CNActivist

Looking back

For various reasons, I’ve been thinking about my old nursing home lately. No, I’m not going back there.
I suppose it’s natural, working 50 hours a week for an extended time during the summer drags my thoughts back to two summers ago.

I think about it a lot. My memory is far from perfect and not even two years down the road, I can’t remember a lot of details about the building where I spent more time awake than I did in my own house. I remember the color of the hoyer slings, but the hoyer itself? Zilch. Can’t remember anything about it other than the general hoyer-lift shape of it. Layout of the care-guides? Um…they were black ink on white paper? They had grids?
Some coworkers and residents’ faces I remember clear as day; some I can’t even recall their names. Is that terrible? Is that just normal? Either way, it’s kind of sad.
If I focus, I can remember slightly more, details about the dining room layout, the dining utensils, the music that was played.

So why don’t I go back, for a visit? At first I couldn’t because I needed to look forward, not back. When I thought of “my residents”, I thought the old gang, not the current one.
And then one day, a shift happened. Work, job, nursing home, residents, boss, coworker, these all began to describe people and places in the present, not the past. I don’t know when exactly it happened, but from that moment on, there were no slips of tongue, no “Wait a minute” corrections either in my mind or in conversations.
It just happened, organically and smoothly. No drama. The old place slipped into memory; it no longer dominated the largest part of my mind. Then I finally got some forward momentum on my life and just plain didn’t have time or energy for going back. Also, I think I needed a clean break, a fresh start.

And I’ve done well, professionally and personally, since then. But I think I need a little reflection on the past right now. My biggest regrets stem from being passive and not proactive…that’s something I need to remember right now. Sometimes, making a choice, even if it’s a mistake, is better than remaining static. Two years ago, I told myself: “Stay or go. Just choose and stick with your decision.”
That decision to make a decision is something I’m proud of. And something I need to remember.

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Stream of consciousness

Or, perhaps more accurately, a collection of random thoughts.

So, here it is: my day off and I’m lounging around the house. Then it occurs to me that I haven’t posted here in a few days! I’m not sure I’m up to a coherent, concise post…so I’m going to capitalize on the chaos! I don’t usually do stream of consciousness, but what the hey!

I changed my “Every other day story update due to Mom” from a new story to the old one. In a good streak, I can keep up with multiple writing irons in the fire…but this isn’t a good streak. So, condensing.
It’s actually showing progress on the main story, so I’m not hollering and neither is Mom. I did miss yesterday, but this past weekend has been, shall we say, crazy. It happens every time I work a double (16 hours) one day and then have to go back in for a regular 8 shift the next day; I lose the second day to a fog of unfocused lethargy. If I’m not asleep, I’m in a daze.

People ask me all the time: “How do you even work 16 hours in a day?”
Well, it isn’t easy. The very first double I worked was 2nd shift to 3rd shift and not only was it my very first time staying awake all night, it was also my very first 3rd shift. And I was the only aide. 30+ residents, only a busy nurse to help me. Yikes!
That was my introduction to energy drinks.
The next time I had to work a double with that nurse, she tried coffee instead. The hope was that coffee would keep me awake and upright but not shaky and loopy. I’m honestly not sure why the coffee didn’t affect me like the 5-Hour Energy; it was about equal parts sugar and coffee.

But anyways, to get through a double, you just grit your teeth and do it. I tend to power through the last 8 hours at break-neck pace; I’m always afraid if I stop moving I won’t be able to start up again. It’s really having to work the next day that I dread. Having only about 5 hours of sleep, my body still aches, and my mind is still processing the day before. It’s…not fun. Doable, endurable, often necessary, but not fun.
Days like today, the first day off from a string of days with a double thrown somewhere in the mix, tend to be jumbled and unfocused. I’m sure it reflects in my writing. Sometimes the best thing to do is to get out of the house, go somewhere and do something to break the cycle of work-sleep-work-sleep.

So, when I get off here, I think I’m going to do a few chores around the house and then go out for a bit.
Even if I only have a meager amount of money to spend. I have to get cat food anyways, if I wish to avoid being eaten alive by my not-so-sweet-when-she’s-hungry kitty.

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Categories: CNActivist, ordinary life, Writing | 1 Comment

A few thoughts

Work on my main story (the Laryn and Alyn story) has been creeping by at a frustratingly slow pace. Part of that is probably my fault, but a large part isn’t. See, I’ve been working 50 hour weeks for something like 5 weeks. Maybe 6, I’m not sure.
Amazingly, I’m exhausted but not burnt out like the summer of ’12 when a similar thing happened. Of course, I’m not recovering from a tornado now, I’ve been working first and second shifts and sleeping at night instead of working second and third shifts and trying to sleep between 7 am and noon. Also unlike the summer of ’12 is the fact that I’ve chosen to work most of these extra shifts, instead of having to work them because I was mandated. It’s a fine line distinction, but it’s a distinction nonetheless.
Nevertheless, it’s still sapped away my writing energy and I’ve felt off-kilter because of it. It’s good to be back at the keyboard again.

