This blog started with the idea that the voice and experience of caregivers has been a vital missing ingredient to the improvement of Long Term Care. A conversation about reform that doesn’t include our voice is like bread being baked without yeast.
When Bob found me on a CNA support site I had been searching for answers. For quite awhile, I had felt lost. I was appalled at how those in our care were being treated by the system as a whole. I was beyond frustrated that nothing my fellow co-workers and I said seemed to matter to those in charge. I was saddened by the fact that this was accepted as a matter of course and I was unwilling to believe that nothing could be done about any of it. By providence, fate, or incredibly good timing, I was ready to jump in when Bob explained his idea for this blog and asked me to be a part of it.
Over the last few years you have walked with us as we expressed the frustration, beauty, humor, love and loss that comes as part of the package in this field. Many of you have shared your experiences with us in the comments or emails. I had no idea how far reaching this blog would be or how much I personally would be affected by writing for it. I did not realize at the time that by simply writing a post a week not only would I be an active part of the solution and have the ability to reach others, but I would be opening a door to allow all of you to reach me.
You…yes YOU, reading this, give me hope. You aren’t sleep walking through life telling yourself that one person can’t make a difference so why bother trying. Instead you are reading a blog that’s very existence proves otherwise. It is an incredibly inspiring and deeply moving experience to be a part of CNA edge. In the process I have learned that I am not alone, that we can and are making a difference and that we all have a responsibility to keep speaking our truths, even when we feel it falls on deaf ears.
If you are reading this, you have impacted my life. You inspire me. Writing these pieces force me to look beneath the surface to the deeper essential realities in this field, to dig deep, be honest about my emotions and fears and face them head on. I can never give up because of you. You force me to be brave because how can I ask you to be willing to take a stand and consistently work for change on every level of this field if I am not doing so myself? How can I expect you to believe that you can make a difference if I don’t believe it myself? What experience is more rewarding than to inspire and be inspired? So, from the bottom of my heart, thank you.
Everyone knows each other here.
It’s been so long since I’ve been the new kid that I’d forgotten how uncomfortable it can be, instantly thrusting me back into that awkward, lonely state of mind that I had whenever I had to start a new school.
Just focus on the work, Alice. Take in the new experience and be yourself. Such thoughts have become muscle memory when facing major changes and lately my life has seemed nothing BUT major changes. Still, I found myself aching for the close friendships I had at my old facility. Years of shared experience had forged bonds between my co-workers and I that time could never erase from my heart. I hoped they knew this. Now at this beautiful new facility full of strangers in the hours when the world sleeps, I half wish I was back there with them in the light of day.
To be fair, most of my new co-workers have been nice and friendly, if somewhat skeptical at first of my ability. I get that. They don’t know my work ethic. They don’t know that the odds of me quitting suddenly are about as good as getting struck by lightening inside on a sunny day. My enthusiasm is oddly off putting to those who work this shift and the fact that after a week, I still have to wander around until I stumble upon the time clock probably doesn’t look promising. Mainly, though, it’s just that I’m new. I’m new to them and they’re new to me. Third shift is new to me. The facility is new to me. It’s all…new.
Life is change and I tend to grow on people. Eventually this will feel like home. I adapt quickly. Still, to all my past co-workers, to my friends who happen to read this, thank you. Thank you for always making me feel at home. Thank you
for teaching me. Thank you pushing me to continually move forward. Thank you for your support and friendship. Having worked with you has made it easier to be the new kid here.
We all know about the many obstacles in this field. We cover these topics quite a bit on CNA edge because they’re important to acknowledge. No problem was ever solved without first bringing them to light. But I don’t want to talk about that today.
We did it! Three very important words in our work. Whether it’s spoken between co-workers after surviving an impossible shift, with a resident who finally agreed to a shower after a week of failed attempts, or a client who refuses to give up her monthly beauty treatments at the mall despite the many challenges her physical condition may present, those three words have the power to renew a commitment to persevere through obstacles on the clock and off. For me, they inspire a depth of hope that I would never have known had I not landed in this field so many years ago.
The challenges we face as caregivers can be difficult to articulate to those outside the field. For me, this causes a deep loneliness on occasion. It takes an incredible amount of physical, emotional and mental energy to do our job properly.The losses take a personal toll, regardless of whether or not we admit it to ourselves. So yes, some days produce the perfect storm of loneliness when I don’t practice self-care. But I don’t want to talk about that today, either.
