Hello. My name is Allen Wood. I am a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) in the state of Arkansas and have been since 2001. I’m grateful for this forum where I can express some of my grievances as a caregiver. I believe it’s important for all of us as caregivers to have a place where we can come together to express what’s tugging at our hearts and to derive support and strength together. Thank you for taking time to read my entry. I hope that I can deliver something that will bring to light some of the conditions we as caregivers experience in our service to others.
As caregivers, we are so giving of ourselves in service to others, exercising our love for other human beings. One thing I have found working as a personal caregiver is that families often do not recognize what exactly a caregiver is. What is their role? Some develop an appreciation for the caregivers they hire and see them as true giving souls. Others look at caregivers as servants. I think some families watch Downton Abbey on PBS and think that their financial status makes caregivers their servants. Anytime a family looks at me this way or causes me to feel like I’m subservient, it hurts me to my core. I do have a servant’s heart to care for those I care for. I do my best to bring them comfort as I take care of their needs. In this way, I am a servant. But when a family invites guests (sometimes in large groups) to their house, they somehow believe that the caregiver, who’s purpose is to take care of the patient, should take on the role of the servant and serve everyone present. This has happened to me recently.
I find it’s important as caregivers to educate the families we work for, to help them understand the difference between caring for someone and being a servant to all. We must stand our ground and set boundaries. We can do this in a loving, caring, tactful way.
I learned early on while working in a nursing home that each hired professional on the staff had their own expertise. Let me give an example: one day in the dining facility, a resident dropped her plate and it broke on the floor. Without thinking, I reached down to pick up the broken pieces. Another caregiver yelled at me, “Stop don’t touch that!” I was reminded that CNA’s do not pick up broken glasses or clean up the mess on the floor. Housekeeping is called for that. Housekeeping is trained in how to clean up these things. This is their function. It was explained to me (actually I was just being reminded from my schooling) that the reason a CNA is not allowed to pick up the broken glass, is that, if I had cut my finger, I then would have had an open wound where bacteria, viruses, and germs could have gotten into my flesh. It is very easy to get staph infections this way. What if, later, even though I would have had gloves on, while cleaning up someone from a bowel movement, the glove failed? Feces could connect with the wound. Diseases such as hepatitis can be contracted in this way.
Later, I worked one-on-one, privately hired by a family to take care of their loved one in their home. Things are little different in this setting. Here you become the Jack-of-all-trades. You are the only staff. So now you do clean up those messes. You do the dishes. You’re the dietitian. You’re the wound care nurse. The list goes on. The duty list can be enormous. I have no complaints there.
But let me tell you about another scenario. I agreed to be a caregiver for a husband and wife. The husband was in hospice care. The wife’s health was good but she was tired from not being able to sleep at night. I agreed to work the nights taking care of her husband so she could sleep. The first night I came to work, she handed me a leash to take out her dog and a bag to pick up the poop. I was there to take her husband. Can I take care of her husband, while out walking the dog? This was a learning experience for me. As time went on, I realized that I was being looked at as a servant, not just a caregiver.
Fast-forward to another family. This family always verbally says they’re very appreciative of their caregivers (there’s a team of us). And yet, come Christmastime, family members are allowed to come from other states and fill up every bed of the house. There was no consideration at all as to where the caregiver was going to sleep. The family really expected the caregiver to either sleep on the living room floor or in a chair. This is just not acceptable.
I have learned to stand up for myself. In this situation, it is necessary to explain to the family that I will not be there on any night that I do not have my own bed in which to sleep. Granted I get up several times a night with my patient, but I will not sleep on the floor. The family needs to be educated in these matters.
If we as caregivers do not stand up ourselves is valuable human beings and refuse to be treated as anything less then we deserve, some families will never learn. And they will use and abuse us however they please just because they’re paying us. Yes, slavery has ended. We get compensated in exchange for our services with money. But, if we allow families to treat us this way, we are still slaves.