Empathy on the job.

“You’re not like the other girls,” D exclaimed, “you are nice.” I was helping her get settled after a walk around the long-term care facility where she resided and where I worked – the longest walk she’d made in weeks.

That was the moment I realized that I enjoyed taking care of the elderly…but when I also realized I couldn’t stay employed as a nursing assistant. Being a nursing assistant in a long-term care facility is difficult work, no doubt about it. My mother did it for over eleven years, earning the praise of many residents. But it is not for everyone.

After seeing both the best and the worst of physicians and nurses and lab technicians after my type 2 diabetes diagnosis earlier that year, I knew I either wanted to be a healthcare provider who made dignity and respect a priority or I did not want to be one at all. Perhaps as a patient with chronic illnesses, I had a little too much empathy for the residents floating around in my head.

I could handle the dirty jobs of cleaning urine, vomit, and feces. I could handle watching someone die slowly. I could handle taking vital signs. All things I had been nervous about when I took the job.

What I couldn’t handle was the loss of dignity and respect I saw throughout the facility. It was all about keeping to the work schedule and not about keeping to the residents’ schedules. While I realize that some tasks needed to be done in a timely manner, I don’t think forcing someone to get up, get out of bed, get to the bathroom, and get dressed in under ten minutes is the best approach. I don’t think shovel feeding a resident is the best approach for someone who may have digestive problems common to the elderly or disabled. All things I hadn’t given a second thought when I took the job.

Maybe in a home healthcare or smaller group home setting, things would have been different with a smaller resident-to-nursing assistant ratio and a relaxed work schedule matching the resident’s schedule. However, I know not everyone is lucky enough to have that option. So for those people, there’s a friendly visitor volunteer candidate ready to serve and her name is Rachel B.

Posted on January 9, 2007, in Diabetes, Doctors and dentists, Health. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Ahhhhh! I made a mistake and linked to Diabetes Mine twice in Grand Rounds instead of linking to your post (which was my original intention).

    Great post and it’s a pleasure to feature it in The Rounds!

  2. I worked as a nurse’s aide in 1976. The conditions you describe were exactly why I left. I later became a nurse, but I never forgot the lessons I learned about dignity and putting the patient first.

    We’re a Type 2 family – hubby diagnosed in May of this year. If his gallbladder hadn’t gone haywire we STILL wouldn’t know!

  3. Kerri> I figured as much. Once I got a few moments to breathe at work, I was going to ask you, but you got there first. But thank you!

    Kim> I’m glad I’m not the only one turned off by such an experience. Let me know if you have any questions about how life really is with type 2.


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