“Do you always get charts ready this far in advance?” I asked.
She excused herself and guided me out of Nubbin's earshot. “No, not usually, but since there's two of us today, we can get a head start on the first of the year stuff. I'll take care of the residents, while you pull old charts and get things in order for next month, okay?”
“I don't understand. Who told you to keep me away from the residents?” Heat rose in my face. I could feel my face flushing. This was yet another blow to my very fragile ego.
Marie smiled, patting me on the arm. “No one. I just think it would be safer for both of us if I took care of the residents and you took the time to get familiar with the charts and sorting things out. I mean, if you are going to be with us for a while, you'll have to know how to do that, won't you?”
“If?” I asked.
Nubbin cleared his throat. “Looks like they pulled the wool over your eyes too, Fiat.”
I glanced over Marie's shoulder at him. He nodded back at me, acknowledging that he was talking to me.
“Did I do something wrong?” I asked Marie.
She shook her head. “No, of course not. This is just a precaution. Just so you know, I am on your side. I don't believe that you did anything, but you have to understand, I work here full-time and have for a long time. I follow orders just like everyone else here. Sorry. Really, I am.”
I couldn't speak. My belief that she was actually on my side floated away. She wasn't any different than the rest of them. Just because her word choice was different, didn't mean that the meaning behind her words were any different from any of the other people around here.
I spent the rest of the evening doing menial tasks and being kept as far away from residents and their families as possible. Luckily, we didn't have many visitors because of the storm or who knew how many spouses I could have potentially murdered?
By the time snacks were passed, I was ready to gouge my eyes out. I hadn't been this bored since college and even then at least I was learning something. Right now, all I was doing was taking up space. This was a total waste of my time and my talents. If I didn't have bills to pay, I would have jumped in my car and taken off, but that would have left me without a job and I couldn't risk that. Not at this stage in my life.
“I'm going to go to dinner, if that's okay with you.” I found Marie standing next to the medication cart getting ready to give nighttime medications.
“Sure thing. See you in an hour.” Marie acted as if this was all in a day's work for her, while my whole world was falling apart. I didn't care that there was nearly two feet of snow on the ground. I just had to get out of there and do it quickly or I was going to shatter into a million ugly little pieces.
I rushed off the unit, trying to be as nonchalant as I could muster given my fragile state of mind and walked right outside the employee back entrance. I trudged through the snow, remembering that I hadn't stopped to grab my coat and sat down in my car. I don't know how long I cried, but however long it was, it wasn't long enough. I'd never been so miserable in all of my forty plus years.
If my calculations were right, my daughter wouldn't have been in class. Her Christmas break would begin soon. I just needed to hear her voice. I needed to speak to someone, anyone, who would listen and not judge.
“Hi, Mom!” Diana answered. “How are the boondocks treating you? Did you find a hot cowboy yet?”
“Hi, Sweetheart! I'm so happy to hear your voice. Is this a good time?” I hoped she didn't notice that I didn't answer either of her questions.
“Sure. Mom, you know you can call me anytime. How is everything? What state are you in again? Kansas?”
As hard as I tried, I couldn't keep my voice steady. “I... No, I'm in... Honey, how is school going?”
“Mom, what's wrong? Did something happen?” Diana had always been able to read me like a book. When she was a small girl, she could always tell when something wasn't quite right.
We'd gone through some lean years after her father and I divorced. We didn't have much, but we had each other. Her father did what he could, but it wasn't the same as being what society called a nuclear family and our individual stubbornness didn't do anything to help our situation either.
Diana always knew when her dad, James, and I were at odds. We may not have been able to stay married, but we were at least able to be friends and as friends we would disagree. Diana could tell right away when we were in disagreement about something.
“Is it Dad?” I could hear the panic in her voice.
“No, Honey. Your dad is fine. Its... Well, it's this place. I'm in Nebraska and, let's just say that they don't like me very much around here.” I said.
“Well, they suck. Why do you care if they like you? You're not going to be there that long anyway. I think they're probably just jealous, Mom. Let that negativity slide right off your back.” Oh, how I love my level-headed girl, but she had no idea just how bad things were and I didn't want to tell her. She didn't need to worry about me.
