Thursday, December 13, 2012

ZELDA

If the nursing home held a contest for Most Hated Patient, the prize would have gone to Zelda with no need to take a vote.

It wasn't because the other patients hated her, though. They never saw her.

It was the staff who despised her. Zelda's call light lit up and buzzed constantly throughout the day and the night, and nothing could be done to appease her. And when Zelda was dissatisfied, watch out for your ear drums. She emitted a series of high-pitched screams and wouldn't stop until her daughter arrived and told her to shut up.

Zelda's room was on South Hall, my favorite place to work. I knew the patients well, and adored all of them -- except Zelda. Zelda seldom slept, and nothing could make her comfortable. Her call light went off every five minutes throughout most of the night.

"My neck hurts," was her usual complaint.

I would lift her head a little, adjust the pillow a bit, and place her head back on the pillow.

"No, it's not right," she invariably whined.

I would lift her head again, move the pillow a bit, and put her head back down. She would wiggle her head a bit.

"No, it's still not right."

After adjusting the pillow in every direction without any hope of satisfying Zelda, I would finally have to say, "Zelda, I can't do anything else. I'm afraid you'll have to put up with it the way it is."

"All right," Zelda would sigh.

Five minutes later her call light would buzz again.

I had some sympathy for Zelda. She had severe rheumatoid arthritis. Her movements were limited. She was also obese. She couldn't roll over in bed, couldn't life her arm to adjust her own pillow, couldn't walk. She had to be fed because her fingers were virtually paralyzed from arthritis. On the rare occasion she left her bed, we moved her in a sling, using a mechanical lift to place her in a chair for a short period of time.

Zelda never stayed in the chair for long. She always wanted to be back in her bed.

One night I was working with Betty, and the two of us headed to Zelda's room together when her call light lit up and rang.

"You hold her down," I joked with Betty, "while I put the pillow over her face and hold it there."

Betty laughed.

Zelda wanted her pillow adjusted, as usual, but Betty lifted her head roughly and dropped it back down on the pillow.

I felt guilty immediately. Had my joke encouraged Betty to handle Zelda roughly? Betty's action wasn't unkind enough to be considered abusive, but she wasn't nice, either.

"She just wants attention," Betty said as we headed down the hall to another room.

Wants attention. Why, of course Zelda wanted attention. Suddenly the reason for Zelda's neediness slapped me in the face.

Zelda had raised five children. Only one came to see her. Zelda had been married to a pastor, and no doubt had spent many years helping her husband minister to the needs of their congregation. No wonder Zelda wanted constant attention. She had spent years surrounded by people, and now she was alone nearly 24-hours per day.

Zelda was lonely.

To be continued.

28 comments:

  1. Hi Janie - so many elderly are lonely .. I'm glad I'm quite independent .. and I was lucky my mother and uncle both never demanded - I just made sure I was there for them.

    Quite understand Zelda's situation .. yet after all those years looking after others you'd think she might have thought about others looking after her ...

    Funny old life - and we never know how things will turn out ... I do hope she gets some peace somewhere along the line.

    Cheers Hilary

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  2. Is the pastor still attending to his flock leaving Zelda alone?
    Did she drive him away?
    Where are the church members?
    Did Zelda chase them away?

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    1. I don't know the answer to those questions except that her husband was dead. I'll provide more information about her son (also a pastor) when the story continues.

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  3. Dear Janie, a finely told story. I am eager for the continuation because you yourself as the writer gave the tag/peg on which to hang this story: loneliness. And that realization then became mine. So I want to know more about Zelda who reached the last span of her life and knew only the absence of those on whom she'd lavished her love and attention for all the earlier years.

    I'm so looking forward to the memoir you're writing being published. It may take months/years to get it written, but the story you tell will help all of us become more understanding and compassionate toward others. Peace.

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    1. Dee, You have to be one of the kindest people I've ever met. I haven't even met you in person, but I know you.

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  4. Zelda reminds me of my mother, difficult and unpleasant. I can't wait to read the rest.

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    1. Hmmmm . . . based on what you've written about your mom, I think Zelda was a saint. I bet she never sent her son to the store to buy kotex.

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  5. Replies
    1. I started to feel sorry for her after I figured her out. I should have felt sorry for her sooner because the poor woman was so uncomfortable. Her arthritis was horrible.

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  6. How about, "Zelda, how 'bout I put the pillow over your face? If you buz us one more time tonight, that is what I will do. Understand?" I'm not a people person.

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    1. You are too a people person, Coffey. You just pretend you aren't, when in reality you are filled with kindness and concern for others. And I'm not kidding or being sarcastic.

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  7. Poor Zelda! Sometimes it helps to understand why people act the way they do.

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    1. Understanding helps, but I should have loved her even before I understood her better.

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  8. Replies
    1. No. YOU would have visited her, no matter how awful she was. You are a kind person.

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  9. So how does one fix the loneliness and still tend to the rest of the residents? It's quite the situation...

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    1. It's not a problem that could be solved to everyone's satisfaction, but you'll learn in other stories that the situation improved a little bit.

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  10. Poor Zelda; I thought she was lonely when I first started reading about her. I'm sure there are lots of Zeldas out there. I look forward to the continuation of her story.

    betty

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    1. Yes, Zeldas abound, but even worse is that some of them are unable to speak and must suffer in silence.

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  11. I'm not going to lie Janie this one broke my heart a little. From the get go all I could think of was that she was lonely and probably scared. Of course I've been around many nursing homes, so I've seen these crotchety old people. Usually that is the case and reason they are so rancid. Not always, but usually. I couldn't work there it would make me angry at the families that never come visit.

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    1. Sometimes I didn't even know that a patient had family until I saw their names in an obituary. At least one of Zelda's daughters visited. Some people had no one but us -- the staff.

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  12. BINGO! You figured it out in a nutshell. I have no doubt that the compassion that went into your realization that the poor woman was lonely (not to mention in horrific pain) enabled you to take better care of her and the other patients in the home.

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  13. It's usually the meanest, whiniest, nastiest people who are the most love-starved...old or young. I can hardly wait to hear more about you and Zelda.

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  14. More, I'm ready for more...and I feel for Zelda. Five children and only one visits...that's terrible.

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