Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Caring: A labor on stolen time

Care workers, feminists, labor militants, read this and share your thoughts!
You can email the Jennifer Ng here

caring: a labor of stolen time
pages from a CNA's notebook

The Machine endangers all we have made.
We allow it to rule instead of obey.
To build a house, cut the stone sharp and fast:
the carver's hand takes too long to feel its way.
The Machine never hesitates, or we might escape
and its factories subside into silence.
It thinks it's alive and does everything better.
With equal resolve it creates and destroys.
But life holds mystery for us yet. In a hundred places
we can still sense the source: a play of pure powers
that -- when you feel it -- brings you to your knees.
There are yet words that come near the unsayable,
and, from crumbling stones, a new music
to make a sacred dwelling in a place we cannot own.
Rilke (Translated by Joanna Macy)
This piece is dedicated to all nursing home workers, residents and their family members.                                       Be patient with me, as I share our silenced stories.

All names have been changed to protect the identities of my coworkers and residents

I work in a place of death. People come here to die, and my coworkers and I care for them as they make their journeys.Sometimes these transitions take years or months. Other times they take weeks or some short days. I count the time in shifts, in scheduled state visits, in the sham monthly meetings I never attend, in the announcements of the “Employee of the Month” (code word for best ass-kisser of the month), in the yearly pay increment of 20 cents, and in the number of times I get called into the Human Resources office, counting down to the last one that would get me fired.

The nursing home residents also have their own rhythms. Their time is tracked by scheduled hospital visits; by the times when loved ones drop by to share a meal, to announce the arrival of a new grandchild, or to anxiously wait at their bedsides for heart-wrenching moments to pass.  Their time is measured by transitions from mechanical food to pureed food, textures that match their increasing susceptibility to dysphagia, their appetite changing with the decreasing sensitivity of their taste buds. Their transitions are also measured by the changes from underwear to pull ups and then to diapers. Even more than the loss of mobility, the use of diapers is often the most fearsome adaptation. For many people, lack of control over urinary functions and timing is the definitive, undoubted mark of the loss of independence to dementia.  

Many of the elderly I have worked with are, at least initially, aware of the transitions they undergo, and respond with a myriad of emotions such as shame, anger, depression, anxiety and fear. Theirs was the generation that survived the great depression, armed with fervent missions of world war. Aging, that mundane human process, was an anti-climatic twist to the purported grandeur and tumultuousness of their early 20th century youth.   

“I am afraid to die. I don’t know where I will go, Jennifer,” a resident named Lara once said to me, fear dilating her eyes.

“Lara, you will go to heaven. You will be happy.” I reply, holding the spoonful of pureed spinach to her lips.

“Tell me about your son, Tobias.”

And so Lara begins, the same story of Tobias, his obedience and intelligence, which I have heard over and over again for the past year.  The son whom she loves, whose teenage portrait stands by her bedside. The son who has never visited. The son whom I have never met, but whose name and memory calms Lara down.
Continue here

No comments:

Post a Comment