Gentle Readers . . . and Maxwell,
I want to share some blog posts I wrote long ago about working in a nursing home. Perhaps I'll write more stories about my all-time favorite job.
The following is the prologue I wrote for what I thought would be my first book. Fortunately, I learned from an x-ray and a thorough examination by a doctor that I do not have a book in me. The knowledge allows me to enjoy writing without feeling any pressure.
If you have a book in you, then you must write it. A surgeon cannot remove it for you.
Infinities of love,
Although it's been 20 years since I was there, I can picture the layout of the building perfectly. I know all the residents. I know their faces, how they look when they are smiling, how they look when storm clouds pass over them and the tears rain down their cheeks. Which ones have visitors, which ones have no family, and which ones have family but never receive a visit.
They are our mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, grandparents. They cared for us and changed our diapers when we were babies.
Now, they have turned into babies. Dementia turns adults into toddlers. Alzheimer's often leads to violent tantrums.
I can still smell the urine––strong, a very strong odor because the elderly don't drink enough water.
I know the care each person requires. Vivie is in a wheelchair but can walk with only a little assistance. Gene could walk with assistance when he arrived, but his condition deteriorated. He no longer walks. Zora and Ann have to be moved with mechanical lifts.
Violet and many others have to be lifted in our strong arms––lifted from wheelchair to toilet, from toilet to wheelchair, from wheelchair to bed. All the residents are terrified when we lower the bed railings so one of us can roll the person on her side while the other washes the rear end.
If the people are rolled toward me, "I'll fall out," they cry.
"No one ever gets past me," I reassure them.
"There's a first time for everything," they always say in between cries and screams. "You're too skinny. You're not big enough to save me."
O.K. So I'm skinny. I'm quite a bit smaller than the average nursing assistant. But there was no first time. No one ever rolled out of bed when I was there to offer protection. People who work in nursing homes have arms made of bands of steel. How else could we lift people who weigh 200 pounds?
The patients are safe with me, and not just because I'm strong. I saved Zora when she coughed and her face turned purple. No one else took her illness seriously. It turned out she had pneumonia. I demanded that the charge nurse call her doctor.
Nurses hate to call the doctor because sometimes doctors yell at nurses. Doctors abuse nurses. Nurses abuse nursing assistants. Sometimes nurses and assistants abuse patients.
I never "get tough" with the patients others call spoiled. I don't have it in me. When Pop tries to hit me, I hold up my hands so he punches my palms. Katherine throws her bed alarm at me. I catch it with my left hand and congratulate myself, laughing. Katherine doesn't know what she's doing. How can I be angry?
And I always try to find a way to make the residents laugh, whether it's something I say or by dancing my way into their rooms, pretending to be a clumsy ballerina.
I am hugged, kissed, told "I love you."
I am peed on, vomited on, told "I'll kick you."
The people in my safekeeping hold my heart in their shaky hands, hands with skin so thin it can rip as easily as tissue paper.
I touch with love, with laughter, with recognition of the individual.
I am a caregiver.