That shift, she wasn’t my client. She wasn’t her diagnosis. She was the teacher and I was the student. By stepping out of my comfort zone, embracing my own vulnerabilities, and expressing my flaws and fears, I gave her the opportunity to be genuinely helpful and I gave myself the opportunity to gain some clarity. Such a simple solution. Living with purpose and feeling useful are basic human needs. Sometimes we all need to be reminded that we are here for a reason.

See No Evil, Hear No Evil … Fix No Evil





As aging impacts physical and cognitive health, many of us will eventually live in long-term care homes.  Thanks to poor standards of care, most people dread this prospect.  To improve care, experts advocate a person-centered model of care as an alternative to the traditional medical model.  Moving from one care model to the other calls for culture change.  Last year I visited the website of a leading culture change organization for information on their annual conference.  It was discouraging to see that among their many events, none included one of the critical elements of culture change, CNAs: our workloads, wages, and caregiving standards.  Hour after hour, day in and day out, CNAs are key caregivers.  Without us, there can be no culture change.  Yet CNAs aren’t heard.  Here is one CNA voice.

I first became familiar with LTC homes when a family member needed care.  I explored many places to find him a good home, then visited him frequently.  Since then I’ve worked in LTC homes and gone into others as a hospice volunteer.  When my uncle moved to a memory care home, I saw the aides who cared for him as angels: they did for my uncle and the other residents what we family members no longer could.  They did this with magical skill and saintly kindness.  And for wages that were obscenely sub-standard.  I was enormously grateful to them.  But in these years of being in and out of long-term care homes, this is what I’ve also seen: aides who sit talking to each other or texting while residents sleep in front of TVs or sit staring into space, alone.  I’ve seen a resident fall because an aide was busy texting.  Aides spend mealtimes noisily socializing with each other instead of engaging with residents, most of whom (at least in memory units) need some level of assistance.  Some aides announce, by their behavior, “Once she’s bathed and dressed and in the dining room, once he’s fed and toileted: once the ADLs are completed, it’s my time.”  Sometimes instead of interacting with residents, aides simply take time apart to rest.  It’s not that aides are intentionally mean or abusive.  And comradery among aides isn’t a perk; it’s essential.  But on every shift there are failures in attentiveness to residents, failures to engage them in an enriching way, lost opportunities for Creating Moments of Joy, as Jolene Brackey has written. 

Some will object, “Not in OUR facility!  We have awesome aides who go out of their way every day to make life better for residents.”  Yes, aides are often inspirationally caring.  But too frequently the quotidian reality is lackluster care, not the person-centered care promised.  Tellingly, the administrators who dispute this picture are often conspicuous for their absence from the daily fray.

Here’s something else I see: thanks to abysmal wages, many aides work two jobs.  Where I live, starting wages are $9 to $12 an hour.  Self-employed aides can earn more, but have no benefits.  Full-time aides are sometimes scheduled to work only 32 hours a week, to avoid overtime when an aide is asked to work a double shift to cover for someone who calls out at the last minute.  Many aides have children at home to care for.  By the time the aide starts his or her shift, which typically involves caring for six to ten residents, she is already tired in body and spirit.  How can this aide bring to work the physical and emotional energy needed to care for the chronically ill, the elderly frail, the cognitively impaired?  Is this what you want for your parent or spouse, or yourself?

How to improve care?  Administrators provide innovative training programs.  Workshops offer state-of-the-art information and creative care ideas.  Two questions not examined:  1. How do we get aides to buy into culture change and embrace person-centered care, once the trainer leaves?    2. Where do we find the money to increase staffing and pay direct-care workers a living wage, one that honors the physical and emotional demands they meet every day?  

Culture change seems focused primarily on training of direct-care workers and renovations to the physical environment.  A more effective approach might come from a change in what we expect of leadership.  Once upon a time, ‘Management-by-Walking-Around’ was the mantra.  An effective manager was expected to circulate on the factory or office floor, paying attention.  Not spying on employees, not micro-managing, but noticing things.  Sensing conflicts and stresses before these undermine performance.  Offering feedback when needed.  In care homes, how often do you see someone on hand whose role is to encourage, compliment, coach or critique?  To see that necessary supplies are on hand.  To offer an on-the-spot performance suggestion, transforming a moment of poor care into an opportunity to reinforce good care skills, per Teepa Snow’s  coaching model.  And at times, with a chronic slacker, to go down the road of discipline.  How much do managers engage with direct-care workers? 

