Full Moon Over Sunset
Night shift at the nursing home. Twelve long hours minus the pay of a thirty-minute lunch break I’ll never take. I survive on multiple cups of burnt coffee, one well-timed cigarillo, and generous swigs of peppermint mouthwash whenever I need it. My non-existent meal plan explains why I’m almost as thin as Genevieve Coleman—I’m not terminal like she is—just too busy to eat. Here she comes now, barely rolling towards me. Formerly from the tiny town of Sugar Tit, Ms. Ginny’s now a comfort care (code name for hospice) resident of Sunset Home. She has no tits to speak of. I can see that from here. She’s a naked baby bird from the waist up.
Two normally hard-working CNAs are distracted by a secret and whispering loud enough for me to overhear. “Girrrrl . . . my Boo-Boo makes me sweat!” LaShonda’s Boo-Boo is a giant with dreadlocks who delivers Bojangles chicken to her almost every shift. He’s a new hire and works in the kitchen. He never acknowledges me whenever I greet him. I make a mental note to myself: Next time call him Boo Boo and see what happens. Around here, Boo Boo has a whole different meaning. To think of a huge Boo-Boo walking the halls will keep me smiling in the face of persistent rudeness.
“Girrrrl, whatchoo talkn bout. . . dat fine thang gonna be deliver’n my chicken breasts’s and wings any minute now . . . wid sum slaw, mac-n-cheese, and a honey butter biscuit.”
Chicken breasts and wings. I look across the desk at Genevieve. The spokes of her wheels turn as slow as the minute hand on a clock. She’s barely closer to my desk than before.
I’m the charge nurse. There’s a staff shortage tonight due to several call-outs with the usual excuses. “I’m passing a kidney stone” is a favorite (I want to respond, “Catch it in a basket and bring it to me”). Another, “My grandmother’s stepmother’s friend’s brother died” (“Again?” I want to ask—but I don’t—trying to be respectful of a string of family deaths, almost one per week). And another, “Baby, I got pink eye” (I want to say, “No, they’re poop brown”).
“Will someone put a warm gown on Ms. Ginny, please?”
I scan the medication record to see what might help this little birdie go nightie night—a Ms. Gin and tonic, so to speak. I trace the MAR with my index finger. PRN Ativan. Yep. I’ll put her on the van.
LaShonda parks the properly-gowned, white-haired little skeleton from Sugar Tit next to my desk and locks the brakes on the wheelchair. The medication will take half an hour to work. The CNAs promise to come back and tuck her in for the night after their lunch, or dinner, or late-night snack—whatever such a meal is called, long after the sun sets on Sunset Home.
Genevieve Coleman suffers from advanced dementia as well as cancer. She never speaks—ever—she just stares. She’s staring at me right now. I don’t mind so long as she doesn’t fiddle with items on the desk or eat a paperclip.
Noticeably longer than a half hour, Lashonda comes back for Ms. Ginny. “Goodnight, Mrs. Coleman,” I say. She continues to stare. I think of my ex-wife. She never spoke either.
I step outside for a smoke. There’s a bench with a lot of bad words carved into it. Moonlight illumines a depiction of something I would never imagine sitting upon, even if a gun were held to my head. I move to the far, less depraved end and blow a sweet blend of smoke into the air, forming the only cloud in the sky. A full moon. Things happen on nights like this. I look back at the building. The bricks of the Sunset Home deceive me into believing the halls are quiet and all the elderly children are nestled safely in their beds and fast asleep. I notice shadowy movement in several lamplit rooms—more than I want to see at this late hour. I crush out the tiny remainder of the cigarillo and badge myself back inside.
My nose is instantly assaulted with the thick, unmerciful breeze of liquidy stool. That hall never seemed so long, door after smelly door. Ah, yes. The Miralax March. I pick up my pace and round the corner into unusually heavy traffic for this time of night. Wheelchairs and geri chairs everywheres. Tray banging. Begging. Moaning. Incomprehensible gibberish. “Da ta ta ta ta.”
I think of Thalia and Melpomene. They’re not my girlfriends. No. They’re the Greek Muses of comedy and tragedy—that’s what’s going on here—the happy and sad mask, the sock and buskin represented now by mittens and heel guards. Sad endings somehow evoking laughter in the Sunset theater.
Mr. Johns, a lanky old fellow who still walks and tries to escape on a nightly basis, is yelling a phlegmy, gargley “Heeeey!” at the top of his lungs at an obese man with a Buddha belly who is blocking the doorway to the day room. There are red and black checkers all over the floor. The potential victim of Mr. Johns suffers with tardive dyskinesia and his lips are smacking—he reminds me of a filmy-eyed fish gulping at air. “Hey, Long Johns, leave him alone and go back to your room.” That’s what I say. He doesn’t listen. No one ever listens.
“Heeeey!” he says again, extra loud, extra angry. I escort him back to his room, stepping in and around the gathering traffic, suddenly noisier than New York city at rush hour, beeps and honks replaced by bed and door alarms.
Margaret Harris has a big butt and it’s showing. Another full moon but this one has a crack in it. Momentarily overwhelmed, I remember that I’m in charge of this mess and somehow need to regain control. I look down a hallway crawling with medicated zombies. It’s the night of the living dead.
After rallying the troops, order is restored in two hours. I make my rounds, checking on patients and staff. The atmosphere is finally calm. I hear late-night comedy on the television in the day room and Sunset Home sounds more like a home than an asylum.
The sky eventually brightens to orange and pink sherbet. At 7 a.m. the hustle and bustle of shift change and showers begins. Staff arrive like fresh horses. Very loud voices, almost deafening, say things like, “Good morning, Mr. Hornblower, time for breakfast.”
I hear Long Johns in the distance, “Heeey!”
I clock out. I’m in the mood for a syrupy waffle, every square packed with butter.
Housecleaning has mopped a spill near the exit. LaShonda’s boyfriend ignores the yellow wet floor warning sign like he ignores me. I say, “Be careful, Boo Boo. Floor’s wet.” He finally looks at me—a doubletake—THEN down he goes. I watch him slip and disappear behind a linen cart. I laugh all the way to my car.