I left the nursing home when my favorite nurse’s aide, Mrs. Pat, was on her “weekend” break (she has off on Thursday and Friday, instead of the traditional weekend). She was like a mom to me: so supportive and helpful. She was my morning aide, so she helped me get out of bed, washed up and dressed. When I was having a difficult time adjusting to my situation, Mrs. Pat calmed me down. Although I had planned on being released from the nursing home by my surgeon, during my exam, no one else had considered this possibility. So Mrs. Pat had no idea that I would be gone when she came back from her break. I really want to see her, give her a Thank You, and hear what happened when she came back to work and there was someone else in my bed. And, quite truthfully, I’m curious about my replacement. Does she scream all night? Is she violent? How does she handle all of Mrs. Elma’s bullshit? Because I am certain Mrs. Elma will be there for a long time.
Mrs. Elma was in bed C. I was in bed A. Mrs. Rochette’s bed was between us. Mrs. Elma weighed as much as Big Len, but she looked a lot worse for it. She had back surgery and was in the nursing home for rehab and recovery. It was no wonder she had back issues; she was so large that she had trouble moving. She arrived in the room the same day that I was admitted. Poor Mrs. Rochette – TWO new roommates on the same day! Mrs. Elma did not like to get out of bed. She did not like therapy. She would not walk. The first week she was in the home, she had to be lifted out of her bed using a sling lift because none of the nurses or aides were strong enough to lift her. Hell, most of them weren’t strong enough to lift me and I weighed 95 lbs. The second week, Matt (a huge therapist who looked like a bouncer) would come into the room every morning and get Mrs. Elma out of bed. The third week she was supporting her own weight enough to transfer into a wheelchair. But her wheelchair was so wide that it didn’t fit into the bathroom, so she was still using a bedpan. She would take the stinkiest craps and then it would have to be paraded through the room because her bed was the furthest from the bathroom. At night Mrs. Elma would wet the bed and the aides would have to turn on all the lights, at 3am, to change her. Then, in the morning, she’d bitch at the morning shift aides because her bedding was damp and cold. She couldn’t understand that she had to get out of the bed in order for housekeeping to put clean sheets on it. Some mornings, the aides would come into the room and find her full bedpan wherever the night shift aide had left it. Then, Mrs. Elma got a urinary tract infection. One morning Mrs. Pat came into the room and was like, “Why does it smell so fishy in here?” She found out when Mrs. Elma had her morning piss.
Only once did Mrs. Elma attempt to walk, and I missed it because I spent as little time as possible in my stinky/hot room. My mom just happened to be there and she said that one of the therapists was trying to get Mrs. Elma to walk the length of the room, to the bathroom. She got to the foot of my bed and refused to go any further. Ten more steps and she would have made it. Because she didn’t move enough, every night the nurse had to give her a shot in her belly, to thin her blood, so she wouldn’t get blood clots. This thinner blood made her cold all the time. And her bed was closest to the air conditioner, so she never wanted it on. Several nights, the aide would come in to take my vitals and I would warn her that my temp was going to be high because I was laying in a puddle of sweat. One morning, Mrs. Elma complained so much about being cold that the night aide turned on the heat in our room. It was in the triple digits in Baltimore and our heat was on, pumping out that horrible odor of a heater that hasn’t been used in a while. Morning shift came in and all the way down the hall I could hear them asking, “What’s burning?” Eventually, I had my mom bring in my fan. The very next morning, Mrs. Elma woke up and asked, “Is it just me or is it hot in here?” Mrs. Rochette and I just rolled our eyes at each other.
One time Mrs. Elma and I had stim therapy (where the therapist applies electrodes to the muscles to get them to flex) together. I loved it and they would crank me up to the 90s. My muscles would be jumping all over the place! The therapist would let the patient say when she felt the shocks and whether she wanted it stronger. Mrs. Elma’s muscles were not moving at all. The entire time I was thinking, ‘What’s the point?’ After therapy, she’d go back to bed. Sometimes she wouldn’t get back up until the next day. When I left the nursing home her back was infected from laying in piss all the time.
I saw my surgeon twice, while I was living at the nursing home. I still haven’t seen x-rays of my new shoulder. Because I was in a nursing home, my insurance insisted that I have my x-rays done at the home. They used a mobile x-ray company. The first time they x-rayed me, it was such a rush job that the films were never developed. They were put on a disc, so my surgeon could see them on his computer, but I couldn’t see them. The second time my mom just could not understand that I wanted to see them. She was too busy reading my file (though ask her now what it said and she has no idea). We got to the surgeon’s office, handed over the x-rays, only to be told that they were of some woman named Norma’s hip. The x-ray company had put someone else’s films in an envelope labeled with my name. Hopefully the next time I go to see the surgeon the x-rays will be done in his office and I will demand to see them. Mostly I have to go to this third appointment to make sure that the tendon around my rotator cuff has healed. It was pretty mangled and the surgeon had to repair it. He said that when he opened me up and saw my shoulder, it was much worse than he had expected. It takes six weeks for a tendon to heal. Then I can start physical therapy and start increasing my range-of-motion.
