The Difficult Ones


My stay here at Orchard Creek (it’s my third visit here) is a little different than earlier ones: it’s characterized by some difficult and high maintenance patients. It’s been interesting to me to evaluate my personal reaction to these folks and how I have changed my attitude over the last two weeks.

At first, I was highly irritated by these high maintenance folks. Mary, for instance, is a real cranky character. Generally during the day she is quite reasonable and well spoken, quite polite and educated. She looks at you with bright, birdly eyes, greets you, and genuinely seems interested in what you have to say. But as the sun goes down, Mary becomes a totally different person—angry, restless, disoriented. She begins yelling for her son John (“John! JOHNNY! Where ARE you?) She seems to have no clue that Johnny ate dinner with her and left soon afterwards: he should be here now! When the shouting doesn’t work, Jean touches off the gizmo on her wheelchair which emits an ear-damaging shriek to indicate to the staff that someone who should not be getting out of a wheelchair is in fact doing so.

She repeats this performance at regular intervals throughout the night, much to the irritation of the rest of us trying to sleep—it’s then that I envy the majority of the residents who simply sigh and remove their hearing aids. In the morning, Mary remembers none of this and dozes peacefully in her wheelchair throughout her physical therapy session. Unfortunately, the rest of us are dozing too, having had little more sleep than she has.

My next door neighbor doesn’t hear the Mary-induced ruckus across the hall : Katherine is deaf as a wood block. She’s 98, sharp witted and quiet—except when it’s her bathroom time. She doesn’t remember how to ring the bell to call for assistance, and I hear her quiet voice whispering plaintively, “Would somebody help me? Please help me.” At first I thought that Katherine was in dire straits, perhaps having fallen out of bed or something. Then one day I heard her say, urgently, “I have to go to the bathroom. Please help me, somebody.” I punched MY call button, and then I heard her say, “ohhhhh. Too late.” So even though I know now what Katherine’s calls are always for, it still un-nerves me to hear the quavery little voice calling out, “Help, please, somebody.”

At 98, Katherine is a far cry from Lola, who is 92. In Lola’s mind, being 92 is license to whine, complain, get to her table for dinner and then refuse to stay, and say to the PT ladies, “I am NOT doing that. It hurts. Take me to my room. Now!” No matter where Lola is in this facility, people within ten feet of her go scurrying away. Lola is very angry at me because I get to sit in my wheelchair at dinner (because I can’t sit in a regular chair for very long) and SHE doesn’t. I say things to her like, “No body ever said the world was fair,” and she sniffs disdainfully and turns her face from me. In the PT (Progressive Torture) room she complimented me on the fact that I can do side legs raises. “I can’t do that,” she says. “I am too old and it hurts too much. I will never be able to do that. In fact, I don’t feel well at all. Nurse! Take me to my room!” “No pain, no gain,” I mutter audibly as she wheels herself to the elevator (it’s hard to make a dramatic exit in a wheel chair).

And lastly, I need to mention Howard. I don’t know Howard’s age, though HE would probably tell me he’s 35, if I asked him. Obviously he’s more than double that age—just not in his own mind. Howard is former military, and in PT his favorite exercise is marching (with weights on his ankles). Under his breath Howard sings cadences, usually quite rowdy. His choice of language is also a throwback to his army days, I suspect, and he can go from being smiling and cheerful into being a treacherous snake-in-the-grass in just an instant, with no forewarning. He lies with cheerful good humor though: “My wife dropped me off here several weeks ago and I haven’t seen her since.” (Wonder who he thinks we see entering his room every other day or so?)

Here’s what I have learned from Mary, Katherine, Lola and Howard:

  1. Find something to do to fill your quiet hours and don’t be afraid of the dark.

  2. Abide by the signals when you need help: If you’re supposed to press the button to call for help, train yourself to press the button.

  3. People don’t hear you when you whisper plaintively, “Help me please. Someone. Please.” Press your button if that’s the protocol.

  4. People won’t hear you when you demand attention every 15 or 20 minutes, either. Shouting “Nurse. Come Here. I need you NOW!” causes the nurses to suddenly become very busy.

  5. Don’t lie to get sympathy. People know there are women are coming into your room at night.

I’ll post this when I get a new modem. Until then, you just have to take it on faith that I am alive, well, and still learning new lessons.

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