$13.31. That’s how much I make an hour. Because I’m ‘JUST a Certified Nursing Assistant.’

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“Push a little deeper…watch your recoil…1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and 5 and…good pace, good rhythm…pulse check, hold compressions. No pulse, continue compressions. Switch on 3, go a little faster and a little deeper. Good waveform… not an ecmo candidate…pulse check, hold compressions. No pulse, talking to parents, resume compressions. Stop compressions. Time of death: 1430.”

I was there. I worked with all the others, being your child’s beating heart for an hour, praying so hard they would come back just to hear those 3 words that would crush your world.

$13.31. That’s how much I make an hour. Because I’m “just a CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant).”

But I am so much more than “JUST a CNA.” I’m more than just someone who changes briefs and feeds people. I’m more than just the stuff getter and the linen stocker. I’ve done more things than you can imagine, loved more ways than you know, smiled more than I can count, helped more, hoped more, cheered more, worked more, healed more. I’ve done all the things no one wants to do, so people can heal again, love again, live again.

I’ve helped strangers relearn to walk, taking each painful and slow step right by their side. I’ve cheered them on when they surpassed their goals, walked these now friends to their cars to never see them again.

I’ve changed dirty brief after dirty brief for hours and days just to make sure my sweet old people are well taken care of. I’ve held their hands when they hurt, hugged when all feels lost, rubbed backs, sung songs, listened to the same story day after day after day. I’ve learned love and patience and humility from these people whose story they allow me to hear. I’ve been their family on holidays when they had no other. I’ve combed their matted, snarled hair so they can look beautiful one last time before they pass. I’ve sung songs, told stories, held hands so they didn’t die alone. I’ve learned love, and then watched it die, over and over and over again.

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I’ve been the force that makes people’s heart beat while doctors and nurses try endlessly to save them, doing chest compressions for minutes and hours. I’ve watched parents fall down in grief knowing their child was dead, keeping my composure together while knowing the dear child I’ve grown to love is no longer here. I’ve watched people take their last breath, done chest compressions so much my arms are shaking and sore, helped with procedures while knowing they probably won’t make it. I’ve held heads while doctors drilled into them, helped with sterile procedures, drawn blood vile after blood vile for necessary labs, and watched slowly as all our efforts were in vain.

I’ve changed linens, washed bodies, and shaved faces. I’ve combed hair, pushed wheelchairs, and brushed teeth. I’ve laughed time and time again, heard hundreds of life stories, grown to love thousands of people, sobbed with patients and families, gone home and cried alone for the life’s I’ve known and lost. I’ve rubbed backs, massaged muscle cramps, held hands, and been cried on. I’ve calmed babies, holding their small bodies for hours, I’ve comforted the middle aged woman whose father just passed, and I’ve been the last face the your grandmother would see.

I’m what you don’t see. Serving, helping, learning, loving. I’m running for 12 hours straight and coming back the next day for another shift. I’ve worked through the night, and every weekend. I’ve given up countless holidays with my family so that one day you might spend them with yours again. I’ve had my heart grow hundreds of times taking care of people and had it break hundreds more when people die. I can’t tell you the amount of miracles I’ve seen or the amount if times my life has been touches and changed. I see life differently. Life is something precious, something we are never guaranteed. I’ve learned to cherish moments and to savor the love, because one day it might not come anymore. I’ve seen and done though things most people couldn’t handle. And I’d do it all again if I could. I love, and learn, and grow, and try as hard as I can every time, because I’ve seen life. I’ve known death. And I am here.

I am so very much more than JUST a CNA. I AM a CNA.

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Kirsten Buttars. It originally appeared on her blogSubmit your own story here, and subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter here.

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