Authors: Ava Mallory
Kathy brushed right past me as soon as she was done and marched into the next room, speaking like there was a freight train rolling in the hallway. Very loudly, she screamed, "Miss Betty, just settle down! No reason to get your britches in a bunch! I'm just trying to take your vitals! We do this every day."
I rolled my eyes, but refrained from entering without knocking first. I didn't care who was running the show here, I had morals and I had boundaries. No way was I walking into another room unannounced.
"Who is it?" A woman's voice yelled.
"I'm a nurse. May I come in?"
The resident didn't hear me over the commotion in the room. I hadn't realized that the room was full of people. Two nurse's aides were struggling to get a shirt over the poor resident's head. Kathy was huffing and puffing as she tapped her foot, waiting for the aides to finish up and the resident was resisting them at every turn. It was no wonder, no one was doing anything the way it should have been done. The one in charge was handling things all wrong.
Outside in the courtyard were a couple of maintenance men shoveling snow. I shouldn't have been able to see them, but given that not one of these fine caretakers bothered to draw the drapes or pull the privacy curtains shut, I had full view of far more than I was prepared to see this Monday morning. I had half a mind to chew them out, but first I had to get the situation under control and spare the poor resident any more humiliation.
I just couldn't help myself. When something got under my craw, I had to take care of it or I'd regret it. I knew it!
First, I drew the drapes shut, darkening the whole room. That flustered everyone long enough for me to grasp for the privacy curtain and pull it shut, then, turn a light on and worm my way in between Attila the Hun and her army of hooligans.
"Sorry. I'm Mercedes, but you can call me Mercy. I'm a traveling nurse and I'll be here while one of the staff members is on maternity leave." I introduced myself to the resident.
"Oh, Jennifer had her baby? What did she have?" The resident's whole face lit up when she heard.
Had no one bothered to tell the residents what happened?
"I believe she did, but Kathy here will have to confirm for me." I deferred to a seething Kathy.
She glared at me before yelling at decibel levels only dogs could hear. "Yes! Jennifer had a baby girl on Friday! That's why this one is here!" She pointed at me. I tried to ignore the 'this one' comment, believing it better not to get into an argument in front of the resident.
"A little girl? What did she name her?" Betty asked.
I had to admit, for someone who was supposedly in the throes of dementia and potentially violent, Miss Betty sure seemed to be able to follow a conversation with no problem whatsoever.
Again, I looked to Kathy, but she was already waving her stethoscope in the air.
"I'll find out the name and get back to you on that one. By the way, what would you like to be called?" I asked the resident.
"Betty, please, dear. Elizabeth is too formal. And, what did you say? You like to be called 'Mercy'? Well, isn't that pretty? I like it." Betty grabbed my hand, squeezing it. I nearly melted. She was such a kind woman.
"Thank you. Now, would you mind if we took your vitals this morning, Betty?" I asked. The nurse's aides watched in awe. In the short time it took me to make the room right and introduce myself, I'd managed to help get Betty properly clothed and made her feel secure.
It was then that Kathy made her exit without so much as a goodbye. I didn't know whether to applaud or pretend I didn't notice. Either way, it wasn't a battle that needed to be fought. I made my point and, hopefully, that would give her pause to slow down and remember what she'd been taught in nursing school.
As I took the vitals, the nurse's aides left the room and moved on to the next resident on their list to get dressed this morning. I stayed long enough to say a proper goodbye and assure Betty that I would see her in the dining room before I opened the drapes and said hello to the maintenance man who'd entered the room to fix a leaking sink in her bathroom.
"Are you sure you don't want me to take you to the dining room?" I asked.
Betty waved me off as she checked the contents of her water pitcher, telling me to catch up with Kathy before she had a fit. I said my goodbyes and nearly ran into the maintenance man as he finished up and walked out of the room.
I muttered, "Does anyone say hello around here?"
Betty answered, "Only if you make them slow down and look at you. That's not true of everyone, just some of the girls that work here. He used to stop and chat with me all the time, but stopped all of a sudden a couple of weeks ago. I know how busy they must be, but sometimes it would be nice if they remembered that we have feelings too."
