Monday, November 8, 2010

Of Train Rides And Chocolate Cake

This happens frequently in my line of work.  These things tend to come in waves, not just threes.

It is time for some to get on the train.

When we see the signs that the end is coming, we pull the train into the station.  It is loaded with ativan, morphine, orders for comfort care, hospice services.

I'm pretty sure it is coming for one of my all time favorites. Al was sad when I told him; he loves her too.  We remembered together, ones that are long gone,  and he brought up someone that I haven't yet written about.

I met Stella on my very second day as a nurse.  I was trying hard not to be overwhelmed by the amount of work and responsibility I'd just jumped into, trying to pretend not to be nervous as I met all these people who would be counting on me to take good care of them.

Stella instantly eased my mind.   I instantly liked her as she introduced herself from her bed and declared herself;

"Dignified in Diapers."

She sure was.  I knew from her accent she was from the same area in which I grew up.  There was a little something extra to her voice, her speech careful and slow, if we were Southern, I'd call it a drawl, but we're not. 

She was about as tall as my 5'9", not that I would ever see her standing up straight, as her legs could barely bear her weight to transfer her from bed to chair.

At eighty something, she was still pretty, big blue eyes, aristocratic nose,  pure white wavy hair to her shoulders.  Everything she wore came from the Coldwater Creek catalog.  We'd get excited at each new catalog's arrival; she always picked things that I would have chosen for myself, and promised to will them to me when she croaked.

She was supposed to have done just that, croaked I mean, a year before I met her.  Her heart was given less than six months, but decided to keep a beat for much longer.

She was weak, tired most of the time, in pain a lot of the time.  The best description I've ever heard of Diabetic Neuropathy was from Stella;

"It feels as if there are a bunch of cute little mice, nibbling on my feet."


It is a good thing that Stella was one of my first, as I learned a valuable lesson about the elderly from her:  there may be decades between us, but I can still consider them peers, friends even.

Stella  knew she was my friend, and she told me I was her crazy little sister.

She trusted me with secrets, dirty ones.  Her devoted son Kurt lived down the road in Stella's former home, with his wife Marie.  Marie seemed nice, visited Stella often, brought her treats, took her home for Sunday dinner from time to time.

Stella couldn't stand her.  All proper sweetness and light while Marie was in the room, Stella would not hold back as soon as Marie was out the door.  We made fun of her hair, her clothes, the stupid little dog she dragged around with her.

We'd laugh our asses off.  Stella would pee herself.  I'd change her diaper.

Some afternoons, just before I went home, she'd call me to her room, to request I wear her favorite scrub top the next day;  the one with Dick And Jane on it.

I bought her Dick And Jane pictures to put on her wall.

She was thrilled for me when I got engaged.  I'd dragged Al in to meet her.  She loved that we were eloping, and couldn't wait to see pictures.

She promised me she'd make me her famous Better Than Sex Chocolate Cake to celebrate after our wedding. She'd put up with Marie for an afternoon to get it done. She also promised I could have the recipe, but not 'til after she died.

On a Saturday in May, three months before I got married, Stella went on an outing with some other residents, in the big facility van, to a concert on the green.  She never went on those outings.  I hope she enjoyed the music.

Because she dropped dead in the van on the way back to the nursing home.  Really dropped.  Almost of her wheelchair.  Dead.

I was happy that she'd gone quickly.  But selfishly felt jipped that I didn't get to sit by her side, on the train, holding her hand and comforting her while she faded away.

There was a huge turnout for the memorial service the home had for her.  Kurt and Marie were there.  We hugged and cried and laughed.   They gave me back the Dick and Jane pictures.

Marie even made Stella's Better Than Sex Chocolate Cake for the staff.  By far the best chocolate cake I've ever had.

Bitch wouldn't give up the recipe.


  1. Dude, I was soooo hanging on for that recipe.


    But at least she was out having fun when she died?

  2. I love your stories. I'm hoping the epilogue is something along the lines that Marie ate so much of that cake she couldn't fit her ass into the well cared for Coldwater Creek clothing. No?

  3. The best never want you there when they go. As they say,
    "Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but perfect memories."

