CNA Training is usually quick and if you studied enough, you can pass the state license exam but believe me when I say–MOST THINGS YOU WILL LEARN AREN’T IN THE TEXTBOOK(S)! Here’s what you should REALLY know… besides Universal Precautions of course:
- You never know what to expect when you come into work
One time I came in and three patients on my unit had passed away, another time I came in and a man was trying to climb the wall like Spider Man, another time I came in and a patient decided she didn’t like my name and gave me a new one. It’s always a surprise!
- You will make many mistakes
No one is perfect especially if they are new at this job. I made quite a few mistakes of my own from accidentally throwing away hearing aids to burning popcorn and the fire department showing up (luckily nothing serious happened). The thing about being a CNA is that you will always be learning new things and part of that is learning from your mistakes.
- There is always that one (or more) resident who doesn’t have anyone
One of the saddest things I see as a CNA were the residents who didn’t have family members to come visit them. It’s an untold reality in America that the elderly are often dumped and abandoned in these places (nursing homes) and all they have is the nursing staff in their life. That’s where we come in and help them feel a little more at home and loved in an otherwise lonely place.
- Textbook Alzheimer’s/Dementia is totally different than dealing with it in real life
Where do I even begin with this? Dealing with dementia patients is probably one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. It’s an umbrella of symptoms, behaviors, and interactions. It’s not simply “forgetting their life.” It’s taking on a completely different individual. And from a caretaker standpoint, it’s completely challenging. You have the combative patients, the dance-all-day patients, the bed-bound patients, the nightly screamers, and wanderers—of course the list goes on. Some are even a combination of things. I used to take care of a woman who was so lovely and playful during the day and at night she would scream for her mother. This is called “sun downing” by the way (where patients exhibit different behaviors at nighttime). I don’t know what happened in this woman’s life but she felt the need to scream out for her mother as if she needed to find her and protect her. Alzheimer’s is a beautiful, yet awful thing and it takes a strong heart to handle it on a daily basis.
- You’re not just a “Certified Ass-Wiper”
Do you wipe ass? Absolutely! Is there a lot of poop? Oh, definitely, especially if there is a stomach flu that spreads throughout your entire facility. But that’s not where your job ends nor where it begins really. You have anywhere from 8-20 patients to keep safe, clean, happy, fed, did I mention safe? There are times where you will be a friend, a shoulder to cry on, someone to lash out on, someone to flirt with, someone to keep company, etc. Your patients don’t just want a nurse’s aide, they want a friend…and granted some see you as a maid… but a maid isn’t a Certified Ass-Wiper right?
- There is always a chance that you will witness abuse
This is always a tricky and rather tough subject. I’ve worked in a facility where abuse had a zero-tolerance policy and I have worked in a place where abuse was overlooked. In the place where abuse was overlooked (I won’t name the name of the company) I witnessed CNA’s tying someone up with a towel in the shower, residents being denied drinks with their meals, a male CNA staying in the room way too frikkin long with female patients (do I have any proof that anything happened?…No, but I definitely raised my eyebrows), patients being rough-handled, name calling, a fellow CNA making fun of a female patients genitals… and that’s about all I can think of right now. I did my fair share of reporting crap and here is my advice: if management/administration doesn’t take care of it, take it higher. There is always AHCA (if you are in Florida) and other elderly services in almost every area that will hopefully handle the issue and you can report anonymously also. In fact, here is a link that will give you resources for each state: https://ncea.acl.gov/resources/state.html
- It’s back-breaking but it’s rewarding
You will bust your ass every shift to ensure your patients are cared for and there will be plenty of rough, “full moon” days. Remember, though, you are helping in such a big way. Your patients wouldn’t be as happy without you and let’s face it—the nurses wouldn’t be either. At the end of the day, you know you’ve done such wonderful things to help the elderly in our society live a more rewarding life and that will reflect in your life as well.