To put it politely, they say "stuff" rolls downhill. In nursing homes, those at the very bottom of the hill are the nurse's' aides -- CNAs, as they are called. Certified Nursing Assistants. They have the most responsibility for providing hands-on care to the residents, but they are paid the least. It seems to me that something is wrong with this picture.
It's a difficult profession. In nursing homes, sometimes the physicians dump on the nurses. And sometimes the nurses do so to the aides. Furthermore, there are times when the residents' family members are downright mean. So the aides can sometimes get blasted from two sources. It can make their lives miserable, and there is an exceedingly high turnover rate of aides in nursing homes.
So why, we might ask, do people choose to become CNAs in the first place? Why indeed do they get up and go to work every day? I interviewed a CNA and discovered her answer: She loved old people. It was that simple.
When I interviewed Nancy Martin, who worked as a CNA in the same facility for 10 years, she told me, "I loved seeing the residents every day. It was as though I was entering a facility full of grandparents and friends. I got along famously with most of them. It was very rewarding," she continued. "Most of them treated me with respect. They treated me like family. And they often gave me cookies or whatever other treats their loved ones had brought them. Who wouldn't love them?"
Nancy narrated her relationship with one lady in particular, Alice, who always called her "sweetie." It seems that no one ever visited Alice. Sometimes when she had a little extra time, Nancy would sit on Alice's bed and talk to her. Like all of the residents, Alice had such interesting stories about her early life. Nancy was so close to Alice, who had dementia, that she once took her home to join her own family on Thanksgiving day. Alice was delighted and said that Nancy was "a good old soul."
Nancy admits that she had problems with a few of the nurses. "We often had too much work to do and they couldn't understand why we couldn't get it all done. They didn't fully understand our jobs and they expected miracles."
She also had difficulties with a few of the family members, especially those who didn't visit very often. "Although most were appreciative and expressed it, there were ones that you just couldn't please. But I got used to that and did the job because I loved those residents so much," she said. "I received so much more than I gave."
When she started a family, Nancy resigned from the job to be a stay-at-home mom, but always remembered the residents and loved them. She missed them tremendously.
So that's why Nancy loved her job. It's why, despite the negative aspects of it, she got up and went to work every day. It was a calling. And those residents were blessed to have Nancy as one of their aides.
Marie Marley is the award-winning author of Come Back Early Today: A Memoir of Love, Alzheimer's and Joy. Her website www.ComeBackEarlyToday.com, contains a wealth of information for Alzheimer's caregivers.
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