Certifiable (Part 1)

–1st Saturday

I cut it close and was almost late for class because I couldn’t find the school. I had the address, but I didn’t see the name of the institution anywhere. I drove up the street one more time, and back down again.  I finally saw the address. 

Wait..what?  I pulled into the parking lot and looked up to the second floor of a very small mini-mall. Turns out, the school was on the second floor, just above… the laundromat?  Not exactly the ivy-covered building I had pictured in my head.  I climbed the metal steps to the second floor, stepping this way and that, avoiding the odd empty beer bottle or condom wrapper discarded here and there. As I opened the door to the administrative offices, I’m reminded to mask up. I’d be surprised if I was protected by a hazmat suit in this area, much less a mask, but anyway…

I completed the remainder of the paperwork and left the administrative offices for the classroom, one office door to the left.

I entered another office-looking environment, and found a very small classroom, to fit a max of 10 students.  I saw a signup sheet for the class, a prep course for the CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant) exam, discovered I was in the correct classroom, and proceeded to sign in.   In this classroom were two rows of desks, five desks in each row.  I chose desk 3 in the left row, behind an older woman in the first desk, and an empty desk in the second. There were three other students in the right row.  I was one of two men.

The instructor walked in, introduced herself, and confirmed it is the class we were all supposed to be in.  By her accent, I figured she was Jamaican or Bahamian. I later discovered the rest of the class was also either Jamaican or Bahamian. 

The instructor was the doppelgänger of singer-songwriter, Tracy Chapman, with what I later learned was a long-haired wig. And she had a tic, which was a hiccup that sounded like what a toy manufacturer thought a frog sounded like. No disrespect here at all…but for real, she was plagued by this condition that just happened, out of nowhere, without warning, in a louder-than-you’d-expect volume, lasting a solid twenty seconds each time, and freaked me out completely every time it happened, which was about half a dozen times each class. 

I asked my husband John if he remembered back in grade school when the teacher would clack two metal pieces between her thumb and index finger to get the attention of the class… he said he did and if you’re old like us, you’ll remember too. (If you’re not old, google it or just trust me that nuns and teachers actually used to do that.) That’s what I thought she was doing, but I was totally thrown and decided that it couldn’t be directed at us because no one in the class was causing any disruption, and then also, the frog-ribbit sound…what the hell was that??  

The instructor appeared to be someone who had carried out the motions for this class 500 times and was just as uninterested in fulfilling this commitment as the rest of us. (I later learned there might have been a good reason for her demeanor.)

Upon paying for the class, we received an instruction book, which explains and defines many of the basic caregiving guidelines for would-be CNAs. The second half of the book lists all 21 skills we were to learn. Each skill lists the time it should take to complete the skill, the supplies needed for the skill, and then finally, a 25 to 35 (sometimes up to 50) line-by-line breakdown of how to carry out the skill. Sounds simple enough, right? It is not, and worse yet, it is made more difficult when you’re torn to pieces by the person supposed to be teaching you.

The first half of the class was devoted to establishing our ability to read multiple pages of text, aloud, to the rest of the class.  For a second, I nervously flashbacked to fourth grade (shout out to Mrs. Funk, Goodwin Elementary, Cicero, Il). I couldn’t believe this was happening, and just about spit out my water when she called on me to start.  F-me, seriously??  I half expected the instructor to have me stand at my desk, or worse yet, read from the front of the class but thankfully, I was spared that inevitable embarrassment.  

Off I went, reading two chapters aloud to the entire class. I might have had a tiny bit of an advantage, having been around and worked with my Mom who was a nurse and had spoken many of these medical terms I was reading. I was reading like a pro, correctly pronouncing this term and that term, when the instructor stopped me.

After the two chapters, another student was called to pick up where I left off.  She wasn’t so bad, and mostly read just like I had, with just a little trouble here and there with the medical terms. Then a few chapters later, a third classmate was called and that person was definitely not used to reading basic medical terms, or just reading aloud. Or just reading.  

Let me just say… it is just as painful now as it was in 4th grade to listen to people read aloud who cannot pull off that skill well, and made worse by my fellow Jamaican grandmother-type classmate who CONSTANTLY tried to correct any reader who struggled with pronouncing a word, when she herself could barely eke out something that resembled the actual word. This was part unintentionally hilarious and also mind-numbingly frustrating.  

