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Friday, August 10, 2012

Summer Jobs 1: Hillside

The usual practice in my blog is to end the week with some “Reflections” on the topic we have been considering all week. In fact, this was the plan, until I realized I would be leaving you with a rather negative view of both the staff and patients in America’s nursing homes. Yes, my experience in this first one was dramatic, and even traumatic, but it was not at all the experience of the next one.

Hillside Manor was a fairly new facility when I began to work there. I have no idea what it’s like 44 years later, but it was a wonderful place to work in 1968. Joyce and I worked the 3-11:30 PM shift. We found the staff very friendly and competent. They were as kind to us as they were to the patients. It was, as the name indicates, located on a steep hill, whereas the first nursing home was right in the heart of the city. Maybe that made a difference; I don’t know, but it was a totally different experience for us there. Let me tell you about some of the delightful patients I served while employed at Hillside.

One very fun man had been a veterinarian for the Ringling Brothers Circus and had lots of stories to tell. He always wore a suit coat and his 6-foot frame made an impressive figure even though he was in a wheelchair now. He had one unique practice, which was likely a carry-over from his time with the animals. Whenever I entered his room to let him know I was on duty, he wiggled his index finger to ask me to draw closer. As I did, he pulled open the front pocket on my uniform and poured dry roasted peanuts in the pocket. The elephants used to like that a lot and made them very fond of his visits, of course. They would stick their trunk inside his pocket to get the peanuts, he said. No amount of coaxing him away from this practice with us humans made him stop. Once, I even bought a uniform with side pockets instead of front pockets, thinking it would be too hard for him to pour the peanuts from the jar into my slit pocket. Ha, who was I kidding? He just opened the side pocket and got about as many peanuts on the floor as in the pocket. I went back to front pockets when I knew he would be one of my patients for that night. I just got used to having the pocketful of peanuts and snacking on them when I could. At least, there was someone to share them with, usually. I say, usually, because he did the same whenever anyone of the staff entered his room.

Our Dr. Doolittle also liked to “play the vending machine.” It was like a slot machine to him. His favorite days of the month were those when the man came to re-stock the vending machine. The doctor rolled his chair into the Employee Break Room, set himself down in front of the vending machine an began stuffing quarters in the slots. He then punched buttons and pulled on the levers to get the candy bars to drop down the chute. No point to ask him to stop and leave some candy for the employees, he loved his game.  He took himself back to his room with his lap and pockets loaded with candy bars, Of course, anyone who passed him along the way found a bar inside the open pocket of the uniform by the time the friendly doctor had passed by. No bars left in the slot to buy when your break came? No problem, just go “complain” and he’d look through his stash to find the one you wanted. What a guy!

Then there were the three ladies in their 90’s who shared a room in the wing opposite Dr. Doolittle. They had all been teachers but not the same subjects. One loved literature of all kinds and taught English for many years. Another taught chemistry and the third, Math. They had not known one another before coming to Hillside but became close friends early in their stay. They, too, had tons of interesting stories to tell. It was a totally different atmosphere from the doctor’s room. It was very peaceful and decorated with that feminine touch that is so warm and homey.

When the work was finished, I sat with them and listened to their stories. They really came alive in the telling of their memories of past days with students. When they began to ask me academic questions I found hard to answer, however, it was suddenly “Time for bed, Ladies,” though I doubt I fooled them one little bit. They had retained so much of the knowledge they had gained all those years of teaching. They also had cheery attitudes and rarely had a bad hair day amongst the three. If one was feeling down, there were two right on the spot to help her out of the gloomies. They loved one another and I loved all three of them.

The saddest day of my employment at Hillside was the day the English teacher died. I cried with her two friends and all of us had a hard time adjusting to her absence. Not surprisingly, within two weeks, her two friends had joined her on the other side of Eternity. I look forward to reminiscing with them there one day!

So, are you telling us there were no real characters you had to watch out for at Hillside, Sojourner? Uh, well, not in the same way as Mrs. *G but, there was one man who comes to mind. We were all warned to keep an eye on him. He was probably 6-ft 4-in tall and was a wanderer. He was wobbly on his feet and a little mentally confused sometimes, too. At other times, I thought he had actually premeditated some of the tricks he came up with. Since the place was on a hill, he really needed someone to go with him whenever he was outside. Of course Mr. Bag-of-Tricks didn’t agree one bit. After his walk, his aid would let him sit up in his comfortable armchair, if he wanted to instead of going to bed. One day, Mr. B-o-T. was sitting in his chair with the usual vest restraint to keep him from leaving the chair and wandering off. He smiled and nodded his head at me as I passed. Before I found his aid to ask why his arms had also been restrained, I was called to one of my patients on the other wing, promptly forgetting about Mr. B-o-T.

While checking on a chart at the nurses’ desk, I heard a scream coming from the room of the middle-aged lady who was a patient on Mr. B-o-T’s wing. She had multiple sclerosis and was no longer able to get out of bed.

“Someone help me! Help me! Get him outta here!” A blood-curdling scream followed.

Whipping around, I dropped the chart and ran to help her. Her nurses’ aid had made it to the door ahead of me and I found her bent over laughing, tears rolling down her cheeks. The lady in the bed was still screaming, not seeing the humor, of course. Couldn’t really blame her for that. Mr. B-o-T made quite a site!

There he was, standing in front of the sink, relieving himself. “What are you doing in here?” I asked, since his own aid was unable to speak through the giggles.

“What does it look like I’m doing?”

“Uh, er, I mean why are you doing what you are doing in here?” The tall man gave me a look that said he thought I was dumber than dirt if I couldn’t figure it out for myself.

Indeed, it didn’t take long to get a clear picture of the problem. As it turned out, not only were his arms, but also his legs restrained by soft ties to the chair. He wanted to go for a walk, though, and so he did. The comfortable, heavy, over-stuffed chair was still attached to his back, and he was bent at the angle necessary to actually walk. He had needed his urinal, which was back in his room, so he decided to just find another way to relieve himself and, well, the sink in the first room he passed was exactly the right height for the job. Wriggling himself around against the sink, he had been able to adjust the pajama bottoms enough to manage a hands-free release of his personal equipment.

So, yes, there were some interesting moments while working there but, overall, it was a great place to work while going to school. It seemed to me that the patients were well-cared for and, usually, happy, too.

*The story of Mrs. G and my first nursing home experience can be found in Summer Jobs 1, Scene 3 and Summer Jobs 1, Conclusion, if you missed it.

****Have a great weekend!

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