Chapter 12/ 2008
What would Ferapont do?
Like the bitter whine of my 69 Chevy Malibu’s worn down brake shoes screeching to a halt when the 101 backs up, my orientation at the assisted living facility grinds to its conclusion on a humid June evening in the City of the Angels. Eight more hours of placating my Armenian colleague and I am on my own.
It’s all good.
“I’ll shadow you tonight,” the Armenian says as our shift begins. “You’ll dig yourself into a hole if you try doing things your way.”
In under an hour, I pour the medications for the entire shift, placing the labeled med cups in separate trays, one for each floor. Each tray is divided up into sections for the afternoon, mealtime and bedtime med passes. The Armenian rolls her eyes. The muffled buzz of our actress resident’s call light hits us both, its staccato wail tearing through the chilled silence in the air-conditioned nurse’s station.
“I have to take this call,” the Armenian says.
Her forefinger caresses the Bluetooth jammed into her ear. Her eyes focus on a cracked plastic push pin on the bulletin board as her heavily accented words fall into the space between our chairs. She looks like one of the residents in the Alzheimer’s unit, its windowless rooms hidden in the building’s basement.
Her daughter is freaking out about something. She freaks out every afternoon at this time. I go into the actress’ room alone. She is on the floor, a yellow muumuu spread out around her like the broken wings of a butterfly who has seen better days. I check her out. Nothing broken. No bruises. Liquor on her breath, its rancid stench sweating out of her pores, hitting my nose like the furious waves breaking on the beach of the noir thriller she starred in years ago. The Nursing Supervisor enters and we lift the actress on to her bed.
“Would you feel better if he was on top of you?” the supervisor asks.
Actress sobers up on the spot. I adjust my Alain Miklis and scan the room. A half empty bottle of Absolut stands next to her Tony award and a book full of clippings on the shining marble top of her coffee table, muumuus of every color imaginable are piled up on her French Provincial couch. Two bottles of Extra Strength Vicodins on the stained lace covering her gold leaf vanity table. Shades of Marilyn Monroe’s last night.
“I’ll check on you throughout the evening,” I tell the actress.
“Why would you do that?” the supervisor asks me in the hall.
We stand in front of yet another fake walnut bookcase holding yet more fake books and fake flowers.
“Are you kissing up to her to advance your career?”
“If I had a career, I wouldn’t be here,” I answer. “I’m checking on her because she could have hit her head.”
“You’re not supposed to do any nursing interventions…”
“No one’s going out on a brain injury during my shift.”
The supervisor opens her mouth to launch into her high-pitched whine.
I wave my forefinger in her face and leave her on the fake Persian carpet.
The residents are set in their ways. The slightest change in routine rubs their brake shoes the wrong way. The med pass after dinner has to start exactly at seven. I am in my first resident’s room at six fifty-nine. He smiles. 8K a month plus his caretaker’s fee and he gets a room with a window looking out to a brick wall. Nice. As I lift his med cup off of the tray, I am called on my walkie-talkie to the nurse’s station.
“You’ve got eight pills here and two inhalers,” I tell the resident. “I can give them to you now or come back in a few minutes and we can go over them together.”
“A few minutes is fine.”
His caretaker, an overweight Filipino man in his early twenties, taps into his laptop. He logs on to Adam4Adam as I leave the room.
I approach the walk-in closet sized nurse’s station, my eyes hypnotized by the waves of heat rising up from the sections of the floor not covered by Persian carpets.
“MY MOTHER’S PRESSURE WENT UP DRIVING BACK HERE,” a resident’s daughter screams at me.
“Can she make it up here?”
“WHAT DO YOU THINK?”
“I’m asking you if she can get to her room. If not, I’ll send a buddy downstairs with a wheelchair to bring her back.”
“My sugar is in the toilet,” the obsessive resident tells me.
The obsessive stands in front of the daughter. An hour ago, he registered a mere one point over the lowest parameter for his evening blood sugar reading. I told him he would bottom out if I gave him an injection of Insulin to cover this insignificant reading.
He cried. He pleaded. He begged.
“I’ve never administered Insulin for a such a low reading,” I tell him.
Beads of sweat trickle down his bone white forehead.
I pinch his greasy skin between my fingers, my right hand a second away from injecting him with the unneeded Insulin when he laughs and asks me: “Aren’t you supposed to put my eye drops in first?”
