I walked into the cheerful, rather narrow halls of the
care center. It didn�t smell of feces and urine like many I had been in.
Up the hall from where I walked in, was a small dining room. Some of the
residents were sitting there. I found out later that they were waiting
for dinner. It was two in the afternoon. They don�t eat until five
thirty. �I�ll just wait�, said one resident who sat in a wheel chair,
watching people walking by. She called all the nurses by name. She had
been here a while, I imagine.
I traveled down the hall to the room of my friend.
She was lying in bed, reading a book. The room is small, two beds, two
dressers and two nightstands in this room are a tight squeeze. My friend
has many pictures of loved ones on the wall. �I can�t remember who
they all are, so my daughter pasted those little name tags under each of
the pictures.� She explains. Her roommate is not so lucky. No pictures
of loved ones adorn her walls. She has very few living relatives and none
I sit down to talk with my friend. �How are you
doing?� I ask her. I haven�t seen her in a while. � Oh, about the
same. Same thing every day.� My friend says. We fill the air with some
more conversation. My friend loves to talk. She enjoys sharing stories of
her life. She has many to share.
�Y�know, I survived the great fire of 36��
she tells me. She has short-term memory loss and she knows it.
I have heard her stories before. I don�t mind
hearing them again. Someday, I will miss hearing them and treasure each
time that I did. We get to talk about some �girl talk� stuff. My
friend loves to talk �girl talk�. My friend says she feels like
we�re sisters. I agree. I ask my friend how she likes it here. She has
lived here for three years.
�Oh, it�s all right I guess. It�s not home.
I�d rather be home� she tells me.
What�s the best thing about being here? I ask her.
�Having somebody to take care of you. If something
goes wrong, if you have an �accident� or anything, somebody is here to
help you. But, it takes them so darn long to get to you. Sometimes I
wonder if it really matters to have the nurses here at all.� She tells
What do you think they could do to make it better for
�Hire more nurses! The nurses are always saying
that they are short handed. That they�ve got too many people to take
care of and not enough of them to go around. But, the nurses say that when
the money gets tight, the extra nurses are the first to go. Most of the
time in the evening and at night, there are only two nurses here. I get
sick of waiting for someone to come change me. I think nurses should have
a union. If they don�t hire enough or pay them very much, they should
strike!� My friend says. But, that would mean that until things were
settled, there�d be no nurses for you, I tell her.
� Yes, maybe. But, at least something would change.
Right now, it�s the same old thing; �Not enough nurses! Too
short-handed! Not enough time!�
If you could run the nursing home for a week, what
would you do different? I ask her.
�I wouldn�t want to run this place. I wouldn�t
want to be president, either. Too much responsibility. You�re never
going to make everybody happy. I know that. But, I�d have more nurses.
And I wouldn�t have grumpy ones either. Y�know, ones with problems.
That one girl that worked here, her husband was on drugs. She was so nasty
all the time. Poor girl, I know that must�ve been terrible for her. But
still�and I�d PAY the nurses more, too. Most of these girls said they
don�t make enough to make ends meet. Then they get mad about that.
That�s not my problem. But, when they are so gruff with you; that�s my
Have nurses ever been gruff with you? I ask.
�Oh, you get them sometimes that are gruff. I guess
it can�t be avoided. Some people are just like that.�
What do you do when a nurse gets gruff with you? I
�What can you do? Just ignore them if you can till
they go away. I try not to ask them for help. But, sometimes, I have
nobody else to ask. I got tired of asking for the bedpan. It would take so
long for someone to come and then when they got tired of bringing it to
me, they left it where I could give it to myself. Then I�d spill it and
they�d have to change the bed. And they�d think I did it on purpose.
Who would do something like that on purpose, for heaven�s sake? About
the only thing you can do is hope that those nurses don�t work with you
Have you ever told anyone else? I ask. �What good
would it do? They don�t like it when you complain. Besides, things get
worse sometimes if they found out you complained.� There was some
silence between us for a while and I know that�s when she has said all
she care to about some topic.
Is there enough to do? I ask. Are you ever bored?
�Oh, yea. Waiting for lunch, that�s the worst.
Usually we just sit there and wait and wait. Then where lunch comes,
it�s the same old thing. I think it all taste the same. I can�t have
salt. And I can�t have too much cholesterol. I can�t see the food very
well. It all looks the same. I love chocolate. But, everybody keeps
telling me I can�t just eat chocolate. Then, the nurses complain that
I�m getting too heavy to lift. It takes two of them to move me. They
can�t do it with just one of them like you can. They need one on each
side of me. That�s why it takes them so long to help me to the commode.
Because they have to go find someone to help them. And, no one is ever
available. So, I wait and wait. That�s all I do these days. Oh, they try
to make sure there is something to do, I guess. Except for right before
lunch. You have about an hour with nothing to do but wait. I would just
rather go to bed and read.�
Are you happy here? I asked her.
�I�m as happy as I can be. This is not the way I
thought my life would turn out. THIS is my life now. This is it. I�ll
die here, I know I will. I don�t want to. But, people die here all the
time. This is were they come to die. This is my life now. Waiting to die.
I know now why my husband shot himself. He didn�t want to get old and
helpless and die in a place like this. I understand now�� She looks
around her room a little and shrugs: � This is my life now.�
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