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8:59 a.m. - 2013-05-21
For most of my life, I've been on a mission to collect experiences.

It started, maybe, when I accepted a full scholarship to a southern boarding school I'd never seen at age 15. I moved to Paris with a backpack and $1,000 when I was 19. I've spent most of my adult life in journalism and I love it it because it allows me to sample pieces of other people's lives every day.

I lived for a while in the inner city, where M and I were the only white people we saw, and when Mar was a baby and I was a stay-at-home mom, in an apartment complex where my neighbors and friends were all Bangladeshi immigrants. Matt never understood any of this, and I think he thought I was trying to prove something, by wanting to live in places where I look "out of place."

Well fuck him and his attitude; the world is a fascinating place and I intend to explore it as much and collect as many experiences as I can before I die.

Working the overnight shift at a nursing home every other weekend, which is what I am doing right now, is another great adventure and I love it. I think I've always had this great fear of old people, imperfect messy bodies, and all nursing home work entails. That's why I decided to get my CNA in the first place, since I knew I liked the idea of being a nurse but I wasn't sure I'd actually like the reality -- and it would be a good thing to figure out before I turned my family upside down to change careers and spent four years in nursing school.

Anyway, I loved the work from the time I started doing clinicals for the CNA. I discovered that the bodies and smells don't bother me at all because I don't notice them; it's the PERSON I'm engaged with. And find the people I work with fascinating, and kind and generous and sometimes total assholes but an adventure to work with nonetheless.

Tonight was a banner night because tonight, for the first time, H., a man around 65 who has aphasia, didn't scream when I had to change his bed and PJs after he missed his urinal in the middle of the night. H does a lot of screaming; when he is dressed in the morning he sounds like he's being killed and it's only after you've been there for a while that you understand he's not getting killed, just dressed -- and he apparently objects.

The problem is, he can't say what the problem is. He points at his shirt and screams, like he wants you to take it off, and then when you start to take it off, he screams about that. If you stop taking it off, he screams about that too. Then he starts sobbing. It is frustrating, but I can't imagine how frustrated he is.

So, since I've met him, I've tried really, really hard to figure out what H. wants -- how to communicate with him, or how to understand him. What I've figured out is this: No. 1, he absolutely HATES being unclean in any way, to the point of OCD, so if he has a minor accident with the urinal he has to have everything changed (I'd feel the same way, but most nursing home residents are somewhat oblivious.) No. 2, he is also OCD about things like wearing a white T-shirt under his johnny ALWAYS NO MATTER WHAT END OF THE WORLD -- problem is, no. 3, he has apparently severe pain in his right side and right arm (and getting that white T-shirt on) is really PAINFUL.

All of these things I have learned from H. through conversations consisting of gestures, facial expressions and (him) screaming.

Tonight we had a scream-free call bell. He rang; I answered. Usually he wants his urinal emptied; he didn't. It was already empty. I had no clue what he wanted. He had no clue how to tell me. But, we figured it out. I was patient. So was he. No screaming. Minor miracle.

I'm going to see if I can get switched to dressing him in the morning right before I leave -- usually the shift that comes on at 7 a.m. does, and he's screaming when I clock out. Do I think I could dress him scream-free? Maybe. I'm not a nicer or better person than anyone on the 7 a.m. shift, but I do have two small things in my favor, the ol' usually-wasted 150 IQ and a burning desire to not only dress, but UNDERSTAND the guy.

There were two other highlights of my night, my morning dressing routine with my favorite patient, a 96-year-old man who is incredibly quiet and sad and dignified and who has started interacting with me ... he didn't talk at all at first; he was just so sad. He smiles when he sees me and smiles when we chat and I tell him I like his shirt and when we get him in and out of bed and his wheelchair (not easy; he can do it with assistance but is very weak), we slap 5 and say, "good job!" to each other and he looks playful and briefly happy. Today he took my hand and kissed it, which I told him was inappropriate (because I had to) and felt awful ... then I think I saved his feelings with, "You know I like you, Mr. B., but you can't do that because you know it's not appropriate, OK?" And then I kept on as though nothing had happened, and came back right before I got off duty to say goodbye, as I do with residents I've been working with a lot throughout the shift.

(Mr. B is NOT a dirty old man -- we have plenty of those -- he is a gentleman and Italian, so I was actually touched by what would have been a yucky gesture from another resident.)

The other great part of my night was the most trying, a woman who is there for rehab and has all of her faculties intact and became a first-rate, imperious, nasty, demeaning pain in the ass because we ran out of both the briefs and bed pads she likes and I had to substitute something else. I was actually smart enough to ASK her, instead of guessing, what to substitute -- but then the brief didn't fit and she started wigging out and attacking ME for being slow, incompetent, etc. I had call bells going off left and right and every chance she got, she called me into her room on some minor pretext but mostly to tell me I was running behind, I couldn't handle the work, I was poorly trained, I shouldn't be there, and I'd "never make it as a CNA."

I just kept reminding myself that whereas I am actually there 100 percent by choice, because I'm chasing my dream; she is there 100 percent NOT by choice, and I am sure having me change her diaper and her ostomy bag is her worst nightmare. I managed to not let her fluster me (a personal victory) and to keep treating her like like someone in a really bad place who needs and deserves compassion and professionalism. By the end of the shift she called me into her room to apologize to me. I thanked her and told her that while I don't take her comments personally, she really should try to not act like that toward other staffers, because we do the best we can and her words could be really upsetting to some people. (I liked that I was able to say that she didn't get to me without telling her her behavior was "okay.")

Anyway, I think part of the reason I like the nursing home is it is yet another experience, one I am in the process of collecting. The lives and emotional worlds of other people fascinate me, old people included. their lives in the nursing home are so limited -- that's what most people think of -- but they're also infinitely more experienced and complex, sort of like 30-years-olds to a child -- complexity that you can't even imagine as a young observer.

Anyway, all in all, a good night. It was insane staffing-wise (or lack thereof) but I'd rather be crazy-busy anyway. It's a little like a newsroom, like that.

I still miss newsrooms.



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