MILLIONS of smiles worth more than money

Tuesday, May 29th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

SHAWNEE, Okla. (AP) _ Raymond Sanders readily admits he will never be a member of the Hundred-Grand-A-Year Club, but he gets his rewards from the millions of smiles he receives annually.

``I've never worked just for the paycheck,'' Sanders said. ``I just love people and if I can make someone feel better, then I want to be there. The issue is really not the money in this job; it's a love for people.''

Sanders, a certified nursing assistant at Rose Manor Nursing Center, Shawnee, said his day is made up of baths, blood pressure checks, feedings and linen and diaper changes, bu it's a profession he embraces.

``I love people and I love to take care of them,'' he explained. ``I know I could be in the same situation my patients are in, so I try to take care of them the way I would want someone to take care of me.''

The majority of Sanders' patients are seniors, but he said some are young people who, for one reason or another, have been placed at the care center.

A person doesn't have to be old to be in a nursing home, Sanders said. Some young people have strokes or accidents that make it impossible to care for them at home so they are placed in care centers.

``I have a friend who had a brain injury when he was in a car wreck at 21. He has been in a care center ever since,'' he explained.

Sanders said he visits his friend whenever possible, though not as often as he would like because the friend lives out of town.

At work he said his goal is to help each patient reach the highest level of independence possible, while at the same time giving them the best possible care. He said his philosophy is simple.

``I feel that all the patients here are our guests,'' he said, ``and like all guests should be treated with dignity and respect.''

Nursing has always been what Sanders wanted to do with his life. In 1982 and 1983 he attended school to become a licensed practical nurse, but dropped out when he was within six months of that goal.

``I was young and I wanted to see the world, but I always knew I would go back to nursing,'' he said.

In October 1995, Sanders returned to nursing when he accepted a position at Rose Manor. After training and testing, he was certified as a nurses' aide. Because of his longevity and natural ability, many newly hired aides train under Sanders.

``I know I will go back and finish my LPN someday, but I just haven't done it yet,'' he explained. ``Judy (Trice, director of the center) is always encouraging me to go back.''

But he said even if he does finish his nurses' training, he plans to continue working at the care center.

The staff, as well as the patients, have become his extended family.

``I know I'm going to stay here. All my friends work here and the residents _ well we're family to them.

And they have become a family to me,'' he said.

Over time Sanders has learned the names of all the patients at the center. He knows their likes, dislikes, what makes them happy and when they're sad. Because of the bond that is formed he said it is especially difficult when one dies.

``It really hurts me when something happens to one of them,'' he said. ``At work I never let anybody see me cry when that happens. I hold it in, but I do hurt. We're really not supposed to let ourselves get that attached to the patients, but how can I not? I'm with them every day. Many of them don't have families anymore or their kinfolks live out of state, so we are all they have.''

Sanders, who is a large man that stands well over 6 feet tall and weighs more than 200 pounds, said he is often called upon when patients need to be lifted or moved. He said he is thankful for his stature because it allows him to do it with ease.

``I had one patient that said, 'Raymond, God is going to bless you for taking such good care of us,' but I say he already has,'' Sanders said.

``God has blessed me by giving me the life, health and strength to take care of these people. What I do is a special thing. I think he blesses me every day when he lets me wake up so I can come to work.''