Hospice CNAs, a calling dedicated to dignity

Published 9:33 pm Thursday, June 13, 2013

Talk to the Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs) at Hospice of the Carolina Foothills about their jobs and common themes emerge: their love for meeting people from all walks of life and a respect for the dignity of their patients at a time when they’re facing life’s final journey.

The CNAs serve an essential role wherever hospice care is needed, from Hospice House to nursing facilities to patients’ homes. They take and record vital signs, monitor medications and food and drink intake. They work closely with registered nurses and other medical staff to coordinate patient care. And, most importantly to the patients themselves, they assist with personal hygiene, change bed linens, keep rooms clean and neat and help feed and transport their patients.

“I had a lady patient that would wait for me on her bath days,” says CNA Sharon Hughes.  “She had all her toiletries ready, and loved this time. She said it was because I took the time to do her nails and curl her hair. It was important to her to look nice, even though she was sick. She took great pride in her looks. She called me her angel. But she was the angel.”

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Though Hughes has worked for hospice, intermittently, for 11 years, she’s been a caregiver most of her life. She helped her parents after a bad accident, and took time off work to care for her father, a hospice patient, before his death. But her caring nature was formed in childhood.

“I had a mentally challenged sister who was one year older than me, and I grew up being her little caregiver. She was my shadow all my life till she passed away two years ago,” Hughes says.  “I believe that is what made me who I am today. Learning to care for her taught me that all people are important and a gift on this earth, and I believe it’s our responsibility to care for them, underprivileged, elderly or sick.”

Like all of the CNAs interviewed, Hughes approaches her position with great humility.

“They say it takes a special person to do this. I say it only takes heart.”

Trish Green has been a CNA for hospice since 2002. She tells of one time when she truly “got lost” in her work.

“I shaved my patient’s mustache off. He and I were talking away, while I just went about my job giving him a shave. When I came back for my next visit, he told me that I had shaved his mustache off. He had had it for 30 years. I told him, while we were laughing about it, that the funny part was that he let me. To this day, his wife and I still laugh about that.”

Previously, Green had worked in a department store, a grocery store, a mill and a long-term nursing facility. She enjoys spending time with her patients, working one-on-one with them and says hospice is a fulfilling place for her.

Recently, she lost a patient she’d grown particularly fond of.

“This man brought sunshine to my rainiest day. No matter how bad a day or week I was having, as soon as I walked in the door, all that bad went away,” she says, “He would say to me ‘It’s so good to have you. Is everyone as happy to see you as I am? I hope someone takes as good care of you when you get old as you do me.’ Then he’d send me on my way with two fun-size Snickers to keep me sweet. Though I know he’s at peace, it saddens me that I won’t be seeing his smiling face here on this earth. I know that I will one day see him in heaven, because he was such an angel to me.”

In a former profession, Mary Kirby was a manager of a textile company shipping and receiving department. Six years ago, she took a CNA position at Hospice of the Carolina Foothills. She credits her career path to the divine.

“God opened up this door for me. I love people, and I like knowing that I can do things to help them. God was the one in control of this job.”

Kirby brings her nurturing spirit to her patients in a unique way.

“I sing with a lot of my patients. Most of them know ‘Jesus Loves Me.’ It seems to calm them down. I hold their hands and pray with them if they want,” she says. “We all need to remember that just because someone is in a nursing home or at home bed-bound, this does not mean that their lives are over. This is just another part, another step in life. Help them through this. Also remember your patients have families just like you do. Treat your patients with respect. Just know that this could be your own family member. Treat them the way you would want someone you love to be treated.”

Jonathan Hyder has a long association with hospice work. For five years, he was the assistant manager of a hospice resale store. He’s been a CNA with Hospice of the Carolina Foothills for almost one year.

In addition to his job responsibilities, he volunteers at the Hospice Thrift Barn and makes financial donations regularly. Hyder says he had a calling to help others in need.

“I enjoy helping others make the best of their last days,” he says, “My typical day is trying to make a difference in other people’s lives by showing that I care.”

As often is the case, Hyder learned patients make a difference in their caregivers’ lives, too.

“I had a patient who was a preacher. He called me into his room one night to sit and talk with him. He said God told him to ask me why I am doing this line of work and what my goals are. I told him that I truly felt it is my calling to help people. His reply was that he felt God wanted him to persuade me to reach my goal of finishing school, and that I would become a great nurse. It was a very touching conversation and it was our last before he passed.”

Time and again, nurses share how they get as much, or more, from their patients and the families than they feel they give. Kirby tells of one patient, a man who couldn’t speak, but would give her the biggest smile when she walked into his room. She offers this advice for anyone interested in a career as a hospice CNA: “Be sure you love people first. Know that you want to help, not just punch a time clock.”

– article submitted

by Darlene Cah