What was the instructor doing, Ry?  Glad you asked… she was barely paying attention to the awkward display taking place directly in front of her because she was on the phone.  What in the what-what??

Yes… she was on the phone, via wired earbuds connected to her phone with a little mic, almost the entire four hours of class, every class.  She was either a student herself listening in on another class (because she would occasionally speak, directed into the phone, which then confused the heck out of all of us, and when someone would ask what she said, she’d just point to the phone), or perhaps even teaching another class. She never explained, and no one bothered to ask. Who knows what she was doing, but she was with us at about 65% attention, it seemed. To be fair, she was able to multitask, in that way, sort of, but it bothered me some that her entire attention wasn’t on us.  

After two hours of having to endure the chapters read aloud, we left the classroom for the skills demonstration room.  This is where our instructor truly shined, at ripping everyone to shreds.  

I’m not sure what qualifies a person to be able to lead and teach these skills, but I’m guessing it’s a simple yes or no question during the interview. Our instructor displayed absolutely no chill, no charm, no patience, and almost no sense of humor – almost drill-sergeant-like. 

Since this was the first Saturday and none of us had any experience or prior knowledge of any kind, the time in the skills room was spent learning the first two mandatory skills: indirect care and handwashing.

Indirect Care is basically introducing yourself to the patient, explaining why you are in the room, what you will be doing, and checking a few basic things like the patient’s id bracelet and the locks on the bed, as well as pulling the privacy curtain closed.  Handwashing is another critical skill, where if you miss a step, you fail automatically. Not one student did it absolutely correctly even on the last day of instruction, which frustrated our instructor to no end.  “Guys, guys, c’mon, I’ve shown you at least 10 times, you’ve had a month to practice at home, why are you guys not getting it?” …was her way of encouraging and supporting our failing endeavors. 

Instead of letting everyone take a turn right after her and then watching and correcting at the missteps, she would instead demonstrate the hand washing skill, finish, and then look at everyone and ask, “Do you all know now what you did wrong?” 

And therein lies the issue, as far as I am concerned.  Showing versus instructing.  I think most of us learn generally the same way, which is by doing. I can watch a demo of something but until my hands are moving the same way, for example, it’s not going to register in my brain. 

Our instructor wasn’t unintelligent by any means, but I was struck by how she didn’t grasp that part of the instruction.  

You might be asking yourself…why didn’t you speak up and make that suggestion? She didn’t necessarily put out that vibe that she really wanted to help – it was more of a “ask if you absolutely have to” type vibe. And to be fair, I wasn’t the only one. Others caught the same vibe and I’m guessing like me, just figured they’d keep quiet and roll with it. All but one poor soul, that is. The student to my right attempted to say what I mentioned above about direct instruction, and the instructor shot her ass right down, emphasizing it was about practicing at home, and then displaying your understanding and ability when you arrive at class. …and then I guess, being berated when not perfecting it despite not having had that direct instruction beforehand, and also being instructed to avoid using YouTube for examples because “they’re all wrong.” Not one of us spoke up to clarify what that actually meant.

This was the kind of situation where, despite definitely not always being clear with what she said, and having many questions…when she asked if I had any questions, I said no. I would regret this decision the very next Saturday.


Ryan Maloney
Ryan Maloney
Ryan Maloney is a husband, bartender, caregiver, drummer, and former online advertising professional. In addition to writing and drumming, Ryan enjoys cooking for and entertaining friends as well as going to the beach and traveling the world. He lives in Ft. Lauderdale with his main squeeze, John. Though born and raised in Chicago, Il until the age of 14, Ryan considers his true hometown to be Phoenix, AZ. Ryan spent over 30 years in Arizona, starting in 1985 at Cortez High School. From there, community college and ASU followed, but all the while, Ryan was drumming up a frenzy in local heavy metal bands. His late teens saw his main band, TYNATOR, achieve a small amount of local success, as well as release a cd to the European market. The opportunity of a lifetime came in 2000, which provided the basis for one of his writing series', PUMPJACK - The Ozzfest 2k diaries. The 12 chapter series documents the meeting of two friends, and then the events that led up to the band, PUMPJACK, heading out on the annual summer Ozzfest tour in 2000, in which the band had been invited to participate, as well as some memories of some of the individual city tour stops.After the tour, Ryan began what then became a 15 year career in online advertising. Having left the corporate world behind in 2017, Ryan now enjoys serving drinks to thirsty customers in Wilton Manors, Florida.

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