The Thin Edge of Dignity by Dick Weinman
“Are you done,” the caregiver asked. There I was. A disabled, eighty year old sitting on the toilet in the Assisted Living Facility I call home.
Her words whispered a gentle question, but her voice told me she was annoyed and impatient. “AreN’T you done YET,” shouted in my mind.
How could I go under such scrutiny. She stood over me, watching, one hand wielding a toilet wipe to clean me; the other, playing a C Major scale on the wooden door frame. Body language give away!
Why fight it? “OK, I’m done,” I sighed.
No. I wasn’t. But, what the hell . . .
“It’s the law,” she stuttered, trying to explain her impatience. I must have made her feel guilty. “I’m sorry. There are so many, she mumbled.” I assumed she referred to how many residents there were on her list to get up and get. What she meant - and most caregivers assent to - was that there are few of them to care for the many residents who need care.
She – again, it’s not just her – is groused at by residents, who complain about having towait long stretches of time. Resident impatience causes caregivers stress, fatigue, and unhappiness – burn-out . Realize: caregivers are the front line troops in ALF wars, not the generals on horseback on the ridge.
Even with the meager pay for stressful and dirty work - how would you like to wipe asses and clean up projectile diarrhea? - the predominant reason for caregiver discontent, is short staffing: fellow employees who don’t show up for work, and administration not providing back-up replacement. To those caregivers stuck with fewer than expected staff, the excuses of the no-shows are often flimsy and questionable. In many instances – even when the shift is shorthand, those who are sick themselves, workers show up wearing surgical masks to prevent spreading a cold. It’s no wonder they question the work ethic of their colleagues.
In meeting after meeting, caregivers are told not to hurry residents. But when there’s a “no show,” those who are at work have to do her job, pick up an extra load. How would one not avoid a hurried pace?
When my caregiver sputtered her explanation for rushing me, I knew that she didn’t mean the law, law. But, since she was a foreign national, uncertain with the language, I sensed she meant “rule”: the instructions given to the caregiver staff in orientations, staff meetings, or one-on-one discussions of how to relate to ALF residents. Follow the “laws” of the institution.
Get all the residents on your list to the dining room. By 8:00( breakfast). Noon (lunch.) 5:00 (dinner.)
In the morning: Wake them. Dress them. Toilet them. Complete other hygienic and appearance needs. Then, get to the next person. It’s Move. Move. Move.
If a resident is constipated – tough. (a pun?)
That’s why I’m never done.