Underneath our scrubs beat hearts that celebrate each success and bleed for each loss of those within our care. We know that our time with them is limited and we can not cure them. We can’t turn back the hands of time and we can’t change the situation that led them to our care. But we walk with them. We do what we can to improve their quality of life. We tell them they are not alone. We try to coax smiles from weathered faces worn down by time and experience. We listen. We translate. And when they pass, we grieve.
Underneath our scrubs are muscles that ache from running up and down halls or up and down stairs as we do the work of three people because of short staffing. Sweat runs down our face as we prioritize needs on the spot in order to provide the best care we can in an imperfect situation. Carefully compartmentalizing the very real frustration that comes from being overworked and underpaid; constantly facing impossible situations and feeling unappreciated, as if what we do is of little value. As if we are disposable. And isn’t that how those in our care feel? Invisible? Overlooked? So we run harder. Try harder. Uphill battles become our bread and butter.
Underneath our scrubs are souls of true grit. Whatever we look like, whether we wear it on the inside or out, we do not give up. Caregiving does not stop for holidays or inclement weather. It is not nice and neat. The most important and necessary tasks fall between the lists of activities of daily living. We face our own mortality every single shift. We face worst case scenarios and see the people beneath; see the strength and courage of those living through them and their strength fuels our own.
Underneath our scrubs, we are tired. We are weary. We are disgusted with the poor pay and misunderstanding of what we do and why we do it. We are tired of being dismissed. Tired of those in our care being misunderstood and dismissed. Tired of “it looks good on paper” mentalities and tired of people with little experience on the floor and no real world knowledge of those in our care deciding what is best for them without our input. We deserve better. Our residents certainly deserve better. And until we get better, we will be relentless and consistent in speaking our truths.
We live in a world of labels. Democrat. Republican. Fundamentalist. Atheist. Career woman. Housewife. The list could go on ad infinitum…ad nauseam. The thing is, these labels allow us to put people in a very small, easy to understand boxes. THIS person fits in my world. This one doesn’t. They allow us to make snap judgements with very little insight as to whether or not someone is worthy of our time and emotional energy. To one level or another, we are all guilty of this.
We do each other a grave disservice when we allow ourselves to judge and be judged by these shallow labels. After all, to be pigeonholed by one trait or preference is so limiting! No one is simply one thing.
I am a caregiver. But I am also a woman in recovery, an artist, an activist, a writer. A friend. A sister. A daughter. There are a million things, big and small that make up the sum and substance of who I am, as a person. This is as true for every other human being as it is for me.
I chose to write about this because I realized how often I view the people for whom I care simply in the context in which I see them; as my residents. I care for them, have laughed and cried with them, do my best to keep them comfortable and happy and let them know that they are loved and not alone. BUT how often do I see them as someone other than my resident? How often do I think about the complex lives they have lived before they crossed my path?
I listen to their stories from the past; from the time “before”…but it’s hard for me to connect with the imagery of their pasts outside of the facility walls. It’s hard to picture my residents as a single mom, a Rosie the riveter, a merchant marine, an artist, a homeless vet traveling the country…and yet these are all stories that I have heard at one point or another over the years.
Partly, it’s a defense mechanism. May wrote of facing her mortality; seeing her future self in one of her residents. That’s not an easy thing. It’s one of those fears that no one likes to think about, but we are faced with it every day. It lingers, sometimes, that fear, dancing darkly in the back of my mind.
Partly, it’s simply a lack of time. I’m too busy to reflect on this at work! Maybe I’m only listening with half an ear. Maybe my mind is on the next task I have to complete.
Those are reasons but they are not excuses. I can improve my time management enough to pay attention. To LISTEN and CONNECT, not just with who they are to me in this moment, but with who they are as individuals who have lived full and dynamic lives. I owe them that. Anything less is contributing to the slow ripping away of their humanity.