Saturday, June 7, 2014

Adventures in Caregiving

I was a caregiver in a nursing home for 18 years and it taught me many things. I'm quite sure it is one of the most difficult jobs in the world, at least the way we do it in this country. It taught me time management, and organization. It taught me how to manage ridiculously small paychecks. It taught me how to triage and how to let things go I had no control of. It taught me team work, and leadership, but most importantly it taught me empathy, respect, and tolerance.
During those 18 years, I took care of many types of people. Adventurers, homemakers, professionals, rich, poor, Christians, Atheist, drug addicts, alcoholics and everything in-between. All patients were due the same respect and the same level of care, regardless of their background. As a caregiver my job was not to judge for past miss-steps someone may have made, or the way they chose to live their lives. To do my job to its highest level I had to set judgment aside. Caregivers become quite good at this. 
Empathy was very important, many of these people were at the end of their lives, or had lost so much control over their lives that they were angry and/or sad. They often could not complete the most basic tasks we all take for granted, and were in physical and mental pain. I was bitten, scratched, hit and called names. I chose for quite a few years to work in the special needs unit, where this behavior would dominate the daily routine, because I knew, a patient and steady hand was in need. I was not perfect but I did the best I could. It was confusion and lack of control over their lives that caused many of these patients to act out in this way. It was not about me. I would like to think I carried this lesson beyond the workplace. It is very hard not to react to others negative actions, but rarely is it about you.
I have many memorable moments and people from that period of my life and one story has come up for me on multiple occasions. One of the patients I cared for, for several years was an elderly woman with Alzheimers. She has lost her ability to walk, use the bathroom, feed herself; basically she relied on her caregivers for all of her basic needs. No one had heard her speak for years.
One morning, after feeding her breakfast I wheeled her back to her room. As usual, I faced her to the window, opened the shades so she could look outside, and tucked a blanket around her lap. Probably uttering a few polite words such as “here’s your blanket.” And “let me open the window for you” As I turned to leave the room I heard a voice say “Thank you.” I was stopped in my tracks. This woman had never before uttered a word to me. Of course I went back to her, told her she was welcome, but her moment of lucidity was gone. It was a poignant reminder that she was still there, still worthy of care and respect, and still alive. It still gives me goosebumps. 
I had many patients I was close with. A tiny little Catholic man with 10 children who couldn't figure out for the life of him how I could be married and have no children. (I had none at the time) He always had a mischievous glint in his eye when he teased me about this. 
And then there was the Aids patient, many years ago when fear of aids was very high. He was on a section that one of my co workers worked, one day I observed her putting on a full sleeved gown, two pairs of gloves, and a mask, so I asked her if he was bleeding and did she need help. She said no, she just needed to check his blood pressure. I stopped her right there and said she could take one of my patients I would take over his care. I have no idea the last time someone had come into his room without a full hazmat outfit on. He must have felt inhuman and probably missed human touch very much.
A particularly touching moment is when I brought my firstborn baby into the home to visit the patients. There was a woman dying of cancer, who also happened to be a grandmother of someone I had gone to school with. Recognizing me, her daughter asked me if I would please bring the baby to see her mother. I brought the baby to the old womans bedside full of pride and love, and the woman reached out to touch him and began to cry. She held his little hand and said "this makes all okay, I must go to make room for this new soul" I can assure you there was not a dry eye in that room that day. 

I worked very hard, broke down my body, had daily emotional struggles trying to meet the needs of so many. Some days I cried with frustration and anger at how we provide for our sick and elderly. But many days I laughed, and loved and was fulfilled by the knowledge I was doing good in the world. The moments I was thanked by family at the bed of a dying patient, or pulled aside and told “mom really likes you, thank you for caring”, More than made up for the bad days. And I highly value the lessons and strengths I gleaned from that experience as a caregiver. It humbled me in face of humanity, and as cliché as it sounds we ARE all one. Life is not easy, or fair but there’s no need to make it harder by judging harshly or defining yourself by others actions. More compassion and less judgement will make for a much better world to live in. 

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Lets Talk about Sex

After being inundated with news of Elliot Rodgers shooting rampage and his ridiculous belief he was wronged by women for not giving him sex, and reading commentaries, comments, and reflections on the subject, this is how I feel.
We have built a society where we use sex to sell; we sexualize both the male and female bodies, wax, oil and slap them up on billboards. And yet, it is taboo to talk about sex in any real way to our youth in school, and the kind of natural innocent nudity is shocking, as in a breast feeding mother.
Young men grow up and feel shamed, and is if they are not a real man if they are virgins, and girls are slut shamed and taught to hang on to their virginity as long as possible. This creates a hunter/prey mentality that fosters sexual frustration and violence. More on this subject can be read in a fantastic article by Alyssa Royse " The Danger in Demonizing Male Sexuality" 

The dichotomy we have created in regards to the sex conversation is absurd. Men and women both want sex, love, and respect. It is time to change the conversation with young people, take away the taboo, encourage questions, and provide useful, reality based information so they can go into the world with knowledge and respect for themselves and those around them.
It is long past time to take the sex subject out of the closet and make it an accessible conversation for young people. No more shame and no more blame.