Nursing Home Shenanigans

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My first stint when I came over to this country was to work at a nursing home in Las Vegas. Now you might think that working in a geriatric unit would be as dull as can be. On the contrary, life there was anything but. There was never any shortage of colorful characters, both with patients and nurses. We had our clock-watching pain-pill poppers who lived for their round-the-clock Percodan and Darvocet. On the other hand, we also had nurses who were so anal about doing their job that they would wake up patients from deep slumber  just to give them their sleeping pills. We had our fair share of Grumpy Old Men, as well as their female counterparts who were no less grumpy. We had the very old and the very sick, but we also had young ones who were there because they had physically debilitating diseases like multiple sclerosis and the like, which made them dependent on other people for assistance in ADLs (activities of daily living.) As for our elderly residents, not all of them were confused. We still had a few who were quite alert , but were there because they needed help with their meds, their meals and their activities. They usually had their hair done on a weekly basis, went on outings via the company van, and played Bingo like any high-roller in a Vegas casino. As you can see, we had a thriving community of individuals. You just had to keep your eyes peeled for the interesting ones.

Yes, there was never any shortage of zany characters. For example, when I was new at that place, there was this resident who always showered me with compliments. She appeared so sincere that even I almost started to believe that, wow, I really must be a great beauty. How could I not feel that way, when every time I came inside her room, she would always gush about how young I looked, how pretty I was, etc. All this praise made me so kindly disposed to her that I always got her an extra pillow or an extra piece of toast, and her water pitcher was never empty. It was only when we got a new batch of nurses that I caught on to her. As  I watched her interact with the new nurses, I realized that she used the same lines with them as she did with me!  Her modus operandi was to trade flattery for extra privileges. When I finally wisened up, I couldn’t help but watch with amusement as she charmed all the newbies with compliments, and they in turn made sure she got extra perks. She was one smart woman, indeed, one who had learned that you do catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

It was a different story with another resident. Remember “Fifty First Dates,”  that movie with Drew Barrymore where she had short-term memory loss and every day was like starting over? It was the same with this one gentleman. He could recall minute details and recount countless episodes from his childhood, but he could not for the life of him remember recent events or people. Stepping inside his room was actually pretty thrilling. I never knew who I was going to be that day. Was I Maria, the housekeeper, or Norma, the mean lady whose mom stayed in a room across the hall? Was I going to be thanked that day, or was I going to be cussed out? One thing was always certain. No matter how often I introduced myself, he never got my name right the first time.

If you were the Twilight heartthrob in your heyday, you might have a hard time adjusting to senior citizen status in your twilight years. So it was with our resident playboy. In his mind, he was still the skirt-chasing Romeo of his youth. Well into his eighties, he still acted like he was God’s gift to women. He liked his wheelchair parked strategically where he had a good view of the entrance of the dining room. He would check out everyone the minute they came in. When the female patients would be wheeled in by the nurses, his eyes would light up like a kid in a candy store. Good thing he was too old and too frail for anyone to take him seriously, or he would have had a sexual harassment lawsuit on his hands. At first, I thought he was flirting with ladies his age. I soon found out that he was not interested in any of them. Too old for him. Oh no, he had his eye on the nurses!


Anna Nicole Smith with hubby

It did not bother him in the least that most of them were young enough to be his grandchildren! Typical guy! He reminded me of a Filipino saying that a friend once quoted to me, “Old carabao eat young grass.” I guess everywhere you go, there’s always an octogenarian somewhere hoping to land his own Anna Nicole Smith.

