I once worked as the night shift charge nurse for Oak Street Care Center. The hospital where I worked prior to that went bankrupt. So I took the job at the Care Center, a skilled nursing home in my own town. I had been nursing for 13 years by then. In that time I had seen a lot of changes that were making my job more stressful, including the nurse to patient ratio getting worse, an increase in paperwork, computer systems that tied nurses to the desk.
Shifts were 7 PM to 7 AM. I had 42 patients, one entire hall and half of another hall. The other nurse on night shift also had a hall and half of another, with about the same number of patients. We had four nursing assistants, or CNAs. We were expected to keep the residents safe. This was no easy task when many of them had Alzheimer’s and were prone to falling. The evening med pass was huge. I also had a lot of scheduled meds to pass out in the morning.
First on my med pass was Ida. She was in her 80s and had mild dementia. Her friend Leon was nearly always in her room. He was also in his 80s. They had been lovers when younger. Leon would take her out to eat and for car rides. He told me stories about his boyhood in the Great Depression, life during the second World War, and talked about how the world has changed during his lifetime.
Down the hall were Glen and Mary Fudge. They were a married couple. He had worked as a groundskeeper at a country club and mowed yards on the side until he retired. They watched movies on TV, discussing the plot as they watched. They were NASCAR fans and watched every race that was televised. They were quite pleasant to work with.
On the other side of the hall was a guy named Jim, who was confused and often paranoid. Often, you could see him studying a diagram of the facility which hung on a wall up by the nurse’s station, trying to plan his escape. As I came into his room, he came quickly out of the bathroom and sprayed right guard deodorant at me. After reassuring him of my harmlessness, he calmed down and took his meds.
On B Wing, there was a blind woman named Susan. She would often use her call light for an assist to use the bathroom. I often took her. She was steady on her feet and only required help to the toilet. After using the toilet, she would wash her hands thoroughly, then go back to bed. I loved her. She once told me about a mystical experience she had while standing at her kitchen window. One night she told me she would like me to be her pallbearer.
Then there was Everett. He was a retired city policeman. He knew me well in my youth. Sometimes when I would walk past him in the dining room, he would say, “Stick em up!” He got up around midnight on nights when we worked, because he knew that if we ordered food out, we would get something for him. He especially liked Bill’s Toasty hamburgers.
That night, Nellie had been yelling and raising hell down the hall, so the CNAs put her in her wheelchair and brought her to the dayroom. Two of them were sitting with her while she watched a program on TV about forest fires. At one point, Nellie started wheeling herself out of the dayroom 100 mph, screaming, “Girls! Girls! Get the matches, girls!”
At the same time, Jan, a 90 year old, was walking back and forth in front of the nursing station. From time to time, she would face a person at the desk, say her name, and tell them it was time for her to go. Then she would say, “Call Leonard and tell him to come and pick me up.” She was becoming more agitated as time went on.
Next, a CNA told me we had one on the floor.This could be minor or involve a trip to the hospital. Either way, it involved a lot of documentation and notification of their spouse, child, or other designated person.
That night also, two of the CNAs came to my med cart. Wanda told me, “I think Sarah might be in a lot of trouble.” When I asked why, Sarah said, “I got drunk last night. I went home with a guy that does tattoos and he tattooed his name on my ass.” I told her about a guy that has a shop uptown and did good cover ups. They both started laughing. Wanda broke out a picture and gave it to me. I laughed like hell. It showed Sarah bent over with her pants down. There was a huge black B on each cheek of her ass. I told Wanda, “There’s no helping that!” Then they really cracked up. Wanda had drawn the “tattoos” with a permanent marker. They got me again…
When I had finished my morning med pass, I was nearing the shower room door. We had only one shower room and the CNAs showered women and men separately. A man who badly wanted a shower was pounding the shower room door with his fist and hollering, “Let me in!” A CNA was telling him through the closed door, “We got women in here.” George, another resident going by in his wheelchair, told the man, “Don’t go in there. You’ll go blind!”
I gave report to the nurse coming on. I was done.. It wasn’t a bad night. Now I would go home, take a shower, drink a couple beers, have a bite to eat, and go to bed, where my thoughts about the night would fragment and dissolve, and I would gradually slip into a dream state.