I proceed to spend twenty minutes instilling one eye drop into each of his eyes. To accomplish this, he has to roll his eyes back just so. His lower eyes lids must be slowly pulled down, his head has to be at a certain angle for the drops to absorb on to his sclera, their whiteness violated long ago by the anger of broken capillaries. His shining bald head can not be positioned too far back or his neck will hurt for hours, maybe the rest of the night. Not too far forward, or he will get dizzy. He instructs me to change gloves between eyes. I do not want to know why. To his amazement, on my first go at it, I perform each of these mind numbing rituals correctly.
“You’re new. You don’t look like you know what you’re doing,” he says.
“I’ve been a nurse for thirty years.”
“Have you taken blood sugars every day of those thirty years?”
I push my heels so deep into my shoes my feet are sure to smash through his floor above the nurse’s station and take out the babbling Armenian. I listen to the obsessive’s five minute rant about blood sugars and intraocular pressure. He insists I retake his sugar. Twice. Both are the dreaded one point over. I smile as I inject Insulin into one of the rolls of his flabby stomach. I nod and tell him to be sure to eat some dinner. He smirks. I have been in his room for forty-five minutes. I could have done him some real damage with the insulin needle. Strangely enough, I do not want to. Men who end up alone in rooms like this have enough problems.
One rant free hour later, the obsessive is in front of me, tears welling up in his bloodshot eyes. I take his sugar. Really low. He needs orange juice.
“I’ll go downstairs and get you some OJ.”
“Don’t leave me, I’m going to die.”
He grabs onto my arm with the force of an incubus. I call the Armenian on the walkie-talkie. No response. I call the buddies. They do not know who I am talking about because I have not identified the obsessive by his room number. I was trained to refer to patients by their names. Obsessive claims he does not know his room number. The buddies do not know who I am talking about because they do not know the names of the residents. Not one single name.
“Forget the name…could you please bring me up some OJ?”
No human sounds from the walkie-talkie. Only the crackle of static.
OJ does not arrive.
“I’m going to die…I’m going to die,” the obsessive tells me.
The daughter’s mother gets off the elevator. I sit her down and ask her how she is feeling. I wrap the blood pressure cuff around her arm.
“What in God’s name are you doing?” the daughter asks.
“Taking her pressure.”
“You should have done that when I asked you.”
“You never asked me.”
“I’m going to die if I don’t get juice,” the obsessive says.
“Want a candy bar?” the mother asks, pulling a Snickers out of her purse.
“I WANT ORANGE JUICE…NOT CANDY.”
“If you don’t want me to leave the floor and the other nurse and the buddies won’t answer me, why don’t you eat the candy? Sugar is sugar.”
“No, it’s fucking not.”
I take the blood pressure.
“I don’t want to know what it is, not ten minutes after I asked you.”
“Her pressure is…”
“I said I don’t want to know,” daughter answers.
The daughter waves her forefinger at me. She pulls a pad out of her Hermes bag. She looks at my ID badge. Long fingers encircled with diamond studded bands of gold and topped by black lacquered fingernails write my name down.
“Where’s my friend’s oxygen?” a man asks me.
“It was delivered at noon. For a reason no one can explain to me, the receptionist sent it back to the vendor. I’ve called and asked them to deliver it tonight.”
“You fucking faggot,” the man screams.
He is a faggot himself. The blood pressure resident tears up. Her daughter sighs. The obsessive laughs.
“Sir, if you continue to talk to me like that, I’m going to ask you to leave the facility.”
“I understand how upset you are. I’ll do everything I can to get the oxygen delivered tonight. One more outburst like that and I’m calling the police.”
“Fucking fag…fucking jerk.”
Having lost the part in “The Three Sisters,” to an actor who looks like he will be roaming these hallways when the show closes, I can finally show my acting colors.
What would Ferapont do?
I speak my line with a weary, life ravaged Russian accent: “Say good bye to your friend. You’re out of here.”
I mime calling 911.
The caretaker from the room in which I began the med run at six fifty-nine ambles down the hall. I call for the Armenian on the walkie-talkie. I call for OJ. I call the buddies. The crackling of static bounces off the imitation Hudson River Valley landscapes suspended from the ceiling’s mauve moldings by red velvet ropes.
“He’s out of control,” the caretaker tells me. “You’re the unprofessional nurse.”
“I’m going to die. Take my sugar again.”
“Take her blood pressure when she’s standing and then take it when she’s sitting.”
“What’s wrong with your patient?” I ask the caretaker as I take a standing and sitting pressure, stick a finger for a sugar level, ask for OJ and stare down a faggot.