I wanted to cry. That was so sad to hear. I hoped that what she said wasn't true and that everyone was just having an off day.
"I'll see you in a few?" I asked.
I stepped out of the room and listened to hear which direction to go. Across the common area, I could see Kathy standing in the office talking to a tall, older gentleman, pointing right at me.
Panic set in. Even though, I knew I'd done nothing wrong, I found myself retracing my steps to make sure I hadn't done anything at all offensive. I wrestled with the idea of going to the office to see what they were discussing, but opening up a whole other can of worms wasn't something I wanted to do so soon.
I lingered in the hallway, unsure of what to do. I'd already potentially made an enemy out of Kathy and didn't want to stir up any more problems with her. The nursing staff didn't offer any assistance. They floated around me, busy going through their daily chore list.
Rather than staring off into space, I took the opportunity to check my uniform and make sure it was up to par.
Finally, Kathy and the gentleman exited the office and made a beeline for me. By the looks of him, I didn't believe that he could have been the administrator or one of the doctors. His clothing had farmer written all over them and he was a tad bit older than someone who should or would be in charge of a nursing home or still practicing medicine.
I swallowed my fear as they approached and offered a smile and my hand.
He stopped cold, confusion in his eyes. "Who are you?" He asked.
"I'm a nurse." I answered, meekly. He didn't seem like he was a happy camper at all. If you asked me, he appeared to be under a considerable amount of stress. I wondered if he'd just gotten over a bout of the flu or something.
Kathy chimed in. "She's here while Jennifer is away, Mr. Knott."
He looked me up and down. I was glad I'd checked my uniform.
"Alright." He said and walked past me to go into Betty's room.
"Rowdy!" She called out. "You're here. You look like you need a drink. Have some lemonade, dear. I just finished making it."
He replied, "Yes, woman. I'm here every day. You know that and that's not lemonade. How many times do I have to tell you that it's water in that jug? Someone puts water in there every morning for you."
I looked at Kathy, but she didn't fill me in, so I asked, "Is that Betty's husband?"
Kathy rolled her eyes, "Yeah, that's him. Do me a favor, will you? He wants to take her out for breakfast. Can you find the form and give it to him? There should be a pile of sign out forms on my desk."
I was more than happy to oblige. All of a sudden, she was asking for my help. I'd managed to redeem myself.
As I walked to the office, an aide screamed out from one of the rooms. "I need help in here. Now!"
I turned on my heels and ran toward her voice. Betty and her husband were in the doorway of her room, curious to see what the fuss was about.
Nubbin was sitting in his wheelchair just outside his room, yelling, "They killed another one, I bet you. Always happens. Never fails. Every time we are about to eat, they manage to off another one of us."
I didn't know whether to be horrified or embarrassed by his remark. All I knew was that the aide was still screaming and people weren't moving fast enough to offer their assistance and Kathy wanted that form.
While Kathy went into the resident's room, she waved me off, telling me to stay away. I went into the office in search of the form. Kathy's desk was a mess. I couldn't see any rhyme or reason, but understood that some people preferred to work that way, so I left well enough alone.
Finally, I found the forms in a pile on the floor under the desk, buried under some plant like structure and discarded plastic food containers. I heard the office door open and I called up from under the desk to reassure Kathy that I'd found them.
"I'm okay. They were right here under my nose." I lied.
Just then, there was a loud crash on top of the desk and all the papers went flying into the air. I lifted my head, hitting it on the desk, and, then, heard a shrill scream and saw Rowdy lying face first on the floor.
"Rowdy!" Betty screamed.
I jumped up, holding my aching head, stunned by what I'd just witnessed.
"Rowdy?" I leaned over him and felt for a pulse.
I checked again. This time, grabbing his wrist.
"I need help in here." I called out, hoping someone could hear me through the door. I checked for breathing.
"Betty, go get Kathy please." I said. No one had answered my call.
