To See and Hear Life: What It Means to be a Nursing Assistant

Mitzy Flores (RN, CHSE, COI, Director of Continuing Education at UNLV School of Nursing)

Mitzy Flores (RN, CHSE, COI, Director of Continuing Education at UNLV School of Nursing)

Jun. 22, 2020

By Mitzy Flores (RN, CHSE, COI, Director of Continuing Education)

(NOTE: this article was written in honor of National Nursing Assistants Week - June 18-25, 2020)

During my early twenties, I knew I wanted to go into nursing. The idea that I could help others during the most vulnerable of times sat well in my soul. Talking to others, listening to their life stories, getting to know who they were and from where, allowed me to peek into windows of lives I otherwise would never see. Subsequently, and in my mind, one way to understand what I was going to experience in the profession was to become a CNA. The memory of embarking on that journey was one of excitement and nerves. The reasons for my nerves were simple; I was now going to be in charge of the dignity of another human being. The only other persons I had taken care of where my two young children. I humbly knew I had much to learn.

My career as a CNA began in a five-story nursing home. It was the only nursing home in the city I was currently living in at that time. I very quickly learned how to maneuver my body to assist those I was helping. I loved what I did. It gave me a chance to really see and hear what life meant to others. For some of the patients, happiness came in the form of Friday hair appointments. For others, joy was felt when I would sit with them by the warm sun on a cold winter day. And yet, for others, happiness spoke through the pictures of the past carefully placed on their room’s solidary walls. Finally, for me, the peace came knowing that for even a few minutes, I could remind them that they were still here on earth, and had not been forgotten.

After some time, I was so efficient with how I worked that I was promoted to the bath aide. That position required a bit of speed and lots of strength. My job was to bath and dress all those beautiful elderly folks whose names were on my daily list. I was usually done by one o’clock in the afternoon. I always felt happy at the end of the day because I was sure those patients and their families were appreciative of the mundane task of cleanliness. Yet, I will admit there were days when I went home, and I didn’t want to move from all the physical labor I had endured.

Till this day, the deep understanding and compassion needed to bathe a body is one of the most profound skills I learned. As an end of life doula, I often tap into those moments of vulnerability and humility to bring forth peace and dignity to the body when people dance the dance of death. Dr. Jean Watson, in her Human Caring Theory:  Caritas Processes, notes that “The Caritas Nurse is aware of this perspective in assisting another with basic needs, at whatever level of need is presenting. The nurse responds to these needs as a privilege, an honor, and a sacred act in assisting this person. The Caritas Nurse appreciates that in this one act, he or she is connecting with and contributing both to the spirit of that person and to oneself. “(Watson, 2008, pp. 146–147). Little did I know that my credentials as a CNA would lead me to a most precious of experiences in nursing; transpersonal learning, and teaching.

Reference: Watson, J. (2008). Nursing: The philosophy and science of caring (Rev. ed.). Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado.