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Sunday, July 16, 2017

(10) THAT DEVIL OF A NIGHT NURSE IS AS MEAN AS EVER.

June 2, 1962
       Harold’s conscience is bothering him.  I didn't know he had one.  He wrote to a friend of Mom's and a onetime employer of his mother, Alma Rush, and she sent his letter along to us with the comment, “The enclosed gave me as much as a shock as it will you—in all these decades he has never sent me a word, nor followed through with Vaughan—pretty late now, I would think.  Just tear it up!” 
      He rationalizes his years of neglect in the following manner:  “I feel so far away from her at times—but Mrs. Rush, this is the way she wants it and to be frank, she really feels more secure and cared for there.  Her doctor, she has had him for 3 or 4 years now, and when I said something about her coming here, she asked what about Dr. Cline, he knows my every ache and pain and what to do for me.”
       If Harold ever mentioned anything about her coming to live with him, it wasn’t in a voice loud enough for her to hear.   I have a hunch about his motive for writing in this vein to Aunt Alma.  A while ago, when Vaughan didn’t feel strong enough to send him her weekly letter, she asked me to do it for her.  I mentioned that we had been working on her “autobiography,” a disclosure to which he referred with interest in his reply. Vaughan had never told him about our hobby, and the thought that someone cared that much about her life's history, could have prompted him to sit down and take stock of himself.  He undoubtedly was confident  that Aunt Alma would forward his litany of self-excuses.
       At the end of the letter he said, “She would just love to hear from you, I know, and if she couldn’t get much of an answer back to you, you would understand.  Some flowers maybe.  We sent her some lovely flowers Easter & Barbara did the same Mothers day.”
       Quite subtle, the way he worked in a plug for his princely gesture on Easter Sunday.  The town of Cohasset would appreciate it if he’d send money, too.  The Welfare Department is paying the nursing home for her care—over forty-six dollars a week.  They are unable to extract one cent from her son, who was so annoyed by the routine form they sent him that he wrote a letter to his mother, angrily protesting the “nosy questions.”  It was around that time, too, that he and Margie berated her for failing to put money aside for her funeral expenses. 
June 7, 1962
        Drove over to Ravenscraig this evening with some fruit for Vaughan and her roommates. I was hoping I’d find the night nurse, Mrs. Honeywell, on duty, but it was her night off.  I'd like to see if I can sweet-talk her into being pleasant to Vaughan. 
        The other night she said something so outrageous, I felt like hitting her when I heard about it:  “I’m not saying you don’t have any pain, but I can hear every word you say in here, and when I hear you talking and joking I know you’re not having as much pain as you try to make out.”
       This from a nurse to a woman mortally ill with cancer, a woman who has nothing keeping her together except “cancer cells holding hands,” as Dr. Cline puts it.
       “This joint of my thumb hurts all the time,” Mrs. Honeywell went on, “but I don’t whine and cry about it.”
      She never delivers the pain pills without making some needling remark. Finally Vaughan said to her, “What do you do when your doctor prescribes something for you?  Do you take what he prescribes or do you do as you please?  I take what my doctor prescribes.”       
       I asked what Mrs. Hunnewell had said to that and Vaughan said, “Nothing.”
       “You mean you got the last word?”
       “Once in awhile I’m able to stump her.”
June 24, 1962
        Kathryn left yesterday.  She was surprised that I wasn’t upset with her and said to Mom, “In her place I’d feel like kicking me in the pants.”
        I admit I was irked when she first broke the news because summertime is when I most need help, but of course she has every right to think of herself and her approaching old age.  She’s 61 and may not have many working years ahead of her.  As a pastry cook she'll be getting $75 a week, almost double what I've been paying her.
        Before she departed, Kathryn made an apple pie to end all apple pies—one of her huge rectangular affairs, loaded with plump, spicy apples, covered with the tenderest of crusts, and filling the house with such a mouth watering aroma that Mom asked at least seven times if the pie was ready yet.  Even I broke down and cut myself a square and poured cream over it while it was still hot.
        “Kathryn, this is the best apple pie you ever made,” I said.  “Why are you torturng us like this?”
        It took her almost a full day to pack.  Kathie and Ted helped her lug out carton after carton of personal effects accumulated during her seven years with us, and although I invited her to store anything she wanted to in the barn, she managed to cram the whole works into her car.
        “Someday the kids can pick over all this stuff, take what they want, and then as far as I’m concerned they can burn the rest."
        I kissed her goodbye and wished her luck, but said I hoped she’d hate her new job and come running back to the Malleys.  She laughed and said maybe she would.
