Monday, August 11, 2008


It is 4 pm where I live (mountain time zone) and I'm just coming back to the land of the living after working a night shift.

The nurse scheduled became ill. So I volunteered to give my evening shift to someone else and pick up the night shift. I took a 3 hour nap yesterday afternoon before I went in.

It is really difficult at the age I am to work all three shifts in a week, which is what I did this past week. But you know something? I'm really fortunate in that I can choose to do this, which is what I've done. I'm married to a man who has been very careful with money his entire life, and neither of us need much. I view my job as a ministry in which I can participate, not as a way to put food on the table for my family. That is not the case for the vast majority of my co-workers.

The other people that I work with are really stressed, particularly the nursing assistants. The hospice house must have a certain number of guests in order to be fully staffed; if not, the nursing assistants have to take low census days. Our census until this last week has been pretty low, so none of the NAs have been able to be sure of their hours. This has caused lots of angst. Most of them are either my age or older, and a couple of them have no other support than this job. So they have to do what they can, which means for them rotating all three shifts in a week, pick up some home health work, call the hospital with which we are affiliated to see if they need an NA for a shift, or take a second job.

These women (and they all are women) have special talents and soft hearts for the dying patients and their families that we serve. There are several of these women I certainly would want to care for me or any family member who might need hospice care at some point. But economics will drive them out of this work. One is leaving in a week for a job where she can be more sure of her money. That is a darn shame.

Besides economics, there remain sexual power issues. Without revealing too much due to patient privacy issues, one of our guests, an elderly man who at one time was quite powerful in the community, made an extremely rude and lewd request of one of the nursing assistants, a woman of color. He also implied that since he was who he was, she owed it to him. Her rejoinder to that was amazing. She is a tough woman who obviously has dealt with this before.

But she--or any of us--should not have to put up with such crap at work. We do, though, due to lack of choices for many reasons. I did, for years. Now if I get too stressed or offended at work, I can leave and not worry if I can keep my home or eat. That is not the case with most of my co-workers.

I'm not sure what point I'm trying to make here, except that perhaps our society simply does not value those who do important work like caretaking. There is a human cost for all of us in that paradigm. Who will the care of us when the caretakers are gone?


Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

You're so right. So many of the things that have been categorized as "women's work" have been devalued over time. Teaching, I think, still struggles with this. Nurses and nursing assistants should not have to put up with the kind of behavior you describe.

And the whole bottom line mentality is destroying many industries. The workers can see it coming. Why can't the managers?

Kirkepiscatoid said...

Well, hell, what was her comeback to the guy who wanted the "special favor"? I love to hear snappy comebacks to rude jerks! (even if he is a dying rude jerk)...

Lauralew said...

Snappy comeback? It was, (if you are such a great lawyer like you say you are) "Then you would know what sexual harassment is, then, wouldn't you?"

Some people who are not in health care like you and I are, Kirkepiscatoid, have this romantic notion that dying makes people nice. It just makes people more who they are. If a person is an SOB, that person will be just as much one in the hospice as they were outside.

FranIAm said...

This post leaves me silenced. The noise you hear are my very deep sighs.