Laryn’s story is getting closer to being completed: I plan to have the first draft completely done by my 25th birthday…which gives me just slightly less than a year to get my butt in gear and GET IT DONE. I’m still wrestling with what to do with it once it’s done; whether to try my luck at traditional publishing or whether to self-publish. There’s many great arguments for both paths. Thing is, I’m not really expecting to have a New York Times best seller on my hands…and I’m not being modest, either. It’s quite hard to place genre-wise: it’s Sci-Fi for sure, but it’s not quite Star Trek level sci-Fi and it’s not as space opera either. It’s not quite literary fiction, not quite YA (Laryn is in her mid-20s).
So I’m conflicted and probably will be until I send it off, one way or another. I’d lean more towards self-publishing, except for this nagging voice that’s whispering: “most self-published books aren’t as well known as traditionally published books.” I can’t decide if this voice is pride, fear, caution or some kind of conglomeration of all of the above.
With self publishing, I’d have to do my own marketing…not something I do naturally or very well. And I want this story out there.
With traditional publishing, I’m running the risk that a company would buy the rights and then sit on it…something I rather dread. I want this story out there.
Thankfully, I’ve got a bit of time before I have to make a decision. A rapidly dwindling bit of time…

Meanwhile, I’m also doing a writing exercise for the next two weeks: roughly 500 words due every other day on a novella idea. Due to my mother, no less. I’m finding that having to send my work to someone else…someone who is waiting and expecting it, is quite shall we say motivating.
Just something to get me back into the flow, something that’s not my main story and so has Great Importance on the quality of the words. It’s helping get me back in the habit.

Categories: CNActivist, Writing | 1 Comment

A step in the right direction

Today, I’ve been wandering around internet land, looking into nursing stuff. This was one of my finds: a nurse driven “safe staffing” bill that’s been introduced in the Senate. While it seems primarily focused on RNs and hospitals, I’m really praying it passes…because it might open doors to laws limiting CNAs patient care load down to reasonable limits.

This site argues that a ratio of 5-6:1 or under is best for optimum patient care. Personally, I think we might have better luck trying to get an 8:1 or even a 10:1 ratio law passed. I’d like to only have 5 residents…but when I consider that there are aides out there taking care of as many as 25 residents…yeah. Having 8 or 10 as a standard sounds good to me!

I am so lucky. I have only ever worked in nonprofit nursing homes that try to maintain a 8-12:1 ratio. This didn’t happen by accident; when I was looking for a job, I called local nursing homes and I asked them two questions: what is your base pay and what is your typical resident to aide ratio (on the shift I was looking to work). If I didn’t like what I heard, I didn’t apply at that nursing home. I also repeated this question several times, to make sure I was getting an accurate answer. I asked if the nursing home counted nurses, hydration aides, and activity aides as aides in that ratio; I made it pretty clear that I was asking about floor CNAs only.
I was picky. I was willing to forfeit higher pay for having fewer residents. Not everyone can or will be this picky.

After four years in health care, I’ve come to the conclusion that we need a national standard. In our current “money first” corporate world, we apparently need to make something that should be common sense into a law. So here’s to that bill passing and paving the way for more like it!

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One hand or the other….

Note: this was written on yesterday on a break between shifts, but I didn’t post it because I didn’t get a chance to review it and tighten it up. So it’s being posted today, on my off day. Just read yesterday as the post date.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Well, it’s one of those days.
Being a little short on cash, I’ve been picking up extra hours. Now, this is one of the nicest things about working in a nursing home: there are almost always extra hours to pick up!
While I can do them, I’m not fond of working 16 hours; they’re pretty exhausting and the day after, I’m pretty much a zombie. Unless I’m working and then I rather resemble Frankenstein. But, I need the money…so lately I’ve been picking up the back half of second shift as often as I can, usually once a week or so. While I’m still getting off around 11 pm, I at least get 4 hours off between shifts. On the one hand, four hours isn’t much…on the other, it’s four hours. Enough time to catch a movie, or visit Bass Pro, or wander around the mall. Or write a blog post…hello!