Circa July 1962
       At Ed’s behest I advertised for a new housekeeper so I could share his latest passion, flying.  He caught the fever from Ted, who got a job handling freight at Logan Airport last summer.  Someone took him for an airplane ride, and the next thing we knew, we had a pilot in the family.  Ed was darned if he’d  let the kid get ahead of him and urged me to take lessons too.
       Meanwhile, a woman read my advertisement and called to set up an interview.  When Mrs. White and 12-year-old Holly appeared at my door, I took to both of them immediately, and Mom did, too.  She was a tall, composed looking woman who radiated competence and efficiency.  I hired her on the spot, and she moved in with the Malley family early this month.  Mrs. White brought a phonograph and a stack of long-playing records.  When Kathie learned that one of her favorite singers was Joan Baez, she said,  “Mom, that’s the folk-singer I was telling you about. I wonder if she knows anything about sewing."  One of her more ambitious summer projects is to make five dresses for her year abroad.
      “Oh yes, I used to teach sewing. I love to sew, it’s fun!”
      As for Holly of the big brown eyes, she was friendly and as eager to please as a puppy.  She held Vonnie’s hand when they walked down to explore the beach together.
 “I felt kind of silly,” Vonnie said, “but I didn’t want to hurt her feelings.  She’s a sweet kid.”
        Mrs. White directed me to leave the pots and pans for her to do in the morning instead of doing them myself after Ed and I have our customary cocktail and late dinner.  She and my mother have lunch together every day, and since she is an intelligent, well-read woman, they get along supremely well.  In short order, Mrs. White advised me to have the paint stripped from Vonnie and Kathie’s antique spool  beds.  The result is dramatic. Released from their turquoise-blue enameled captivity, the burnished surfaces seem to glow with gratitude.
      Mrs. White next made new slipcovers for the furniture on the front porch and  helped Kathie pin the patterns for her five dresses.  (“How come she gets to go abroad?” Ted, wrote from the Vineyard, where he is fish spotting from his plane for a commercial sword-fishing boat.  “How about sending me a broad, too.  Preferably blonde.”)
      Most remarkable of all Mrs. White’s attributes, she likes Timmy.   “I’d heard so many rumors about this monster, I was scared to death.  I thought, my goodness, he must really be a horror.  But he’s just as nice as can be.  He always brings his dishes over to the sink and thanks me for the dinner, and if he has any little criticism, he says it in a very nice way.”
      When I congratulated Timmy on the way he had bamboozled Mrs. White, he said “Well, I’ll tell you this—as soon as I got to know her, I knew I was going to like her.  She treated me with respect from the first day I met her.”
July 5, 1962
        Dr. Cline called today and said he had arranged for Vaughan to have a series of x-ray treatments at the Pratt Hospital.  I’ll drive her in tomorrow morning and she’ll be there for a week or ten days.  Lately her pain has been more than she can bear without a shot of Demerol every day or two.  That devil of a night nurse, Mrs. Hunnewell (Vaughan calls her Miss Sourball) is as mean as ever.  Vaughan had an appointment with the hairdresser on Tuesday, but her side was hurting her so much she was afraid she might not be able to make it.
         “Do you think I ought to have a shot before I go?” she asked.
         “No!” Miss Sourball snapped.  “No, no, no!”  She came over to the bed and wagged her finger under Vaughan’s nose for emphasis.  “All you want is that needle!” she said.  “I had a pain in my back last week, but I didn’t take a lot of pills and medications.  I just ignored it and it went away.”
         I finally met Mrs. Hunnewell and buttered her up profusely.  The next day Vaughan reported in amazement that the night nurse had been in an exceptionally good mood.
         “She actually asked me how I felt this morning.”  Unfortunately, this benevolence didn’t last.  If there is any justice, when Mrs. Hunnewell is old and dying, she will be cared for someone exactly like herself.
July 6, 1962
        As soon as Vaughan saw me she began crying and saying she didn’t want to go.  Dottie Bongarzone was weeping, too, and when Vaughan stopped to take her hand, she wailed like a child.
        Rose Grassie came out of her room and said goodbye and good luck.
        “I shall return,” Vaughan said stoically.  “Who said that, Babbie?”
        “I think it was McArthur,” I said.
    Every once in a while a spasm seized her, and I could see her clenching her teeth to keep from crying out.
        “Remember now,” she said, as Obie and I helped her inch her way down the stairs, “I want the same bed and the same room..  Not another room, Obie, the same room.”
        At the hospital we had a long wait before she was wheeled to her room.  Questions were asked, forms filled out.  Vaughan wouldn’t say how old she was, so the receptionist jotted down, “60-70,” which would have pleased her if she hadn’t been too racked with pain to notice.