      Another vivid memory I had was of this one lady who was constantly making nonsensical sounds with her mouth. Mind you, these were not words but merely syllables that she would repeat over and over again, and then remix. It was like a woodpecker pecking away at your sanity one syllable at a time. When I first heard it, it almost drove me cuckoo, until I finally got used to it. In the course of time, I finally trained myself to regard her noise as background music, especially in the dining hall, where she loved to play her multi-syllable concerto full-blast. I guess you could say she was the resident DJ in the house. She loved to let loose her unending stream of gibberish over mealtimes, stopping only to shove a mouthful of food inside her mouth, then resuming the noise once the food was gone.
Most of us had gotten good at tuning her out that her noise hardly bothered us anymore. One day, however, we heard something that we hadn’t heard in a long, long time: silence. Deafening silence. It was so unusual that we knew something had to be afoot. Suspicious, we glanced over to her corner of the dining room. She was sitting still in her wheel chair, engrossed in another activity. I guess her diaper must have gotten loose somehow, and she had managed to grab a handful of her excrement. There she was, intently rolling it around her hands  like play dough, forming perfectly rounded balls of poop and lining them up neatly along the edge of her lunch tray. No wonder the dining room was so quiet— and smelly! That quickly broke the party right there. Everyone lost their appetite and left.
The good thing that came out of this was that we learned that the secret to getting her to shut her mouth up was to keep her hands busy, so we made sure she was well-supplied, this time with more appropriate playing material, of course. Every now and then, she would still startle us with impromptu vocalization exercises, but on the whole, the dining room did become much more quieter. It was good to have peace and quiet at last, even if it came with a price.
        Another memorable character was this sweet-looking lady who looked like she could be anybody’s grandma. She had perfectly coiffed white hair and had dainty hands. She never said a word but simply smiled in response to questions.  One night I saw the CNA’s getting her ready for bed. I was surprised to see them applying mitten restraints on both her hands. Now I know the old lady was a little confused, but mitten restraints seemed a bit too much. I questioned the necessity of such restraints. The CNAs just looked at me, amused. They explained that it was needed because at nighttime, she posed a threat to herself.  I laughed in disbelief.
They then explained further that dear old granny turned into a horny toad at night. She would rub her genital area so furiously until she was raw and bleeding. One CNA even told me that one morning, they found her with bits and pieces of flesh and blood from under her nails from all that frenzied activity. So per her children’s request, an order was obtained for these mitten restraints so she would not hurt herself. The CNA’s also made sure that her nails were always cut super short.
I recoiled in shock. This was definitely not what I expected to hear. It was disturbing to think that this sweet old lady was leading a double life: Granny by day, Masturbator at night! Some things you wished you never knew. The image of her raw and bleeding from all that nocturnal activity made it extremely difficult for me to look her family straight in the eye again.

Amidst all these memorable people I had the pleasure to meet, there is one who stands out among the rest. My first encounter with him was at once the most unforgettable and most embarrassing experience in my nursing career. For the purpose of our story, we shall call him Mr. Jones.

I was starting my 3-11 shift when I was informed that I was getting a patient. No big deal. I’ve never been one to shy away from work. Bring it on, I thought. I was ready. Our facility had three nursing stations and I was assigned to the second one. To get to my station, whoever was bringing the patients had to register at the first one. Some time later, I got a call on the other line teasingly announcing that ”Your patient is heeeerrrre…”

Hmmm. This was highly unusual. For one, the first station hardly ever bothered to notify us of any patient’s arrival. Second, the laughter in the background was a little too boisterous for comfort. What were these people up to?  I sent one of my fellow nurses to check it out. She and I had come over on the same flight from the Philippines. She soon came back with a disappointed look on her face.

“I don’t know what’s so funny about an old man looking for a cat,” was her nonchalant reply.

Umm, this did not allay my fears any bit. This fellow Pinay nurse was book smart, but when it came to the real world, she was absolutely clueless. Oh well. It was too late to do anything anyhow.  Any minute now and the patient should be here. I braced myself for the worst.

I saw the ambulance guys rounding the corner with their load. From the look on their faces, I could tell that they were here expecting to be entertained. I was determined to disappoint them.

I put on my most professional air and walked over to meet them. I introduced myself to the patient whom we are going to call Mr Jones. Mr Jones was an elderly gentleman with severe contractures due to paralysis on his lower extremities.

“How are you, Mister Jones. Welcome. My name is Emma and I will be your nurse today.”

I could sense the ambulance guys leaning closer to watch our exchange.

Mr. Jones face broke into a grin and he muttered something that I could not hear. I leaned forward to catch what he was saying.

“I’m sorry. I did not hear that. Would you mind repeating that, Mr Jones?”

I could feel the ambulance guys holding their breath.

Mr Jones lifted his head slightly, and with all the strength he could muster, he announced in his raspy voice “Pussssy… I want pussy!”


This was what he had in mind!

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      With this, the ambulance guys could not hold it any longer. They roared with laughter. Everyone else but me joined in the merriment. I, meanwhile, was trying to keep it together. None of my nursing review classes and culture shock seminars had prepared me for this.
Here I was, barely a few months in the land of the brave and the free, now confronted with such an outrageous request and with such words as to defile my virgin ears! In a way, it was kinda hard to get mad at Mr. Jones. He had the look of an overgrown prankster who did not see anything wrong about asking Santa for a Playboy bunny for Christmas.   I tried to appear calm and unflustered on the outside, but it was a tornado of thoughts on the inside… 

“So this is what my poor innocent friend had meant when she said it was just an old man looking for a cat! Well, I hate to have to break it to her, but the cat that this grandpa is looking for may be hairy, but it sure does not have four legs.” “How can such nasty thoughts be in this old man’s head? Why, grandpa should be ashamed of himself! “How the heck do I get out of this? Somebody, help! Help!”

