Dragged an old post up from the dungeon of the old blog for this Halloween.
Originally posted 10/31/08.
I've worked in nursing homes for about ten years. Most of my patients are under my care, not to get better and return home, but to be looked after until they die.
Most of my co-workers consider our workplace a haunted one.
Before I had kids I worked a lot, just about every day, 12 hour shifts many days. I was at the nursing home more than I was at my own home. I got to know my residents very well.
Two old men, Mel and Bob were roommates.
Mel was a funny guy, he was an honest to goodness comedian in his younger healthier days. He had a radio show in a Big City. He'd made a cameo appearance in a film with Peter Falk (Columbo), at Peter's request. He did stand up in clubs in the 60's and 70's.
A little Italian guy with one eye; Mel's left eye had fallen victim to an arrow shot by a cousin when he was a child. He hardly ever wore his prosthetic. When he did, he didn't look right to me, and I hated putting the stupid thing in. He had a thick Boston accent, and a gravelly voice in which you could hear every cigarette he ever smoked.
All of those cigarettes caught up with him, and he ended up your typical COPD patient. He'd get short of breath, constantly demand his 'puffers', he was O2 dependent, needy, and anxious as hell.
After years of doing stand up, he was in the habit of staying up til 2am and sleeping til noon. Once he was awake, everyone on the floor knew it. He would ring that call bell incessantly.
"Honey! I can't breathe! Check my Oxygen!"
"It's fine Mel."
"Just sit with me until I feel better then."
Of course I would.
He didn't always call because he needed help.
"Honey! Come heeyah. I got a good one for ya. Close the door."
He'd tell me jokes, I knew it was going to be a dirty one if he told me to close the door.
On Friday nights, he'd order a couple pizzas, take one piece, and leave the rest for the staff.
He had a scratch ticket habit. A friend would bring him in a stack every week. He'd tell me that when he won, he'd pay me to be his private nurse, and when he died, I could keep whatever was left.
He was a hot shit, and everyone loved him.
His roommate, Bob, was tall, with pretty, wavy white hair, distinguished looking, handsome even.
Bob was a catatonic schizophrenic. In three years of taking care of him, I heard him whisper "yeah" a couple times. He sat in his chair, studying his fingers all day.
He never did anything without being told to. Tell him to get up and point him in a direction and he'd walk, not stopping until he was told. Sit him down at a meal and tell him to eat and he would. I saw many times, Bob sitting at an empty plate, still going through the motions of eating, dipping a spoon into an empty bowl and bringing it to his mouth, because no one had told him to stop.
He'd go to the bathroom when told to do so, but if he wasn't told to, he'd go in his pants.
He was like a well trained, obedient dog who had no will of his own. He never complained, and never asked for anything.
I was scheduled to work Thanksgiving one year, so I took some time off to visit family the week before. On my last day, Mel told me he'd miss me.
On the morning that I was supposed to leave for my visit, I ended up in the hospital with a little kidney stone. The stone was stuck and I was given a week to pass it on my own before they intervened. So instead of visiting family, I hung out on the couch popping pain pills and trying not to move. I passed the stone on Thanksgiving.
I went back to work the following Saturday and learned that Mel had passed away the day before Thanksgiving. Everyone knew that I was sick, and they knew If I was told he was dying, I'd drag my hurting ass in there to see him. So they didn't tell me.
I was pissed.
So was Mel.
At noon that day, when Mel would have been waking up, the call light in his room went on. I went in to find Bob, sitting in a chair on the other side of the room, nowhere near the call light, studying his fingers. I asked if he'd rung the light, he looked at me for a second, then back to his hands.
The light went on a few more times. Each time I'd check the room and find Bob, unmoved from his chair.
I asked Bob to get up, which he did, and I led him to the hall and sat him down in a chair. I returned to his room, shut the door, sat on Mel's empty bed, and had a little chat with my friend.
"All right Mel, I get it. Very funny. You can stop now, you royal pain in the ass. I'm very sorry that I wasn't around to hang out with you while you kicked the bucket ok? Goodbye."
And the call light stopped.