It’s amazing how much things can change, depending solely on your attitude…the old “glass half empty or half full” question. I know people think of me as the eternal optimist, but don’t let the outside fool you. Inside, there’s also the girl who’s waiting for the other shoe to drop, waiting for the next thing to go wrong, the next person to judge her. Who can get caught up circling the fan as the sh…well, you get the picture. Having to work for everything I have is frustrating at times…sometimes extremely so. I’m not rich, I don’t come from a wealthy family. Sometimes to make ends meet, I have to siphon more of my time into my job; time I would have otherwise used to write or just be. I’m hardly alone in this, I know. Hell, I’m one of the lucky ones: I am able to make ends meet. I even get to put a little back. Not everyone can. Not everyone has a steady job with a steady income.
There are times I wish I could just write and ditch the full time jig. Work part-time or PRN. But that’s not life; not my life, anyway. Being a CNA isn’t just hard on your body; it is physically, mentally and emotionally exhausting. And because I write from a place of emotion, some days I get home, pull out my iPad and keyboard…only to discover the well is empty. That place of emotion has been drained by the events at the nursing home and I just can’t write. I need to feel, think, reflect, recharge. I need to wait; the words will come when they are ready. If I try to hunt them, they’ll just run and hide. I have to wait for them to come to me…because I’ve been told it’s painfully obvious when I’ve forced the words.
Sometimes it’s frustrating. Sometimes I think: “Maybe if I had a less stressful and less emotionally-involved job, maybe I could have more energy for writing.”

But today the glass is half full. I have a good, steady job and I’m lucky. I’m extra lucky because I can pick up when I need to…there are people who couldn’t, or who have to work two jobs just to make ends meet. But I get to work one job, at a place I like, and get the extra hours if I need them. I can put in two days’ worth of hours for a single day’s worth of gas. More time might equal more words, but my time spent with the elderly and infirm is time well spent. It gets me out of my own head, reminds me that a writer is only a conduit. The words may come from within, but the stories come from beyond us. My job might be stressful and emotionally draining, but I’m constantly surrounded by stories; I’m smack up against the bits of life that American society in general has stuffed in the corner. Well, I work in that corner–and my experience in it has definitely improved my writing style. “Write what you know”, they say and being a CNA, I know more than I did before.
My parents didn’t raise a hothouse flower. Working for a living and being an aspiring author is tough to balance, but it’s an adventure in balance. More time might equal more words…but for better or worse, I’m not a writer or a CNA. I’m both. And, not either/or.
And both are important.

Categories: CNActivist, ordinary life, Writing | Tags: , , , | 6 Comments

INFP, part 3: crusades

One of the most distinguishing facets of us INFPs is our “crusades” or “causes”. Or, as some people refer to them, our “pet projects”.
I dislike this term excessively. I think it cheapens the importance our causes play in our lives. My causes are not cute little quirks that others humor; they are not futile gestures I indulge in, sucking up energy that should be reserved for more practical things…like making money.
No, no, no. Without my crusades, I am not a whole person. Without a cause to champion, I am only directionless empathy, and I cannot dream like I was meant to.
I am not a “gentle warrior” when it comes to my crusades; while gentleness might be my signature in every other part of my life, it has no place in this part. These crusades touch the foundations of our values…mess with them and you’ll found out just how much backbone an INFP’s got. We tend to hide it under a veil of politeness and sensitivity, but make no mistake. It’s there. And disrespecting our core values and crusades with bring down upon you all the wrath, assertiveness and aggression you thought we didn’t have.
Just because we reserve our energy does not mean we’ve got a limited supply. We will not back down from defending our crusades…you might as well ask me to stop breathing, because that’ll happen first.

My crusades are widespread, but they all fall under the umbrella of the “those that have been told they’re not good enough.” I have a big issue with ANYBODY being degraded and told that they are “less than human”. While the Holocaust may be the first thing that springs to mind, evil isn’t always obvious or marked with a swastika.
Bullying, ignorance, prejudice, neglect, “stick ’em in an institution” mentalities…they all attempt to chip away at the humanity of those who are different, those that often lack a voice to speak for themselves.

Autism, Down’s syndrome, dementia, mental disabilities, developmental disorders. More than I can list. You’re people too. Saying so doesn’t make it so, because you had it all along. But if you ever need a little help getting the respect you deserve, I’m here to shout from the rooftops.

I raise my voice for all those who have been told that theirs is not worthy of attention because they are not “normal’. To the schoolyard bully, the people who talk over my brother, internet commenters who think differences are diseases, those who take advantage of the elderly, I say this:
“Life isn’t normal. There’s no such thing. A ‘perfect’ society of ‘normal’ people would be perfectly boring. I won’t live in that world.
The old man who can’t string five coherent words together, he is worth something to this world. The girl who can’t verbalize her thoughts, she is not an overgrown baby…she is a person with complex thoughts and emotions. Those who thought-processes work differently than you, who perceive the world in relentless high-definition, they don’t need an attitude adjustment. Well, they do. Yours.
None of these people are deadweight. None of these people are worthless or even worth less than a normally functioning person. Like the rest of the 7 billion people on this planet, they are human, with all that that entails. They are the Image of God…and not a distorted image either. Remember this: they might not have your attention, but they’ve got God’s ear. And, for what it’s worth, they’ve got my voice.”

