So I was walking my dog Sunday evening; I was trying to adjust my sleep schedule so that I can be awake in the mornings again. I slept away most of Sunday afternoon and hoped to get some more sleep later before I had to show up for my eight o’clock Monday morning class.
These days I spend Friday night/Saturday mornings and Saturday night/Sunday mornings at the local hospital, where I work as a Certified Nurse Aide. I became a CNA I about a month ago, and am still in school for the CNA II. But my school does clinical work at the local hospital, and apparently I made enough of an impression that they wanted to hire me before I finished my program. And so for the past two weekends I’ve been working at the hospital whilst I finish learning all the stuff I need to help the patients for whom I am caring.
It has been an interesting experience, this actually doing the job for which I am still being trained. It is exhilarating, for one thing, that sense of flying by the seat of your pants when you know that you don’t really understand yet what you are doing but have to pretend that you do anyway.
For example . . . I am developing a better sense and clearer understanding of the necessity of all the clinical stuff that my class did earlier in the program. Don’t get me wrong. I would never in any way denigrate what it is that we CNAs do, or the skill it takes to do what we do. But . . . still . . . if you can demonstrate your ability in the lab, in the classroom, then you can demonstrate that same ability in Real Life, with Real Patients.
Except you can’t, because it is never the same, not in the Real World. And, besides, a lot of what we do is fairly intimate. We bathe people, we feed people, and we wipe people’s bums. We insert catheters into people. We see people at their most helpless and their most vulnerable. We are there to help, but a lot of people don’t know how to accept that help, or feel ashamed for doing so. One woman, just two weeks ago, told me that she was ashamed that she had a colostomy bag, which I was changing and cleaning for her.
So you learn to think on the fly, and try to address the particular patient’s needs as they arise, and you learn how to talk to people who look to you to provide them comfort and are often ashamed to be asking for help.
For my money, the real importance of all that stuff we were doing earlier in clinicals was not about learning to do the stuff we learned to do in lab better, it was about learning to do the stuff we learned to do in lab well. It was about learning how to talk to and relate to and deal with the actual human beings who are the people we are supposed to be helping.
My sense is that one of the biggest obstacles to people doing this job well is that none of us are naturally comfortable with the kind of intimacy the job requires. Seriously, who in their right mind – in the normal world – would be at all comfortable with the idea of cleaning out another adult’s anus, or genital region? Who would feel comfortable even with feeding another adult, or wiping their chin?
But this is the job that has to be done, for a lot of people, and when that job needs to be done it is the most important job – for that person – that anyone can be asked to do.
The real benefit of clinicals, of being forced to deal with this stuff at least once or twice a week, is not that it inures you to the natural negative reaction you might otherwise have to piss, or shit, or vomit, but that it destroys your own reticence with other people. Suddenly you are not imposing on somebody’s private business, you are assisting them in getting past a bad spell. You are not a public gawker, you are a private confidante. More than anything, you are someone whose job is to be there for that person when they need someone, whether to hold their hair or lift them up or just squeeze their hand.
That is always a challenging and interesting experience, and – I think – a rewarding one as well.
* * *
I am old enough to have lost track of the people I am supposed to be. It is my sense that most people think they have characters and roles and functions they are supposed to fill. A lot of people want to be a Hero, or a Love Interest, or a Quip. I’ve wanted to be one or two of those things myself, until I got tired of trying to fit myself into some other thing.
But I am very much enjoying myself these days, with the new job and the new education I am pursuing. I was thinking about it this evening whilst walking my dog and trying to nail down what it was I enjoy so much about working at the hospital. And then I realized why I was so happy.
What I am doing, these days, is surfing.
* * *
I still believe what I believed when I was a teenager: Nobody is an ex-surfer. Nobody once surfed, and then stopped. There is no way anybody could mainline what it is like to be a Surfer – an honest-to-God Surfer – and then decide . . . . Hmmmmmm . . . . no, I think I’m done with that.
Surfing doesn’t work that way.
But I’ve thought about why that is, and I am pretty sure I know the answer. It is because surfing is the closest most people get to experiencing Enlightenment. Don’t get me wrong . . . . I’m not talking some mystic bug-a-boo in the sky. I’m talking Enlightenment with a focus on the material world.
The way I see it, most of the time we all spend our lives not really living them but thinking about how we are living them. Hell! That’s the premise of most advertising commercials these days: Buy our product, you'll think your life is better. Even in sports, when you hear an announcer scream He was in The Moment (or, alternatively, The Zone), what you are hearing is an acknowledgement that somebody just pulled off some incredibly difficult athletic feat because he wasn’t thinking, he was just there.
Surfing is the quintessence of that experience.
When you catch a wave, when you slide down its face and start working the board over it . . . your mind just goes right out of your body. For that ride – and it is a short ride, where I live (beachbreaks) the ride doesn’t last much beyond 10 whole seconds – the brain has just checked out. Instead, I am moving my legs, my toes, my body simultaneously with a fickle piece of moving, changeable water and it isn’t until I am done with it and am paddling back toward the lineup that I even know what it is I just did.
Surfing is mostly about replaying what you just did, because you can’t watch yourself doing it. And y’know why you can’t watch yourself doing it? Because you’re bloody doing it!
* * *
Same/same with taking care of patients. I’m still in orientation, but somebody called in sick the other night and I was asked to take over one wing on my floor and run it by myself. “Sure!” I said.
But it was great. In fact, it was exhilarating. I spent 8 hours taking care of 16 patients and – when it was done – I realized that for the entire time I hadn’t thought about myself at all. I had spent 8 hours thinking about other people, and what they might need and what I needed to do to make sure that they were taking care of.
I had been surfing.