Later
       I just returned from Ravenscraig where I learned from Mrs. Harrington that Vaughan’s bed has already been reserved for someone else.  Vaughan was worried about that very thing, but I said, “Oh, I’m sure they’ll save it for you, you’re only going to be gone a week.”  I didn’t stop to think that the town could hardly be expected to pay $60 a week for a patient who wasn’t there.  I offered to pay the cost myself, but Mrs. Harrington said it was too late.  She told me she might have another bed if I give her a few days notice, but I know Vaughan won’t be happy unless she has the same room with her friends Alice and Dottie.  If she has to move to another home, she’ll really go into a tailspin.  I’m going to postpone telling her the bad news until the last possible minute.
July 11, 1962
       I saw Vaughan Monday, am going in again this afternoon.  All she talks about is the nursing home and how wonderful everything was there.  She particularly misses the good food.
“I got so I liked that nice hot oatmeal every morning.  Here they overcook everything and by the time the tray gets to you, the food is cold.  Today I had a piece of meat—I couldn’t figure out what it was, but it was so tough I couldn’t cut it with a knife and fork, I had to tear it apart with my fingers.”
        Another thing she misses is the routine at the nursing home.  She used to grumble about how early she was awakened every morning and about the six o’clock breakfasts and the four o’clock suppers, but to hear her talk now, you’d think there was no other proper way to do things.  I haven’t the heart to tell her she may not be able to go back.  I keep hoping a miracle will happen and her bed will be empty and waiting for her.
July 12, 1962
        This has been a bad day.  I knew Vaughan chances of returning to Ravenscraig were slim but didn’t understand until this morning that they don’t want her back.
        When I went to the hospital yesterday, her sole topic of conversation was Ravenscraig, wonderful Ravenscraig.  She longed to be home again with “dear little Dottie” and Alice and Miss Grassie.
         “I hope Mrs.—Harrendon?—isn’t cross with me for that blunder I made the other day,” she said, looking at me searchingly.
        What happened was this:  After Vaughan and I arrived at the hospital, I helped her answer the admitting nurse’s questions and made it clear, I thought, that she had no means of support and was on Old Age Assistance.  The next day a man from the accounting department came into her room with more forms and more questions.  Vaughan was in frightful pain.  She had been given none of her medications, and no one had explained to her that she was supposed to ask for her pills before they’d bring her any.
         “Babbie, I was in such pain I hardly heard what I was saying.  When he asked me who was responsible for me I got confused and said Mrs. Harrigan—is that right?—and after he went out I realized what I’d said.  I worried about it all day, and then I thought, `Never mind, Babbie’ll take care of it, she’ll clear everything up.'”
         When we got home from the Cape Sunday night, a note by the phone stated that Mrs. Harrington called and wanted to talk to me.
        “There seems to be some misunderstanding about who is responsible for Mrs. Ross’s bills," she said.  "I told the fellow she was quite an alert old lady, and I couldn’t understand why she had given him my name unless she was doped up or something.  I told him I had nothing to do with her bills; I just ran the nursing home.”
        Mrs. Harrington said she wasn’t worried because after all, no one could hold her responsible, but she thought she’d warn me in case the man called me.
        I asked her if she thought I should call the Welfare Department and try to straighten things out, and she said, “No, if I were you I’d keep out of it.”
        After I visited Vaughan on Monday, I stopped in at Ravenscraig and explained to Mrs. Harrington that Vaughan’s confusion had been caused by intense pain, due to lack of medication.  “She’s terribly embarrassed and hopes she didn’t cause you any inconvenience.”
         I told her how anxious Vaughan was to return to Ravenscraig, and Mrs. Harrington said,  ”Well, don’t quote me, but I doubt very much if she’ll live through those radium treatments.  Mrs. Hunnewell used to work with cancer patients, and she says once they start on the radium, that’s the end.  Her sister had cancer and they wanted to use radium on her, but Mrs. Hunnewell wouldn’t allow it.  Her sister lived on for years and years.”
       “Are radium and X-ray treatments the same thing?” I asked.  “Vaughan had a series of treatments a year or so ago, and they seemed to help.”
        “But she wasn’t in the same condition a year ago that she is now, was she?  Those treatments raise the devil with the surrounding tissues, and I don’t think she’s strong enough to take it.”
        Privately I thought Dr. Cline would hardly put Vaughan through the hospital ordeal if he didn’t expect her to benefit.
