I was sixteen years old when I was employed as a Nurse’s Aid for the summer. I worked days, afternoons, and night shifts in a nursing home. The residents were mostly elderly psychiatric patients, with only a handful or so that could communicate with staff. Many were in wheelchairs, some were actually restrained in their chairs because they either could not sit up straight themselves or they were violent.
When I worked night shift, I was responsible for waking fifteen residents up at 5:30 a.m. for breakfast at 7 a.m., which I thought was crazy, but I had to change diapers, bathe and dress them, thus the early start time. The poor residents that I had woken up first, would end up sitting in the dining area for over an hour, falling asleep. It was not an easy job at all, but the pay was quite good, so I kept at it. I enjoyed afternoon shifts the best. I would go in early and sit with a couple of the elderly gentlemen in the dining area and chat. They loved telling stories about their life, and I enjoyed listening to them. It was sad though, because you knew very few of the residents actually had visitors. Day shifts were easy to work, because it was just a matter of keeping residents clean, helping them with meals, then putting them to bed.
There was one elderly resident who had Parkinson’s disease, he was still able to talk, and he had an infectious laugh. Due to his Parkinson’s disease though, it was necessary for him to wear a catheter. The catheter consisted of a condom and a bag that was strapped to his leg. The first time I was shown how to put the catheter on him, the nurse joked and said it would be easier if he had an ‘erection’. He laughed, not the least bit embarrassed by the comment, where I was a very deep shade of red. Thankfully, I only had to put the catheter on him a couple of times.
Occasionally, when on afternoon shift, my dad would pick me up from work. There were a few times when I got in the car, and the first thing my father would say to me is “someone died”. I asked him how he knew, he replied “I smelled of death”. It was the oddest thing, I didn’t smell anything at all.
I learned a lot that summer and surprised my parents by sticking with the job. For the next few summers, I continued working in various nursing homes. I never thought of quitting for the simple reason I enjoyed looking after the elderly, and listening to their stories.
What summer job(s) did you have?