I was accustomed to patients dying. It was the hardest part of the job, but never had I witnessed a visitor dying. I rolled him over and started chest compressions while I waited for the others to respond.
In the distance, I could hear voices, urging a resident to cooperate with them. Betty remained frozen in place. I looked up, hoping to see some emergency button or something, but the room was a mess and I had to focus on what I was doing.
In between compressions, I called out. "Help me! I need help!"
I didn't need to call out anymore because after another round of compressions, Betty was screaming at the top of her lungs. "She killed him! She killed him!"
What? Why did she think I had anything to do with this? I was under the desk!
Vicky, a nurse's aide came running to the door, asking, "Betty, what are you doing in there? You know you're not supposed to be in there. Who killed who, now?" She waited for me to open the door for her, but I was a little preoccupied and couldn't. Luckily, the maintenance man was nearby and used his key card to unlock the door for her.
She poked her head into the office. I was dripping in sweat as I continued trying to revive Rowdy.
"What happened?" Her eyes were wide.
"Get Kathy now. He collapsed and he's not breathing. Do we have a crash cart?" I asked firmly, knowing by the look in her eyes, she'd not witnessed death before.
Betty continued screaming, louder this time, alerting other residents. "She killed him! She killed Errol Flynn!"
What? Poor Betty. She was in shock and I was surrounded by a bunch of inept people who couldn't be bothered to lift a finger.
Soon, the room filled with people and, finally, Kathy made an appearance.
"Rowdy? What happened? Why was he in here?" She asked me.
Kathy put her hand on her head. She clearly didn't know how to handle this situation. The aides escorted the residents away from the door. At least they had a clue as to what to do, because I sure didn't. The only thing I knew to do was try to revive him, but it wasn't working and his wife was standing right there, completely horrified.
"Call 911." I said to Kathy.
"I can't." Her voice was barely above a whisper.
"What do you mean, you can't?" I could feel my temperature rising.
What was she talking about?
"We don't have 911. We call the Sheriff's office." She answered.
I gritted my teeth. "Well, call them. Call them now, Kathy!"
My words must have brought her back to reality because she jumped into action and made the call. They assured her that the fire department would be on the way and to keep doing compressions. I was nearly worn out, but I didn't have complete confidence that anyone here was up for the task.
"I'll just keep going till they get here." I said.
Kathy stayed on the line with the operator. The minutes felt like hours. I wondered how far the firefighters had to travel to get there. A town without a 911 system just didn't seem plausible to me.
How do you function without 911?
Finally, I heard the sirens. Just a few more seconds passed before two firefighters appeared on the unit.
Yes, two firefighters. Nothing like calling in the cavalry.
They were led to the office by an aide. Each looked more terrified than the other. The fact that they were wearing jeans, T-shirts, and parkas didn't exactly build my confidence in them.
One of them asked, "Is that Rowdy?"
Of course, they all knew each other.
I explained as much as I could as they went through the motions. Sure enough, he was gone. I knew that the second I laid eyes on him, but was still shocked to hear it.
Nubbin rolled up to the office door and peeked in, saying, "Dead as a door nail. I knew it."
"Not now, Mr. Schmeckpepper." Kathy held her head in her hands.
The firefighter directed his questions toward me. "What happened? Did he have a heart attack?"
"Really? You're asking me? I don't know. I was under the desk." I answered.
"Under the desk? What were you doing under the desk?" Kathy asked.
I wanted to go home and forget I ever came here, but it was too late for that.
"What do we do now?" I looked at the firefighters.
"Um," the other one started, "call the Sheriff? I'll call it in."
I replayed all that happened in my mind. I walked into the office and closed the door behind me. I know I did.
As we waited for the Sheriff to arrive, I explained everything again. The look on Kathy's face told me she didn't believe me, but I couldn't for the life of me understand why not.
She repeatedly asked me who let Rowdy into the office, as if that was the most pressing question of all. The fact that the poor man sadly lost his life didn't matter. All she wanted was to place blame on someone, because it happened during her shift.
