Unsung and Under-appreciated

That morning, I had taken my father to a doctor’s appointment.

When we got back to the house, the answering machine was flashing. The message was from the nursing home. “Please call.”

My mother had had an incident. She was being taken to the emergency room.

In retrospect, that day was the beginning of the end.

After my mother passed away, my father wanted to unravel the incident. The information given us was vague. The diagnostician side of my father needed to categorize. The husband side needed to understand.

We walked down the long corridor to the nurses’ station on my mother’s unit. So many people offered their condolences. My mother would be missed.

The head nurse on the unit told us her story, but it was a CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant) who had been with my mother when it happened.

We tracked down the CNA.

CNAs are the unsung heroes of nursing homes. A good CNA is worth a thousand administrators. I was relieved to see that the CNA who had been caring for my mother that morning was one of the best.

I still remember the first time that I met her. I had come down to feed my mother while my father was away.

“Mom, you look really nice today,” I had commented. Her hair was brushed. Her shirt was a pretty one that fit well. Her glasses were around her neck on a chain.

“I got her dressed this morning,” chimed a voice from the other side of the dining room. A petite 50-ish woman was smiling at me, pleased that I had noticed.

“Thank you,” I told her.

Over the next several months, I recognized this CNA, not only when I ran into her in the dining area, but I could often tell when she had been the one to care for my mother. She always paid attention to the details.

This was the CNA who was with my mother when she had her “incident.”

the flowered shirt

the flowered shirt

“I had laid out her clothes for the day,” she told us, “the brown slacks and the flowered shirt.”

I knew the ones.

“I was rubbing lotion on her legs and feet. She always seemed to enjoy that,” she said.

Yes, I could picture the whole thing.

“Suddenly, she gasped and drew her arms up like this,” she said, demonstrating by clenching her fists and bringing them towards her chin.

“I summoned help immediately,” she said, “but your mom was unresponsive.”

“I’m so, so sorry for your loss,” she said multiple times.

And I know she meant it.

So many times I have looked back on that day and whispered a prayer of thanks that she was the one. My mother was in the best earthly hands while on her way into the best heavenly hands

Every time I hear about the proposed wage of $15/hour for fast food workers, I bristle inside.

CNAs don’t get paid that much.

And they don’t have time to lobby about it.

They are too busy taking care of our loved ones.

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12 thoughts on “Unsung and Under-appreciated

  1. My mother also passed away recently and we were moved by the apparent impact on the staff – nurses, CNAs, dining room staff, activities people, and even the cleaning lady. They all wanted to come up to us and express their sorry that she was gone. It was hard for me to take, but meant a lot at the same time. I will forever be grateful to them all for caring for my mother so authentically.

  2. Amen, couldn’t agree with you more!

    I’m so glad your mother was receiving loving care from such a kind soul when she died. I think caregivers are far more valuable to society than fast food workers. I believe some of the fast food wage increases will benefit other minimum wage workers like CNAs, but it varies state to state.

    My mother was more fond of the CNAs than the doctors. I think they appreciated her because she engaged with them, remembered their kids’ names and such. She made them feel special, and I think often, their needs are sadly neglected.

    • CNAs are like teachers in that they give so much so freely to their charges, yet are the first to be criticized if something isn’t right.

      One of the CNAs on my mother’s wing used to bring fresh tomatoes from her garden in season and make tomato sandwiches for the residents. For my mother, who had a vegetable garden most of her life, fresh tomatoes were little bit of home.

  3. The letter U brings me to your blog for the first time during the #Challenge. In hindsight, I wish I had been even more support to my parents as they came to the end of their lives. At the time, looking out after my growing family, I was often sidetracked at home. I appreciate your post and being there for you Dad. While you have been busy, I wrote about hotels and inns, the architecture and architects, the setting in the community. If you have time or interest, there is still time to join me. Hope to see you. Cheers.

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