*names are changed to protect privacy rights*
In the past 5 or 6 days I have been working.. alot. 16hrs a day... Yah I know its not good for me which is why I turned down yet another double shift tonight. Although it was so tempting - there are so many interesting things that happen at this place and its exhausting and draining but I see things, I learn things, I interact, I heal, I love, I am loved..... Sigh, I wish I didn't have this human body.
Anyway, I have been essentially sleeping, working, and sleeping - then working some more. :) But I needed to slow down, burn out was pending. I am a CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant) at a progressive non-profit "faith based" nursing home in the Harrisburg Area. My job is simple - I try to improve or at least maintain the quality of life of the aging community. This could include companionship, feeding, hugging, changing their incontinent briefs, helping them walk, bathing them, taking them to the bathroom, taking their vital signs, listening to them, or simply holding their hand. Its my job, that while these individuals are in my care that I do all I can to increase their quality of life. Now from the perspective of our current health care system I am "the eyes and ears for the doctors and Registered nurses" So its a mixture of both of these descriptions. My job is interesting, fun, sad, frustrating, draining, and a labor of love.
So a little peak into my experiences - I was working 11pm to 7am, this last shift would bump me to 32hrs in a 48 hour period. So I am overtired... A lady rings her call bell at about midnight. I walk into the room and stumble for the light switch. I have never met this woman since this is not my regular assignment. I am simply filling in for someone that called off. I kneel down beside her bed and I knew by the paperwork her name was Lily and that she could walk to the bathroom if I supported her.
I say, "Hi Lily, I am Hollis and I am here to take care of you tonight. Did you ring the bell?"
She tells me she needs to use the bathroom and we begin to move to get her out of bed and she says, "You're a good helper." and I reply with the standard "thank you" response. It's nice to hear these things from the residents in the nursing home.
She stands shorter than me and I cannot see her face. She is hunched way over her walker and wears her hair very long. Its in a ponytail that is messy in the back and is wearing a hospital gown. Her hair is dark with streaks of gray and I notice a smell of loose feces, she is dirty. She is hunched over the walker and sort of skitters across the room. Her walk reminds me of a creature I used to know - troll like.
I deal with her dirty bum very quickly and sit her on the toilet where she can finish what started. I knelt down to put on the clean incontinent brief and as I strap on the last piece of tape she says again, "You are a good helper."
I stay squatted beside her and I look up into her eyes. This first glimpse at her face is mesmerizing. She has dark long hairy eyebrows, some various spotty facial hair, and a smile that could charm anyone. I smiled back and I said, "Thank you Lily."
She complimented the scrub I wore with the flowers upon it, often I forget that I am wearing such flowery clothing... but I wear it for them, not me. It's not my style but I am happy it has reminded her of something. I thank her and say, "Do you like flowers, Lily" and she giggled and said, "Of Course...I love to grow them."
We smiled at each other and began to discuss gardening and how we like to grow things. She shared with me her favorite flower, the marigold. Unusual flower as it is the baddest smelling flower known, in fact many gardeners use it to keep away insects, animals and other predators of vegetable gardeners. I shared my love for roses and how I like to let them go wild. I shared that it was spring right now and that my roses were budding. She smiled and said, "Kiss a bud before it opens and you will have twice as many buds on that bush." I love these little things they carry on from their past... I smile, stand up and thank her.
We finish the task at hand and head back to the bed and as she is walking and I lay my hand on her back she says.... in a tone like a teacher would ask a theoretical question.
"What is the meaning of life?"
She sits on the edge of the bed. I squat down beside her and say... "I don't know, do you?"
She answers like a teacher would, "It begins with the letter P."
I make a few guesses and she agrees to none of them, she simply turns around on the bed and curls up to sleep. I cover her with her blankets and say, "Well I will think about that."
3 hours later, 10 other brief changes later and about 3am. She rings again.
I enter the room, establish she needs to use the bathroom and she sits on the edge of the bed and says, "You're a good helper."
I thank her and we head to the bathroom. Upon arriving in the bathroom and allowing me to clean her in the same fashion and for the same reasons.... I squat down to put that brief on her again. She asks, "Do you have a family?" and I answer, "I have a 19 year old son."
She smiles and stares into my eyes, "Ohhh I know he is a great child. You are a good mother"
I thank her and ask her about her family. She tells me that her little brother was killed while tending a horse in the field as a child. He was 10 yrs old. It was sad, but it was his time she explains.
I don't mention our conversation before and we talk about my son for a little. We finish our task and we skitter back to the bed and she says again in the same tone, "What is the meaning of life?"
I laugh a little and think "Am I losing my mind or having a hallucination?"
I answer back, "I don't know, but you seem to know, can you tell me?"
She lays down in her bed, faces away from me, I cover her and she says, "It begins with the letter P."
I giggle a little and say through a smile, "Well thank you for the hint Lily, I will try to come up with a list."
3 hours later and other weird experiences with the aging community have passed and its almost the end of my shift. She rings her bell.
We begin in the same ways as before but this time the topic is me. She asks, "Do you like your job?" and I answer that "I love my job - its exactly where I am NOW."
She smiles. I ask her what she did. She was a 1st grade teacher, she always loved it. We talked about not going further in our careers for one simple reason, we love it where we are NOW. Why change it... we love it. Money is not THAT important. If you have enough, that's all you need. Two people sharing what it feels like to love your job.
Again we finish our tasks and as she is walking back she asks yet again.
"What is the meaning of life?"
I had no time to make a list I have 15 other people on my list I had to toilet or at least check plus I have that dreaded paperwork thing they like us to do.
I said, "I don't know, but I wish you would tell me."
She laid down, turned against the wall, snuggled up and as I covered her she said, "It begins with the letter P."
So I made a couple of basic guesses like Pain and Pleasure - I don't know when I will have the pleasure to work with her again. But I could go and see her whenever I want, but I don't know if she will talk about this. BUT if I do, I want a list of guesses. When I have a fairly long list I will put it on my phone and hopefully have it when I see her next. So make your submission...
Yes I am aware she may never answer me...