Other than my tendon situation, my shoulder surgery went well. I had a bit of an issue with needles but that was not my fault. I took that shit like a champ. Every single time someone had to draw blood, it took three sticks. Three sticks to put in the IV. By the time I got out of Union Memorial, I had been stuck a dozen times. I didn’t find someone who got me on the first try until I got to the Heritage Nursing Home. AJ has a shitty bedside manner, but he’s good at his job and I told him that. Later in my stay, I had to be tested for TB (why?), and then vaccinated. That aide was so used to dealing with old people crepe paper skin that she couldn’t get the vaccination needle to puncture my skin. The entire time she’s poking me over and over, I was rolling my eyes. I mean, is TB really an issue?
I had to spend some time in ICU after my surgery because there had been some issues with intubation – thankfully I had been asleep for that. The roof of my mouth was all ripped up and I was having a difficult time eating. When I got to Heritage, I told the admitting nurse about it. She looked at it but said there was nothing wrong. A week later it still hurt. When I told Meg (morning shift nurse) about it, she winced when she looked at it. It was infected. I had to be put on antibiotics (3x a day) and given a saline mouthwash. They would wake me up at midnight for a pill and rinse.
While I was in ICU there was this incredibly hot male intern (he reminded me of Cesc Fabergas). Every time he came into the room my heart would race. Literally. I was still hooked up to a monitor – it was obvious. At one point, one of the nurses came in and asked me if I was scared of him because they could see the change in my heart rate on the monitors at the nurse’s station. When he left the room I told her, “Obviously my heart races cuz he’s hot as hell.” I’m pretty sure he either overheard me, it got back to him, or he figured it out. When he came in for rounds, with a bunch of other interns, I couldn’t look at him for longer than a few seconds and when he left the room he gave me this cute little wave behind everyone else. He was totally flirting with me because, later, he stood in my doorway until I noticed him, smiled and left. Unfortunately, when they moved me down to normal recovery there was no more fun.
That is, until the two guys with the ambulance came to transport me to Heritage. My first ambulance ride! With two young hot guys! I talked to them about anime, drinking, movies, etc. the entire ride. Then, when they pulled my stretcher into my room at Heritage, they were like, “You do not belong here.” Not that they had delivered me to the wrong place, but that I didn’t fit in. I rolled into that room and the smell/heat hit me, and “Stanford and Son” was blaring, and I was on painkillers… it was such a difficult experience.
It took me three days to get used to being there. I tried to convince my mom to let me come home because my surgeon had released me to go home, but because my mom couldn’t be bothered to prepare the house for me, I had to go somewhere under the care of professionals. But those nurses had no idea what to do with me. I cried a lot. Then I got my period and was sitting on the edge of my bed and it was running down my legs (all over my surgery stockings) and puddling on the floor. None of the nurses knew how to get me into the bathroom. I have a shy bladder. I tried to use the bedpan, but it was impossible for me to go with six people in the room. Finally, this aide Stephanie grabbed another aide. They each took one leg, supported my back, and transferred me into a bathroom seat on wheels. Eventually my mom brought in my wheelchair from home and things got better for me. I could get out of my bed and explore. The aides still had a difficult time transferring me. Then one of the aides (or more) complained about the way they were picking me up to the director or someone and Stephanie got in trouble. I was SO mad. Here was a girl who actually helped me and she got a lecture. Did those others think it was okay for me to sit in a puddle of body fluids? After a couple of days Mrs. Pat started giving me a bear hug transfer and my mom learned from her. Then I didn’t bother any of the second or third shift aides. I was everyone’s favorite patient because I required so little attention. My mom helped me with showers and putting me to bed. I didn’t need second shift at all. Third shift was so weird though. Random aides would come in and demand to change my diaper. I wanted to make a sign and post it above my bed that said: I’m a big girl. I wear my own panties! I don’t wet the bed!
