Everyone has heard of certified nursing assistants, and probably think they know all about their job. But in reality, we do a lot more than our job description says. I am sure that any nursing assistant can go on and on about their job and how miserable it can be, especially in a nursing home. But honestly, it is one of the most rewarding jobs I have ever had.
Arrive at work. The sun is just starting to rise. Large iced coffee in hand. Scrubs on, ready to conquer the day.
Clock in. Check in at the nurse’s station. Receive patient assignment for the day. Count eight patients you are responsible for. Three of those patients need showers today. Six of those patients are incontinent. One of those patients had a double knee surgery and can’t walk. One of those patients is an amputee. Seven of those patients have diet restrictions. One of those patients has an appointment with their doctor today. One of those patients is an unfriendly frequent flyer. Two of those patients have family visiting today. One of the patients is back from unsuccessful cancer treatment at home.
Cry a little, or maybe a lot, inside. Let the overwhelming stress begin.
7:00 a.m. - 8:00 a.m.
Wake up and wash time for all of your patients. Mr. Johnson wants to sleep for 10 more minutes. Ms. Smith wants to shower by herself. Mr. Jones doesn’t want help getting out of bed. Mrs. Murphy refuses to get up. Mrs. Hernandez wants McDonald’s for breakfast. Mr. Garcia wants a male CNA to help him wash up. Mrs. Martin is screaming and yelling for painkillers. Mrs. Brown is awake and sitting on the side of her bed ready for breakfast. Start praying that you can accommodate all of your patient’s needs and/or convince them otherwise. Sweat begins to accumulate as you run back and forth from patient to patient.
Breakfast arrives. Call bell rings. Patient in room 344 (not your assigned patient) had an accident in their bed. New sheets, clothes, and a wash up are needed. Patient’s CNA is nowhere to be found. Ask another CNA for help, and end up doing it alone.
Your patients are mad they didn’t get their breakfast right away. They don’t understand you had to help another patient down the hall. Wait for the bells to ring complaining of cold food, wrong orders, and refusals to eat. There’s nothing worse than trying to feed a patient, who refuses to open their mouth.
8:30 a.m. - 9:00 a.m.
Breakfast is done. Clean up trays. Finish getting patients dressed and/or washed or showered for their day to begin. Wait for the call bells to ring for bathroom runs.
9:00 a.m. - 10:00 a.m.
Running around answering bells. Getting patients in wheel chairs and walkers. Cleaning up trays from slow eaters. Looking for extra hands to help Mrs. Murphy get out of bed since she is still refusing. Let the hunger games of bathroom runs begin.
First bell goes off for the bathroom. Breakfast hit a little too hard and the smelly, wet clean up begins. Multiply that by four more patients ringing their bells and needing extra time in the bathroom. Roommates start fighting over who can use the bathroom first.
Almost all of your patients are washed up/showered, and dressed. Hopefully out of bed. Running from room to room in between answering call bells once again. Looking for nurses to give out pain medicine for six patients who can’t stop asking, don’t forget Mrs. Martin who has been asking for three hours now. Nurses are nowhere to be found.
Activity time! Gather most of the patients to practice exercises and sing alongs. Finish bed making. Answer bells.
Mrs. Brown refuses to go to the sing along activity. She starts crying uncontrollably because her husband used to sing with her and he passed away three years ago. Sit with her for fifteen minutes holding her hand, and giving her your shoulder to cry on.
Fellow CNA gets mad at you for “wasting time” with Mrs. Brown when other bells were ringing, yet she wasn’t around when you helped her patient when she had a bad accident in her bed. You know you did the right thing.
Help new arrivals move into their rooms. Start getting patients back in their rooms for lunch. Call bells, call bells, call bells.
Lunch arrives. Your stomach is growling as you see the food you’re feeding patients, and you haven’t eaten since 6:00 a.m. Heck, you haven’t sat down since you got here.
12:00 p.m. - 1:30 p.m.
The exact same routine from the morning! Just lunch related. Be ready for the lunch bathroom runs, the afternoon activities, and the need for medicines.
Vitals and weights. It’s a lot of fun weighing someone that can’t stand isn’t it? Mr. Johnson, who’s been sleeping all day, does not appreciate being woken up to get weighed and have his vitals taken and yells at you. Wait, does a lunch break exist?
Johnson’s heart rate and blood pressure is very low. Finally, one of the nurses told you to eat lunch, and will get some other CNAs to cover your patients. Report the vitals to the nurses, expressing concern.
Back from lunch. No one has helped your patients. Mr. Jones is yelling from his room for help. His urinal fell and spilled everywhere. His roommate starts complaining of the smell and yells at you to clean it up, as you are wiping it up.
Mrs. Murphy calls you over. You go in, she holds your hand and wants to thank you for everything you have done for her today. She is unbelievably grateful that someone actually took the extra time to put lotion on her earlier, and not rush her in the shower. She is even writing a comment card about you so everyone knows she loves you.
Mrs. Hernandez’s bandage is now oozing and has stained her clothes and sheets. You get the nurses to help with the prescribed ointment, and then reapply her new dressings. Next on the list is changing her outfit and her bed sheets.
Ms. Smith invites you into her room to help her with a puzzle she has been working on for days.
Mr. Johnson gets rushed to hospital after he lost consciousness and stopped breathing. Say goodbye and wish him luck. He holds your hand thanks you for everything. You don’t know that today was the last day you’ll ever see him.
Mrs. Hernandez calls for you to see her puppy. Her family is visiting with their dog, and welcome you with open arms. The family thanks you so much for all of the help you have given for their mom, aunt, and grandmother. She is getting discharged later this week, and they say their goodbyes to you.
Other CNAs start to document their daily work in the binders, and you’re alone running back and forth to answer call bells.
You finally catch a break. Patients are napping. The shift is switching and you can almost taste freedom.
You knew it was too good to be true. Charge nurse tells you two people called out for the night shift and needs you to stay.
Sit down. Rest legs. Prepare for another eight-hour shift. Cry inside.
Call bell goes off…
An average day at the nursing home can be miserable, exhausting, stressful, and painful. But even with the downsides it is always hopeful and loving. The relationships you make with your patients mean the most, and you learn to appreciate life, and how short it can be because of them. Sure, wiping butts, giving baths, feeding, and running around all day isn’t the best job. But the smile on my patient’s face after the dirty work is done is the only thing I need to come back the next day.