Wednesday, August 02, 2006


The crustiest nursing home I ever worked in was actually called Crust, possibly because that's all they got for dinner, and it was run by the Moron Healthcare Group, (as urban folklore would dub it), a private business that has made millions running aged care facilities state-wide, because they're good at it, giving the best service for the money available and making a profit by sheer tightwad efficiency. And whoever takes on the toughest nursing cases gets more of the govt subsidies, so with the nurses slogging harder, the profits are increased, and this makes Moron very keen for the most derelict of cases. Like a three-tiered class-system the rich had plush private rooms, the middle-classes got suitably pleasant shared bedrooms and the government-subsidised poor got sufficient to their daily needs, clean and safe. It all depended on the particular manager of the actual nursing home, usually the DON, Director of Nursing, whether she/he could run the joint so marvelously all the residents and staff are healthy and happy, or so shoddily the residents suffer bedsores, urinary tract infections, scabies invasions, are malnourished and scrounging thru the bins with boredom, despair and lack of medications, and the staff are daily at each others' throats.

To a great degree a nursing home can become a cash cow for whoever gets in control of it, as long as they make a healthy profit for their Ubermasters, such as the Moron Healthcare Group, the rest is open slather for them to manipulate and siphon off, if they dare. (Every three years govt. inspectors do a look-thru for "Accreditation" but for that week everything gets spruced up and window-dressed to look like Club Med in Gronksville). Cutting costs of materials, services, furnishings, handing out extra shifts, over-time, weekend penalties, extra sick-leave, positions of power, there was lots up for grabs. Groups of similar backgrounds can end up taking-over a facility because nobody wants to see bias, Christians, Jews, Indians, Polynesians, Auzzie housewives, Russian refugees, there are lots of tight tribes in this world and, unbeknownst to me, Crust was now known in the trade as a Phillipino home for three quarters of the staff were from the Phillipines, RNs, nurse assistants, cleaners, kitchen slavs, which is OK as long as all was fair and square.

I had often walked past Crust in inner-city Sydney, and shuddered, as it looked like a haunted old witch's house straight out of the Brother's Grimm; scungy, dark, with creepy attics and creaky doors, and after working there a few weeks I did indeed realise it was haunted by distressed spectres who'd died alone, unloved and unrecorded, for deep in the night the floorboards squeaked under phantom footsteps, the doors opened and shut of their own accord and a whispered lament howled up the staircase and along the corridors to make me hurry on my way, back to the familiar light of the frigid nurse's station. It was a depressing place to be in, shit-coloured khaki walls, no doubt to hide the shit flung at them, grey linoleum floors, klunky furniture that looked like it had been there 49 years, Crusty's was totally government subsidised for poor pensioners, life-long schitzos and many a bum that had been found dying on the street, and it's a good thing someone ran such facilities, otherwise the desperately dispossessed would've died in the gutter. But still the place had to make a profit so not only was the food the cheapest plastic crap possible to buy in bulk, but there was never enough of it nor enough dressings for the decrepits' wounds or medications to ameliorate their ills, and the equipment was medievil, broken down. I got the willies after only a week in the dump.

When I went for the job interview I found the DON hidden away in the back of the basement as if in a war-zone bunker and out of harm's reach. She was a very pleasant woman who fed me lots of platitudes, the foremost of which was that I should come to her if I was in any difficulties for she "stood by her staff." I should've remembered the old adage, "the lady doth protest too much" but she had such an affable "bedside manner" that I was sucked in and so I commenced work with great hopes I'd at last found a functioning home that badly needed my services. Crust had 65 residents, half of which permanently rotted in their beds, the other half perpetually wandered the corridors, crawling up the walls. Cigarettes were the main focus of their cravings and a few of the old codgers would set the door alarms off throughout the night by rushing out in an addict's furor to snatch up a butt they'd seen tossed from a window, which would have me jumping as it was my responsibility to make sure they didn't "escape", either to the Pub to destroy their last braincells on booze or the middle of the busy road to be run down by trucks.

The worst of the cigarette chasers was a schitzo who dressed like "Spy vs. Spy" from the old Mad magazines, and who would virtually dive from the first floor balcony if he spied a butte on the ground. There was one hugely obese woman who kept to her closet-room and croaked filthy abuse at any nurse who tried to help her. An ancient Yugoslav guy who daily tried to hit staff with his walking stick. A bedridden grouch who had a bed-sore the hole of which you could fit a baseball into. A pathetic dementia sufferer who absolutely couldn't hold onto a second's memory and didn't know where she was, wandering the corridors 24/7 weeping pitifully and pleading for help. One night when she went missing I rushed about in a panic, imagining her squashed on Parramatta Road, finding her eventually in a single bed with another decrepit, an old male acquaintance of hers from the streets, the only blessed thing she could remember, and here they were curled up like 2 spoons together, hopefully sharing some comfort, I was happy to leave them thus.