My first night at Heritage was horrible. I’m used to sleeping in a cave. Mrs. Rochette doesn’t like the dark. She leaves the television on all night. I woke up in the middle of the night, when my pain pills wore off, and thought I had gone insane. The flashing of TWO televisions made me feel like I was going to have a seizure. And the noise made it impossible for me to calm down. And a strange bed, a strange arm, strange people – THAT’S why I flipped my shit. The next night, my mom tried pulling the curtain between my bed and Mrs. Rochette’s television but she made a fuss about it blocking the light from the hallway. And we always had the bathroom light on, with the door open, no matter how much it stank. I don’t know how it happened but I got to the point where major things occurred in my room (like changing Mrs. Rochette’s bandages – which could take at least a half-hour, with her trying not to scream) and I slept right through them. Even after being home for two weeks, I still cannot express what a joy and comfort it is to sleep ALONE in my own DARK and SILENT room, in my own bed.
I don’t know why, but I still managed to really like Mrs. Rochette, even though the smell of her weeping, rotting flesh with haunt me forever. She had ulcers on her legs. When she had them removed, the surgeons “scraped her down to the bone” and then applied skin graphs, and they were weeping. Sometimes there were puddles. She had to wear tight stockings every day and they would be soaking wet, so she had to change them all the time. She had been in Heritage for four months and they only put her on lasix the week before I left. She was definitely not getting the care she needed. But, then again, she was still wearing diapers and hospital gowns. I figure that the people who wear their own clothes (who aren’t longterm care) are closer to being released. But she had a good sense of humor. Every morning, at 7:30, Mrs. Pat would bring our breakfast. Mrs. Rochette and I would spend the next 45 minutes making fun of it. She had high blood pressure and the aides were constantly checking her sugar, so she must have diabetes as well. For some reason, the kitchen didn’t send her eggs, pancakes, French toast, cold cereal, or normal breakfast foods. Every morning they would send her a ham sandwich! (On the day I left, they sent her a bologna sub!) She would have to ask Mrs. Pat to call down to the kitchen and get them to send up some fruit so that she could take her 10 pills. They would send four peach slices or whatever fruit was left over from the previous dinner. The last week I was there, I filled out my menu asking for a fruit plate in the morning. I would give Mrs. Rochette my fruit (I kept the cottage cheese and rice krispies/cornflakes) and she would give me her orange juice. I don’t know why she didn’t write, “No ham! Fruit plate” on her own menu, but whatever.
Around 8am, Mrs. Elma would finally wake up and put a stop to our foolishness with her complaining. Mrs. Rochette would go into the bathroom to get ready for therapy. I’d wait for Mrs. Pat to put me in my chair and then do whatever I could until it was my turn in the bathroom – brush my teeth, make hot chocolate (I got white milk with every meal. I haven’t drank that much white milk since I was a child. I had my mom bring me a box of Life cereal and hot chocolate packets), wander around. Then, one day, a therapist was complaining about how Mrs. Elma was never ready for therapy and she threw us under the bus! Mrs. Elma was like, “Mrs. Rochette is in the bathroom. Then Mrs. Pat helps Karley.” Nothing about the fact that she sleeps later, so it takes her longer to finish breakfast. Mrs. Elma didn’t even use the bathroom, so why did it matter that we did? She didn’t know that Mrs. Pat was on the other side of the curtain and heard the whole thing. Mrs. Pat was SO pissed. She came and found me in the dayroom and told me. Then, the next morning, when Mrs. Elma was complaining about being cold (while Mrs. Pat was sweating her ass off trying to get 20 patients fed and out of bed), Mrs. Pat was like, “Let me turn down the air conditioner” and did just that – she turned it DOWN to 72 degrees! Mrs. Elma messed with the wrong nurse’s aide!
Three weeks home and my mom still refuses to lift me without this belt that a nurse’s aide from the nursing home gave her. This aide wasn’t even one of mine. My mom met her out in the smoking courtyard, and when my mom told Deb about my transferring situation, Deb stole one of the belts and gave it to my mom. It snaps around the waist and has handles on it so my mom can lift me without making me bear weight on my shoulder. Thing is, this belt is made for an adult and it’s too big for me. Even with the straps tightened all the way, when my mom picks me up, the belt immediately slides up, over my ribcage. My boobs are the only things that keep it from going all the way up to under my arms. Needless to say, it’s pretty hard to breathe with this belt smashing my breasts. My surgeon told us three weeks ago (when he released me from Heritage) that it was okay for my mom to lift me under my arms. He said that it was okay for me to bear weight, but not to move my arm in this one particular motion because of my tendon. My mom is getting bruises all over her arms from using this belt, but she refuses to stop using it “until the surgeon says it’s okay.” He already told us that! She just didn’t hear him because she was too focused on the fact that she had me in tears before the surgeon came into the room. I had been telling her that I wanted to see if I could go home and she started in with all these excuses as to why I couldn’t – not being able to transfer me being number one. I was so mad at her because, by this time, she had the transfer belt in her possession for over two weeks and we hadn’t tried to use it at all. What’s the sense in having something and never practicing with it? I knew that my shoulder was healed enough to go home. It’s MY shoulder. I can feel that it doesn’t hurt. But her negative attitude was so disheartening. When the surgeon agreed that I could go home, I danced around the room and was like, “See?!” I mean, damn, I know my own body.
