Sunday, July 16, 2017


       I called Mrs. Twomey to make sure she understood how important it was for Vaughan to have her pain medication on schedule.  I worried all night about the way she had carried on over the box of pills. 
      “I know it looks complicated,” I had said, “but Vaughan is smart about keeping track of what she’s supposed to have.”  Mrs. Twomey said skeptically that it didn’t seem possible Mrs. Ross needed that much medication.
      In reply to my inquiry about Vaughan, Mrs. Twomey laughed and said, “Well, of course we cater to our patients the first couple of days so they won’t think we’re trying to push them around, but your friend will have to understand she can’t be in charge of her own medications.  The law says we are responsible, we handle and administer everything she’s supposed to have.”        
      Laughing again, she said the day nurse had told her Mrs. Ross was asking for her pills at 8:00.  “You see, our routine begins at 6:00, so she’ll have to get used to a different schedule.”
       From this I concluded that Vaughan had received her aspirin and pain pills at 6:00.  I could understand how this might confuse her.  One Sunday a few weeks ago she realized at 1:30 that she had forgotten to take her medicine at noon.  Despite her pain, she had the notion it wouldn’t be right to touch her pills until 4:00.  Janeth and I had a hard time convincing her that she could alter her schedule for one day, taking her pills at 1:30, 5:30, and 9:30.
        “I wasn’t sure whether you heard me yesterday, Mrs. Twomey, but Mrs. Ross is a cancer patient and suffers a great deal of the time.  She’s a brave lady and not the sort of put on an act just to get sympathy or attention.”
       I told her about Vaughan’s resistance to pill-taking, what a difficult time we had convincing her it was better to rely on the pills than to build up a dependence on injections.
        “Well, we’ll get things straightened out when Dr. Cline comes,” Mrs. Twomey said.
        In the afternoon I rang the bell at Ravenscraig and was admitted by a husky, pop-eyed nurse who said yes, it was all right to bring the strawberries up to Mrs. Ross.  Vaughan had fallen asleep sitting up in bed, her head at an angle.  She woke when I spoke to her and was pleased to see the strawberries but said she wouldn’t have them until I left, so we’d have more time to talk.
        I asked her how she was getting along and added in a bantering tone, “I guess you’re having trouble getting used to the new schedule here, aren’t you?  I understand the day starts at six instead of eight.”
        An odd expression came over her face, and then she raised her hand slowly, spread her fingers, and peeked at me from behind them.  I looked uncertainly back at her, wondering what I had said to inspire this defensive, child-like gesture.
        “What’s the matter, Vaughan?  Why are you doing that?”
         She lowered her hand and gave me a wry smile.  “Yes, the day begins at 6:00.  They brought me my breakfast tray and there were three pills on it.  One was a nausea pill and the other two—isn’t this silly I can’t think of the name of them.”
        “No, name some more.”
        “Pain pills?”
        “Breathing pills?”
        “No, keep on.  It was the big brown capsule and the small pink one.”
        “Oh, your vitamins!”
        “That’s it!  She brought me my vitamins.  Well, I took the vitamins, but I left the nausea pill because I wasn’t nauseated.  At 8:00 she came in for something and I said, `Nurse, it’s time for me to take my pills.’  She didn’t answer me so I said it again.  She came over to my bed and pointed her finger at me like this and she said, `You’ve had all the pills you’re going to have until tomorrow’  I said, `What do I do about this pain?’ and she said, `We don’t believe in a lot of medication here.’”
        I sat there speechless.
        “Well, I was sitting up in the chair, and my back hurt so, I thought I’d die.  After awhile the same nurse came in—the day nurse, that fat one—and begin doing the beds.  You know the lady that was sitting over in that chair yesterday—“
        “—Mrs. Gilman,” I said.
        “Well, she can’t use her legs, so after the nurse had made the beds she helped Mrs. Gilman into bed.  I was watching and I said, `I think that’s what I’ll do.’  `No, you’re not, you’re going to sit right there.’  I said, `I don’t understand.  If it’s all right for that lady to get into bed, why isn’t it all right for me?’  She said, `If you do, you can’t get up again until tomorrow.  We only make the beds once a day here.’”
        “What’s that got to do with it?” I broke in.  “Who was asking her to make it up again?”
        “Well, she finally said I could lie on top of the spread if I wanted to.  `We like the beds to look neat when guests come,’ she said.  So I sat there suffering terribly with my back until—“
        “Excuse me a minute, Vaughan,” I said, leaping up.
        I went downstairs and wandered around until I found the nurse who had admitted me.  She was sitting in the kitchen having a snack.  I was so furious I could hardly breathe and had to keep telling myself, “Calm down, if you alienate this woman she’ll only take it out on Vaughan.”
       “Are you the day nurse?” I asked, trying to keep my voice steady.
        “Yes, I am,” she said, girding herself for one of those troublemakers.
        “Is it true that Mrs. Ross hasn’t been getting her pain pills?”
        “She got `em all right.  She’s not giving you the right story if she says she didn’t get her pills.  We brought her some medicine this morning and she didn’t take it.  Since she refused to take what we gave her, all I said was we’d have to wait until the doctor got here so we’d know what she was supposed to have and what she wasn’t.”
       “That was a nausea pill,” I said.  “She takes that only when she’s nauseated.  The pills she needs most are her aspirin and her pain pills.  She’s riddled with cancer and in terrible pain most of the time.”
       “She had her pain pills,” the nurse said.
       I knew if I argued with her any further I’d do more harm than good.  I said I realized it took time for the patient to adjust to the home, and I was sure things would work out in a day or two.
       When I returned to Vaughan, she said, “I didn’t finish telling you what happened after that.  When the nurse came in with my lunch tray, there were my pills!”  She shifted in bed and groaned.  “I’m just beginning to feel a little easier.”
       So she had finally been given relief after suffering for 4 hours.  Four hours is a long time when you’re in pain and the pain is getting progressively worse.  The morning after my foot operation, when I was waiting for the nurse to return with a morphine shot, I learned how interminable even a few minutes can be.
      When I got home I called Dr. Cline’s office three times before I was able to reach him.  He said in answer to my anxious questions that everything was taken care of.  Vaughan was getting her pills; there was no problem at all.  He sounded cross or hurried or something, so I didn’t elaborate on Vaughan’s first-day difficulties.
       Miss Kaywood, the nurse who had me so upset last Tuesday, has turned out to be a good egg after all.  She greeted me by name yesterday and gave me a friendly smile, proving she wasn’t a grudge-bearer.  We had a long talk about Vaughan and ended up on good terms.
     Yesterday my friend’s only complaint was about the food.  “It isn’t like at Malleys.  When the tray gets here, everything’s cooled off.  You know how I like my food nice and hot.”
      How well I know!  Kathryn used to go to great lengths to win Vaughan’s Seal of Approval.  She would heat the teapot, the cup and saucer, and even the spoon under the hot water faucet.  The steaming tea or soup would be the last thing placed on the tray.  Kathryn would hurriedly cover the cup to keep the heat in, and then she’d say, “There That ought to be hot enough for her!”
      After watching her go through this elaborate procedure time after time, I began to feel guilty if I didn’t go to equal lengths.  I think Vaughan’s throat must have lost its sensitivity to heat through the years.  I have never known anyone with such a passion for scalding hot liquids.
       “Another thing is my tea,” she said.  “I can’t seem to make them understand I like my tea black.”
        Miss Kaywood, who was working nearby, said to me, “She’s getting it black now.  Once we found out that was the way she wanted it, that’s the way she’s been getting it.”
       Vaughan, who can hear surprisingly well sometimes, shook her head and said, “I haven’t had it black yet.”
       “She forgets,” said Miss Kaywood.
        A moment later Vaughan said confidentially, “Did I tell you about that nurse I had the first day, the one who said they didn’t believe in a lot of pills here?”