  4. You create the most wonderful images of the people when you write about them... God Bless her Soul... :o(


  5. I love that you can remember them so well and document it so beautifully.

    My mother-in-law makes that dessert. Or at least one with the same name. =)

  6. Oh that Marie! What kind of a monster holds out on a recipe like that. SHE didn't have to change her MILs diaper.

    I am always in such awe of your job. You are made of strong stuff to be open enough to get close to these lovely people who you know will only be a part of your life for a short time.

    Lucky folks.

  7. Marie just bought herself some bitch-ass karma, right there. The kind that permanently adheres entire chocolate cakes to the thighs and butt of evil folk who don't give up recipes.

    May she enjoy a swell time.

  8. I hate the end of the line. We've had so much death in our family in the past few months, I can't even get my head around it. I've only just been introduced to all of the stuff that you see every day.

  9. I love the stories of your patients. What an awesome lady.

  10. Wow, this post made me cry. That's got to be the hardest part of your job--meeting some really amazing people, but knowing your time with them is limited. How wonderful for them to have someone in their lives that they can BS with. Someone who makes them feel youthful and useful.

    I'm so sorry that bitch didn't pass along the recipe.

  11. I love reading your stories about your job, and how much you love your job. It means so much to me to see how you respect and truly care for your patients. My grandmother had a stroke last spring and was put into a nursing home. It was hard on us, but reading your stories made me realize just how much the nurses care. My grandmother passed away yesterday and while I will miss her, I know she is at peace and pain free now.

  12. i love the stories you tell. i do think karma will have it's way w/ marie though. beeotch.

  13. I wish that when I was a kid living in the hospital, I had had a nurse like you. Because the experience would have been so much more...human.

    If you're half as good at nursing as you are at writing, you've got the luckiest patients on the planet.

    So glad I found your blog!

  14. I love these stories!
    Always, always trust the gut of a fiesty old lady. When they don't like someone, it's for good reason.

  15. Stella sounds awesome! Screw Marie!

  16. I'll never trust another Marie. Especially ones with small dogs..

  17. Stella sounds like a great judge of character. And people that won't share recipes kind of astound me. If they didn't invent the recipe, it's not really theirs to hoard, and if they did? They should be proud to share and spread the word of their culinary genius. Unless the hoarder is a two-faced phony like Marie. Ooh, I dislike her by proxy.

  18. Post Script: I loved A Prayer for Owen Meany too.

  19. You are as lucky as your patients to have your are lucky b/c you clearly love it and they are lucky to have you as a part of their final days.

    You are absolutely on it...I am re-discovering how awesome elderly people are and that we all are the same aged spirits with differently aged bodies.

  20. what a hag for not giving up the recipe I hope her butt has gotten extra wide from eating that cake!

    I know I've mentioned this before but damn why couldn't you have worked in the nursing home and been with Shane's Nano.

  21. I worked in a nursing home for years, and had so many, sweet, sweet friends.

  22. those folks are so lucky to have you! i love these stories!

  23. Dignified in diapers- great bumper sticker! Perhaps the title of a blog? Thanks for sharing!

  24. My cat Stella came up to me when I was reading your post. I love the name Stella (which is why my cat has that name.)

    Awesome story. You were such a gift to that woman...really! Maybe that's why she held on as long as she did. She could FINALLY share her dirty secrets! :)

  25. Only you could turn a story about old fogies dropping dead into something poetic.

  26. That's awesome that you and Stella were such good friends.

  27. way to go, marie.

    i want one of your books to be nothin but nursing stories, k?

  28. You do the most difficult work. The end of life isn't pretty. I am impressed though that this strong woman hold onto her dignity to the end. That's a true testament to her character.

  29. I make that cake fairly often. It's rich and easy. *insert joke of your choice here* (TWSS)

  30. PS Love your work stories.

    I wish I had been blogging when I worked in the nursing homes. I could have had some fabulous stories to tell. Now my brain has turned to mush and I've only retained snippets of those years.

  31. I wish more people were like the both of you. That story was fantastic.

    My grandma was in anursing home for 3 years and there were 2 nurses that were beyond wonderful. It made all the difference.

  32. I missed this awesome post that you posted on my birthday!

    I was sure the ending would have you with recipe in hand. Bitch indeed.


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