This is why I am a certified nursing aide. This is why I am a writer.

This is my crusade. You’ve been warned. Either get out of the way or get onboard.

Categories: CNActivist, INFP, ordinary life, Writing | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

8 days

I love my job. I really do…but sometimes a girl needs a break. So starting tomorrow, I’m taking 8 days off for a “stay-cation”. That’s a vacation where you’re too poor to go anywhere so you stay home.

Actually, it isn’t off to the best start, what with old girl breaking down and taking quite the toll on my bank account. But I’m determined to enjoy myself and gets lots of writing done. And by “lots” I mean a fleet of semis kind of lots.
Here’s to hoping, right?

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How do you say goodbye?

The hardest part about my job is losing a resident. It hurts…but you have to keep moving. And while you never really “get used to it”, you do learn how to handle the death of someone you’ve cared for.
The last time I lost someone, I grabbed a paper napkin and jotted this down. I’m not even sure it counts as a poem as it doesn’t even rhythm; I suppose I could have tightened it up a bit…but I don’t want to. Raw is how I felt when I wrote this. Raw is how I feel when I remember.

A last kiss on your forehead,
Still warm to the touch
But soon you’ll be cold
How do you say goodbye?
A last whispered “I love you”
Because it’s not just money
That’s luring me here
How do you say goodbye?

You were dying when I met you
They called it “going downhill”
Every day just a little worse
And now you’re dying no more
But how do I say goodbye?

Sponge down your body
You shouldn’t be so still
Wash your face, fold your hands
New sheets for the bed
I can’t say I’m sorry
You’re in pain no more
How do you say goodbye?

A last touch, then I’m done
Move on to the living
I can’t help you anymore
Seven other people
Still need me today
You’re gone and I can’t cry

Tomorrow’s here
And you’re still gone
A new face in your bed
New stories to learn
I have to keep working
And so I move on

It’s a year down the road,
And your face is fading
Sit down and cry
Because I can’t remember
How to fix your coffee
How do you remember
Everyone you’ve ever lost?
How do you say goodbye?

Categories: CNActivist, Writing | Tags: , , , | 6 Comments

Ashes and Bruises

So yesterday was Ash Wednesday. In Christian circles, this means the start of Lent, a period of meditation and contemplation.
In nursing homes, it’s also known as the day of spontaneous bruises.
Even the religious or just well-informed nurses and CNAs seem to have at least one time when they spout some variation on the following: “Oh my gosh, what happened to so-and-so’s face…oh, never mind. Ash Wednesday. I knew that.”
We all have good fun laughing at each other. Maybe humor isn’t quite in the traditional style of Lent, but a good laugh is always welcome in a field as stressful as healthcare.
I take it as a good thing that unusual skin discolorations are being noticed…I’d hate for an Ash Wednesday to pass without a single false bruise alarm.
Ah, good times in a nursing home.

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I appreciate your appreciation

  • Not really List related, but something I have been mulling over in my head all week.
    As a C.N.A., I get to see the best and the worst in people: not just residents, but their families too. Some families always take care to talk to me as a person, to ask how I’m doing, if I’m having a good day…and then there are families who only seem to see the uniform. They only ever seem to talk to me if there is something to complain about.
    Thing is, I do understand the latter’s perspective. They’ve heard, or experienced, horror stories involving nursing homes; they know that I have a lot of people to take care of and don’t want their loved one to suffer the short end of my limited time. They want to feel like they are doing everything they can for their loved one (whether they are or not); they look at me and see all the money they are spending. I get it. I don’t mind families asking questions and keeping me on my toes–I welcome it. It means they are paying attention; it means they care. It’s not the questions or even the nitpicking that bother me: it is when they never bother to learn my name or say “thank you” even once. It’s written all over their faces for me to see: they ¬†assume I’m just there for the money, that I don’t care at all about my residents. They think that it must be just a job to me.
    But I am not my paycheck. I am not “most aides”. I am not the work I do, or a piece of machinery like a hoyer.
    I am a person, and I never forget a “thank you”.
    Yes, I do the dirty work, I sometimes make mistakes, I may not make the bed exactly to your specifications…but I do take damn good care of my residents.
    “Thank you” is far from an empty phrase. To me, it is an acknowledgement of the work I do, the job that I take so much pride in. It lets me know that you see and you respect what I do. A family member, or a resident that just cannot be pleased, that will always find something to complain about, what they are conveying (intentionally or not) is a simple lack of respect for me.
    It’s hard to try your best when you know it will never be appreciated…but hey, that is why I’m a professional.
    After becoming a CNA, I try very hard to say “thank you” to all the people whose jobs we take for granted: people behind the cash registers, sweeping floors, bagging the groceries, and yes, the people wiping butts.

     

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