Supper was over and I’d settled several residents in the lounge to smoke and converse together, while others were in their rooms watching TV or reading. The scent of their cigarettes drifted to the desk where I was finishing some paperwork and caused my craving for a smoke to increase. I tried to put it out of my mind. I’d been cutting back in an effort to quit, but knew I was failing miserably. With Pat answering lights for me and by working through first break, I’d managed to finish most of the showers. Now I kept an eye on the hallway and as soon as I saw her returning from supper break, I jumped up and hurried her way.
She laughed as we passed each other. “Hungry, are you?”
“Oh, yeah. Starving.” She laughed again, knowing full well how badly I was wanting a smoke.
I squeezed my way into the tiny staff lounge and found a vacant seat. Lighting my cigarette, I took a deep draw, sighing in satisfaction and wishing for the hundredth time that I had even a shred of will power. Several people were just finishing and rose to leave the room, making jokes about aching feet and breaking backs. With their exit, the room seemed to expand and become more comfortable.
“Hey, Gail, are you in here?” Peggy’s sleek dark head appeared around the corner of the door.
“I’m here, come on in and talk to me.” Peggy was one of my dearest friends and I knew she’d waited to take supper until she was sure I’d be here. I stubbed out my cigarette in the ashtray and rose to take our sandwiches and drinks from the fridge. Sliding hers across the table, I sat facing her.
“Did you hear about Joe?”
I shook my head, not wanting to talk around a mouth full of sandwich. Joe was one of the few male aides in the facility. He’d moved here from another state and had taken his classes and licensing exam the same time I had. Joe was in his forties, thin and shorter than most of the female aides. He always managed to get his work done on time and most of the residents liked him.
“He was fired.”
I took a swig from my bottle of tea. “Fired? Whatever for?”
She leaned closer and lowered her voice, although there was no need. We were the only two left in the lounge at that point. “Abuse. One of the nurses walked in on him. He was up on the bed straddling Mr. Davis and punching him in the face.”
“What! Is Jeb all right?” I knew my face had gone red, could feel the heat rushing into it. Anger swept over me. I couldn’t believe anyone could be so vicious, as to assault a helpless old man. Jebediah Davis suffered from senility and was bedfast. Although a few of the residents could be violent and abusive to staff, he wasn’t one of them. He had a sweet demeanor and was always cooperative.
“He’s fine physically, only one small bruise on his chin. But imagine what the poor old guy was thinking, being attacked that way.”
“Incredible. I would never have thought Joe capable of such a thing.”
“They say he just flipped out.”
“Was he arrested?”
“Yes, and charged with assault, but he’ll probably get off on some kind of mental breakdown excuse and be ordered to take counseling.”
“That’s one rotten egg out of here, but I fear there may be others.”
Her brows rose into peaks, but she remained silent, waiting for me to say more. I told her about Katie.
“Are you sure it wasn’t Joe she’s afraid of?”
“No, not a hundred percent sure, but from the different things she’s said, I think it’s a woman.”
“See, this is what comes from always having a shortage of staff and aides having to do shifts alone. When there are two, the job isn’t just easier, but there’s less chance of abuse because someone’s there to see. And some people just aren’t cut out for this type of work. You have to be both physically and mentally strong. Remember a while back when Gary was punching you in the hallway that day and the reporter guy saw it? He asked if you received combat pay and when you laughed and said no, he said you should. You never lost your cool with Gary.”
“That had more to do with compassion than mental strength. If I was eighty or ninety and my family stuck me in a nursing facility so they could sell my home and everything else I owned, I’d want to punch someone too.”
“Oh, poo. He was a bully way before that ever happened. He was terribly abusive to his wife before she passed away. He’s as right in his mind as you or I and he’s physically strong. He’s just a bully, pure and simple. Always was and always will be. But you’re right about the compassion. Without that…Well, you know.”
“Yeah, I know and I also know that I need to get off my duff and back to work. I still have Katie to shower and a couple of others before bedtime. I still can’t believe Joe did that. There’s no excuse for it. I just wish we’d have more in-depth in-service meetings on recognizing and handling burnout and other emotional stress on the job.”
“So do I, but we’d most likely still have incidences like this one. All the training in the world won’t help if the person doesn’t seek help when they need it.”
“ You’re right.” I rose and went to the door. “Talk to you later. I’m alone tonight, so can’t take a full supper break.”
“When things are caught up over on my wing, I’ll come and help you. Save Katie’s shower for last and we’ll give it together. Maybe with both of us there, she’ll feel safe enough to tell us what’s going on.”
“Okay, see you later.”
To Be continued……©Elizabeth Melton Parsons http://elizabethmeltonparsons.com