Last week I began composing the list. The list has been written annually by me for many years now. This time the list writing was instigated by Mexico’s Day of the Dead. Insomnia, combined with many phone calls and a frantic search of local cemetery records has resulted in an incomplete list of the dead people I once cared for.
I started down the road to altruism with a very selfish motivation, I needed a job. I was hired as a nursing assistant and spent ten years working in a behavioral unit. Yep, I started this type of work to earn money and stayed as long as I did out of love.
I met a Sears underwear model.
I cared for a retired CEO of Motorola. He ran at doors and windows all day long. He reminded me of a wild bird trapped indoors. My job was to hold his hand and to try and keep him safe.
I cared for Chris, a retired civil engineer. He took pilot training but never got his license. He borrowed a friend’s Cessna and flew across Nebraska. He gave me a great line I still use today. “Since when is God an activity?” Chris would ask. These facilities tend to think of religious meetings, usually presided over by some church widow, as entertainment. I love that line. He was an awesome friend with that bone-dry Bob Newhart humor. Even on his worst days, when he would ask me for his Browning shotgun, Chris made me smile.
A woman that had undergone a brain surgery, that effectively removed a cancerous tumor, was left unable to control her movements. (Graceful. I miss you.)
I met a Holocaust survivor. She moved to our country when she was just a child. She would tell me often of her trip to America. This was a repetitive dialog about being driven from her homeland always followed by a tearful request that we not hate the Germans.
I met a niece of Harriette Beecher Stowe.
One of my many favorites was a gal named Pat. She had a condition known as Lewy-Body Syndrome. This disease is a little like the sticker on your car’s rear view mirrors; things may be closer than they appear. Or, Things maybe something else entirely… Pat could look at a fire hydrant and see a child. Pat would say, “Aw, I wonder if he’s lost.” My job would be to redirect her attention. If I was successful, Pat would make sense and we could continue our day. If I botched the mission, I would spend an excessive amount of time trying to convince her that the little boy, in this case, wasn’t lost or that a bus was coming for him. I never knew when her brain would turn something into something new.
I remember being so happy to obtain permission to take Pat out on the lake during the height of colorama. I thought she’d be so happy to get outdoors and enjoy the fall scent and color. Pat was very quiet. Only after I returned her to the unit did she remark on the beauty of the leaves. I have no idea if she was just too melancholy to speak when we were outside or too overwhelmed by her mind.
Alice was afraid of playing cards and changes in flooring. I can still hear her say, “I want to go home.”
I see Marjorie swinging down the hallway in a piss-soaked velvet dress, wielding her cane, ready to kick some ass.
Tony just wanted to die and called us all “mother truckers.”
Maria wanted to talk about death. I had many meaningful conversations with her. We never came to any conclusions, but we did understand each other. On her deathbed, I asked her to come back to me. I even told her to hit me with something, if necessary. I am still waiting, Maria. I suppose she is busy trying to find Bruno.
Helen could hear people digging underneath he building. She could hear dogs being murdered outside. It was a very vivid thing for this woman. She could hear the shrieks from the dogs as they were skinned alive. She would be hysterical more often than not.
Another Helen lost her son in a drowning. Every day, at two in the afternoon, the little boy would drown. She was pitiful.
Ben was schizophrenic. He was also one of the most lovable men I have ever met. He liked to hide and jump out at you. He was always delighted to see me startle, so it was worth it. I would bring my dog to work just for Ben. Ben would cover the floor of his room with blankets and take Jack in there. He was trying to recreate his home with carpeting. He would sit on his bed with my little dog lying beside him and imagine he was home with his own little dogs.
Elsie’s daughter came in crying once a week and left cake for us.
Aune was so naughty! she would say, “Oh! He’s so fat!” if a heavy person was present. She liked to pick her nose and then shake your hand. Her laugh was as big as a building, roaring in delight at your disgust. Yep, Aune was a favorite. I named my daughter after her.
I saw a patient of mine open her mouth wider than physically possible and bite a coworker on the shoulder. She was a demented woman and was being transferred from the toilet to a wheel chair.I was standing by because the woman was violent. This woman stood, and with her mouth, at what I am sure was a ninety degree angle, and gave a musky bite to the aide’s shoulder. Before I could be of any help, to the worker, who was screaming to beat the band, I started to laugh. My partner had two opposing horse-shoe marks bleeding through her shirt. She was angry with me, but I couldn’t stop laughing. I laughed all the time at work. Everything, everything was amazing to me. The laughter must have been a coping mechanism.
So, here it is, list time again. The list helps me not to forget anyone. For some reason I am determined not to forget anyone. I can tell you their biographies once I have the name. Sometimes I can only recall the nickname I assigned that person, such as Dragon Lady, Chicken Head or Blister Boy… When this happens I start to call old co-workers and ask them if they know the name. My co-workers are as messed up as I am. I mean this in a wonderful way. When I call and say, “Here’s Johnny!'” they join in my conversation.
There is only one of us left working on the unit. He had a horrible struggle with alcohol and died young, 44. I’m sure he went with my people. Robbie, we love you like crazy.
I went from working full time Monday through Friday, to working exclusively weekends. I worked from five in the morning until six in the evening. Sometimes I would work from five in the morning to ten in the evening. Sometimes I went in during the week, off the clock, to help either an inmate or a coworker. Many impossible scenarios became reality. My daughter came to work with me for entire shifts. She became friends with a gentleman who would play board games with her. Crazy people would be calling out to Anna to let them pet the kitty and she would throw our Yorkie on their laps. Then, one day, I was just done. I was so fatigued from caring for sad, sick people with no hope, I just needed to start something new.
Now, I write the list.