Clinical Studies Program Opens Up Student’s Eyes

Kat Kolleger, Co-Sports Editor

I sucked in a breath and squeezed my eyes shut. My heart raced in my ears.

Nothing traumatic was happening to me, I shouldn’t be this nervous.

But I was.

I opened my eyes.

Every direction I looked there was a person more than half a century older than I, but no where near as capable of completing everyday tasks.

Most of them are confined to wheelchairs. These people need help dressing, bathing, toileting and even eating.

These are the people in Keil Healthcare Center at Franke at Seaside Continuing Care Retirement Community.

I knew what I was getting into when I signed up for Wando’s Clinical Study program, but I never dreamed it would affect me the way it has.

The Clinical Studies class offers the opportunity to earn the South Carolina State Nursing Aid certification before you even graduate from high school. That way, I can work in the medical field through college to get my field hours for nursing school.

The benefits seemed vast to me, even if the thought of doing hands on work in a nursing home slightly irked me. I’d always had my sights set on working in the Emergency Room or in a pediatric unit. Geriatrics — caring for the elderly — wasn’t really my thing.

The two months of preparation before rotations at the Franke Home flew by. I knew what I was preparing for the entire time, but the endgame of practicing skills on real, living people didn’t seem to sink in as something I’d actually be doing.

I trailed behind my teacher and registered nurse, Catherine Lawson, as she instructed us on who the residents were and where all the essential tools were located. Looking into the faces that I would be taking care of for the next several weeks filled me with anxiety.

The anxiety of caring for the residents didn’t subside until the fourth day, after my first experience giving a resident a full shower.

We had a particularly obstinate resident with Alzheimer’s. She doesn’t like waking up and tends to get really nervous and fight you during bathing. Cries of “Stop!” and “Please Go!” frightened me a little, but mostly they broke my heart. The anxiety from the shower stimulated the resident to have a bowel movement in the shower while we were bathing her.

To most reading, this may seem like an awkward and gross occurrence. And I myself, about 20 minutes earlier, would’ve thought the same thing.

But it wasn’t. I simply did what I had to do, and told my resident that it was okay. I told her not to be afraid because I was going to take care of her and keep her safe.

Situations are only awkward if you make them awkward.

During the course of the shower, I put myself in my resident’s place. I contemplated how I would feel if I had just had an accident while being showered by a complete stranger. I put myself on her level, and that has made all the difference in the world for how I view working with my residents.

I wanted, more than anything, for my resident to feel safe, loved and cared for. That’s how I would want to be treated.

We calmed her down and finished up. Got her dressed, transferred her back into her wheelchair, styled her hair and wheeled her out to breakfast. Clean, awake and out of the shower, my resident was anxiety free and a completely different person.

And so was I.

I went from being essentially terrified of working with my residents, to respecting them and feeling like I was able to connect to each of them.

All because of a 20-minute shower.

The people I have the pleasure to care for every other week for three hours a day may be elderly, but they are as much a person as you and I are and deserve to be treated as such.

There is nothing to be afraid of. No reason to be anxious.

These people have taught me things no textbook ever could. I’ve learned how to communicate through the toughest barriers, how to be patient when your patience has run out and how to maintain composure during slightly awkward situations.

The lessons obtained from Wando’s Clinical Study Program span far past what’s required by the State Standards.

It’s taught me to be a better person.