My story is about the work-related grief I've experienced while working as a certified nurse assistant (CNA). I'll begin with my first days as a newly hired CNA. It was day two of my first week, and while I walked down the hallway I noticed something unusual lying on the floor near the opposite side of building. The hall of the retirement community was quite long and it wasn't until I was halfway down the hall before I realized it was a resident lying on the floor. I ran the rest of the way, only to discover the person was dead. I was very shaken.
I hadn't received proper orientation in regards to this facility and I didn't know whom I should contact. It didn't help that I wasn't carrying a cell phone (I had been taught that we shouldn't keep our cell phones with us while on duty). There were no emergency phones and no pull cords available in the halls. I was very shaky and nervous. I admit that I was scared. There was no one around but the body and myself. It was after hours and the staff at the reception desk had already clocked out, so I thought. I had no resort but to knock on the door of a nearby resident and ask to use the phone. This created a commotion in the hall and drew a crowd of residents from their apartments and the atmosphere then became extremely sorrowful. [End Page 151]
It was only then that I learned that a night staff person was on duty and how I could contact them. I had to learn this from a resident who was not my client. The person on staff that night provided me with a thorough tour and orientation of the building. I believe that my agency should have been the one to provide such an orientation. It took me a few weeks or more before I could close my eyes at night without seeing the body lying in the hallway. I wasn't offered any support from the agency; the next day was business as usual.
About two weeks later, another resident I cared for passed away. Then another, and another, and so on, but I wasn't actually present when the deaths occurred. They passed away while I was off work. It bothered me just the same to know they were gone. I cared about my clients, but for the agency the clients meant money and I had to remain focused and keep on working.
At this retirement community the residents were not cared for in a one-to-one fashion by the agency I worked for, but were visited during intervals throughout the course of my shift. I was on call for emergencies and other needs as well. Again, I cared for all those in my run, but I never became as close to any client as when I changed agencies and accepted the following assignment.
The new homecare agency I worked for provided one-to-one care. It was shift work, eight hours, one-to-one with one client or a married couple. One day, just after I began my morning shift, my client suffered respiratory distress, his pulse raced while his oxygen level dropped, despite the O2 he used. My client died while gasping for air. This was the first time I had been present and witnessed the fear in a dying person's eyes or experienced losing a client like this, but my emotions had to be set aside. I had work to do. I assisted the hospice team with the post-mortem care and other tasks, plus cared for the spouse.
After the post-mortem care was completed, I took a step back as the family gathered into the little room and surrounded my client. The room was silent except for the sighs, the sobs, and the wailing. It was heartbreaking to stay in the room. I bit my lip and tried to hold back tears. Not to mention the weak-in-the-knees floating feeling I experienced. I felt like crying, I had to...