Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Ogre and the Princess

Orville came in, fresh from Memorial, just as we were ending our shift change briefing. The ambulance crew was just getting him settled in Room 326 with the help of some of the shift aides finishing their good deeds for the evening.

Laura, our shift nurse, took down the word from a tired second shift supervisor: "New transfer, total hip replacement. He's combative, disoriented, and PIA."

Oh, great. That's all we need. Another THR who's here to finish out their last days with the rest of the Skilled Ward's "sliders."

I'd been at Hope Terrace nursing home for over a year by them, and was starting to get hardened from the stream of old, infirm, and helpless who were relegated to the "Forget Me Ward" biding their time, slowly sliding downhill until one of us finds them cold and still on the 3AM bed check. Most of them never even had families who visited anymore.

We took over after the second shift crew went home for the night. Rosie gathered a fresh supply of bed linens for the first check and I joined her on rounds while Shirley filled fresh water pitchers and Linda grabbed the cuff, stethoscope and thermometer for TPR's. Rosie and I walked into 326 and said hello to Fred, Orville's roommate. Fred had been at Hope Terrace going on his twentieth year, after taking a drunken header off the town's one viaduct. He was... okay, in most ways. Fred was just highly disoriented most of the time, and it was all we could do to keep him from tottering off down Andrew Avenue, calling every male "Jack" and asking for a ride to get a beer. Yeah, Fred was all right.

Orville was another matter. After Rosie and I said our hellos, Rosie lifted Orville's covers to check for moisture or a mess, when Orville's hand shot out and grabbed her by the wrist. She cried out in pain and surprise and tried to pull back. But as weak as the old man's lower body was, he had incredible arm and hand strength. He uttered an incomprehensible stream of what could be interpreted as obscenities, and wrench Rosie's arm.

I reached over to rescue my partner, but Orville's other hand came up before I could dodge, an iron-hard fist that smashed into my mouth and sent me reeling across the room.

Before I could get back up, the rest of the crew charged in with a Posie jacket. It took all five of us to hold that old codger down so Laura could zap him with a dose of Thorazine strong enough to mellow out an angry buffalo, and then we trussed him up so he couldn't do anyone else any more harm.

That was our introduction to "Orville the Ogre," and nothing changed after that. A few weeks later, I transferred to second shift, going in at 3PM and working until 11. Bed checks were replaced with therapy sessions and baths, and if you think it's easy giving a chair shower to a retired farmer with a mean streak a mile wide and the upper body strength of a bull, you have another think coming.

We had a total of thirty-six patients in the "Forget Me Ward," and spending all the extra time and attention keeping everyone else away from The Ogre kept us all hopping. We kept him tied to his wheelchair, secured by a restraint strap to the handrail in the hall, whenever we weren't feeding him or wrestling through his physical therapy. He was constantly hallucinating. The rock by the flagpole in the yard was a pig. The nurse's station was the cattle trough. In his barely intelligible, mush-mouthed way, he let us all know in no uncertain terms how he saw us, and I don't recall the term "human" being used once. Anything or anyone who wandered within range of those long, powerful arms got a punch or a pinch, or whatever unpleasantness he could unleash against one so foolish.

And then it happened. Family Day. Or what passed for Family Day in the "Forget Me Ward." A family actually came to visit one of the patients. A young mom and dad, in their twenties, there to see Grandma Lettie. And with them came Little Cassie. Three years old, dressed in a fairy princess gown. The cutest little thing anyone there had ever seen, and precocious as only a toddler could be. She skipped down the hall from the main lobby, just ahead of her parents. Past the utility room where we rinsed soiled bed linens before bagging them up for the laundry, past the nurse's station where Nancy prepped the medicine cups for the 5 o'clock round, around the corner--

And straight into the waiting arms of the Ogre.

I was watching him, I swear I was. I was young, I was fast, and I was strong, but I couldn't outrun a three-year-old princess, and I had no chance to save her. Horrified, we all watched speechless as the old farmer swept her up and drew her into his lap.

And hugged her close as she threw her arms around his neck with a happy squeal.

Orville the Ogre's face transformed. Stress lines disappeared, replaced by laugh wrinkles. The hard, angry eyes opened wide. For the first time, we heard his soft, hoarse voice, clear and strong. "Hello, there, young lady. Who may I ask are you?"

"I'm Cassie, and you can be my grandpa," she replied, and grabbed his weathered face in both hands, planting a warm, sloppy kiss right on his nose.

Orville laughed.

And three nurses and eight aides let go a collective sigh of relief. I stepped forward, still shaking, to help Cassie down, but her parents stopped me. "It's okay," her father said. "We just lost my dad, and if Cassie wants another Grandpa, I'm fine with it."

Cassie and Orville talked for another five minutes together. She showed him how she could dance in her pretty pink dress, and Orville oohed and ahed over every twirl, every dip, and every little bow.

Finally, her mom and dad called her over, and Cassie gave Orville one last hug with a promise to come see her new grandpa again, soon. Then she skipped off to say hello to Great Grandma Lettie.

I came to get Orville later to help him to bed. I barely avoided the punch thrown at my head as I untied the strap from the handrail, and ignored his mush-mouthed verbal assault as we rolled down the hall.

As I secured his Posie for the night, he scowled up at me one last time for the day. "Ain' summon gonna feed that damned pig?"

I chuckled to myself on the way out the door. Cassie, you better come back soon.

No comments:

Post a Comment