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Confessions of a Nursing Home Worker (Part II)
I tried not to get too close to the residents. As mean as it sounds, the nursing Home was a waiting room for death, and I didn’t want to get friendly with people who were about to die. I looked at it as a job. I do it. I go home. I don’t think about it the second I leave. For the most part, I successfully did that for the first two years I worked there. I have a great ability to make fun of everything, and hide all my emotions with humor, so it wasn’t so bad.
However… There is only so much people can weather. I would literally hear residents cry, “Jesus, please take me. I don’t want to be here anymore. Jesus, let me die.” Yes, I’m an atheist, but I found myself asking Jesus to just fucking let the woman die. For the love of God, God, have some fucking compassion. Why do we do this to people?
I worked in a five star nursing Home. And it sucked. I can’t image what goes on in a two star nursing homes. I don’t even allow myself to think it. It bums me out too much.
We had a rehab unit where some people came and left. But for the most part, the residents were there indefinitely until Jesus let them die. Your life sucks when death is what you’re looking forward to. The residents were done. Finished.
There are two types of old people. That’s it. Two. Happy and bitter. No one liked living in the nursing home. But some accepted it. They lived fulfilling lives, and they were visited often by the ones they loved. They dealt with their situation with an accepting attitude, because they didn’t regret their lives, and they had a lot of love to give. Then, of course, there were the nasty ones. The bitter ones hated their situation (understandable), but they also hated their families, were seldom (if at all) visited, and hated their lives before they were stuck in this miserable place.
I developed a particular skill working there that would change my life forever. I knew the residents were sinking ships. But my time amongst the almost dead gave me a sixth sense to see the dead among the well and living. Not a zombie in Romero’s world (Carl! Carl!), but worse… the real zombies. The ones we interact with everyday. The people who are finished.
What I mean by someone who is finished, is someone who is young, (and by young I mean, not yet in a nursing home) and their lives are headed straight towards being that bitter nursing home resident. I can see it. I see it all the time. The people who will end up a happy elderly person, or the a miserable one. I started noticing it at first with my co-workers. There were, in my opinion, two types of people that worked there: College kids and lifers. Now, there’s nothing wrong with being a lifer somewhere if you enjoy it. But no one enjoyed it at the nursing Home. They stayed because it paid well, had good benefits, it was easy, and they were lifers and they were finished. As much as resident who would die within a year.
Some of the people I worked with were so petty. They deemed themselves good people but they just weren’t. They came to work, gossiped and bitched, then went home to their families whom they complained about at work, where they will complain about their co-workers and their job, watch TV, go to sleep: repeat, repeat, repeat. This is what I mean by someone that’s finished. They have literally given up on their own lives. They are miserable, yet they don’t doing anything to change it. They’ve settled into routines. And they fucking hate it. Then, I started noticing the finished people every where. Every. Where. The Earth is crawling with them. These zombies who don’t have original thoughts. Who do things because society has conditioned them to do so. I would rather be dead than be one of them. Mindless ants, operating for the Queen, but no one knows who or what the Queen is.
After two years, I couldn’t stand going into work there. It really got under my skin. As far as I was concerned, everyone there was dead. The old people on the brink of death were lucky. And I couldn’t shake it when I left. It just bothered me so much. It was too depressing. You can’t save them. You can’t save anyone. They are too stupid, too pathetic, too brainwashed to see that their own lives are a mundane repetitive wretched existence. They are the cause, and they can’t see it. What’s worse, is they are also the solution, but they can’t see that either. They blame the world. Their spouses. The Republicans. The Democrats. The Illuminati. They’ll blame everything but themselves. For some reason, they can’t understand that they have the power to change it. They can avoid being a dejected prick in a nursing Home, but they won’t.
One night, I woke in a sweat. I had a dream I went to work… I walked in the kitchen. Tied my apron on. I could smell it. The kitchen there had a particular smell. It smelt like food, but not food you’d want to eat. The school cafeteria smell. I grabbed one of the butcher knifes from the part of the kitchen the cooks worked. I walked to the back of the kitchen, and I slit my wrists.
When I woke up, I cried. I’ve had my share of fucked up dreams, but my God, this one was disturbing. You would think having one nightmare like this would be enough of a red flag for anyone. The first time I had this dream, it scared the shit out of me. I say the first time, because there would be many times. The same fucking dream. Except every time I had the dream, I was a little less disturbed by it. In retrospect, that was the worst part: That my reoccurring dream of slitting my wrist with a butcher knife ceased to bother me. And I never told anyone. This blog is the first time I’ve mentioned it.
Eventually those dreams stopped. And I continued to work there. I felt like I was losing it though. I was getting angry, and impatient. I could no longer handle being there. It was my Hell. The higher up people always complained about money and the budget. Anyone who has had to put someone in a Home knows how ridiculously expensive it is. Plus, it’s Catholic Health Services so they don’t pay taxes. WHERE IS THE MONEY GOING?
With a few exceptions, I loathed the sight of those who worked there. Not the residents. My co-workers. They were a constant reminder of what a waste of life people could become. The director of our department was (finally) fired, because he would lose his temper and throw things in the kitchen. I was so relieved. But he was replaced with someone worse. He was a two-face, lying sack of shit. He was always spewing this “we’re family here.” He was the worst. Things started to change. Not for the better. And not with the residents best interest in mind, though that’s how they played it. The place was toxic. Pure toxic energy, and too much of it got in my system.
One day, I’m slicing tomatoes for sandwiches with a butcher knife. I paused. Looked at the knife. I thought, would it hurt? Is it sharp enough not to hurt? It never did in my dream. It took a moment or two… like I was watching a movie, to realize just how fucked up my thought was. I put the knife down. I took a deep breathe and looked around. I wasn’t losing it. I lost it. I totally fucking lost it. That was it. That moment was enough. Later that month, I gave two weeks notice, with little plans on what to do next for money (I went into real estate, which would turn out to be a HORRIBLE decision for me, but I just needed out).
I should have quit that job way sooner than I did. I should have told someone about my extremely fucked dreams. Still, I’m glad I worked there. It taught me an invaluable lesson about life. People don’t dread seeing the elderly because of their fear of death, it’s the fear that they are not living their lives. We all end the same way, if we’re lucky enough to grow old. Life is finite. No matter what your religious beliefs, you should treat it that way… always. Live a life where if you’re stuck in a nursing home, you’ll be okay that the grim reaper is at your door. Live a life where you will have great stories to tell. Live a life where people will love you and you’ll love them. Don’t be finished before your time is up.
Sort of like a perfect ending to a movie, in the last two weeks I was working there, I was doing a shift in the coffee shop. I was having reservations about leaving, because it was really good money, and I was a recent college grad pursuing stand-up comedy and writing and I was uncertain about so many things. I made a tea for a sweet resident who came in towards the end of my shift.
“What are you doing here?” She asked.
“Um… I’m working here?” I replied, a bit confused.
“Yes. Why? You’re so young, and pretty. Don’t waste your life here.” She smiled.
I started laughing. But a part me wanted to cry also. It was one of those rare perfect moments, and it was just what I needed.
“I’m stuck here,” she said, “but you can leave.”