Today’s code word for good care is engagement: aides need to engage with residents.  If administrators aren’t modeling this by meaningful interactions with direct-care workers, will aides believe that engagement is to be the ethos in their workplace?

We can’t improve what we don’t see.  If administrators don’t see the problems, it might be because they are buried in ‘CYA’ paperwork, medication management, marketing efforts, and time-stealing meetings.  Sometimes their offices are in some distant realm of the facility.  Culture-changing organizations might hire a clerk for paperwork and scheduling, freeing the front-line manager for a more constructive presence among staff.  Give this manager a mandate to convert ‘person-centered care’ from a slogan to a fact.   

Can LTC homes provide person-centered care, without the personnel?  Staffing levels are egregiously low.  They may meet states’ woeful requirements but we all know they are inadequate to ensure patient safety, let alone the person-centered care everyone espouses.   Inadequate staffing also leads to on-the-job injuries and CNA burnout.  Are any of the culture-change conferences addressing these issues?  Are leaders lobbying for better staffing and better wages for their CNAs?

Ah, wages!   One is tempted to wonder whether managers tolerate poor performance out of guilt or shame for what they pay their aides.  Even compassionate professionals don’t want to mention the issue of wages in public.  It may seem too daunting and discouraging a challenge—and an embarrassment.  Compensation levels reflect the fact that the job doesn’t require high-level academic or technical credentials.  But aides shouldn’t be thought of as unskilled.  Our skills lie in meeting the global needs of residents who are sometimes completely dependent on us.  A good aide needs to excel in kindness, patience, gentleness, flexibility, effective time management, communications creativity, appreciation for the diverse ethnic, racial, religious, cultural backgrounds of those in our care.  We care for residents regardless of their illnesses or diseases.  We don’t need to describe here the physical tasks we perform, sometimes difficult, often unpleasant.  When the person has dementia, the challenges are doubled, tripled.  We’re accountable to employers, to families, and to our residents.  Not everyone is up to the job.  Wages should reflect the importance of this work and the competencies it requires.  We need a mindset conversion among executives who still think it’s acceptable to sustain their LTC organizations by reliance on a bare-boned staff of underpaid workers who need public assistance to supplement their wages.  Care homes charge their CNAs to respect the dignity of residents.  What about respect for the dignity of CNAs, starting with a living wage?

“Where will we get the money to raise wages and increase staffing?” ask horrified LTC operators. The question is valid.  However, it begs the further question: How much are you spending now, and for what?  Until there is budget transparency (another piece of culture change), the industry’s position that these proposals aren’t affordable, isn’t credible or convincing.  Their question should be not the end of the discussion, but the beginning.  Reviewing the content of culture-change workshops, we don’t see these issues on agendas.  No one wants to touch staffing or wage issues.  Could it be that the profit motive plays too big a part in the culture of some LTC organizations? 

This isn’t rocket science: Be as zealous about improving supervision, staffing, and wages as you are about upgrading the chandeliers and countertops and holding conferences.  Put your assets where you claim your values are.  (Make your budget transparent!)  Invite CNAs to be co-leaders in culture change.  Then we might see culture change that leads to transformed care, transformed lives.  

The Big Picture




  See past the disorders. See past the challenges. See past the constant reminder of our own mortality. Look beyond the dysfunction of the broken system and the day to day gripes we all face in this field. Look beyond the bad mood of that one particular resident who seems to have it in for you for no reason at all. Work around the apathetic owners of these facilities and you will learn some truths about yourself as a person through your work as a caregiver.

       We can’t fix the broken or heal the sick, but we can comfort the hurting and add a spark for another going through a day of despair. We can support and teach each other in a system that fails us in that area so often. We can reach people when we look beyond the surface. When we do not allow how we are viewed by others to define us; when we refuse to do the bare minimum in our workplaces, we set the example. We set the standard. The powers that be do not understand the nature of our work. They don’t know and many don’t care. They want the most cost efficient option and are willing to sacrifice standards of care in order to increase profit margin. I get it. They view it as a business, but they are not selling shoes and burying our collective heads in the sand is not going to work.

