Thursday, February 28, 2008

My Former Life

In a former life, before I was a hot shot manager and an inadequate mother, I held other jobs. Actually, I held an obscene number of jobs, most of them annoying or bizarre. For instance, the job selling portable toilets. Yah, that one was bizarre. Made more so by the fact that I was 8+ months pregnant and sensitive to smell. No, it didn't last long.
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Previous to that though, I was a nurse's aid at a nursing home. I don't normally relive the glory days, but on the airplane last week, I read the book, "Water for Elephants". It is written from the perspective of a 90-year old man in a nursing home, and it brought back some really great memories. So, of course I felt the need to share. Show a little of my not-so-oft seen sensitive side. Besides, Naomi accused me of trying too hard to be funny on my blog. . .

In particular, this book reminded me of my favorite patient, Ralph. He was old. At 20, he seemed ancient. Now of course, he's coming across as pretty young, but I digress. I'm sure he was past the 85 mark, but I don't know exactly. And when I first started working there, he was not one of my favorites. He was nice enough, not grumpy or lewd like some of the others, but he was needy. Very very needy. I had the privilege of working graveyards, so I really mainly just wanted everyone to sleep through the night so that I could study for classes. But, there was Ralph and Violet who always had other ideas about what homework I should be getting done.

Ralph was nearly bald, bed ridden, and drifted off a lot but he could still tell a good story about his younger years. He wasn't senile like most of the others. He remembered his glory days and he always knew my name. After just a couple of weeks, it also became obvious that Ralph was lonely. And honestly, who wouldn't be?

I worked a lot of nights. There was no 3 on 2 off at the nursing home like there should have been. Nearly every night, I was there. Even when I had to lay down and nap between rounds just to keep my feet moving long enough to check on the patients, I pretty much worked 11pm to 7am Sunday to Sunday. And soon, we got into a routine. I would finish up my first rounds about 1 am, and go in and sit with Ralph. We talked until his voice wore out, and then I would sing to him. He requested a song or two each night, and didn't seem too bothered by my lack of pitch. Or tune.

We went along this way for several months, and it made my night. I looked forward to my time with Ralph. It got to the point where I missed him on the nights I got to stay home and sleep. Not enough to go in, but a bit none-the-less. And, he always missed me. "Where were you? The night was long last night. Yes ma'am, the night was long."

One year, I took a week off at Spring break to go to Vegas with some friends. I had warned Ralph I would be gone, and he promised not to go anywhere. I kissed his forehead as I left that morning- also a tradition for us. He cried a little, but at that age, tears flow more freely, so I didn't think much of it. I have always wondered if he knew. If he had some premonition that his time was short. When I returned to work a week later, there was someone new in his bed, someone who slept through the night and let me study.

Except I didn't study. Instead, that night I cried. Not for Ralph, who was probably dancing a jig up in heaven, but for me. I lost a great friend. It's a good thing I believe in the after-life.


katzbox said...

Oh Melissa...what an angel you BOTH were to one another...I'm so pleased you were there for those sweet brothers and sisters, pain in the neck that they can be.

When I was in Alaska, I also worked in a hospital that housed everyone from ages zero to about total immersion. I made friends with Nina, an old Native Alaskan (PC for eskimo) and she and I would slip out of the hospital at night and drink a pop or smoke (I am a convert remember) and I adored her. But it didn't come easy...I thought she was a crazy old woman who mumbled unintelligently as she shuffled thru the night as she was shuffling and mumbling, the NA next to me responded to her with, "Yep, and tomorrow's Saturday". I stared at her like she was crazy but she explained that if you listen, Nina spoke very good English and was not one jot or tittle crazy...she had no where to live due to displacement and lack of family. I listened with intention after that and when Nina figured out I wasn't stupid, she and I hung out togeter after everyone was asleep. My favorite times was when she would cuss out someone acting out, quietly but with feelings, not easy...ahhhhh...thx for the memories sweetie.

Naomi said...

So sweet! OK, so not fair that you are so poignant and sensitive so that it brings me to tears--as well as so stinkin' funny. I guess if you've got it, you've got it!

For the record--I have never once complained about your clever wit and charm. Just envied it! :)

frizzlefry said...

I know, Naomi. . .I just couldn't resit calling you out. I'm mean like that! :)

And thank you both.