Monday, December 15, 2008

"I'm on my break."

My hands are still shaking. I am so upset. To get away from my new roommate and his tar and nicotine drenched clothing, I adjourned to the lobby to eat my leftover Chimichanga from Memo's and watch Countdown and Rachel Maddow. I thought about hanging out to watch Heroes. I've never seen Heroes on hi-def and tonight's episode is the last new one of the year.

I was sitting in the lobby with this guy, Ray, who I think I've mentioned before. He never takes his coat off, even if it's hot outside. He is a disagreeable old prick who, when asked a simple question, is dismissive and defensive. One time someone casually asked what ray was watching and he spat "I'm watching this!" This being the NWCN, which repeats every 30 minutes, and which Ray had been watching for two hours. Ray likes to beat anyone to the TV Sunday mornings so he can turn on anything that isn't something everyone wants to watch, like the Seahawks game. Sometimes I stake out the lobby and wait until he has to go pee or get lunch, and then I'll turm the TV on to People's Court and watch a three hour People's Court/Judge Alex/People's Court sandwhich, just for spite. (Have I mentined how there is nothing to do here)?

So I was watching TV with Ray when an old lady pushed her senile, wheelchair bound husband into the lobby. I had seen the old pair around for almost as long as I've been here. Their daughter was very close to Danny so I had talked to her before. The father has been in the home for quite some time. The mother, who isn't doing to well herself, may eventually join him here. The daughter is a very nice and caring person, maybe a few years older than me, is often off visiting with one of the other patients while the mother pushes "Dad" around. I always worry about the old lady because pushing a man, especially an honery senile old man is not an easy thing to do.

She pushed him slowly into the lobby and asked him if he wanted to sit with us and watch TV. I kind of ignored them, as I often do, and kept half my attention on the TV and half on the crossword puzzle I was doing (Six-letter word. "Where Easy Street is." First letter 'F', fourth letter 'C.') The old man didn't want to watch TV, so she tried pushing him back towards the dining room. But his chair wouldn't budge. She kept pushing it to no avail.

She kept telling him he needed to put his feet up and he tried, but was weak; out of the corner of my eye I could see his right foot slip off the footrest and in front of the wheel. She kept pushing the chair and it wouldn't move. She would walk around the chair and bend over to put his feet back on the footrests. This went on and on and everytime she would bend over, she was slower getting up. She had to stop and sit on the couch several times to catch her breath, but before she could, this old man tried getting up out of his chair, despite the fact he couldn't stand. She would have to jump up, as much as an old lady in that condition can, to prevent him from getting out of the chair. Then the old lady started huffing and puffing and he was crying and I thought either she was going to have a heart attack, or worse, a stroke, and he was going to get up and do face plant right in front of me. I kept looking around to see if anyone was going to help, but Ray was just ignoring everything happening, and then this demented old lady in her wheelchair, who I also don't like and who thinks I'm her Dad, slowly came rolling in, almost completely blocking my exit. I had to use the power of my chair to push furniture out my way so I could hunt down someone who could help.

It's frustrating enough not being able to stand up and help myself, or being able to stand up and help someone else, but it is really fucking frustrating when you percieve an emergency and no one is around to help. I looked down two hallways and there were no aides or nurses, so I sped off to the closest nurse's station to see if I could find help. There were two nurses at the desk, one of whom was Tumani, a very tall Ethiopian named, whom I've mentioned before. I rolled up to them and in a panic I said "There's an old lady about to have a heart attack and her husband is trying to get up out of his chair, and there is no one around, and I need you to come help." And I sped away and when I turned back, there was Tumani, way back at the nurse's station. He hadn;t moved. I went back and said, "C'mon. They need help!" And without looking at me he said. "I am on my break." I felt punched in the gut. I took a second (felt like a minute) to process this and yelled "You are fucking useless!"

I drove around looking for a nurse but found an aide, Dames, instead. Dames was able to get the guy settled in his chair and rolled him back to the dining room and the woman thanked me and gave me a hug, which was nice, but was still upset. I went looking for Tumani. When I found him I told him, in front of two paramedics and some patients, that had one of the two old folks died or been injured, I would have called the cops. Tumani got in my face, like he was going to hit me and started yelling at me "You don't talk to me that way." Talking to hi was useless. He doesn't care. He doesn't care if I complain to his boss. He doesn't care about me. He doesn't care about the old couple, and he doesnt care about any of the other patients. I bet if it wasn't for the patients he would like being a nurse a whole lot better.

Last summer, when I met and had a conversation with Tumani, he brgged that, back in Ethiopia, he has a large house and that he was here in the United States because he wanted to "help sick people." It didn't sound right to me at the time. Why come to the U.S. to help sick people? I am sure I saw sick Africans, even Ethiopians, on T.V.. So why come all the way over here? This conversation was roughly the same time I started working with Lamin, and we were talking about Islam and how the Muslims believe in something akin to karma. and how it is traditional in their religion to take time off to help others. Later I found out that whereas Lamin is a devout Muslim, Tumani is a "Evangelical Christian." "Maybe it's an African thing," I thought. At the time, I was left with the idea that some Africans, like some Americans, go to other countries to do what they can to help people. Coincidently, one of the O.T. assistants, Tyler, is heading off to Africa this Spring as part of the Peace Corps. Lord knows there are people hurting in this country who need all the help they can get and so why not come to America to get some Karma points (and make 100 times more money than you can make on your own continent)?

But after today's run in with Tumani, I have come to the conclusion that his reasons for working here are not entirely altrustic. Maybe he took this job because he feels power over people who are weaker than him. If true he's like about twenty percent of the workers here, look down on patients as week, as almost subhuman. Not worth sympathy or empathy, only scorn. The fact that the only time he looked at my face was when he was yelling at me, like I better not close my eyes tonight, was not lost on me.

The 20% of the workers, like Tumani, who treat the patients like shit, or worse, furniture, make life here in the home pretty inbearable. These are the ones you here making fun of their patients behind their backs, but in front of them at the same time. It must make it hard on the 20% of workers who are not only good at their jobs, but actaually care about the well-being of their patients, nurses and aides like Jonas, Lamin, and Dames. Sometimes they walk in after another staff member has emotionally wrecked a patient and they are left cleaning up the mess.

The final 60% of the people working here are just here because it is a job. They are, for the most part, underpayed and overworked in a place that is understaffed. Eight weeks ago I was having a heart attack, unable to yell, and it took a half an hour for someone to answer my call light. When I got back I complined, but nothing has changed. Today I couldn't find anyone to help when I thought an old lady and her husband were in danger. The one aid in my wing, Dames, was busy helping another patient, but luckily he could drop what he was doing to come help. But what if there were two emergencies? My nurse, Jonas, was across the street getting coffee, on a much needed break after juggling three problem patients while trying to hand out tonight's medication. And Tumani, he couldn't be bothered because he was on his break.

Give me a break.

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