Learning Through Serving
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Learning Through Serving

I am a male CNA currently registered in Wisconsin since 1991, having worked as such since 1980 when I left high school. I have worked with ten different employers and many precious people I remember very well.

I remember virtually everyone I have cared for in my over 30 years of work and yet there is not one person, place or moment that characterizes them all except perhaps, May. She died within 24-hours of admission and we never spoke, except with the eyes. May had end-stage nerve and muscle wasting disease that left her mind intact but her body immobile and in pain. Her boyfriend brought her in after taking care of her at home, but he was wasted on some kind of drug, maybe her pain medication, feeling he needed it more than her. We ordered morphine and got her settled and she finally relaxed. She was gone by morning.

May reminded me of Mary, another woman with a similar disease. Mary's husband Harold came to visit drunk. She could just point to a letter board similar to an Ouija board and spell out words and phrases with her right hand and then use her eyes to indicate if we were correct. Mary was a refined woman but very patient with me because I was an 18-year-old boy trying to be a man, sensitive but having a lot to learn. Mary taught me how to communicate without words—just using the eyes.

These women are the core of understanding the meaning of what I have done for 30 years. Whether imprisoned by hearing loss, loss of sight or mobility, failing bodies and minds or simply being alone—the challenge was the same, to know when to reach into another's soul and touch them, to stay out of the way, and have the good sense to know the difference. Can I honestly say I fell in love with the woman that quietly said, "I'm tired of being old?" These were largely rhetorical questions without an answer.

The men and women of this generation were far superior to me. I could only stand by and watch them die. Oh, I did the necessary things like I was paid to do, trained to do, but they were the ones patiently trying to teach me. I will spend the rest of my life trying to decipher their encrypted message because I am trapped here, too. Imprisoned by the ignorance of believing I understand what my eyes have seen, what I have heard, and experienced. That it can all be regulated and catalogued in journals of medicine.

Is it not ironic that primary caregivers struggle to stay alive while money movers make millions, even billions tax free, moving money from here to there and acquiring the power and influence to change the world, but will not lift a finger unless they can make more money doing it? Ironic because I have taken care of them in their final hours and they would give me it all had I the power to give them more life. Yes, I have turned down a fortune because in their grief they wanted to pay me money for an hour of genuine kindness that in reality they could not afford. If you must ask how much it is worth you cannot afford it. Sincere kindness is priceless so I don't charge for it.

It is not my intent to humiliate the achievements and status of professionals and others fallen upon hard times due to aging and disease because no one deserves these indignities. Indeed, I delight in restoring dignity to every human in need of it regardless of cause. I do not wish such suffering upon my worst enemy. Bill wanted one more hour. The cancer was sudden, painful, and terminal. Being sidetracked into a cozy hospice in the country is hardly comforting when given less than six months to live just when retirement promised the rewards earned from a life of hard work and sacrifice. Bill had spirituality and strong beliefs but it seemed to make matters worse because he cried every day begging God...