       Are we going to accept this? Are we going to allow those within our care to be forced to settle for apathy and neglect? Are we going to allow this system that is designed to fail convince us that we are disposable and worth very little? We have choices here. We have numbers and we have a voice. We have to stop getting stuck in the minor irritations that so often distract us from the essential truths that all caregivers share: we are the protectors. We are the comforters. We are the voice of the most vulnerable among us. That is a sacred responsibility and that doesn’t change because it goes unappreciated or noticed by others. If we embrace this, if we are motivated by this consistently, then together we have the opportunity to fight for the changes that only us and those in our care really know are needed. We need to collectively look at the big picture and then get on with the business of doing what we can to improve it. It’s in our hands.

National Nursing Assistants Week





Next week marks the 39th Annual National Nursing Assistants’ Week. “NAWeek” begins on June 9th with National Career Nursing Assistants’ Day – “a day to recognize nursing assistants who dedicated their lives to the well-being of others for 5 to 58 years” – and runs through June 16th. The theme of this year’s NAWeek is “I Choose Respect.”

NAWeek is sponsored by The National Network of Career Nursing Assistants. Longtime director of the NNCNA, Genevieve Gipson, has been advocating for direct care workers for over fifty years and is currently working with numerous National NA groups on legislation issues, promoting recognition of nursing assistants, education, research, and peer support development for nursing assistants in nursing homes and other long term care settings. We’re working to get Jeni to appear on CNA Edge as a guest contributor so that she can share her wisdom and insight with our readers and give us her take on NAWeek and the NNCNA.

Meanwhile, to help celebrate NAWeek, we will be offering a free download of the Kindle version of our book CNA Edge: Reflections from Year One from June 9th through June 12th. The book is a collection of over 80 essays originally published in 2014 as posts on this blog. We will post links here and on our Facebook page starting this coming Thursday.

For more information on NAWeek click here: National Nursing Assistants Week 

More Than Meets the Eye





  People are amazing. I forget that sometimes. It’s easy to do, especially during an election year. I’m so often tempted to retreat into cynicism when I read the paper or hear the news or go on social media. If they were to be believed, we all hate each other. Democrats, Republicans, black, gay, straight, rich, poor, young, old; we just can’t coexist peacefully anymore…except I have a largely diverse group of friends who somehow manage to not kill,  berate, lament, or hate each other over differences of opinions. They are bigger than whatever overly-simplified label is slapped on them. So I know that outside of the 24 hour news cycle, most of us are living our lives and co-existing just fine. All of that rage and animosity toward one another is a mirage, but if we aren’t careful and vigilant that mirage can easily become reality.

     My client is the sweetest woman.  Growing up on a farm taught her to put a high value on work ethic and she worked right up to the day her body failed her and her life changed dramatically in an instant. And she was so young! Barely in her fifties. Her husband also has worked his fingers to the bone his entire life. They started with very little more than wishes and the willingness to work hard and save more than they spend and that hard work coupled with some luck paid off. They have a beautiful beach front house, complete with a dock and boat.

     He could have sent her to a nursing home. He could have and it would have been understandable. Suddenly, their entire life was changed. But he didn’t. For eight years, he cared for her on his own. He had the bottom level of his house redesigned so that she could maneuver. When he could no longer care for her by herself, he hired in home caregivers. 

       Before every shift, I have to take a deep breath and leave my political opinions at the door. I know that I’m in for twelve to fourteen hours straight of conservative talk radio and quite frankly, those people scare me. They make their money by terrifying people and I have found that it is especially effective on the elderly, who tend to view the past through the lens of nostalgia. I want to tell my client that these people who you think bleed red white and blue are the very ones who want to cut funding to the programs designed to help you and others living with similar challenges. But I don’t. I smile and nod and don’t mention how I think fear and insanity are the conductors on this crazy train campaign season.