“He was more talkative and happy in the last two months of his life than he had been in the last two years. I don’t know what you girls did, but my family and I will be forever grateful.” …I remember that moment with crystal clear clarity. It was four years ago around Thanksgiving. One of my residents had succumbed to a long illness. We knew it was coming, but it still seemed so…sudden. I remember feeling his death so deeply that for awhile, everything seemed tinged with grey and my passion for the job was replaced with a feeling of powerlessness over doing much good in it. After all, my best effort can’t stack up against death. Those kind and genuine words from his daughter acted like a balm, soothing my bruised heart with a timely reminder of the value in our work, not just for our residents, but for their families too. It isn’t about stopping death. It’s about improving the quality of life. It’s about being a comfort when another is in pain, not ending the pain itself. It’s about walking with others, come what may.
There is much to lament and much for which to be thankful in the life of a caregiver. Today, on the eve of Thanksgiving, I am filled with gratitude. Instead of focusing on the loss of people I grow to love, I feel the joy of walking with them through the end of their journey. Instead of griping about long hours, I will hold onto the feeling of satisfaction that comes from pushing through and the knowledge that any frustration or pain that I may feel is but a drop in the bucket to the daily struggles those who have been in my care face everyday with grace and humor. I will treasure the trust they place in me, the hope that they share and the dignity they are able to maintain in undignified situations. Today, I will hold close the solidarity I feel with my fellow caregivers and I will learn from those who walk this path with me and I will not take my life for granted. A very Happy Thanksgiving to all of you. I hope your day will be rich with blessings and your hearts have the wisdom to recognize them. May you feel the joy that is present, in the here and now more than you feel the pain of the past or the fear of the future, if only for the day. That is the greatest gift that we, as caregivers, are granted.
The thoughts flit through my mind at a dizzying pace, a kaleidoscope of colors and frenzied impressions that dance around the idea of what could be and what already is. We are in New Orleans. The Big Easy. A city that has no shortage of whimsy and magic in its own right but to be here to present to the world our writing? To be given a platform in which we can shout our truths in the hopes of reaching others on our path to deep, meaningful and lasting change?…that’s surreal.
It wasn’t an accident that I chose “Alice” for my pseudonym. As a child, Alice in Wonderland was my least favorite fairytale. It made no sense. I much preferred Robin Hood. Now THAT was a story I could sink my teeth into. So, it came as a quite a surprise to me that after a great amount of life experience, I awoke one day in my mid thirties only to realize that my LIFE was wonderland and I am indeed Alice.
Call it fate, providence or synchronicity, I never believed it was an accident that I crossed paths with Yang and May. The odds of meeting two like minded caregivers across the country with such an amazing talent for writing and dedication to expressing truth and impacting change would be slim in any case, but the fact that we have worked together fluidly for two years without meeting one another until this week? The fact that our different styles and voices flow together in a way that is harmonious rather than clashing? The odds of us being offered such an opportunity by the Pioneer Network to speak out and reach others? No. That is more than coincidental.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle said that if you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. The truth, as I see it, is this: We are on a path that is uniquely suited to us. We have not only the opportunity but the obligation to follow through to wherever this journey may lead and in doing so, we will impact the lives of the most vulnerable among us for the better. We will impact our OWN lives for the better and what we learn on the way will forever enrich us in ways that we cannot imagine. This I know to be true.
Lasting change may not happen on my timeframe but it does happen. I cannot properly express how grateful I am to the Pioneer Network, everyone involved and all who attended, for seeing in us the message that fits so perfectly with their vision or Yang and May for being such a vital part of my life or how much hope our collaboration has brought me these past two years. I only know that the three of us will continue to speak our truths, shouting it when necessary and as much as we can, be the voice for those locked in this deeply flawed system. We will never give up. Of that, I am absolutely certain.
As I sit outside, watching this whimsical city in all its wonders, I feel bittersweet about leaving in the morning. This conference has been the biggest and most fulfilling achievement of my life and it’s sad that it’s almost over. But in my heart of hearts I know it is but the first step of a journey that is sure to be a thousand miles and I am so excited to be a part of whatever comes next. In the meantime, we will continue to write and remind you, our readers…our friends, that each and every one of you matter and each and every one of you can and do make a difference. So don’t ever let the world convince you otherwise. Shine on, my friends!