What I Learned from Working in a Nursing Home

Life lessons from the disabled and the elderly, that you couldn't get from anyone else.

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In 2009, I was unemployed for a year. Bills were piling up, my side hustle at the time was slow, and I was worried that my unemployment benefits were not going to be extended. I was beyond stressed, and desperate times called for desperate measures.

I knew a few people who worked in the medical field and it appeared that this particular industry could ALWAYS use some additional help. When you think about, there will always be someone who is either sick or dying. Instead of enrolling in college to get a 3rd degree, I chose to take a month-long course to become a Nurse Assistant. I figured, at least I’m somewhat guaranteed more income in a month than spending years and more student loan debt in further my education again. As I stated, desperate times called for desperate measures. I didn’t have a clue of what I was getting into, until I got there.

Outside of losing a lot of weight from missing work breaks and the heavy lifting required, and the nasty bathroom scene “Diane” left for us Nurse Assistants to clean up, I actually learned A LOT from working there. In fact, working there was the most valuable life learning experience I’ve ever had with any employer. 

Teamwork makes the dream work

Working as a Nurse Assistant is A LOT OF HARD WORK! Some facilities may be a lot easier than others because they hired the right amount of employees to handle the amount of residents that needed assistance. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case with this particular nursing home. There was one assistant assigned to approximately 8 residents at a time, with majority of them needed total care. Given that, there was no way possible to be successful at caring for your assigned residents without the help of your peers.  I recall one resident who weighed over 600lbs. Luckily, she had the strength to roll herself over so that we could properly care for her. No single person could provide the level of care that was required without mistreating or disrespecting her and her family. Sometimes, to successfully do your job or be the best at your role in life, you need the help of others. 

It can happen to you

Caring for this one resident that comes to mind nearly broke my heart. She had to have been around 27 years old, pretty, and seemed like a very sweet woman; but she had suffered a stroke and her speech was more of a child rather than a late 20-something adult. I later discovered that she was using an alias because her “boyfriend” had been abusing her. It broke my heart caring for her because an illness so debilitating as a stroke could happen to any one of us. In fact, one of my first-cousins suffered a stroke when she was in her mid-30s. Both appeared to be healthy adults and the stress of life had taken a toll on them. I remember being told that my cousin was working an unrealistic amount of overtime at work just to make ends meet. Luckily, she survived and is doing quite well, but she is not how she used to be. I learned that it is necessary that we take better care of ourselves and find ways to manage our stress.

Life is too short not to live

Helping residents shower or bathe was another job duty performed by a Nurse Assistant. I had a resident who was healthy and just simply needed some assistance in the shower, mainly to make sure she didn’t slip and fall. During her shower, we had a really nice and long conversation about life in general. She openly shared her story with how she married a few wealthy men in her day, and had the opportunity to see the world. From what I gathered, she chose to live in the assisted living home because of the low-maintenance lifestyle. She continued to share with me her many trips oversees and all of the beauty she discovered in the world. As I lowered myself to help her place her socks on her feet, she stopped me, took both of my hands in hers, and told me to not waste a day in my life by not doing something I loved to do, by not loving the person that I loved, and by not taking the opportunity to see the world. She looked me in my eyes and said “Honey…life is too short, not to live.” After caring for her, I immediately went to  the only silent, private place, the single-stall restroom. I was so moved by her words, I just stood there, filled with sorrow, because I knew I wasn’t living my life, at the time, to the fullest.

It amazes me what people complain about today. People complain about not getting enough “likes” on their most recent social media post. People complain about their jobs and their significant others. People complain all the time without looking at all of the beauty that surrounds us. Now, don’t get me wrong, I have my moments as well. In fact, we’re all entitled to have our moments. But how we interpret and handle those moments is key. Instead of dwelling or being pessimistic, it’s important that we stop and look on the brighter side of things. No matter what you’re going through, there is always a lesson to learn. Rather than speaking and/or expecting the worse, focus on the beauty that is right here in front of you in this picture we call life.

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