       Then Mrs. Harrington launched into the subject of Vaughan’s medication and said, as she has many times before, that she had never seen a patient take so many pills and tablets and capsules.  I said I doubted Vaughan would have survived without them.  Mrs. Harrington shook her head and said she didn’t see how all those medications could be good for a person—“all those pills warring with each other inside of you.”
       I controlled my longing to tell her that Dr. Cline was better qualified than she was to decide what was best for his patient.  Instead I repeated my hope that a bed would be available when my friend was ready to leave the hospital.
       “I doubt it very much,” she said.
       I went upstairs to say hello to Vaughan’s roommates and Mrs. Grassie.  With Vaughan away, it’s difficult to carry on a conversation.  Dottie can’t talk, Alice never has much to say, and Miss Grassie mutters to herself about the old days and says, “What’s the use, it’s all over now.”
      After yesterday’s visit with Vaughan, I picked Kathie up at Ed’s office and we drove home together.  She wanted to shop for a shower gift in Hingham, and I suddenly thought, “This would be a good time to pick up those fried clams Alice has been hankering for.”
       Kathie waited in the car while I brought my treat up to the second floor.
       “Just a minute,” Obie said, when she saw me dividing the clams, since Dottie nodded eagerly when I asked her if she’d like some.  “I’ll have to put their bibs on or their beds will be a mess.  That Gilman is a pretty sloppy eater, you know.”
       “This is fun!” Alice said with her blind smile, as she groped for the clams on her tray.  “It’s like a picnic, isn’t it!”
       Dottie couldn’t make any comment except, “Oh my!” but her eyes glowed with pleasure.
       When the picnic was over, I dampened a napkin and cleaned the ladies’ sticky fingers.  Dottie’s hand, small and white and soft like a child’s, lay trustingly in mine.  I said, “Good girl!”  That soft little hand.  How could a 52-year-old woman have a hand like that?
       I had intended to stop on the way out and speak to Mrs. Harrington about putting Vaughan on the waiting list, but Kathie came up to tell me she was in a hurry. 
      I called Ravenscraig after I got home.  Obie answered and said Mrs. Harrington was out.  I said conversationally that I hoped I had left everything tidy and was flabbergasted when Obie proceeded to give me a royal bawling out.
      “You shouldn’t have brought those clams in here without consulting me,” she scolded.  “It won’t fall on me if they get sick, of course—the night nurse will have to cope with it, but just the same you shouldn’t do things like that without asking.”
      I stammered an apology and said it was stupid of me, but no one had ever spoken to me when I brought strawberries to Vaughan, so I thought it wasn’t necessary to ask permission.
      “If it had been in the afternoon it wouldn’t have been so bad.  They just had their supper, you know.  That Gilman is a great one for throwing up all over the bedclothes.”
      “They have their supper so early,” I said in feeble self-defense.  “I was afraid if I brought them a snack in the afternoon I’d be in Dutch for spoiling their appetites.”
      “Better to spoil their appetites than to put fried clams on top of supper,” Obie declared.  “Fried clams is pretty rich fare, you know.”
      “I’m sorry,” I said.  “I’d feel terrible if anyone got sick on my account.”
      “Well, I’ll have to talk to Mrs. Harrington about this,” she said.  “Like I say, it won’t fall on my shoulders, Mrs. Hunnewell will be the one to get stuck with it.”
      This morning I called Mrs. Harrington.  “I guess I did something stupid last night," I began humbly, not knowing whether Obie had ratted on me or not.
      “You certainly did!” Mrs. Harrington said grimly.  “You should have consulted with Miss O’Brien before you came in here and started handing out fried clams without a word to anyone.”
      “I’m awfully sorry.  I hope no one got sick.”
      “No one did, but it’s a wonder they didn’t.  Bringing fruit to a patient is a far cry from bringing in rich, heavy food like fried clams.  And right after they’d had their supper, too.  We never know when that Mrs. Gilman is going to throw up and make a mess of things.”
      “I’m sorry,” I said again.  “I didn’t know.”
      When the lecture was over I said I had noticed Vaughan’s bed was still empty and was wondering whether there had been any change in plans.
      “Not as far as I know.  The patient is still in the hospital, but her family is paying me to hold the bed until she comes out.”
      “Well, could we be next in line on the waiting list?  Vaughan is going to be terribly disappointed, and I’d like to give her something to hope for, at least.”
      Mrs. Harrington didn’t answer, and I said uneasily, “—unless you don’t want her back?”
      “No, I don’t think I do,” she said coldly.
      Stunned, I said, “All right,” and hung up.
      “What’s the matter?” Ed asked.
      I told him what had happened.  He was sympathetic but said I’d have to find another home.  “If you don’t find a place, they’ll just have to keep her at the hospital until you do.”       

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