Before I start my essay this morning, I wanted to share our visitor, and ask for prayers this morning for my husband’s Aunt Wanda. She is currently in the hospital, unresponsive as far as we know, and they were going to start doing some tests on her. In the past couple of years, her health has been declining due to early onset of Alzheimer’s disease, which runs heavily on my husband’s side of the family. We are watching his mom’s dog Paco while she stays by her sister’s side-maybe just last night, maybe longer.
I’d also like to ask for prayers for my friend Elise and her family, she lost her mom this week. I went to pay my respects last night and was happy to see our pastor and his wife there among her other friends and family. That always helps in times of pain and stress, to have your church family with you. I know having Mike with me during David’s surgery brought me peace and calm.
From the time I was young, I knew I wanted to help people…I didn’t know if I would be a nurse or something else, I just knew I wanted a job in the medical field. At one point, my Mom told me I’d do well at a spa or doctor’s office giving massages, since I used to rub her back and feet-she said I had magic fingers. My brother always tried to trick me into rubbing his back too, with promises of returning the favor…which he did…for about five seconds.
Later on in high school, I discovered the program they offered called vocational health occupations education-VHOE-and decided to take it. At the time I thought I wanted to become a physical therapist, but when my friend classmate Linda got placed at that job, I went with nurse aid at a nursing home. I remember being scared, yet excited to start my first job, I was about 16 at that time. Once I learned what my duties would be and got to know my co-workers, it became second nature, as I had an affinity for helping older people. It was hard but gratifying work, the only thing that bothered me were the smells. I tried very hard to do a good job, I cared for my patients and their families took notice, often times trying to tip me or bring me gifts. I even witnessed one particular patient become rehabilitated, she went from wheelchair bound to walking out of that place and rejoining society!
Unfortunately, that place was later shut down due to some of their health code violations, and when the next year started, I found myself at a new nursing home that was run by a local hospital. Boy, what a difference that place was! It was sparkling clean, smelled so much better and was in a beautiful facility. Instead of taking care of everyone, we had our own “wing” of patients that we were charged with, which meant a much better quality of care. Of course, in that line of work, the hard part was getting to know your patients and grow to care deeply for them, just to have them eventually pass away. I tried to make their stay as comfortable as possible and took a great deal of pride in my work. I remember one particular patient’s family member being so happy with the level of care I provided his family, he used to tip me in blocks of cream cheese! As soon as he discovered my love for the stuff, he would slip me a little package of it every time he came to visit his wife. I had to ask him to stop after awhile, before I gained ten pounds, I could literally eat the stuff right out of the package!
The first time I had a patient pass away, the nurses kind of played a joke on me, sending a green nurses aid in to prepare a patient afterword was mean, as I had no idea what to do or expect. When I was washing him up, I rolled him over and the last gas escaped his body…I ran out of that room like my tail was on fire, it scared me to death! That was not nice, I guess it was their way of “breaking the ice” and teaching me what to expect when dealing with a patient dying. The nurses laughed at me and then took me back in and explained how that was a normal thing and not to be scared of it. I continued helping that day but don’t remember doing too much of that from then on. I never was good at dealing with death, I didn’t go to my first funeral until my own granddad passed away. Although it is inevitable, that doesn’t make it any easier. Luckily, I didn’t dwell on that experience, I just went on trying to make life comfortable for those still living it, I didn’t want their last home on this earth to be a miserable place to be. I did what I could to bring joy and a sense of belonging to their space, kept it clean and took extra special care of them, doting on them with powders and lotions so they felt clean and comfortable. I tried to think of them as my family members and how I would want someone to treat them during their stay, if they ever had to go to a place like that.
These days, I can see from nursing homes I’ve visited or had family members in, that things are way different than when I worked in them. The management thinks that a couple of people can give quality care to a whole floor of patients, and that is just not the truth. Patient care has gone out the window in leu of making that almighty dollar and that is a sad state of affairs. I wish the medical field was handled the way it used to be, when people actually cared about the welfare of other people. Anyway, my first jobs in nursing homes set the stage for what was to become a twenty two year long career in the medical field, not in nursing homes as much, but still helping people as a medical assistant/phlebotomist. Just because I spent my days wielding a needle, didn’t mean I couldn’t show care and compassion and try to do the best, most painless job at it possible. Which I did, and gained quite a good reputation as an excellent phlebotomist. Some days I really miss my job, however, with the state of the medical field such as it is, I’m happy to be where I am. I still get to provide care to someone, only it is in the comfort of her own home, not some corporate run facility. Still, I’m grateful for the experience and training I received at those first two jobs in the nursing home, they taught me how everything I needed to know about truly caring for people, taking pride in your work, what is and isn’t quality care and how good it makes you feel to know you have helped another human being keep their dignity, pride, and sense of well being in tact.