While I was in Heritage, R-, V- and B- came to visit me at least once a week. Cathy came every other day, except when she got picked to be a member of a jury. My mom was there every day. Big Len and Bushie came several days a week. Colleen came once, and within ten minutes she was screaming at me. Here I am, doped up, only like four or five days out of surgery, dealing with trying to find my place in a nursing home and Colleen ends up picking a fight with me. All I said was that I really didn’t need to be in a nursing home, but because mom couldn’t be bothered to make my house accessible and get a chairlift up the steps, I had to stay at Heritage for who knew how long. Colleen thought I should be there 90 days – like she’s some kind of expert – and didn’t like it that I thought I would be out in a couple of weeks. And who was right? Yep, out in less than a month. She thought I was being a whiny bitch and started saying, “You chose this” and wouldn’t let me defend myself. So I started crying and she was lecturing me (I can’t even remember what she said exactly) so I left the room. All the nurses saw me crying and asked, “What’s wrong?!” “Family drama,” I answered. Meanwhile Colleen was screaming down the hall, “You chose this!” Uh, yeah, I chose to try and improve my life. How is that a bad thing? How is that anything anyone should hold against me? And, although I knew it was a possibility, I didn’t truly expect that I would find myself in an old folks home for rehab. I thought that maybe I would be put into a place that specialized in disabled people around my age. And why is it so bad that I want MY house to be accessible? Sure, seeing me surrounded by all the crazy old people was stressful, but Colleen could have made light of the situation and been supportive – like everyone else. I know it killed R- to see me in there, but he was there – bringing me pizza, playing Scrabble, making me laugh.
V- brought me a sweet Get Well card and this lovely framed photo of a young Johnny Depp (she told me to tell everyone he was my fiancee. I find it funny that she thinks I could land such a gorgeous man). Cathy brought me balloons. Mrs. Faith sent me a huge stack of Rolling Stone magazines and a tin of cheese straws. BOTH my aunts sent cards and those women forget my birthday almost every year. My grandpa sent me TWO cards – he was so impressed.
There was a junkie at Heritage, while I was there. We referred to him as Houdini because he kept trying to escape. He was 40-some-years-old, had destroyed his liver with drinking, and liked smack. He was supposed to wear an ankle alarm, which would lock the doors when he got too close, but he cut it off. It’s only flimsy plastic. A lot of the old people wear them but don’t realize it or aren’t flexible enough to take them off. Once Houdini jumped onto the elevator just as my parents were leaving and they had no idea what to do. Another resident, Sonny (a bit of a dick, one of those patients who think they are magically going to get better, without therapy), told one of the nurses that Houdini was making a break for it. A second time, I was in the dayroom when I heard “Code Green!” over the intercom, and a nurse called out, “check under all the beds!” Another time, I went downstairs to get a puzzle from the activities closet and Houdini was being propped against the wall by two cops! He had gotten out and made his way several blocks down the street when the police had noticed him and grabbed him up. I can’t remember what Houdini was wearing – whether it was a hospital gown. How else would the cops know he wasn’t just another deranged, drugged out citizen of Dundalk? It’s not like he stuck out in that neighborhood. After being there for less than a week, his wife signed him out Against Medical Advice. Stephanie was relieved. He used to literally fling his shit at her. He was violent. I didn’t like the fact that this guy was in a room two doors down. He could have murdered me in my sleep.
The same day that Houdini left, this other guy – Jorge – was discharged. I never knew why he was at Heritage in the first place, but he was a mean SOB. He used to come into the dayroom to use their computer (an outdated machine that I didn’t have the patience to use, so I had my mom bring me my laptop every day. I couldn’t leave it on the premesis because it would have been stolen, or so I was warned.) and I tried to be polite, but he bit my head off. He refused to talk to me directly. If he needed to ask a question, he would always address someone else in my family, even though I had the answer. Heritage doesn’t have a lot of mens’ pajama pants to wear under the gowns. They have about 20 pairs, which were donated by an ex-patient. Jorge stole every single pair. When it was discovered that he had them all, the nurses had to go through his luggage and take them back. He waited until midnight of the day of his release (the earliest possible moment) and signed out. He proceeded to crash into a car, while leaving the parking lot. Never a lack of excitement at the Heritage Center. I kind of miss that. If I felt bored, all I had to do was go out into the hallway and listen to the gossip.