The summer before my senior year of RN nursing school, I worked as an LPN (we were allowed to take LPN boards then after 2 years of RN education) in a county-run long-term chronic psychiatric facility. Most of the patients had been there for years and years long ago abandoned by their families. It was very much like the ward scenes in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. These men were otherwise ignored, neglected, and sometimes abused by staff members. I was 19 years old, altruistic, naïve, and inexperienced.
The stories I could tell you about my short time there, including being threatened when I started to advocate for my patients to get them the basics like shoes that weren’t falling apart, a clean bathroom, and art supplies. I was undeterred and probably lucky that I left there unharmed . . . not by the patients but those on the payroll who were bilking the system. I made some deep connections with those patients in that short time. I hope that I showed them, however briefly, that they were worthy of respect, love, compassion, and nurturing.
I never forgot them and still have some of the notes, cards, and pictures they made for me. I did manage to get some art supplies, an occasional pair of new shoes for them, and one day brought in cleaning supplies and rubber gloves from home and we had a ‘cleaning party’ in the bathroom when I finally realized that the absentee housekeeping staff was never going to show up.
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