       I made a face and jerked my head toward the drawn curtain, behind which “that nurse” was making Mrs. Bongarzone’s bed.
       “Yes, I’m the one,” Mrs. Kaywood said cheerfully.  “She just misunderstood me, that’s all.  We’re willing to give our patients whatever the doctor orders, but we can’t start passing out pills until we know what we’re doing.”
       “This nurse I have today is very nice,” Vaughan said.  “The night nurse is nice, too.”
        “Are they still waking you up in the middle of the night with the bed pan?”
        “No, they’ve been letting me sleep.  The first couple of days they didn’t believe me, they’d feel the sheet to see if it was wet, but now they leave me alone.”
        Vaughan is going to have a permanent tomorrow if she can manage the stairs.  I’m going over a little later today to help her try them out.
       She thoroughly enjoyed Ed’s visit Wednesday night.  “There aren’t many men like your Eddie.  How many would stop in like that to see an old lady?  It was so dear of him.”
       Dr. Blanchard cane to see Kathryn this morning, and she doesn’t have the German Measles after all.  What she has is a full-fledged case of regular old-fashioned measles.  Kathryn says she’s grown so young from her exercises with Jack La Lanne she’s contracting children’s diseases.  Her face is puffed up and her joints are aching and swollen, and she’s much too ill to come down for her meals.  She said ruefully when I carried up her lunch, “You’ve just finished with one set of trays, Mrs. Malley, and now you’re stuck with another.”
      We’d have been in a pickle if Vaughan hadn’t gone to the nursing home.  Who would have taken care of everybody?  Dr. Joplin told me again this morning, when I went in for an 11:00 appointment, to stay off my foot as much as possible and not to bear weight on it.
      I’m not doing a thing except getting meals and trying to keep the kitchen picked up, but I suppose even this much activity isn’t conducive to my recovery.  Ed is helpful, of course, but he’s leaving on a business trip tomorrow, so I’ll have to struggle along by myself.  Maybe I can talk Vonnie and Timmy into making themselves useful over the weekend.
March 31, 1962
     Vaughan had her permanent this morning.  When I arrived at Ravenscraig at 9:15, she was sitting in the chair by her bed, dressed and waiting for me.
      “I think my coat’s in that closet over there,” she said.
      I helped her struggle to her feet and work her arms into her coat sleeves.  I had just finished fastening the buttons when “Obie,” (Mrs. O’Brien) bustled in and said, “Does she have her dress on?”
      With that, she lifted the hem of Vaughan’s coat and checked for herself.
      Vaughan leaned on my arm and regarded Mrs. O’Brien with interest.  “Did you think I’d go out without my dress on?”
      “Some of them do,” Obie said, giving me a wink.
      Vaughan shuffled toward the stairs with my arm as support.  It is going to take time, I imagine, for the staff to understand that she may be elderly but she’s not senile.
      When I went to collect her at 12:30, her face was the color of slate. 
      "Didn’t they bring your pain pills this morning?”
       “No, I thought of it, but I decided to see if I could get along without them.  My back is killing me."         
       As Mrs. O’Brien helped her up the stairs, Vaughan quavered, “I guess I’ve missed my lunch.”
       “I should say not!” Obie said.  “Nobody misses a meal around here!  I’ll heat it and bring it right up to you.”
       Everyone is much more obliging than I thought at first.  In another week or two I hope Vaughan will be referring to Ravenscraig as “home.”
      Keeping my promise to Miss Grassie, who used to raise Boston Terriers, I returned to the car and gathered up Tokay and her baby, whom I had left on the floor so he wouldn’t fall off the seat.  You never saw such a bunch of thrilled old folks.
      Mrs. Gilman crooned over the puppy and said, “I can’t see you very well, but I know you're adorable.”
      Dottie Bongarzone, unable to talk since her shock, sat up in bed and murmured, “Ohh, ohh, ohh,” when I put George in her lap.
