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Certified Nursing Assistants Take on Role of Extended Family

Rita Dichele - February 13, 2017 10:15 AM

As caregivers it can sometimes be difficult to imagine the helplessness known so well to those we love and take care of.  Recently, I experienced such vulnerability often felt by our loved ones who in many instances are unable to communicate this to us. For 20 days I resided in a skilled nursing facility recovering from a total knee replacement. It was an unusual experience because I found myself the recipient of someone else’s care. 

As a caregiver to my mother for ten years I was able for the first time understand what it is like to relinquish control over the simplest tasks to do.  I was literally at the mercy of the certified nursing assistants (CNAs), often ringing a call button so that I could get out of bed, go to the bathroom, bathe, and eat my meals.  These are the activities of daily living (ADLs) that we take for granted to perform until we are no longer able to do so. 

Unfortunately, those of us ringing call bells were far from few.  In fact, call bells trigger lights to go on outside the room giving the appearance of being in a Las Vegas casino after someone had hit the jackpot. 

There were times I felt I was held hostage by my perceived nurse’s lack of attention even though she frantically pushed her med cart down the hallway to hand out much needed pain meds to  me as well as to others.  It always seemed like she couldn’t get there fast enough and it didn’t help that I was at the end of a long hallway – the last rung on the ladder!

As such, my experience brought to surface many disheartening realities of what it is like to depend on others.  For instance, when you are lying in a bed and told and that you must rely on assistance, it is an awful feeling when you have to go to the bathroom.  Although incontinence was not a problem for me, I worried it might become one as I waited 20-30 minutes to relieve myself.  When the nurse wanted to give me a laxative, which can be a routine matter in a nursing facility, I thought twice about this; asking her the wait time to get help to the bathroom.  I graciously declined when she said she could not offer any guarantees that the CNAs would respond in a timely manner.

These are good people whose diligence can often be misinterpreted because they did not answer a call bell quick enough; but maybe they were with someone else who needed their attention more. However, there were times even my pleasantry was overshadowed by crankiness especially if I did not get the right ice cream I wanted- ringing fiercely for attention.  All and all, the problem got resolved by a CNA who took it all in stride.  Nevertheless, to me it was a huge feeling of powerlessness not to have the right ice cream flavor!

In any event, there are so many who touched me at this nursing home situated in the Berkshires in Western Massachusetts.  I felt like they were my extended family, loving me unconditionally even when I was cranky. In fact, it was not uncommon for us to hug and give much needed compliments during those times we felt at our worse. 

Even though I hated depending on others, it truly gave me an appreciation for our loved ones who might feel stranded in a nursing home.  With that being said, I applaud not only the CNAs, but the nurses, unit managers, nursing directors, and administrators for a job well-done!  In fact, I believe that anyone who works in a nursing facility or any long- term care institution should be given a standing ovation.

Hopefully, my experience will enlighten others’ understanding of residing in a nursing facility.
Meanwhile….my next article will be a continuation of this one focusing more on the direct care shortage issues and how this can affect all of us.

Rita Dichele holds three Master degrees in Counseling Psychology, Health Care Administration, and Human Services.  Ms. Dichele is certified in death & dying and bereavement from the Association for Death Education and Counseling (ADEC).  She is on faculty with A.T. Still University and instructs classes in grief work and long-term care.

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