Tuesday, January 5, 2010

On the art of eating

There were too many residents to fit them all at the dining room table that seats eight. Marion and Gertrude were usually involuntarily elected to sit at the small tables on the porch. The logic was reasonable, unless you are preoccupied with fairness. Marion was usually too confused about where she was to put up much of an argument about sitting on the porch. And Gertrude always complained, "it's too cold." I think just looking out at the snowy landscape bumped down her internal thermometer a couple degrees. But both Marion and Gertrude were victims to their wheelchairs, and tended to end up wherever we rolled them.

I walked over to Marion. Thickly applied Clinique blush had become a blaring attempt for a rosy glow against her natural pallor. Her hair has been ironed into huge curls by a well-intentioned nineteen year-old, plasticized by a generous shower of hairspray.

"Are you done with your spaghetti?"

Bits of pasta and sauce were covering Marion’s darkened fungus-rotted fingernails and trembling hands. She had abandoned all attempts to use her fork and it was splayed off to the edge of the table. I could never understand why we would offer spaghetti to a person who struggled so greatly to feed herself, until the chef reminded me that spaghetti is one of her favorite foods.

I returned to the kitchen with the muddled remnants of Marion’s lunch. A uniformed coworker walked off to deliver her dessert as I loaded the dishwasher and gazed into the dining room. For a moment I stopped to watch the almost mechanical scene of 80 and 90 year-olds slowly and silently lifting spoons to their mouth.

Returning to the indoor porch to collect the last few dishes, my rushed gait was interrupted by something hard under my foot. I looked down to find a spoon flecked with mint chocolate chip ice cream on the oriental rug.

"Delicious dessert," came a sticky warble through chattering dentures.

Scanning the table for the remainder of Marion’s ice cream, my eyes eventually settled on the large green drip trailing down the wall, her bowl sprawled recklessly on the floor below the chaotic tabletop ruins.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Tales from the nursing home...

My alarm is going off at five thirty in the morning. I can't figure out where I am until I look out the window in a state of complete disorientation and realize I'm in my childhood bedroom. This isn't my home anymore; I don't have a home anymore. Sleep is homey enough, though. I press snooze.

I stumble out of bed an hour later. Shit. I'm going to be late, and I can't find socks. I can't find black socks anywhere, although that might have some correlation to the fact that I still haven't sorted or folded the laundry that I washed two weeks ago.

The topic of the last staff meeting was how "we've been seeing some pretty outrageous socks lately, and want to remind everyone that black socks are necessary work attire." No one ever told me that when I was hired, and it is definitely not in the company handbook! My pink and

green argyle socks were my one voice of expression amid a scotch-guarded beige and black Cintas uniform. I run out of the house in hot pink socks, my own act of defiance until I get enough spare time to buy some more socks or tackle the laundry.

It's cold outside; the dampness of the grass is seeping through my shoes. I gun over potholes on an empty residential street, trying not to slosh the coffee out of my blue ceramic mug, valuing how I'm alone on that otherwise serene morning and miserably dragging myself out of bed before the rest of the world seems alive.

Most days, I get to work before any of the residents are awake and try to somewhat insincerely cheer them out of bed while I still struggle out of my own sleepy haze, and stay at work so long that by evening I have put them back into bed sometimes hours before I even go home. It

has a kind of pleasing roundedness to it.

I'm nearly done with morning care by the time I get to Gertrude. Gertrude has the torso of a petite 115 pound lady, and the bottom of a 220 pound woman. I've never seen her walk, although I heard sometimes she used to with a walker. Her face is flecked with purplish cancerous freckles and she has thick gray hair that always sticks up in the wrong direction when I try to comb it. If you ask her how she's doing, she'll almost always answer with a silent shrug that seems like it's tinged with a Brooklyn accent.

I give it a shot. "Good morning, Gertrude! Ready to get up?"

She looks at me. "What?"

"Good morning. Are you ready to get up?"

"I can't hear what you're saying." She says shaking her head at me.

"It's time to get up."

She shrugs.

I pull down her covers a little bit and she folds her arms to herself.

"I'm cold."

"After you're all cleaned up and dressed, I bet you'll feel a lot warmer."

"I'm so cold." She complains, as I help her to sit up in bed.

I bend my knees like I'm doing some kind of Olympic squat in a mad effort to exercise my legs and spare my back and help her stand up to pivot into her wheelchair. She's in. I struggle to fit the wide wheelchair through the narrow door frame of the old house as I push her to the bathroom. I undo her Depends briefs so that they will fall off when she stands up, because chances are I won't have an extra hand to pull them off when I'm helping her stand.

"Okay, Gertrude. Go ahead and lean forward and put your hands on the bar." I know this seems goofy, maybe even condescending to tell her to do this, but she will never stand up if I don't command every single action of standing up to get her from her wheelchair to the toilet.

"Okay, pull yourself up on three, and I'll help. One, two, three." I grab her under her armpits and pull her up.

"Straighten out your legs, Gertrude." Her huge backside pendulously swings around and the only way keep her from ending up on the floor is to hold on with a gloved hand and keep a knee nearby incase her rump starts to sink. The Depends falls off and she starts to pee on the

floor. My foot feels warm and wet. I quickly swivel her over towards the toilet as she sits down. I'm sweating.

"I'm so cold." She says again, just like every morning, completely unaware that she has peed on my foot for the fourth consecutive day in a row. I need a pair of galoshes. Black galoshes.