       As I was leaving, I passed the room where Miss Grassie’s sister, an enormous white-haired woman, sits from morning till night on the edge of her bed, with her feet on a chair and her back braced against a mound of cushions. She beckoned to me and indicated in a halting speech that she, too, would like to see George.
      Without attempting to touch him, she waved and fluttered her hands over his head as if she were casting a spell.  There was something about her that frightened me—I think it was simply her enormousness.  When she reached for him I wanted to snatch him away, but those huge hands stroked the puppy with infinite gentleness.
       After my visit to Vaughan this evening I stopped at Neil Porta's on the way home in order to let the boys have the car, as they had requested.  (Actually I got lost in thought and drove to 143 Atlantic Avenue, realized as soon as I turned in the driveway that I’d forgotten to pick up Tim and Neil, had to turn around and go back.)  I was telling Timmy how Vaughan had mistaken me for the nurse when I woke her up; she asked me to bring her a laxative.
      "Oh, my goodness!” she said when I had identified myself.  “What’s the matter with my eyes, I thought you were the nurse.”
      Tim asked me if she liked it at the nursing home.
    “I think she will, once she gets used to it.”
    “You were mean to kick her out of the house.  A poor old lady like that.”
       I wasn’t so much hurt as appalled that he was capable of making such a remark.  His words were still ringing in my ears when I walked into a kitchen full of dirty dishes and pans.  I had left them there in order to see Vaughan before visiting hours ended.         
      I’ve had gayer Saturday nights in my day.                                                                          
 8:45 p.m.
      I have just received another shock.  Vonnie just blew in for a minute with her friend Punkie Whitten, and Punkie has announced with the confidence of one who knows these things that George  (“There’s absolutely no doubt about it, Mrs. Malley”) is a female."
      Ever since the puppy was two minutes old, we all accepted Vonnie’s analysis of its gender.  A fine judge of the opposite sex she turned out to be.  I see no alternative except to call George Georgette from now on and try to get used to the idea that he’s a she. 
April 1, 1962
     Tim brought Vaughan the sports section of the Herald this morning, and the TV supplement.  He stayed and talked to her for awhile instead of dumping the papers and running.  She was so delighted, it was the first thing she mentioned when I dropped in this afternoon.                      
     She was not delighted to hear about George's treacherous change in gender.  Her face fell and she said, "Are you sure?"  Vaughan is all for the male of the species, even in a Toy poodle. 
     I just had the most chilling thought.  Could it be that the elder Miss Grassie really did cast a spell over George?  Maybe she prefers the female of the species.  
April 3, 1962
      When I called on Vaughan late yesterday morning, Mrs. Gilman was sitting in her chair with a napkin spread across her chest, prepared for the second big event of the day. Vaughan admits that the meals at Ravenscraig are excellent, with the exception of breakfast.  “They’ve had the same thing every morning since I got here—oatmeal and toast.”   And of course the food isn’t hot enough to suit her.
      “I guess I got my liking for hot things from my father.  My mother used to experiment with different types of mustache cups for his tea, trying to find one that would hold in the heat long enough so he wouldn’t complain.  One time she bought a real silver cup—paid quite a little for it—and when we all sat down to supper, Father started to sip his tea.  Well, I can see that cup flying across the room, tea and all, and hear my father swearing.   That was the end of the silver mustache cup.”
       “I take it he had a temper.”
       “Oh my, I should say he did.  The boys used to get the worst of it.  I remember the time my brother Harry did something wrong, can’t think now what it was, but it didn’t have to be very much with my father.  My brother Ralph, the one who lives in Goldsboro, was within hearing distance of the stable when he heard Harry screaming.  Harry was a big boy—well, like your Tim, I’d say—and my father was whipping him with a harness strap.  Ralph ran to the stable and  didn’t stop to go in the regular way;  he took one leap through the feeding door and landed on my father.  If my father   ever got a beating he got one then, and that was the last time he ever touched one of his children, girls or boys.”  

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