      It occurred to me recently that there was a time not too long ago, that I would pass a house like that with a Trump sign on the lawn and immediately assign a label and disdain to whomever may be living within the dwelling. It’s instinctual. I would recoil from meeting such people without giving a second thought about it. Backwards thinking, greedy, selfish bible thumping bigots live in such places…except didn’t that make me every bit as guilty as them? Am I an elitist, lazy, ne’er do well who just wants money from the Government and weed? Of course not, but I am a Democrat and that’s how we are painted by the talk radio hosts I have to hear all day. That’s how they paint us and that’s how we paint them and the world crumbles around us as we yell at each other.

       My client is a mother, grandmother, survivor, loves music, Little House on the Prairie and coffee and chocolate. She is delightfully funny and kind. She also happens to be a Republican. Why should her political opinion override everything else about her?  The truth is it shouldn’t. We are ALL bigger than the labels slapped upon us.

       Differences of opinions should not tear apart the very fabric of our humanity. Indeed, this nation was founded in order to allow such freedom. We are free to disagree and it’s ok to be passionate. God knows I am, but the moment we forget that we all have a story is the moment that the tail starts wagging the dog in our society. We start to think that the only way we can be right is if everyone else is wrong. Not only wrong, but dumb, mean, and evil. We lose our empathy and start treating those with differing ideas as if they aren’t even human. It’s a dangerous path to tread. So I refuse to drink the Kool-Aid. I would rather believe my own experience and insight than what other people, from both sides of the political aisle tell me to think. We do not all hate each other, no matter what they would have us believe. There’s a market for panic and anger, fear and vengeance because scared, angry people are much easier to manipulate. This campaign season is the proof in the pudding.  I’m not buying any of it.

A Family Affair




“Ma…MA, its right here!” I could hear the amused frustration in my Dad’s voice over the phone. He is staying with my grandma for Easter week and it’s her bowling league day. Eighty-nine years old and she still bowls on a league.

“She spent an hour looking for her checkbook. I gave her a twenty to take with her. She puts it in her wallet. Then she can’t remember which purse she put her wallet in. Finally, I find the purse with the money in it and she forgot that originally she was looking for her checkbook, which is fine because the checkbook is somewhere in the house and now she can bowl in peace.”

The great bowling money escapade. My Grams isn’t suffering from Alzheimer’s. She hasn’t been diagnosed with dementia. She is living with age related memory loss and it is progressing.

For me, losing my keys, checkbook, or wallet is par for the course. I’ve had thirty-nine years of experience of misplacing stuff and disorder. I’m lucky if my clothes aren’t inside out when I leave my apartment. Not her. This is a woman who dropped out of high school after her brothers enlisted in WWII in order to help support her mother and younger sisters. This is a woman who worked two jobs while raising six boys and still managed to make certain that everyone had dinner together. She and Pop moved to SC to help with my brother and I when we were kids. She buried a son and a husband, and carried me through my own troubled times, and still managed to stand on her own two feet. She is a powerhouse. She is also eighty nine and her age is catching up with her.

I can hear it in her voice when I call her; the anger and frustration and sadness and fear that comes from knowing that her mind isn’t as fast as it once was. For a woman who remembered every anniversary, birthday, whose checkbook was always balanced to the penny, who was always the caregiver, these mental slips are a scary, heartbreaking reality. Time is the great thief that none of us can outrun. The best we can do is carry each other through it.

My grams is one of the lucky ones. Everyone in her life loves her. We all want her. Any one of us would gladly take her in our home. The problem isn’t a lack of options. It’s a lack of options that she is willing to take. And I GET it. She doesn’t want to “be a burden”. She doesn’t want to leave her home. Every time I call her and try to discuss it with her, she shuts me down. She isn’t ready. She is the ultimate caregiver, which makes it almost impossible for her to accept the idea that she is the one who needs care.

So we are at an impasse and for now that’s ok. She’s ok. She can’t crochet like she used to, but bowling on a league at eighty-nine is pretty damn good. The time will come when that will change, and as a family, we will cross that bridge when we get to it. It’s so different when it’s a loved one with whom you have a lifetime of memories; a difference that I will be exploring further in my next post.