The nursing home had its share of patients whose ability to speak was quite limited or even non-existent. Patients in a vegetative state usually made no sound at all. When one of these ladies moaned very early in the morning, we discovered she had a swollen ankle. An x-ray the next day revealed the bone was broken.
Ronnie had Huntington's Chorea. About every thirty minutes during the evening -- our busiest time because we needed to put the residents to bed -- he would hoist himself up and out of his bed, wobble to the doorway of his room, and in a voice as a shaky as his legs cry out, "I need to pee!"
Invariably we replied, "If you can walk to the door, then you can walk in the bathroom. Go in there and pee."
"Okay," Ronnie would mumble, and walk like a drunken sailor into the bathroom.
I never heard him say anything other than "I need to pee," with the exception of two occasions.
I almost always worked on the third floor, as did most of the nurses and the assistants. The third floor had 85 - 90 patients, and they were the more serious cases. The second floor had 15 - 20 patients, and some of them could perform quite a bit of their own care.
Thus, the second floor never had more than one nurse and rarely had more than one assistant.
At one point, I was assigned to the second floor for about three months.
When I returned to duty on the third floor, back on my South Hall, I headed to Ronnie's room to help him into his pajamas.
He looked shocked to see me. "Where the heck ya been?" he hollered.
I hugged him and explained I'd been working on the second floor. He didn't say anything else, other than his regularly scheduled need- to-pee speech.
About three months after I quit working at the nursing home because my husband and I moved to another state, I returned for a visit.
I got off the elevator on the third floor. The only person in sight was Ronnie. He sat in his special padded chair directly outside the door to his room.
I headed down South Hall, thinking I would pass him and he wouldn't know who I was, but he surprised me.
"Janie! Where ya been?" he shouted.
You could have knocked me over with a feather.
I told him I had moved to another state and didn't work at the nursing home anymore.
I kissed his forehead, said farewell, and sought out one of the nurses I knew. When I told her about Ronnie, she said, "I didn't think he even knew any of our names."
Sometimes patients absorbed more information than we thought they were capable of doing.