I took a deep breath as I entered the human resource building for orientation. That was new. I’ve never worked at a facility with a human resource department. It was a small building nestled in the back of the sprawling campus.
“Facility” seemed to be a misnomer. The property of my new employer stretched easily for a mile. There were several houses, each with a separate living environment complete with their own restaurant style dining area, an onsite rehabilitation center, a gym and indoor pool with access for both clients and employees when off the clock, and the assisted living building in which I would be working, complete with a memory care unit. It looked like a town more than a long term care facility. There was even a map included in our new hire packet.
Focus, Alice. Just breath. I listened as the HR representative discussed the medical benefits and company policies. I tried to ignore the tiny voice inside that whispered all the “firsts” that I was about to face. This place had technology that I have never used before. This place was bigger than my entire apartment complex. I have never worked third shift. For two years now, it’s just been me and the families in my care.
I tried to quell the fear and embrace the excitement of another new opportunity. I reminded myself that I’m a quick study and a dedicated worker, that it’s always uncomfortable to be somewhere new and that in my experience all growth, professional and personal, has started by walking through those emotions.
This new job opportunity is in a facility that is beautiful and clean and peaceful. There is art on the walls of the hall and windows so the sunlight just pours in from all angles. There are pet birds in the main lobby and it could not look less like a “nursing home”. It’s the sort of environment I would like to see made available to all our elders and those living with disabilities, regardless of income. I’ve never been a part of a company that seems so invested in the happiness and well being of their employees. The turnover is much lower than average and the results show. For the first time since I’ve started my journey in caregiving, I don’t feel the need to fix, elevate, educate, or problem solve on a large scale. Maybe this time, in this place, my role is simply to learn. What they have accomplished appears to be working for workers and residents in a way I have not yet experienced. So, tonight, I will walk into my first ever night shift at 11:00 PM with an open mind, grateful heart and use what nerves I experience to fuel my desire to do well.
Learning to Let Go
There are some aspects of this field with which I will never be comfortable. Being covered occasionally in body fluids is a cake walk, long shifts are usually no big deal. I quickly learned to adjust my pace and tone of voice to those in my care. I absolutely love working with people from all walks of life to solve every day problems, big or small. After nearly a decade, even death itself has lost its bite. I don’t mean to imply that such events are always easy to cope with or don’t come with pain. It’s just that after a certain amount of time in our work, death becomes the natural end of a journey we began together. For the most part, we caregivers enter our clients’ and residents’ world in the last chapter of their lives. Death is not an event over which we have any control. Leaving is.
Lately, I’ve been considering making a change. It isn’t that I don’t love the family in my care and it isn’t the money. I’ve enjoyed this sojourn into private care and my understanding of what it means to be a caregiver has deepened because of it, but now I want to explore new avenues and branch out. There is a new facility in town that has been designed by women who worked for years in this broken system and decided to do something about it. Person centered plans, amazing caregiver/resident ratio, beautiful grounds and owners who understand what is important from personal experience in the field. How could I NOT want to check out the possibilities?
Like so many of the most important opportunities in my life, this information landed in my lap. The timing was providential. I had just taken a short break in the middle of a particularly difficult shift and was contemplating how much I missed working in a facility when a text came from a friend of mine describing this new place. Alice! It’s a perfect fit for you! You HAVE to apply.
And then came the rush of excitement, immediately followed by the crash of guilt. How can I leave my client? How can I leave the whole family that both trust and depend on me? Such thoughts have always been a weakness of mine. On one level, they motivate me to give my all to my clients and residents regardless of where I may work. On the other hand, they prevent me from moving forward.
Caretaker personality, co-dependent tendencies, avoidance of conflict, fear of letting people down, lousy boundary setting skills. I get it. I have all the ingredients for that gigantic tossed salad of crazy, but I successfully work through such traits in a manner that promotes a healthy and vibrant life in most areas. They do pop up in my line of work, though. Especially when I’m considering change. Such complex emotions come from a good and genuine place within my heart. It’s those same feelings that motivate me to do my very best in every way that I can to improve the lives of others. It stems from empathy. It’s only when I let those instincts go awry that I become the master of my own misery.
The truth is I know change is not only inevitable but it’s also healthy. On an intellectual level, I am aware that the world won’t stop spinning because I consider other avenues in caregiving. Both my client and her family survived long before I got there and they will survive after I leave. And I haven’t even APPLIED for the facility yet. I’m putting the cart before the horse, here. I get that…Still. It’s a difficult thing to let go once the bond is formed between a caregiver/client. It SHOULD be difficult. If it were easy for me to walk away; if I could just brush off someone who has trusted and depended on me for over a year without flinching then I’d need to reconsider why I am in this field. That’s a level of cynicism that I hope I never reach. There are some aspects of this field with which I will never be comfortable. And I am okay with that.