Saturday, June 21, 2014

61) Nurse Batshit to the Rescue.

Threshing sleeplessly upon his bed, Arthur cogitated upon his future. He was heartily tired of climbing up the shit-heap of the arts only to find himself ever at the bottom. He also put his hand on his heart and swore an oath that he would no longer hit back when accosted but instead bring out his angelic side and try to heal, to lend succor to the ailing and abandoned.

He would go back into the Industry of Dying, to work like a dog in nursing homes on night-shift, a job he was cut out for as he was an insomniac and able to stay fully alert till dawn. Thus he was a good nurse, ready for any emergency, nobody would die without him being there by their side to make sure they were comfortable and at peace, if possible. It was a scary prospect, he feared he would come out of each stint of slaving in the charnel-houses looking as if he’d bathed in the Fountain of Death, a ghoulish specter from the bat-caves. But his wages would allow his dreams of travel to come true and he would have the Fountain of Youth in Shangri-la waiting for him in the Himalayan Ranges, to revivify him when he could no longer deal with that Great Demon haunting the world, Entropy.

Cities would cease to function if it wasn’t for the night-workers toiling through the wee hours, to keep things running smoothly while the masses slept safe and snug in their beds. A vast army of differentiated disciplines uphold the city’s under-structure: money-movers, firemen, cops, road maintenance crews, paramedics and teams of nurses, ready to jump at the least awkward noise at 3am to come to someone’s aid. It sure was a tough life. Even when he left a note on his door telling day-workers not to knock on it till 4pm because he was a night-shift worker and sleeping, they just didn’t get it and banged away as if banging on his head, till he rushed to the door, yelling for them to”Fuck off!” They looked at him like he was batty. “Duh! A night-shift worker, whoever heard of such a thing?” No wonder nurses age rapidly, they start out fresh and committed, they end up burned out and haggard.

Waiting on the dying paid twice as much as waiting on tables so Arthur stuck with it, and though it was akin to being stretched on a rack, where the minutes in the dead of night dragged by slow as a glacier, yet he was willing to put up with any torture if it meant getting back to his version of paradise in the Himalayan mountains. He’d been out of the profession for three years but certain disciplines get ingrained and are picked up all over again, virtually overnight. Through a government employment agency he’d found a nursing home that was desperate for a night nurse, they’d take on Jack the Ripper as long as he was registered.

On his first night, he stood outside Givemore Nursing Home, his stomach heaving, dry-reaching in anxiety and existential dread, that he had been brought so low after he’d sworn he’d never return to ‘the shock corridors of death’. He was to be in charge of seventy-seven people, all of them suffering from a variation on brain damage or dysfunction: senile dementia, aged schizophrenics, diabetics, epileptics, encephalitis, hypoxic brain damage from heroin O.D. or tropical diseases, mentally challenged, physically disabled, dying on him at any moment.

An enrolled nurse friend assured him he would soon get in control and the nurse’s desk would become his comfort station, and that was indeed what happened: after some weeks he became like the captain of a ship for ten hours, 8.45pm to 7.15am, alert, on his toes and all’s calm, full steam ahead! He found confidence in himself, for he handled capably every crazed situation that got thrown at him. He used his brains, guts and common sense to battle his way through what often seemed a war-zone; the beating off of death, chaos and entropy, forces that lurked in every corner of the nursing home to bring the whole scheme undone: golden staph, viruses, scabies, pressure sores, flesh necrosis, a tsunami of shit, burglars, fire hazards, irate doctors, faulty Dalek-like machines, Arthur came out of his tour of duty shell-shocked, ready for the respite ward himself.

As a nurse, he had burned-out seven times over thirty years, shredding the health of his mind/body balance, and he had to take three years off in between each stint to recover his nerve. Eventually he found a workable balance, six months slogging it out in Sydney as a night nurse, and six months resting, traveling, creating art and burnishing his soul on vision quests. It’s a good thing he read three books a week over the years, particularly science and science fiction, as it had kept his brain sharp and he was able to cogitate on the science of running a nursing home adequately. He could lucidly think out all the processes and applications to do with keeping a crowd of individualized humans happy and healthy, and the legions of destructive entities in abeyance.

Every night the Nursing Home had at least three unexpected emergencies that made Arthur’s kidney’s quake and heart jump with the adrenalin rush. For instance, keeping a sharp ear out, he heard  the thump in the middle of the night and was quick to find old Syd Danby in a heap upon the floor, a fountain of blood squirting into the air from where he'd cut his leg on the bed's sharp metal frame. Arthur applied a pressure bandage and got him back into bed without him being found dead hours later, a frozen white popsicle; he suctioned the excessive, malodorous phlegm from the trachie in the throat of the human vegetable, Cesar Acropolis, before he could choke to death; and just when he’d sit down to have his midnight coffee, there would come the hysterical squeal of one of his assistants, “Sister Farthing, come quickly, Mrs. MacGillercutty is vomiting blood!”

Arthur would groan and rush to the senile octogenarian’s room, sitting up in her frilly nightie like a wizened old doll, kind of cute with her bonnet on, hunched over and spitting reddish drool into a plastic basin. Arthur gave her his twenty-one second all-body x-ray scan to ascertain her possible injury: skin color and integrity OK, breathing OK, eyes OK, body posture OK, no clutching at her belly, no real outpouring of blood from the mouth, just reddish saliva. As he took her pulse he tried asking her what the problem was but she was in lala-land and could only gargle childish nursery rhymes. The assistant, who tried hard and really cared, shouted in a panic, “Well, what are you going to do, she’s coughing up blood, we’ve got to call an ambulance. Do something!”

