Written with a leaky pen on the rough pages of my leatherbound journal, the following words can be found. I have not changed them more than to improve word choice here or there. This is the most honest portrayal of my first experience at the Keep Home that I could possibly have written, although I am not necessarily proud of how I felt. I’m left wondering where the feelings of fear came from. When I had the opportunity to show love and understanding, I felt afraid and wanted to hide instead. I was horrified, and I’m not prone to exaggeration. Is this a common experience? Read, and then let me know what you think:
… I’ve moved. The cafeteria closed. Will texted to say that I’m welcome to sit in the lobby on his floor. He works on Floor 4 of the Samaritan Keep Home. I trudge through the snow to the building. We’re experiencing a “lake effect” snowstorm, over 3 feet of crisp clean powder in two days. I bump into a nurse in the lower lobby of the Home. She lets me in, and we ride the elevator together. She’s going to Six, and I wince. Lockdown ward, for dementia patients with violent tendencies. I’ve heard stories.
The door opens at Four for me. The smell hits me before I walk onto the floor. It stinks of death. People die here. I take a seat in a faded green armchair beneath a few half-deflated balloons. Black and silver. They suit this place. I open my journal again and begin to write. A woman scootches past me at a snail’s pace, making tiny kicks with her patterned slippers against the tile. The slippers squeak as she goes. Kick, squeak. Kick, squeak. Kick, squeak. I duck my head and write with an insincere concentration, feeling strangely afraid. I can feel her eyes on me, simultaneously sharp and vacant. She slowly squeaks past, her gaze finally shifting away, and disappears down the hall. It’s been 10 minutes, but the smell of this place still sticks in my nose. The cloying, sickly-sweet smell of Floor Number 4. Old. Dying. Waiting. I understand now why Will always comes home smelling 92, and I resolve never to tease him about it again.
I sit, silent. Not in silence, however. There is a steady stream of noise that persistently fills the halls. Call lights ring constantly in the background. A second on, a second off, buzzing steadily. Vents spew air, humming a deep and continual vibration. A man is screaming nonsense words down the corridor. Another mumbles to himself beneath the glaring white lights, staring blankly at linoleum flooring. To what strange dimension have I been transported? What is this weird place of waiting and illness? A woman starts calling for help, her voice old and trembling. It sounds like the baaing of a sheep. She does not want to be subjected to her evening shower.
Here comes Will now, wearing soft green scrubs. Just the sight of him is calming, reassuring. He smiles at me. He’s busy, but he pauses to give me a quick kiss before going to wheel an enormous old woman in white to her room. He looks strong and gentle, a caring giant among the frail and afraid. If I were old, I’d want someone like that there for me. The woman is confused. “Where are you taking me?!” she demands, looking around, her voice like that of a tired child. “To bed,” Will reassures her, and she settles back into her wheelchair. “Oh… Thank you, thank you,” she mutters. They disappear around a corner and I’m alone again. What an interesting existence my fellow has. I think I never understood a few things about him until just now. This is hard work, hard in a new way that I’m unfamiliar with. CNAs deserve more respect and recognition, I think.
I don’t know that I could do this.