By Bill Stork, DVM
The little tube TV suspended over the resuscitation cabinet in the ICM unit of Decatur Memorial Hospital shows lines of folks clutching wads of paper scraps stretching from the counter to the ice cooler. Behind the beautiful blonde anchor of the ten o’clock local news, a computer graphic blasts Power Ball Mania; a burst of stars tails off the “a.” From the tiny speaker next to the nurses’ call button, blondie exclaims “Saturday’s estimated jackpot is up to $422 million!” like it’s the second coming of Jesus Christ.
CNN reports live from the 2016 DNC in Philadelphia. Carol Costello points to a seating chart at a champagne brunch hosted by Hillary Clinton. Donors who have given less than $750,000 are seated at card tables in the side room like the ugly cousins at Thanksgiving dinner. To sit at the grownup table next to the Democratic candidate for president, donors must have raised $1.5 million or more. Senator Elizabeth Warren assures us our country is not broken. She knows this because there are CEOs of American companies making tens of millions of dollars per year.
In the sterile, stainless, and tiled room below the antiquated squawk box lies my dad. Registered nurses attend to the sodium chloride infusion in his right arm and the heparin drip in his left. Doctors Patel, Trachtenberg, and Collins order contrast MRIs, sonograms and EEGs to confirm and localize the lesions. Demyelination and beta-amyloid proteins have conspired to rob him of the laser clarity and steady hand that allowed him to deftly place 450 tons of nuclear fuel rods with a quarter inch clearance, from the seat of a Manitowoc tower crane. A rogue blood clot in his left femoral artery renders his clutch foot cool. Three more in his brain cost him control of most basic human functions. For how long, and to what extent, is the great unknown, and fertile fodder for a son apposing his faith vs quality of life.
One core faculty that was never in jeopardy was his dignity. For that we have to thank an indefatigable, hyper-compassionate army in green scrubs.
They are the Certified Nursing Assistants.
There is a hierarchy of health care. Physicians diagnose and prescribe treatments and insurance companies fight not to pay for them. Registered Nurses ensure said treatments are administered on time and accurately and patients are monitored in real-time. Finally, at the very heart of care are the CNAs. At times when we are as dependent as a newborn, they are more helpful than I thought humanly possible.
Their job description reads like the list we dread as our parents age and inevitably decline.
I’ve watched them in nursing homes and hospitals. Their work is always physical, organic, unsightly, and often at God-awful times of the day.
I’ve taken it as a mission to find a complaint, curled lip, or a syllable of frustration to which they would be more than entitled, as they changed soiled bed clothes for the fourth and fifth time, in one shift. And I have failed.
They earn less than a cashier at a Kwik Trip, with fewer benefits. O’Meka is a twenty eight year old mother of three boys; all are fixtures on the high honor roll and excel in three sports. She’s been a CNA for nine years. She blushed when I thanked her, “Oh, you’re welcome, Mr. Stork, I just want my patients to get the kind of care I would want for my own mother.”
Dear Senator Warren, I differ, and I will not beg with you to do it. CEOs earning hundreds, if not thousands, of times more than working men and women is criminal. We will be approaching some sense of equity when the professionals who touch my father’s shoulder and comb his hair when he’s thanked them for a clean gown can earn enough to support their families.