When her peers were spending the last days of summer lounging at the local pool in Aurora, Illinois, Judith was a thousand miles away. In Georgia. Her cousin was hospitalized after the removal of a 10-pound tumor. The family needed Judith, so she arrived a week after her cousin’s surgery and stayed for a month. She was 14.
“Even at the hospital, my aunt said I was the one waking up when a nurse would come in, and I would be asking what they were giving my cousin,” Judith said. “My mom said as a kid, I could see videos of women giving birth and it wouldn’t gross me out.”
Judith started working as a CNA right out of high school, August of 2019. Her school had a career track program called Health Occupation Services of America, or HOSA.
“My HOSA mentor was always guiding us and telling us that we could do whatever we set out to do,” Judith said. “It was a really great program because we would spend four to six months learning about a certain topic and then go to another city to present what we learned and compete with other students.”
Judith had barely half a year of real-world nursing experience when COVID struck. Her biggest fear? Being a carrier and unknowingly transmitting the virus to the residents. Her routine changed overnight and hasn’t changed since. As soon as she enters the Bickford Branch, it’s mask on, scrub hands, lots of hand sanitizer throughout the day. Once home, Judith sheds her scrubs, kicks off her shoes and heads right to the shower.
“I even got in the habit of keeping Clorox wipes in my car and wiping down that gas pump handle every time,” Judith said. “By the grace of God, our Branch hasn’t been hit by COVID. It’s like we had a bubble around us.”
A bubble reinforced by the diligent and dedicated. Like Judith.
“Obviously, we care for our residents because that’s our job, but to us, they are practically our family,” Judith said. “When our residents were not able to see their families face-to-face for three months, we would set up FaceTime calls or window visits.”
Judith and her team were doing all they could to make life as normal as possible for residents during the height of the pandemic, but it just wasn’t the same.
“I became fearful of what would happen if our residents stopped having contact with their family,” Judith said. “So even if a resident didn’t have an iPhone, we figured out a way for their family to see them. WhatsApp or Skype. There was always a way.”
Always a way. Even when Florence, 103 and member of the “never say never” Cubs fandom, was upset about the disrupted 2020 season. Judith found a previously broadcast Cubs game on YouTube and got fan Florence set up to follow the action. Florence couldn’t have been happier.
Judith’s dedication goes well beyond connecting residents to their favorite teams and families.
“My expectations of myself have become bigger during the time of the pandemic,” Judith said. “I push forward even when my back is hurting. My level of care has improved. When family members couldn’t enter the facility during the lockdown, I found there were little things I could do for residents. Like organizing someone’s closet or kitchen area.”
Judith is always finding ways to do a little more than what’s expected. She gets a call…can she come help in activities? She’ll be right there, she answers. She’s given up her lunch hour to talk. She’s bright, open and thoughtful. She wants others to know that the care team at Bickford is like a big family.
“They’re always there during the happiest days and the saddest,” Judith said. “When my first resident passed, I called a coworker and said I need a hug. This was pre-COVID. She came up right away and said it’s okay to cry. It’s okay to have all these feelings.”
The happiest days would have to be residents’ birthdays.
“We go above and beyond to decorate for birthdays,” Judith said. “One of my residents, Nancy, just had a birthday. She was scheduled for a window visit from her family, but I thought she deserved a porch visit. So I wheeled her out and made sure her visitors had masks on and were six feet away. And we all celebrated Nancy.”
Judith smiles with the memory. That warm smile is about to disappear. Her mask is in hand and Judith is ready to get right back into caregiver mode. That’s where she’s belonged all along.