Thursday, July 29, 2010


In Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain describes his fellow cooks as "wacked-out moral degenerates, dope fiends, refugees, a thuggish assortment of drunks, sneak thieves, sluts, and psychopaths,"

Never having worked in a restaurant beyond the unfortunate few months I hostessed at Denny's, I can't tell you whether I agree with him or not. But what I can tell you is that if a year ago you had asked me to describe a health care facility's nursing staff, I would have said something like they are neat, educated, professional, impersonal, hurried, interchangeable people. That was before my first day in Long Term Care, when I was shocked to find that my new coworkers resembled the grizzled veteran waitress at Denny's who has two trailers (one for her shoes and one to live in) much more than my previous Health care Worker Ideal.

In the nurse's station, I saw people who eat McDonald's for dinner, say they "ain't puttin' up with that shit" and wear long acrylic fingernails. People who live in trailers, or if they are under 25, with their parents. People who I thought were shockingly casual with the residents. Both the aides I trained with would go into a resident's apartment, plunk down on the nearest surface (be it a chair, a walker, or a bed) and casually ask that resident if he or she was ready for dinner, or whatever it was. That first week, I was horrified.

After having been at the facility for a few months now, I'm starting to understand the more unspoken rules among the staff: yes, they do swear in the nurse's station, but only with the door shut so residents don't overhear. No, I don't approve of the girls that date guys who take control of the couple's only car and drop their girlfriends off for work hours early and then call every five minutes leading up to the end of their shift, but as it turns out, neither does anyone else. Yes, they are very informal and casual with the residents, but these are people that they bathe, toilet, feed, and put to bed 5 days a week. These are people who say "Thanks, love you honey!" as we are walking out of their doors after helping them. And most importantly, though staff will cover for one another over small indiscretions such as texting when you could be charting, when it comes to actual patient care, they will bust anyone who is being neglectful. Because whether they're trashy or not, they love their residents. And I can respect that.

So now I'd describe long-term-care health care workers as half dysfunctional Wal-Mart family, half fierce patient advocates. And while I certainly hope to emulate the latter half of that and not the first, I've made peace with the rest of it. As long as they're caring for our residents properly, I've got no problem with them. And vice-versa.

And I've got my own acrylic nails now, too.

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