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Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Summer Jobs 1, Scene 3

Joyce was scheduled to work on Third Floor and I was assigned to Second Floor of the old, multi-story brick building. The smell assailed one’s nostrils just passing inside the front door, as it so often does in these homes for the elderly. Highly chlorinated bleach solutions mingled with the scent of stale urine-saturated tile floors. Nevertheless, we told ourselves, it was employment and we were going to make it work.

Actually, it wasn’t long before our own senses didn’t register the unpleasant odor. We were too busy trying to figure out what it was we were supposed to be doing after the beds had been made each morning. We supposed that real nurses aids knew these things and worried that we’d be found out and lose our jobs.(Side note here: Many, if not all, States in America now have courses that nurses aids are required to take before gaining employment. One must be a Certified Nurses Aid. There were no such courses available to us.)

“Sojourner, come here and tell me what’s wrong with this bed?” Gruff old Mrs. Can’t-Smile was after me again. I stopped in my tracks and turned to see the Head Nurse… left hand gripping her hip like it would fall off should she let go, right hand outstretched with that index finger shaking and pointing at the bed I had made half an hour previous to this re-call appointment. I forced a smile to stick to my face before I spoke.

“Uh, what? Are you calling me? I was just on my way to take Mr. Good his… “

“Never mind that! Look, just look at this bed, will you? What’s wrong with this bed?” I moved to where Mrs. Can’t Smile stood, frozen in position, and scanned the bed for errors.

“I’m sorry, but I don’t see anything I’ve done wrong here.” She did not immediately relieve the suspense but continued her glare-and-stare routine. Moving around to check the hospital corners, smoothing my hand over the tightly made bed, I couldn’t find a wrinkle or flap out of place. I heard the light crackle of the blue pad positioned under the drawsheet in the middle of the bed so it wasn’t that I’d forgotten the special pad for those nighttime accidents. “Please, would you tell me and I’ll fix it? Mr. Good is waiting for me.”

“Well, he can wait. Where’s he need to be that he can’t wait for you while we straighten this out? Look at the pillow.” Her hint may have been intended to clue me in but, alas, I didn’t see a problem. I mean, what can be wrong with a pillow? There is one on the bed, and it has a clean pillowcase. The pillow is big enough that it’s not a positioning issue so whatever could be wrong with that blasted pillow?

“Sorry but I’m not seeing what you are here?” I was still in the not wanting to lose the job mode so that smile was still fighting to stay put on my face.

“The flap, the flap. Can’t you see it? The open-end of the pillow must face the wall and not be open for anyone just walking by to see inside the pillowcase.” Well, I had to admit she was right; the open end of the pillowcase was on the same side of the bed we were. She was wrong about the threat of anyone seeing inside, though; I couldn’t see inside the case unless I lifted up one of the flaps. I thought it much more likely that a patient would slip something inside the open end of another patient’s pillowcase, than anyone passing by would be offended to see a pillow inside the case. Nevertheless, I turned the pillow around, smoothed it out and smiled up at Mrs. Can’t-Smile.

“There we go; all set. Thanks for pointing that out to me, I hadn’t been told about which direction the end of the pillow should face. Now, I know.” Guess Aunt Mary didn’t think it all that important but, when I thought about a confused patient putting something inside as he or she passed, I could see that it did make a difference. It might have even been me looking all over the place for the elderly, very-suspicious, Mrs. Taylor’s watch had she chosen to stuff it inside the pillowcase to keep someone from stealing it. In the end I was glad to know of the possibility but so wished the middle-aged lady dressed in white with that perky little cap on her head, could speak without growling at me… just once. It’s amazing how one who needs a job can “grin and bear it” no matter how unjust things seem to be, eh?

The weeks passed with both of us enjoying our time with the patients. One lady, in particular, was a favorite of mine. Mrs. G was one of the few patients whose wits were still very much intact. She made me laugh every day at her funny antics. I sometimes brought her little things to brighten up her day or a candy treat she liked but didn’t often have. Mrs. G. liked to follow me around and speak to the patients while I made their beds or attempted to comb their hair. It seemed to me that Mrs. G had a permanent smile glued to her wrinkled little face. How I longed to find the relaxed joy she seemed to have found in this place. For me, it was a battleground of sorts and I was ever on my guard. Mrs. G. was my ray of sunshine.

I had no idea what was just ahead around the next bend in the road. There was a dark cloud forming right over Little Miss Sunshine, which would swallow me up; but I never saw it.

****Summer Jobs 1, Conclusion… Next Post

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