Tuesdays at the Nursing Home- The Little Things

The new aide caught my attention when she poured the Tuesday "red juice."

The drink is a staple of the Snack Lady's visits.  Every Tuesday she pushes a metal cart up and down the hallways of the nursing home, representing the charitable good wishes of the local Women's Club, church or whatever do-gooder organization it is that sponsors her. Almost a candidate for admission herself, this little woman trundles in to the rooms bearing cookies, candy and always, red Kool-aid.

For whatever reason, this week the Snack Lady was absent, so the job fell to the aides to dispense the juice sans treats.  I was sitting behind the nurse's station desk, perched on a black, swivel stool, writing notes when the aide began to pour a cup full of the Tuesday liquid.

"You'd think they could do better than the same thing week after week," she muttered. "They're sick of it."

That got my attention.  I looked up and saw the woman wrinkling her nose in disgust.  She shook her head and looked at me. "I can't tell you how many of them have told me to get out of their room with this stuff," she said. "They say it's the same thing all the time- red juice. How much would it take to do something different for them?"

I stared at the offending plastic pitcher and nodded. "Yeah," I agreed. "What would it take to do orange or grape now and then?"

"It's hard enough being in here without this kind of mess," she sighed and I realized she was referring to the patients, not herself or her low-paying job.

"Do you work on this hall?" I asked, indicating the one behind us.  "Do you work with Mr. Marsh?"

I asked because I'd overheard her being pulled aside by another aide who was clocking out and wanted to brief her about my patient before she left. I'd thought it unusual at the time because it seems only the nurses brief each other about patients but here were two aides talking with concern about a patient. It's rare. They're underpaid and overloaded. They just don't usually have the time or the energy.

At my question, the aide's eyes widened. "Oh, yes," she said and abruptly backed away from the desk. "But I'm new. I've only been here two days. I don't know anything- not really."

Before I could tell her I almost always valued the aide's opinion of how a patient's doing more than the nurse or doctor's, she'd practically run off down the hallway and left me to my pile of paperwork.

A few minutes passed and the 108 year old woman who rarely speaks wheeled up, cradling a baby doll and a stuffed black dog.

"Is this your baby?" she demanded of another resident, terrifying the elderly lady.

"Nooo," she answered, shrinking away.

"Well, is it mine?" the 108 year old barked.

The other woman wheeled hurriedly away and the 108 year old turned her attention to the stuffed dog and plastic baby in her lap.

"They don't do a thing for you around here. But don't you worry," she crooned to her little family. "I'll take good care of you."

Before I could get up from my seat, a physical therapist popped around the corner, wheeling a silver-haired man, two other wheelchair-bound patients emerged from the dining room and a traffic jam ensued.

"They're all crazy," the silver-haired man growled to his therapist. "You know, everybody tells me they don't know what they're doing, but look at this mess! I think they do it on purpose!"

I could've sworn the 108 year-old smiled.

Every Thursday I see an 83 year old grandmother who recites the events of her week in great detail.  At the end of every session, without fail, she sighs and says, "You know, it's never the big things. It's the little ones that make or break you."


LBDDiaries said...

Sometimes I can't stand reading these posts because they HURT so much. BUT I can't stand not to. It really IS the little things and please tell me there will be some orange in their future? You write so poignantly and while I love it... I don't. Does that make sense? You're tearing my heart out here!

Hugh said...

Your posts are an inspiration to read and betray one of the most compassionate hearts I’ve ever heard about.