She placed a phone call to the administrator, who apparently lived some fifty miles from the facility and didn't want to risk the now ice covered roads to make the trip. This day was not going at all as planned. To make matters worse, Nubbin kept repeating the same refrain about how residents constantly died around here and Betty sat crying, while no one consoled her.
What kind of place was this?
I needed to pull myself together before anything else went wrong.
"Shouldn't there be some kind of incident report or something?" I urged Kathy.
She stared at me stone faced and reached into her bag to pull out a form.
"You carry them in your purse?" I asked.
"We run out of supplies all the time. Fill it out. Don't leave anything out." She warned me.
"Why would I do that?" I was offended.
The only one who seemed to have any sympathy for my situation was the maintenance man who still floated around the unit, repairing all that needed to be repaired. He nodded in my direction as he passed by and even stopped to distract Nubbin and get him engaged in conversation. I made a mental note to get that maintenance man's name before the day was over, so I could thank him.
"You should probably call your employer. I'm sure they are going to want to hear your side of the story." Kathy said.
What was she implying? Why would I have a side? I had the truth. I walked in to find the form. Next thing I know, the door opens and I heard a loud crash before Rowdy hit the floor. What else was there to tell?
Finally, the Sheriff walked onto the unit. He too was in no real hurry. Things really did move slower in some parts of the world.
Nubbin stopped him as he neared the office. They chit chatted for a moment while I got my second wind and prepared to burst this sudden cloud of suspicion right here and now.
The Sheriff knocked on the office door. Kathy's hands shook as she opened it. He stepped in, his hands on his hips and asked, "Is that Rowdy?"
Really? What was it with these people?
Kathy nodded and pointed to me. His eyebrows quirked up. She kept her finger pointed at me. The firefighters stared at me. Their eyes were like daggers.
"What's wrong? Why is everyone looking at me?" I had to ask.
"You care to tell me what's going on here, Miss?" The Sheriff moved close enough to me, I could smell what kind of coffee he drank this morning.
Instinctively, I backed away, bumping right into the only other chair in the room, a tattered and broken chair from the resident's dining room, which proceeded to collapse to the ground, taking me and my state of shock with it.
I'd swear, no one wanted to help me up for a second. I could see them contemplating letting me sit there in a heap of trouble for something I had nothing - I mean, nothing - to do with. I just got here. I don't even know these people.
After a moment of me flailing on the ground, the Sheriff offered his hand and hoisted me up in one fell-swoop.
"Thank you," I muttered as I yanked my smock down over my exposed belly button and straightened out my pant legs.
"Okay, shall we try again?" The Sheriff didn't miss a beat.
As I struggled to clean up the mess I'd made with the broken chair, everyone in the room stood silently, while poor Mr. Knott remained on the floor in the exact same position I'd left him in after doing chest compressions.
I was no expert, but I'd seen enough crime dramas to know that someone - I don't know who - should have been securing the scene and, I'm pretty sure, we weren't supposed to be conducting interrogations while standing over the newly departed.
I pointed to Mr. Knott, asking, "Aren't you supposed to call someone or clear the scene or something, Sheriff?"
The look he gave me, told me loud and clear that he wasn't a man who took kindly to being told what to do and I was in trouble.
He stared at me coldly, then, asked everyone to leave the room and not touch anything. I readily obliged, but as luck would have it, the kind Sheriff wasn't about to let me exit stage left.
"Not you." He used his arm as a barricade.
"Okay." I sat down in Kathy's chair, my heart racing a mile a minute. I knew I wasn't normally prone to tachycardia, but I also wasn't prone to being accused of wrongdoing. "Just so you know, I didn't let him in here. I swear, I closed the door behind me. Maybe there's something wrong with the door latch or something. I don't know. I just got here."
He stood with his hands on his hips, staring at me with his beady, little brown eyes."You keep telling me that you just got here. Why? Why is that important?" He asked.
"I... Well, because it's true?" I hadn't meant for that to come out as a question, but the way he looked at me and the way that everyone else positioned themselves conveniently close to the door to get a look at what was going on in the office, was making me feel like I was on trial.