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“Tough love” with a tender heart

Walk a mile in the shoes of a certified nursing assistant. If you can keep up.



By Darlene Jackson, Novant Health

 I’m a certified nursing assistant for Novant Health and this is my official job description.  “Provides and documents assistance to patients with activities of daily living and maintenance of a safe and clean environment under the direction and supervision of a registered nurse.”

This is how I live that description: I am whatever you need me to be. I’m your help to the bathroom. If you are having a hard day, I’m your shoulder to lean or cry on. I take your vital signs several times a day and update the doctors and nurses. I listen to stories about your cat or your grandchildren.  If you are having a good day, I am here to get you out of bed so you can walk, get better and go home. If you can’t get out of bed, I will change the sheets while you stay right where you are. If your dinner tray isn’t right, I will try to make things better. It’s just what I do.

Since 1980 I have worked at Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center. Every week I work three 12-hours shifts or “three 12s” as we say at the hospital. At 64, I still have no trouble working these hours and could put in a longer day if I needed to.

I guess one of the things that keeps me rolling is that I love my patients and even more, I love seeing them get better. We laugh together. We cry together. We sing. When they go home, I’ll see them around town at the Walmart and they’ll come over to ask how I’m doing.  Not too long ago, a woman sent me roses because she said I took such good care of her husband. 

I’m not sure I do anything special, but I do treat people like I would want to be treated if I were sick.  Sometimes their families are going through such pain and heartache. I try to take care of them too. But if they want to sit on the edge of the bed, I will place a pad there first because my patient deserves nice clean sheets.  

My nickname with the people I work with on 6 West is “The Sarge.” It’s not because I run around barking out orders at patients, it’s because I will help them find the strength to do what they need to do to go home.

Most of my patients have had a heart or lung procedure, and a big part of recovery is getting up and walking. That’s about the last thing most people want to do when they are not feeling well.  They want to lie in bed and scrunch up. And I get that. But I want them to get better and the doctors have made it crystal clear: They need to walk.  So one way or another, I’m going to make them walk. Sometimes I’ll say, “Ok, now I gotta show you a little tough love. But don’t get mad at me.”  And they don’t - usually.

Sunday can be a good day for me to help my patients make some progress. I say, “Your family’s coming, the preacher’s coming.  You just can’t be lying in that bed.”  Other days, I just have to lay it on the line: “You’re not going home lying on that bed.” And off we go on our laps through the halls. 

I’m not the only one caring for these patients, of course. The reality is that all the team members here work closely together. And I’m another set of eyes and ears for the RNs and the doctors.  That’s the way it’s supposed to work, with all of us working together to provide the best possible care for our patients. And it’s a big reason I love my job so much.

An ‘average’ day

There’s no typical day on a hospital floor (ask anyone!), but this gives you an idea of how my shift goes.

6:45: I get reports on how my patients did overnight and get my equipment ready for the day.

7:15: I start taking vital signs, helping people to the bathroom and tending to any other needs they have as they are waking up.

8:30: I make sure everyone is getting their breakfast trays and that they have what they need for a good start to the day.

9:30: Once breakfast is over, I enter what each patient ate for breakfast into our electronic medical records. When they use bathroom that all gets entered too. I tidy up rooms as I go throughout the day.

10: Up next are baths and bedding changes so everyone is getting a clean, fresh start to the day.

11:45: Time for another round of vital signs on all my patients.

12:15 p.m.: Making sure everyone has lunch. If they need help cutting up their food or feeding themselves, I do that.

1:  I walk with patients on laps through the hallways of the hospital. I work with them on their breathing,  help them to stand up straighter, and maybe coax them into another lap.

4: Another round of vital signs, the third time for the day.

5: Time for dinner. Often families come to visit for meals but if not, sometimes I just sit down and we talk about their families, their dogs, their cats.

6: I clean up the dinner trays and see if they’re up for after dinner walk.

6:45: On a good day I should be finishing up. I will return 12 hours later for a new day of being what you need me to be.

As told to a Healthy Headlines team member.

Darlene Jackson from Novant Health Healthy Headlines on Vimeo.




Published: 11/30/2017