One week an old Abboriginal man was brought in, he'd been found near death in some back alley, wandered down from the Northern Territory, he couldn't remember where or what tribe he came from, what his name was, what family he had. He only lasted a week, his breathing slowed down to the rhythm of his singing, he chanted himself to oblivion with a death song that went on and on 24/7 till the end, I witnessed it, I stood by his side as he died, he'd willed himself to die quickly, not take years as many did, and I was relieved to watch him drift off to his Dreamtime. Then they brought in a hugely obese Downs Syndrome woman, she'd been looked after by her aging parents all her life, even slept in the same room as them, but with the father dead the mother in her late seventies could no longer take proper care of the poor girl. She'd never known any other environment and so wailed and wailed in loss all night long, and as she couldn't speak except for a vague yes or no, she was difficult to console or placate. She weighed 2 tons and needed much machinery to move her, was incontinent of urine and faeces and so had to be heaved about constantly to change and clean her, she was a nursing trial and played a small part in my tossing in the towel, but there were other nightmares lurking that really did me in at Crusty's.

There are good and bad people existent, the Deputy DON was a Phillipino and she was a good soul, efficient, hard-working, out front, pleasant to deal with and, while she loaded my night-shifts with the extra work of writing out nursing care plans, I was happy to take some of the load off her back. But one malignant force can ruin the best of intentions and I soon met Crusty's nemesis, a Phillipino RN named Mallinda, short, fat, with beady eyes behind thick glasses and a smarmy smile and psuedo-American accent that dripped saccharine pleasantries while she lazered one's presence with malevolent inspection. Every morning when she came on duty, she never once asked after the welfare of the residents: who was sick or who had trouble in the night? Instead she obsessively clutched a huge can of the cheapest generic instant coffee from which she took her time measuring out that day's quota, that was her big morning job and nothing was to come between her and the fucking coffee, except for shit-stirring.

I learnt Crusty's hadn't had a regular night nurse for 6 months, that they'd churned thru RN's like meat at a burger joint, and I wondered what the problem was. Not long into the job I'd noticed that after the morning-staff had signed on there would suddenly erupt in the corridor a huge hullaballooo of shrieking, squabbling, Phillipino jabbering, so that I'd eventually leave my desk and rush out to ask, "What on earth is all this caterwauling about?" They would all look at me with huge eyes full of guilt, then abashedly look at the floor and say nothing but I found out that dear Mallinda had sweetly twanged into one AIN's ears that there had been complaints made about his/her standard of work, or something snide about their character, and then the assistants would accuse each other of being disloyal and nasty, and squabble all day, and the place was mighty unsettled and unhappy, everything left with a dirty rough edge. There were a thousand and one rules, regulations, protocols and ordinances to follow yet for all the strict disciplines I'd never found a place with more bedsores, UTIs, pneumonias, scabies invasions and absconding unhappy campers. I wondered why she did this, was it simply her horrible nature or was she angling for something, the Deputy DON's job maybe, for if Crusty's was made to seem a mess it was the Deputy's fault?

I began to hear terrible gossip about Mallinda, she'd gotten her broken-down sister a job as an assistant there, a decrepit fattie who limped badly and never said "boo!" Somehow this sister had managed to carry one of the old geezers off home to her place and marry him just before he dropped dead, all highly illegal in the nursing home trade. Of course, they then tried to get the old boy's money, only the Trustee of his Estate had 'power of attorney' and refused to let them have a cent of it so the creature was back on the job, limping about with her sister's eye on who next to finagle, possibly.

I wasn't sucked into Mallinda's false smiles for a moment and she in turn knew a smart cookie when she saw one and so my days were numbered. After a tedious night of reassuring the lost and calming the psychos, Mallinda would waddle in with the can of coffee under her arm and her beady eyes would flick about while she mouthed bullshit in that American accent that made my teeth grate, all the time needling me over some procedure that had or had not been done. The next day I would get phone calls from the DON saying it had been reported I'd left a cup of coffee on my desk or the S8 keys unattended or a lump of faeces intact upon a window-sill, and finally I flipped and yelled that I had enough to do without worrying about inconsequential badgering and carping. When I next met Mallinda I thanked her for her constant betrayals, shrieked loudly for all the nursing home to hear that I'd been an Auzzie nurse for 30 years and didn't need her nitpicking to show me the way, and she could fuck off back to the Phillipines and work for 50 cents a day if she didn't like it. I saw her beady eyes shrink to malignant daggers and waited for the stab in the back, but took my eye off the ball for she got me in the easiest place to fuck me and it was a great lesson in survival as a nurse for me, for this bitch was the Queen of all father-fucking zombies.