“He’s the crazy…you left the room,” the caretaker screams.
“Can’t you see that I’m a bit busy here?”
“You’re the unprofessional. He’s the crazy now.”
“Your job is to take care of your patient. Go in and tell him I got tied up and will be in within ten minutes.”
The walkie-talkie tells me the oxygen has arrived. I ask someone to sign for it. Crackle of static.
Pressures are fine. Daughter licks her lips. Mother looks sleepy. Faggot is gone. Obsessive is crying. He is going to die. Now he wants his pressure taken. I run into an empty room and retrieve an OJ from its fridge. I hand it to the obsessive.
“It’s spoiled,” he whimpers.
I show him the expiration date. It has a shelf way longer than I do at this gig.
“You are the bad one…the bad one,” the caretaker screams.
“Stop screaming,” I tell him. “And stop undermining me. You are to go into that room and calm your patient down.”
Caretaker stares at me. Obviously, he does not know what undermining means. He moves in closer. I spot two long thin black hairs growing out of his left nostril. His pores are huge. Daughter grabs her mother’s hands. Obsessive relocates to a chair ten feet from us.
“You are the bad one…the bad one,” the caretaker screams.
“If you don’t get out of my face, I’ll call his family and tell them they’re paying you ten bucks an hour to read your e-mails and troll for tricks on Adam4Adam.”
“You’re the most bad nurse ever.”
The caretaker shrieks this mantra as he walks back to his patient’s room. A young man in possession of his jiggling heft and bouncing girth should not wear skintight scrub pants. Fear illuminates the call lights of each room he passes. No one answers them, not a buddy, not the Armenian. I walk into the rooms closest to me. I touch hands and foreheads. I say that the noise bellowing into their rooms is that of a narcissistic actor rehearsing his lines for the road show of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”
My feet back on a faux Persian remnant, undoubtedly purchased at a Ross clearance sale, I hand the daughter the pills to give her mom.
“These are the wrong ones. Jesus, you’re dumb.”
I check the med sheet. They are the right pills.
“Where’s the sleeping pill?”
“That one has to be requested. It’s not on the recurring med sheet.”
“You’re getting paid for this?” the daughter asks me.
“If she wants a sleeping pill, I’ll give her one. Ma’am, do you want a sleeping pill?”
“No, I want to watch the action.”
I laugh. A big, deep, cleverest, best joke I have ever heard laugh.
“Either you drink this perfectly good OJ or you sit by yourself for five minutes while I go downstairs and get a fresh one,” I say to the obsessive.
His shaking hand waves me to hit the bricks. I bypass the elevator. Run down the stairs. Sign for the oxygen. Push it to the elevator. Pour OJ into a tall glass in the kitchen.
“You can’t take that,” the cook says. “It’ll be a dollar.”
“It’s for a resident. Haven’t you heard me calling for it?”
“I didn’t hear nothing.”
His walkie-talkie crackles. Loudly. I give him a buck. In the dining room, I find the Armenian talking on her cell.
“Would you mind coming upstairs and helping me?” I scream into my walkie-talkie.
She silences the echo of my voice on her walkie-talkie.
I move in front of her and stand Zen still until she follows me into the elevator, where I ask her about the blood pressure resident’s sleeping pill.
“Did I forget to tell you to pour that one? My bad.”
“Any other surprises I should know about?”
The Armenian sighs. She picks at the diamond ring on her finger. Her lips are pale and thin.
I give the obsessive his OJ. The Armenian refuses to sit with him. The blood pressure resident tells me she will keep an eye on him. I shoot her a wink and a smile.
A resident gets off the elevator and staggers down the hall. The smell of liquor hits me a minute before he reaches the med cart.
“I need my two Vicodins,” he tells the Armenian.
“The new nurse is giving out the medications this evening.”
“Where’s your pain, sir?” I ask.
“I take them around this time every night.”
“Where does it hurt?”
“I paid for them…and I’m taking them…right now.”
“You kind of need to give me a reason for taking pain medications. Not to be rude, but I think you’ve had a few cocktails.”
“I don’t drink.”
I have been in his room. A bed. A chair. A small folding table, sagging in the middle. A flat screen on the wall. Empty liquor bottles on the counter of his kitchenette. Half full ones in the cabinets above the sink.
“I can’t give you narcotics when you’ve been drinking. How about I run you a hot bath? I’ll come in later and massage your neck if you’re still uncomfortable.”
