It’s interesting how many people do not know what a nursing assistant does for a living. Some people think that CNA’s draw blood in addition to their other skills. Some will blurt out and frankly state, “Don’t they clean up peoples poop?” How is someone supposed to answer this? The most important aspect of being a nursing assistant is the responsibility of providing the most personal care to those who are unable to care for themselves. These individuals, whether they are in a long term care facility or in their own home may be elderly or they may also be young. The point is, that they have at one time been able to care for themselves. The job of a CNA entails much more than cleaning someone up when they have had an accident. The role of the CNA is that of a friend, companion, dietitian, teacher, helper, chef and medic. Not to mention they may also do the occasional load of laundry. By far the CNA provides more help and therapeutic care to the elderly and those in need than the nurses. Let any nurse try to argue this, other than the ICU and CCU nurses. I am able to write these words because I am a nurse and I was a CNA. Let me tell you all story.
It was a Summer’s day, I was 18. My father, God rest his soul, wanted me to go to college. What parent doesn’t want their son or daughter to go to college. I had a free ride to college, because my father worked for Ford Motor company. But, college wasn’t for me. I wanted to work and feel what it was like to earn money and have money in my pocket. So, he took me around the city to look for work. As the sun began to get lower and the shades of evening started to fall, we made one last stop. The building was huge. I wasn’t even sure what it was, but I knocked on the door and asked if they were hiring. The nurse behind the desk, hired me on the spot and told me that I was to start the next day at 7 am Sharp! Wow, was I surprised. That was the best day. I had no idea what my job description was or what I was going to be doing but, I thought, it’s o.k. because I had a job and now I could also help my family with their bills. When I arrived at the facility in the morning, the nurse had me work with one of the other CNA’s. That is what they said I was now, a nursing assistant. I thought, alright, whatever, its a paycheck, I’ll do my best. The CNA and myself went from room to room changing beds, giving bed baths, helping feed people and doing laundry. The briefs that the patient’s wore were cloth, and we had to wash the feces off with a sprayer before laundering them. Yes, we did that too. After the first day of work I went home and fell asleep at 5 pm and didn’t get up until 5 am the next morning. I had never felt so tired.
After about 5 days or so, I was told that I would have my own assignment and my own patients. I was scared and excited, but I also had my first paycheck and at that time $2.45 cents per hour was acceptable. Heck, I thought it was great! I remember the gentlemen whom I cared for in one of the rooms. Believe it or not they were three to a room. Each of the men were coherent and lucid, very eloquent if I may say. While I changed their bedding, each of them would tell me stories of their past. I found it nothing less than fascinating. They told me about their inner most regrets, achievements and loves. They talked to me about life and wars and experiences that had shaped who they were. I would go home each and every night after work feeling as though I had really done something good, something worthy. But in all reality, I didn’t do anything noteworthy, other than my job. It was all of them, all the patients whom I had cared for that would give their kindness and compassion to me, and all their love and wisdom. One of the gentlemen in the room would tell me about his wife and how he cared for her for over 30 years while she was sick. He told me about the times that they would go to the Grande Ballroom in Detroit and dance the night away. The other gentleman would talk to me about philosophy and show me the poems he had written. It was amazing. One of the other gentleman in the room who was paralyzed would make intricate houses out of Popsicle sticks and sell them at craft day.
Each and everyday seemed to be an amazing experience. But then there were those sad times, especially during holidays, when you wouldn’t see any family visiting the residents. It broke my heart. Christmas music would be playing through the PA system or on the radios at the desk and I would see some of the residents sitting in their wheelchairs wearing clothes that were donated and blankets that were threadbare and I would go and find a place where no one could see and weep till my heart broke. I couldn’t imagine that no one would visit their loved ones on Christmas. This sight gave me a renewed vigor to help the less fortunate and try to bring some joy and love into their lives. After about a year, I applied for another nurses aide job at a local hospital. I was surprised when I got the news that I was hired. Part of me was sad however, because it meant that I would not be seeing my favorite residents. I made sure to tell my residents that I was going to be leaving. It was around Christmas time and I bought them some presents. One of the presents was a cross mosaic with colored stones that I gave to one of the gentlemen. I shall call him Mike. Everyday, Mike would be in the craft room working on the mosaic cross. I thought to myself, wow, he really likes this present. He worked on it relentlessly. I would see him with band aids on all his fingers from pressing in those little stones into the mosaic.
On my last day there, I will never forget what happened. I was saying good by to everyone, and Mike approached me with the finished mosaic cross in his hands. He held it reverently and with hands out stretched, he placed it in my hands. I was speechless. He had worked so hard on it for so many weeks, only to give it to me when he completed it. I told him that I couldn’t take it, and that it was his. But he insisted on giving it to me. We both cried. I hugged him and thanked him, knowing that when I walked out that evening I may not see him again.
As I walked out that day, it was with a heavy heart. I clutched the cross to my chest. The smell of the craft room and Elmer’s glue still clung to the stones. As I got in my car and stared out over the steering wheel at all the windows of the residents room, I realized that I knew each and every person whose lived there, not like the teen who showed up on their doorstep over a year ago. I knew about their life, their dreams and their hopes. That is when I realized, that the person whom I had now become was better, because of them.