“Yeah, you're right. I wonder what fabulous human being raised you.” I teased, feeling better already. I knew calling her would be a good idea.
I could hear the apprehension in Diana's voice. “Mom?”
“Yes, Sweetheart.” I answered.
“Aunt Ruby called me.”
I wanted to bang my head up against the steering wheel. I didn't want her to find out this way.
“Diana, I'm okay. Really. Things will blow over. I'm sorry. I didn't want you to worry.” All of the horrible feelings I had earlier, hit me like a ton of bricks.
“They really think you're capable of murder? What is wrong with them? They obviously don't know how much of a soft spot you have for elderly people. Did you tell them about your grandparents, Mom? And, what motive would you have to kill some old farmer from the middle of nowhere?” Diana sounded just as irritated as I felt about the whole thing.
“It will go away. They are just being extra cautious. They never had someone that wasn't a resident die in their facility before and, since I happened to be the one with him at the time, they have questions for me. It doesn't mean anything. Right now, they have a nurse working with me until this all blows over.” I explained.
“You're being monitored? Are you kidding me right now?” Her voice grew shrill.
I tried to explain why, even though I didn't really know why myself. “Well, that's only because a resident died during my shift. It will all be okay.”
She was practically screaming now. “A resident died? You mean, a patient? What is going on there? They are just dying all over the place.”
“Diana, don't say that. You know how this job is. Sometimes you lose people.” I reminded her.
“Yeah, but what happens when the third person dies? Are they going to lock you up?” She sounded genuinely scared now.
I had to laugh. The ridiculousness of the whole situation was finally coming to light.
Why was I being targeted as some kind of murderer? What was wrong with these people?
“Why are you laughing, Mom?” I could almost feel her pouting.
“Honey, you really do pay attention to me, don't you?” I laughed again. This time a full belly laugh.
Confused, she asked, “What are you talking about? Of course, I listen to you. Sometimes.”
“No, you know that people in nursing homes die in threes. I've seen that happen so often over the years. I'm glad at least someone else besides me knows that. I was beginning to think that I made that theory up.” I wiped my moist eyes. “Thanks for the talk. I'm so glad I got to hear your voice.”
“I love you, Mom.” Diana said. “Try not to go to prison.”
She was teasing, but she had no idea how much I was trying to escape that fate. I had to do something to clear my name and remove the suspicion or I could very well end up in prison for a crime I didn't commit.
“Mercy, have you seen Betty's chart?” Marie asked.
“No, I thought you had it. It wasn't on the cart with the other charts.” I answered.
“Really? I have no idea where it is and the girl from Medical Records is looking for it. You know, didn't Kathy have a chart in her hands when we got here earlier?” Marie asked.
I thought back. I did remember seeing Kathy with a chart in her arms, but I honestly didn't recall noticing whose chart it was.
“Maybe it was Betty's.” I answered, secretly hoping Kathy would get in trouble for misplacing a chart.
Marie's eyebrows quirked up. She was thinking something, but didn't say anything.
Why would Kathy walk away with Betty's chart
, I wondered.
“Are you working with me tonight? I thought they would have forbidden you to speak to me by now?” I asked Tina as she walked onto the unit, her coat and hat covered in snow. “You didn't have to drive far, did you?”
“It took me an hour to get across town. It has never taken me that long to get anywhere around here, but I really need the money, so I agreed to cover the shift.” Tina answered, brushing snow off of her coat. “They sure have you bouncing from shift to shift, don't they?”
I was chilled to the bone. The snow and cold was wreaking havoc on me. It was bad enough that my driving skills weren't exactly stellar, but throw in mountains of snow, slick roads, and extreme temperatures and I was all but helpless.
“You know, Jennifer never would have let them switch days and nights like that. You should say something to the nurse manager. They are going to run you ragged.” Tina warned.
“I think that's the plan.” I answered, knowing full well that they were trying to break me, hoping I'd confess to poisoning Rowdy, but since I had absolutely nothing to do with that, it looked like I was just going to have to tolerate their antics until the real murderer was caught.
I looked around the unit. From what I could tell, it looked like Tina and I were the only ones around. I wondered where Marie was. I figured that she was still on babysitting duty and would show up soon.