“Those pills are mine, give them to me, you asshole.”
“Sir, can you speak to me without the name calling?”
He looks at the Armenian. She shrugs her shoulders.
“The night nurse will give me what I fucking paid for.”
He flips me the bird.
“Why didn’t you give him the pills?” the Armenian asks.
“You can’t give an obviously drunk patient narcotics. You know that don’t you?”
Lips tremble, eyes fade into a blank stare, walkie-talkie crackles.
“You’ve got a real attitude,” she answers. “That resident’s friend told me you called the police on him.”
“I didn’t go to the nursing school where people talked to nurses the way he did. I was taught to respect myself.”
“The residents pay a lot of money to be here. You have to accept how they act…and their friends. It’s part of what they pay for.”
I look straight into the freezing green pools of her eyes. She is for real.
I take the obsessive’s sugar. It is rising. He will make it through to another miserable rant filled day.
I set up the oxygen tank in the room of our chemo resident. His faggot friend watches TV. The tumor eating this resident’s brain has done a number on both of them. I will swallow their anger for now. No biggie. They have enough to deal with.
The resident can not get a handle on the timing of his chemo pills.
“These babies have to be given at precise times,” I tell him.
His short-term memory loss is so acute he does not remember having taken a pill a few seconds earlier. Or who I, the Armenian or his friend are.
I am sweating. Have been for over an hour. My mouth is dry. I have to pee. No time. I look into the stillness of the blue wall to my left and try to find my center.
The Armenian is fascinated by the oxygen set-up. Even without the focus of my Alain Miklis, I can see she has never set up a tank before. It takes the resident twenty minutes to swallow four pills. I explain to the faggot friend and the Armenian how to adjust the oxygen flow meter, the calm blue of the wall telling me that this too will be turned against me.
Obsessive’s sugar is back to normal. No thanks from him. Not that getting the words out of his mouth would be heartfelt. The resident whose blood pressure was never a clinical issue has fallen asleep on the couch. Daughter is long gone. I am sure she is contacting her lawyer or the media. Maybe both. In a room whose walls are covered with pictures of a smiling husband and well behaved grandchildren, but not one of the daughter, I tuck her mother under a peach colored satin blanket.
I check on the actress. Snoring loudly, wakes up easily. No untoward effects from her fall.
I return–at long last–to my first resident. I explain what happened. He smiles and nods his head. He is a nice man.
“He’s the bad one…the unprofessional one,” the caretaker says.
“Can we take this outside?” I ask.
“You’re bad…you’re the bad.”
The resident starts to cry.
“Pal, if you don’t quiet down and step outside with me, I will have you removed from the building.”
“You’re the most bad nurse ever.”
I look at the naked men on his computer screen and stare at him until he follows me out into the hall.
“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” I ask him.
He smiles. A big yellow teeth smile. The darkness in his eyes glows.
“You’re the bad one…”
“I’ve heard it, honey. We’ve established who I am…and I know who you are. What I don’t get is that you would act like this in front your patient and the other residents. What’s your deal?”
“You think you’re the big guy…the smart one…with the smart glasses…you’ll be the fired one.”
“Do whatever you want. But understand, we never talk about other staff in front of residents. It’s…it’s…”
I laugh. A big, deep, cleverest, best joke I have ever heard laugh.
“It’s unprofessional,” I tell him.
I go back into the room. The resident has stopped crying. I give him his pills.
“How could you talk like that to such a sweet young man?” the Armenian asks when I return to the nurse’s station.
“What…you think his behavior is acceptable?”
“The family pays a lot for him to be here.”
I have pills to give. I leave the Armenian to listen to the crackle on her walkie-talkie in her ice cold walk-in closet. I am on to her deal real quick. Seems she added the nonscheduled pills to the ones I already poured. When the residents ask me what is in their med cups, I am stumped.
“You’re so slow…I put the sleeping pills and tranquilizers in the cups…you know, to help out,” the Armenian says after I have finished the med run.
“I bet you think your life is real,” I tell her.
“I need to leave early,” she says. “My daughter’s hosting a sleepover for her girlfriends. I’ve got to get back to Glendale before the boys arrive. Can you punch me out when the shift ends?”
“Why ask? If I needed you to stay, you’d leave anyway. You’ve got that team player thing really down.”
She tugs on her diamond earring and taps her French manicured fingernails against the dull metal top of the medication cart. She opens her new painted bright red lips. No words come out.
I punch the Armenian out.