24 August, 2012

"Would it kill staff to ever show the slightest bit of respect or compassion to their euphemisms?"

This is the opening line to a lot of my mental post drafts but pretty much all of the drafts are just different stories about my adventures working at a nursing home, at which I am going to work for 24 more hours before I move to California, where I am considering working in a gas station, or maybe becoming a professional Pokemon trainer, but most importantly not touching this kind of work with a ten foot pole for the rest of my life.

We'll see how long I can keep that up.

My mom asked me what kind of jobs I was thinking about applying for in California and I didn't know how to explain why I might not want to work as an aide anymore. When the average person hears that you work in a nursing home or with disabled people, their reaction is to think of you as a nice person and, I think, even gentle, which is more important to me. It seems like such a departure for me to explain why my inclination for support work actually feels like one of my worst qualities, and how I feel like if I was a braver, more adaptable, or just more ethical person, I would dive into a completely different line of work and never come back.

I think even a lot of people who would consider themselves fairly "radical" or social justice-y wouldn't understand why I feel like there is a huge push toward unethical behavior in a lot of support jobs. If someone isn't familiar with it it is easy to tell me I'm worrying about nothing and I should just feel proud of what a good person I am for working in a nursing home.

I tried to explain to my mom by telling her something small. People who work on the night shift are assigned to get two or three residents up and dressed by the time we leave, which is about seven. Sometimes we're supposed to shower them too. According to the rules, we're supposed to start get-ups "no earlier than 5:30," but this is one of the rules that no one will care if you break, and in fact it could even be considered a good thing.

If someone has to leave early, they will have their residents dressed by five or six, sitting in the hall in their wheelchairs. Some of the residents quietly push themselves around by their feet, but most of them just sleep sitting up. Some aides will just get their residents that early every day so they can get other work done after. If someone is working a double night shift and day shift, then they might just get all the residents on the hall up starting during the night shift, so they will have more work done early.

This is a decision that no one I work with would ever question, because you are getting your work done by the time it's supposed to be done. The day shift aides would probably even be pleased by a night shift aide doing this, because the person would be able to get more small things done on the hall before they leave. Basically a night shift aide who gets people up really early is seen as a competent worker who organizes their shift in a way that works for them.

You might be wondering what I think is so wrong with getting people up early. I mean I admit that in the grand scheme of things it's not exactly abusive and sleeping in a chair isn't going to kill someone, but to me it really shows how we don't put the comfort of our residents first or focus on what they want. I wouldn't mind if I had to get up and sleep in a chair in my clothes sometimes, but having someone get me out of bed to do this on a regular basis would be pretty annoying, especially if it was because they saw me as a task to get out of the way and not a person to be supported.

Anyway, I basically told my mom that this was something that my coworkers saw as a normal and harmless thing to do and it was an example of why I might not want to be an aide anymore. My mom told me that I was "very kind" but I should think about the practical reasons why people would have to get their residents up early. It is hard for me when people have to tell me I'm "kind" just because I am trying to think from the perspective of people I have a lot of control over, especially because it seems like a lot of people think that part of being competent or just being an adult is thinking about things only from your perspective and the perspective of people who have power over you.


  1. Amanda, I have found the exact same thing. Basically, in spite of platitudes about how "this is our clients' home, and we must respect personal preferences and rights and blah, blah, and more blah", the very blatant communication to support/direct care staff is "I don't care how much you have to control your clients, but they had better look the way we want them to look when we come through!" Naturally, the most controlling and disturbing staff are seen (as you pointed out) as competent and "good staff" whereas people who are respectful are seen as "problem staff" who "don't know how to control their clients."

    I have also heard (for years) what a "special" person I am to do the work I do and how I'm doing "God's work" and so on and so forth. I'm not sure when seeing another person as a human being became a "special" attribute, but that just perpetuates the attitude that people with disabilities need to be segregated in institutional settings.

    Stopping before my ranting gets out of hand. Thanks for what you have to say!

    1. gosh Roia thank you for being you. I can't believe how long it's been since I read your blog.

  2. Thanks, Amanda. I can't believe how long it's been since I wrote a proper blog post! Argh!