Tina was thinking the same thing because, she said, “I wonder if Marie is okay. She lives pretty far out and she has two kids, so she would have had to drop them off at the sitters. I don't think there's another aide coming in, though. Kathy told me that no one was answering their phones. I don't blame them, though. If I didn't need to save money for my test, I wouldn't have answered either.”
I felt bad for Tina. She was a smart girl. I remember all too well what it was like to raise a child alone. James had always been a good father, but the fact that we lived separately, sometimes in different parts of the country, meant I spent the majority of the time alone with Diana. He did what he could, but I got the feeling that Tina didn't have someone like James in her life. I could see the telltale signs of a young mother, who was under an enormous amount of stress. I wished there was something I could do for her.
“Do you plan on working here after you get your license?” I asked.
She grimaced, answering, “I really don't have much choice, so probably.”
“Tell me, is that what you want? Is this place your dream? I mean, if it is, great, but if not, why not pursue what it is that you want?” I asked.
Tina's eyes moistened with tears. She turned her head, answering, “Maybe, someday.”
I touched my hand to her arm. She flinched in response.
What had I done?
“I'm sorry. I wasn't trying to upset you. I'm so sorry, Tina.”
She took a step back, pulling her long, chestnut colored hair into a tight ponytail. “No, I'm sorry. I don't know why I got emotional about that. You're absolutely right. I should pursue my dreams and right now my dream is to earn enough money to take my boards.” She smiled, but I could still see the sadness in her eyes. There was something bigger going on with her, but I didn't want to pry. I'd already made enough enemies. I didn't need to alienate her too.
I tried again. “Tina, I didn't mean to upset you. Can we start all over again, like that conversation never took place?”
She blinked back tears, fanning her face with her hands. “No worries. I'm good. I better get ready for report.” She turned and pointed to a nurse I didn't recognize, walking out of Betty's room, pushing an IV stand.
“An IV?” I looked back at Tina. She was as surprised as I was. We both rushed down to Betty's room to see what happened.
The nurse greeted Tina and looked at me, saying, “Are you Mercy?”
I answered, “Yes, what happened to Betty?”
She looked back into the room. “She had a bad night. She was incoherent, lethargic, and just not herself. I had to call for an ambulance. The doctor said she was dehydrated.” Both Tina and I gasped.
“Why didn't they keep her?” An elderly woman with dehydration surely should have been monitored overnight at the hospital.
“She refused and Randy threw a fit about her being taken to the hospital in the first place. It was a mess, so she's here. We hardly ever use IV's here, but for some reason this stand won't stay upright, so I had to borrow another one from the rehabilitation unit.”
I looked up at the stand and pointed to the bag. “You removed her IV to change stands?”
She realized her error. Her cheeks reddened. “I... I...” She turned and went back into the room, dragging the stand with her.
I looked at Tina. We were thinking the same thing.
She said, “I'll go get the other stand. By the way, that's Stacy, the nurse manager.”
“Of course, she is.”
It's the blind leading the blind around here.
Stacy yelled out from the room, “The other stand is in the office.”
I walked into Betty's room to help and to assess Betty for myself. She lay in bed, her color drained from her body, her lips were parched and raw, nothing at all like the woman I'd spent the last few days providing care for.
What could have happened that caused this?
I spoke to her, touching her arm. Her skin was cold. “Betty? Betty, you're going to be okay. Those fluids are going to perk you right up. You'll be fine.” I figured no one would have explained any of what had happened to her. They weren't exactly the kind of people to do much of anything, unless it made them look good.
“She's asleep,” Stacy groaned.
Tina returned with the IV stand. “Here you go.” She waited for Stacy to set up and reinsert the IV into Betty's port. Looking at me she whispered, “Marie can't make it in and the nurse in Rehab has to get home to her kids.”
Great! Another day drastically short staffed and barricaded in a snowstorm.
Stacy stomped her foot on the ground. “Unbelievable! Now, that means I'm stuck here for another twelve hours. Why can't anyone do their jobs?”
“Because there's a blizzard outside maybe.” What was it with these people? Everything had to revolve around them!
She scowled at me, not appreciating my remark. “So, do you want to work on the rehab unit or stay here because I think it's just me and you tonight and I'll mandatory someone on the other hall to stay.”
I glanced down at Betty.