Every morning I had to count the S8 drugs from the locked cupboard with my relieving RN, and if one tiny pill goes missing, no god could help us. There came the morning when I was in such a burn to get home to bed I rushed thru the drug count, accepting an unopened packet as reliable, it had the pharmacist's seal intact and I trusted my fellow nurses, tho it's so easy to open seals and steal drugs if that was one's bent, thus one should never take an unopened packet at face-value. These were Kapanols, a particularly strong morphine-based pain killer and much beloved of the dying and the addicted. I got home and was in bed nodding off into welcome sleep when suddenly the phone rang, it was Mallinda's phony American accent, twanging with ominous portent. "Mr.Toby, there's been a terrible mistake in the S8 drug count. 8 Kapanol capsules are missing, it's very serious, the DON has been called in to go over the books, and you were the last nurse at the drug cupboard." My guts dropped, I broke out into a cold sweat, I remembered the unopened packet of Kapanols and I spluttered in dismay, "But we counted them properly, I swear, how could any go missing, no one can get to that cupboard?"

"Oh, Mr. Toby, it's a very serious business, if we can't find them the police will have to be called in, and somebody could lose their registration over this, S8s are terribly important and all must be accounted for!" "Get the DON to count them again, they can't be missing!" "We'll be in contact, maybe a further search will find them", she smarmily hissed and hung up, leaving me reeling, I wanted to vomit, the stress was spinning me into a faint. I sweated on it for another few hours, thinking "the fucking bitch! She could've snuck into the drug cabinet and stollen them herself, no one would notice, she's got the keys, it's the last nurse who signed for them who would get the blame. So that was how she was going to fuck me!" Finally the phone rang again, "Oh Mr. Toby, we discovered the mistake, we rang the Pharmacist and he'd labeled the packet wrong, it was supposed to only have 12 capsules but he'd put 20 on the label, so all is solved", she smacked her lips and I put the phone down, reprieved but thinking, "That cunt! She's warning me, anytime I want to fuck with her shady practices she can get me where it hurts, there are many ways, a dead resident, bungled reports, missing narcotics, I'd better walk a tight-rope around her!"

I stayed on at Crust a few more days, till I could stand her presence no longer and under her Gorgon gaze wrote out my resignation letter, thanking the DON for her support and loyalty but the stress had been too great and one nurse in particular turned me off her crusty "home". I found a job the next day in another place and there I met a nurse who had also worked at Crust and we laughed over the horror of Mallinda, "What a cow!" was both our judgement. Then I was shocked to hear further horror stories that this nurse swore were probable for other nurses had been to her home and seen strange things. Real people are weirder than fiction: it seems dear caring Mallinda was into some kind of Phillipino voodoo involving pseudo-Catholicism, native mumbo jumbo and sacrificial rituals, all to machinate her way up the shitheap of the nursing home industry, to bring power her way, to cause the stupid to fall under her sway. I could picture the bitch placing chicken feathers and bones under old men's pillows, burning placentas in front of pictures of J.C. in the DON's office when no one was around, and going into fits of mesmerised hysteria, writhing on her laundry floor at home while her retard sister dripped hot wax on her flabby tits.

I heard years later that she did indeed make it to the deputy DON's job, but only lasted a few months, was quickly demoted back to slavvy RN, perhaps she couldn't resist keeping the dump in an uproar, it was her nature, or maybe the Moron Healthcare Ubermasters had got wind of her machiavellian machinations and put her in her place. Poor old Crust staggered on in its grungy decrepitude, chewing up successive DONs till maybe they found a smart, tough, caring leader-type who could reign in all the perverse hanky-panky, as all things do move on and change for the better, and I hope for the derelict residents that's the case for Crust. Crusty's was simply a bad experience, seen thru my own perverse eyes, now seeming surreal, like a bad dream of long ago, and any curse that might have been thrown my way, I shine a light around me and it bounces off and returns to the monster who sent it, so have fun with it, dear Mallinda.