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."
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.