No way was I going to leave her in Stacy's hands. Who knows what more would happen if I wasn't monitoring!
Tina suggested, “Since there will only be a few aides on duty, maybe we can help each other with rounds and baths, if that's alright?”
Stacy shrugged, “Fine, whatever.”
Tina bit her lip. I could see her forcing herself to not reply with a snide remark. I stifled a laugh.
What I wouldn't give to have someone besides me say what I was thinking.
Stacy gave me report while I started my rounds. If we were going to be understaffed, a night shift was about as good a time as any. Most residents were asleep on the other units. I was prepared for a number of residents in my unit to be sundowning and agitated because of the blizzard, but I was confident that it wasn't more than Tina and I could handle.
Before Stacy walked off the unit, she stopped to say, “Carol's not going to be happy that you are on your own tonight. Call me the second anything happens, but more importantly, please, don't let anything happen.” Our eyes met for a moment.
I had nothing to say. What could I say?
The first couple of hours went by without incident. Tina ran around, ensuring that she completed every task on her to-do list and managed to escort weary residents back to bed or to the dining room for a late night snack or whatever it is they needed to help calm their frayed nerves.
I attended to many of the duties left for me to complete. The office was a disaster zone. Papers had been strewn about and a medication delivery had not yet been counted and checked in. That in itself meant hours of work, but I managed to get through it within the first couple of hours.
The charts, on the other hand, were a mess. No one had bothered to chart anything since early this morning and Betty's chart was still nowhere to be found. I didn't have time for this. Why hadn't someone asked Kathy to return the chart? It was a violation of privacy laws to remove private medical information from the facility. I had to call Stacy and ask her about it.
I dialed the Rehab unit. An aide answered.
“This is Mercy. Is Stacy around?” I asked.
The aide said, “She's busy.”
“So am I. Have her call me, please.” I hung up and looked out at my unit. Things were peaceful. If it wasn't the middle of the night, I'd jump for joy.
On the monitors, I saw a light come on inside Betty's room.
“What was that? No, Betty!” She walked across the room, the IV was teetering on one side.
I ran out of the office and made an attempt of hurdling over a chair that had been left in the middle of the dining room. I failed, pulling my hamstring and fell face first on the carpet.
As I grunted and groaned, trying to get to my feet, I heard the IV stand come crashing to the ground and Betty with it.
Tina ran out of the room she was in. “What was that?”
I was still struggling to get up. Tina gasped before running and leaping over tables and chairs to get to me.
I hoisted myself up, yelling, “Not me. Betty. I think Betty fell down.”
“Nubbin, it's three o'clock in the morning and there's a blizzard outside. I don't think you should go outside right now.” I'd spent twenty minutes trying to convince Nubbin to go back to bed. The commotion with Betty had woken him up and he was agitated as all get out.
“I need to let the dog out!” Nubbin yelled. “Come here, Spike.”
Tina tried to intervene. “That's Barney, Mr. Schmeckpepper, not Spike.”
I shook my head, telling her to let it go.
She nodded, saying, “Why don't I get you a glass of warm milk?”
“Why don't you get my boots and let me take care of my own pooch?” Nubbin responded quickly. I had to hand it to him, he never missed a beat.
“Subaru, I'm getting out of here and you're not going to stop me.” He responded. At least, he still recognized who I was. I thought that might work in my favor and help me to calm him down.
“You know what? Why don't you come with me? We can let the dog out together.” I suggested.
He opened his mouth to say something, but stopped, agreeing to let me accompany him. I figured a moment out in the courtyard might do all of us some good. I needed air and he needed to feel like he was doing something, so there was no harm in me opening the door to let him and the dog out in the secure courtyard. There was no way he could elope. Every door led right back onto the unit.
“I could take him,” Tina offered. “That way you could finish charting, if you want.”
My shoulders relaxed. “I could hug you right now.” I said to her.
“No one is hugging anyone around here. I got a dog to let out.” Nubbin quipped.
A short jaunt outside was exactly what Nubbin needed. He went back to bed without incident.
Betty slept comfortably after her fall. The only injury was to my credibility as a good nurse. Once again, I found myself writing an incident report. By the time Stacy had a free moment, she was running ragged and infuriated. I had to bear the brunt of her wrath.