I stalled for time. “Well, Mr Jones, we’ll talk about that later. Let me show you your room first and make sure you are nice and comfy.”

While they were moving Mr. Jones from the stretcher to the bed, I racked my brains searching for a way to extricate myself from this rather sticky situation. I prided myself on not being easily ruffled, but I was not prepared for this!  I was way over my head, and it did not help that my audience was growing by the minute!

Amidst this dilemma, I saw Candy sauntering towards me with big, wide strides. I breathed a sigh of relief.  Now if there was anyone who could rescue me from a jam like this, it would be Candy.

Candy was a CNA who was in her late thirties, bleached blonde and street smart, tough as nails, bad to the bone. I mouthed a silent “thank you” to my would-be savior as she came over to Mr. Jones and smoothed the covers over him.

The ambulance guys hung around to enjoy the spectacle as they listened in on the following conversation.

“Now Mr Jones, what is this I hear that you have been giving my charge nurse a hard time?”

Mr. Jones quickly denied this in his thin raspy voice. “Oh no, no. All I said…” then he raised his voice for everyone to hear “… was that I want some pusssssy!” Then he smiled broadly, pleased at the commotion he was creating.

Candy planted one elbow on Mr. Jones’ bed rail and asked, very business-like, “Now, Mister Jones, you talk the talk, but can you walk the walk? What I mean is, DO YOU HAVE ANY MONEY?”

Mister Jones could not believe his good fortune. At last, there was somebody who finally took his request seriously. He bobbed his head up and down, nodding enthusiastically, and he loudly announced, “YES, YES! YES! I HAVE MONEY!!!”

The ambulance guys were delighted as to where this talk was headed. I, on the other hand, was beginning to have some serious doubts.

Candy pursued this line of questioning. “Now how much money are we talking about here, Mr Jones?”

To which Mr Jones proudly declared, “FIVE DOLLARS!!!”

The room exploded with laughter as everybody just high-fived each other and waited for the next round. I was a helpless spectator to all this.

After the laughter had subsided, Candy spoke up. “Now, Mr Jones, for five bucks…” and she paused for emphasis, “…this is all you get.”

Candy held up her index finger for Mr. Jones to see. Then she dramatically lowered the said finger towards where her crotch area was, and gestured like she was dipping into a pot of honey. Then she lifted her finger and tantalizingly held it under Mr. Jones’ nose as if to make him sniff it.

I kid you not, that poor Mr Jones, who was paralyzed from the waist down, made a supremely valiant effort to rise from the bed so he could sniff Candy’s finger. He would have leapt out of that bed if he could just to get a whiff!

Pandemonium broke loose. The ambulance guys were hanging on to each other, convulsed with laughter. Everybody else was howling with amusement. Candy was smiling, bowing like a magician who just pulled a rabbit out of its hat. Mr. Jones was grinning from ear to ear, extremely pleased at causing all this ruckus.

And me? Well, I was standing in the middle of the room, my cheeks burning with embarrassment, regretting the moment I asked Candy for help. I was flabbergasted. Candy, whom I was counting on to defuse the situation, had managed to make it even worse. She had given the ambulance boys enough material for locker room jokes for years to come. I shot her a look dripping with sarcasm that said “Way to go! Thanks a lot! Big help there, Candy.” She just shrugged and winked at me, beaming like a Cheshire cat that was proud of itself.

This was a total disaster. It was a  situation beyond salvaging. It was absolute lunacy.  I knew that all I could do was to wait for the furor to die down. It seemed like eternity, but it finally did. Then I simply said, “Okay, okay, guys. Break it up. The show is over, folks.”

What else could I say? In my heart, I knew it would be awhile before I could live this down.

Of course, as I predicted, the ambulance guys never let me forget that incident. Every time they came, they would pretend to fish into their pockets for bills. One would say “I got two bucks. How much do you have?” The other would say “I have three.” Then they would shout in unison, “Yeyyy, we got enough!!!” They would then wave the dollar bills at me,  looking at me teasingly. I took all the good-natured ribbing in stride. I would just look at Candy and shake my head in mock disapproval. Candy would beam with delight, then pretend to scold the guys, who, of course, would promptly apologize. As for the now infamous Mr Jones, as far as I know, he never found “the cat” he was looking for. Not while I was there anyway. Now I can’t vouch for what happened when I left, because last thing I heard, Candy was now the one in charge…