C.N.A (Certified Nursing Assistant) classes started like any other day. All the students sat around the table, with their books open and their minds set on reading the next chapter. Little did we know that the teacher had something else for us to do that day.
“Class, today, you are going to be a resident in the nursing home.”
While some students took on the task with light hearts and hoped for an easy A+, others found it the most humbling experience they will never forget.
It is hard to explain exactly how a resident feels, for they live in nursing homes day after day, week after week and year after year. I only had to experience a very small fraction of their daily lives; for eight hours I tried to see and feel and become a resident. This is my story.
Each student was given wheel chairs to sit in for the entire day. As I sat in the hallway, and moved from place to place, I felt equal with the other residents. I could talk to them eye to eye, and they treated me as one of their own. I felt a strong family bond among them.
The ones I was able to talk to; laughed, smiled, shrugged, or touched my hand. As they spoke, their eyes had smiles all of their own. Most of them asked the same questions.
How was I doing?
Did they know me?
Did my family visit often?
While some students wore glasses smeared with Vaseline; to see the damage of glaucoma. Others were given cotton balls to place in their ears. I was given cotton. This made my hearing impaired.
At one point I stopped by a window, to watch a bird land on a tree branch. The sun was high in the blue sky, and all I wanted to do was relax. Two students, in their wheelchairs, barged into my silence and talked non stop. I became aggravated. All I wanted was to be left alone. Frustration swept over me.
While some employees walked past me, they failed to make eye contact. This made me feel unimportant, worthless and belittled. Other employees stopped to say a few words and smiled. One even took the time to touch my shoulder. This made me feel important, and liked.
I was tired from pulling my weight, and the weight of the chair, around. My tailbone and hips hurt from sitting to long, and when I finely stood up at the end of the day, my legs felt like Jell-O.
At different times during the day I had to stop wherever I was and just rest. I was so tired. I hated that wheel chair. I loathed the fact that I couldn’t just stand and walk. I despised the idea that I couldn’t do the things I knew I could do. I wanted to be in control of my life again! The idea of being dependent on other angered me.
One resident began to cry, I wanted to help her. However, I could not. I was just as helpless as she was. Emotions from nowhere flooded over me. I was laughing and happy one minute, sad and depressed the next. Even though there were people all around me, I felt totally and utterly alone.
While sitting in on a word game activity, I watched as the residents exercised their minds. Friendly competition took over as the game went on. Self respect and satisfaction flew across their faces when they were right. One resident would mentally kick herself every time she was wrong. I noticed a couple of residents who acted as though they were sleeping, yet they spoke out the answers they knew. Even though I did not participate, it felt good to be apart of it all.
When I was left on my own, it was hard to find things to occupy my mind. I was exhausted and completely helpless, and bored. I was to tired to move, and the thought of sleep was an inviting friend. I wanted to go home; I missed my family, and the life that I knew.
Yesterday I was home cooking and planning my day. Today someone told me I had to sit in this chair. Those taking care of me are doing a good job….. but I can do it myself… can’t I? I used to be able to! Oh how I hate this chair!
I was so grateful that our teacher shared this learning experience with us. It is one thing to tell someone we understand, it is completely different to have empathy on those we take care of.