I don’t know when it went bad. I turned out my light at 10:00 p.m. but didn’t go to sleep. Not upset or anything—no idea why I wasn’t sleepy—so I got up and went out to the nurses’ station where I met Bob, an old man (in a nursing home, I suppose “old” really goes without saying) in a peculiar kind of chair—half chaise lounge, half wheelchair.
Bob couldn’t sleep either so they’d brought him out where there were people around. A young woman—with her arms inside her scrub top because she was cold—was sitting with him. She reported that she was from Central New York, had been studying to be a licensed practical nurse at a community college in Mississippi (“because it was warm”) but had come home to be with her boyfriend.
She also told me that Bob’s status was uncertain as to whether or not he would be going home, and he was sometimes unruly. He had long, bony hands and was picking at his pants where he was catheterized. From time to time he would make a coherent statement and break into a lovely, impish smile but mostly he was incoherent. I invited him to go with me to have a drink at the University Sheraton Hotel, where I would go on Friday’s for jazz and a split of champagne.
No more champagne, but the opportunity to make Bob’s life a little better for a few minutes. How very odd to have this opportunity after so many years of isolation. It doesn’t so much matter if anyone loves you; what matters is whether there is someone for you to love.
I went back to bed, slept till 5:00 a.m. and got up to the bathroom. The nurse came in wanting to do vital signs, heel care and God knows what else. I wanted to go back to sleep, and did, waking again at 7:00 a.m. What was it I lay here thinking when I woke up? Something dreary.
Ah: mourning “the vanished power of the usual reign.” Could I/should I get myself up to the bathroom? Could I/should I wait for the aide to get me up? I couldn’t wait for her.
In the bathroom, I had the worst rectal bleeding I’ve ever had. I thought about that a lot. One does, you know—bright red blood flowing from a body orifice—one does think about it. But I said nothing to anyone. What are they going to do? An invasive examination, an ambulance ride back to Crouse Hospital, an IV, a second even more invasive examination—have I not said no to all this?
What if the bleeding continues? I picture concerned nurses hovering over me, wanting to do something. The doctor, who did not see me when I was admitted, being called. Well, I said it was over; comfort care only. Bleeding doesn’t hurt. Lay there and bleed to death? If it’s a slow bleed, how long will it take? Stevie’s somewhere in middle America and won’t be home until Sai Maa knows when, so I go to breakfast and am reminded of what I learned when I was an undergraduate.
The only certainty of a bachelor’s degree is that it means you’re an experienced waitress. I worked at the Treadway Mohawk Motel coffee shop (now the Genesee Grande Hotel’s 1060 Restaurant) and learned this: put a cup of coffee down in front of the customer the moment his butt hits the chair and you then can safely ignore him for at least ten minutes. He will understand that he is up and on your radar, and he can stir his coffee and doctor it up, or drink it, or morosely stare into it while he contemplates the sordid underbelly of whatever it was he did last night.
I think it would be a good idea for nursing home dining rooms to adopt the same policy. They give me juice; I ask for coffee. The food is terrible. How can you make hard French toast? At least the hardboiled egg is hot. At Crouse, the egg served at breakfast had been hard boiled, shelled and refrigerated the day before. At home, I would enjoy a sliced hot hardboiled egg sandwich on a toasted bagel. I am more or less resigned to terrible food here but if I ran a nursing home you can bet by golly that I’d start with fresh vegetables and not overcook them.
After breakfast the nurse comes to my room and I tell her about the bleeding. She looks very concerned. I assure her that there is nothing we can or should do about it, but I just needed her to know. She says she will document it. What I need is to not be both afraid and alone with my fear. If it’s worse tomorrow then someone will already know to be afraid with me.
Then Tom comes and I get a shower. The conveyance down the hall is an absolutely square white pipe chair with arms, and a seat with a hole in it. At home it was a white plastic and aluminum tubing bench—called a “chair” on the carton but Medicaid/Medicare no longer will pay for a seat with a backrest. At St. Joseph’s Hospital it was a large recliner—honest to God, a total recliner—with a vinyl cover, which they wheeled into the shower.
Here at the Iroquois, Tom tells me, they used to have that kind of shower chair but DOH—the NYS Dept. of Health—forbade them to continue its use on the grounds that the vinyl could crack and germs become embedded and transfer to another person. What I have found in the last two and a half months between St. Joseph’s Hospital, Crouse Hospital and Iroquois Nursing Home is that the same things are being done differently at each place and each time the explanation is: DOH said so.