‘For Heaven’s sake! Put that tray down and get the damn washing on!’. Her nasal voice boomed across the dining room and cut a diagonal slice through each of my ear drums. Resident’s paused midway through scooping porridge into their mouths and watched wide-eyed as the new carer was again being screamed at by the senior staff member. There was unease in the air as the young girl scampered across the faded linoleum and up the ramp towards the laundry; head down and tears again welling in red-lined eyes.
To say it was a baptism of fire would be an understatement. When I began working at the aged-care facility, I was already a wreck. Nursing a broken heart from a devastating end to a relationship and never having worked in aged-care, I was beyond nervous. My anxiety was at its peak and I even jumped when the automatic air-freshener sprayed. I had no idea that I would be sent even lower than I already was; by a person who was meant to be kind.
I have just read an article by Rachel Macy Stafford called ‘Am I Invisible?’ about being left out, or treated badly or just needing kindness, any sort of gentle kindness. It struck a nerve in me. Not to open old wounds but to appreciate people in my life who have shown true, unconditional kindness when I had nothing to offer back. People who found parts of my personality they liked and wished to get to know. People who didn’t know me at all but their inherent personal qualities of treating people with kindness and compassion shone out of them like morning sunbeams over the ocean.
There is one person out there, maybe two, three, ten, two dozen? But at least one person who has held their hand out when you were lying on your back, pinned down by insecurities, circumstances and devoid of energy to try to get back up by yourself.
I stood behind the laundry sobbing. Sobbing and sobbing. ‘Why me? I am trying my best! I don’t know what I don’t know!’ The sound of the back door opening and the rustle of wheelie frames being ushered noisily inside sparked me to wipe my tears, blow my nose and blink heavily, trying to less redden the red in my eyes.
Day in, day out I was screamed at, told I was ‘hopeless’ ‘useless’ and ‘a wonder I was ever employed because I wouldn’t be for long’. I was set up to fail by being asked to perform tasks she knew I had no idea of how to do but knowing I was too terrified to ask for help. I would go home and feel empty; no tears were left, no strength was had and no future was I looking forward to. Except the days I would drive into work and see a familiar car parked in the familiar spot. The other senior staff member was on shift and it was going to be a good day.
Tonia (pseudonym) was the absolute opposite of the other staff member and to me, in my current broken state, she was an angel. She greeted every staff member by name and let the staff organise themselves in the morning. And to top it all off, she cared deeply for her colleagues of whom she was fiercely protective. I was often rattled at work but kept it together to provide care to the people I was there to support. However, every day I was on with Tonia, she would stop me as I scarpered up and down the hallways and hug me. A big, warm, long hug. And she would whisper to me “You are doing a great job, never forget that, you are doing a brilliant job”. These moments slowly built my confidence and with the camaraderie between myself and the other carers, work got less traumatic and more enjoyable.
Unbeknownst to me, the manager was addressing the issue with the other staff member. The other staff had been reporting what was happening to not only me but other new carers and things were happening.
Personally, I decided that I would not be a victim. I would not let the nasty insecurities of one person affect me so deeply because I was giving her power. So I made a promise to my soul that I would never again let someone make me feel like that. And I would never make someone else feel like that. I worked hard at that job; really hard. And was offered a nursing scholarship a few years later.
The other day I had breakfast with the colleagues who were so supportive at that job. Four women who I will always love and admire because they suffered as well. And we laugh, hug, tease each other but most of all, have a deep respect for each other that you can see as we look at each other with admiration and kindness.
You see, you don’t have to ‘stand up for the underdog’ all the time. You just need to be compassionate. Often a kind word or gesture can be all it takes to remind someone struggling that ‘things will be okay’.
I will always strive to be like Tonia. I don’t think I’ll ever get to her level but if I come even slightly close, I will be happy.
Take care and be kind to each other.