Assistant nurses are uneducated and can go into a hysterical flap at the slightest sign of red. Everything’s a medical emergency to them and half of Arthur’s job was to calm them down as well as the ‘clients’. The AIN’s eyeballs bulged with concern, she kept pressuring Arthur to do something and he tried to resist, her shrill dread broke his concentration and spun him into confusion. He glanced into the old biddy’s foaming mouth while she sat miserably drooling and saw a bit of blood around her upper-tongue. He surmised she’d merely bit her tongue in the nonsense raves she had with herself all night; she was a terror to nurse as she was always trying to climb out of bed and break her hips on her wobbly legs, weeping like a three year old if there was any attempt at making her comfortable and safe. She would survive this latest drama also, only heffalump Sue, the assistant nurse who’d been there for thirty years, was still in a twist, wringing her hands and demanding old Mary MacGillercutty be saved from her bloody predicament.

Arthur tried to mollify her fears and resist the call for higher authorities, hospital resources were stretched to their limits these days, and old Mary would probably outlive overworked, overweight Sue. Arthur cleaned the old crone’s mouth while she drifted away into her raving dreams, she really did seem to be settling down, the emergency over, but big Sue used her vast bosoms like a blitzkrieg tank and bulldozed him to the phone to ring the Ambulance; better safe than sorry, she didn’t want any accusations of incompetence on her shift.

This was often the case; left to his own cool judgement, things would recover without much fuss, just simple applications of common sense. But to calm down Sue he rang for the Ambulance, it rushed through the night and dragged a wailing old Mary from her warm bed, to leave her on a trolley in the Emergency Room of the Hospital for several hours, only to be diagnosed as having a slight nick to the upper-tongue from a bite, non-problematical, and then she’d be whipped back to the nursing home at dawn, dazed and fatigued. Every such drama wore him down just that bit more.

Though it was tedious cleaning up after all the vomit, blood, shit, piss, puss and phlegm, and waiting tensely for the death of someone who’d been bedridden and corpse-like for twenty-one years, being in charge and keeping everything ship-shape made him feel competent and worthy, even somewhat high. Helping some old lady off the floor, comforting someone in distress, getting down on his knees to put slippers on the gnarled, excoriated feet of the helplessly senile, to be cool and peaceful as someone died resignedly, these acts made him feel like he really did belong and contributed to society, participating in one of the great human dramas, dying. 

His freakiness actually had him on top of the job as he was able to keep his good humor throughout many ghastly incidents, and beam compassion and joy right there at the end of the line, in the face of flesh-melting decrepitude and oblivion. He often sang upbeat tunes as he ran from room to room, smiling cryptically whenever any disaster threatened, no matter the dreadful announcements wailing down the stairs, it was action time and he could handle it, every problem had a solution, if he thought out the science of it. The nurse only had to read the “client’s” charts, diagnosis, medication frequency and weekly reports to figure out the solution. And when in doubt, call an Ambulance.

Given the infinite psychic convolutions the human animal can perversely surrender to, bizarre behavior erupted on the floor regular as the full moon. Just when Arthur thought he could chill out, down rushed Janet, his ‘eyes and ears’ assistant from upstairs, a pretty Indian girl from Fiji, very sassy and smart but now all in a kerfluffle. 

“Arthur, could you come upstairs please, Sam Souvlaki is acting strange!” “Why, what’s wrong with him?” “He’s thrown his clothes off and is running around naked with an erection, masturbating and trying to grab us girls and rub himself against us.” “Oh, great, just what we need at three in the morning, an eighty year old manic rapist.” 

He rushed upstairs and sure enough there’s old Sam, usually such an ineffectual, sweet old man, sitting up all night in the toilet quietly reading his Greek newspaper, now running crazily up and down the corridor banging on doors as if they’re tom-toms, his skinny body hunched like a hairless were-wolve’s, his thin, bent penis erect.

He must have also stuck his hands up his arse because he had feces all over his fingers and he was trying to grab the two pretty assistant nurses with outstretched, crapulous hands. Arthur approached him with soothing words and the old buzzard stuck out his shit-grimed hand for Arthur to shake in appeasement. Arthur had to duck and weave to escape the old fellow’s claws, then rush into the treatment room and look up Sam’s particulars in the files. He was an epileptic schizophrenic, on anti-convulsants, and this was his version of a Grand Mal attack, sexual frenzy. He was prescribed inter-muscular Valium when needed, so Arthur quickly prepared the needle, squirting it into the air to make sure it was flowing, then strode resolutely up to the Uriah Heap-like ancient who was rubbing his shitty hands together trying to be ingratiating, declaring pitifully, “I’m so frustrated! What can I do? I want it so bad and haven’t had it for so long!”

Arthur nodded to Janet, and asked her to grab Sam by the wrists with her gloved hands and hold him in place with his grubby, grasping hands immobilized. Arthur got behind him and expertly squeezed the upper right quadrant of a withered, bony buttock, threw the needle in like a dart and shot off the tranquilizer. It was a bit of a hard jab as the old boy’s skin was as tough as a sun-baked buzzard’s and he jumped as the plunger squeezed the drug into his wire-thin muscle. Sam’s fit took two more hours to unwind, he ran about thumping on every surface like he was a bongo player, Arthur chasing after him trying to get some covering over his decrepit nude body and then get him to relax in bed. Finally the old maniac calmed down and got dressed, returning to the shower cubicle to hide amidst his newspapers, somewhat abashed and remorseful. Arthur and crew couldn’t help have a giggle over the comedy-horror movie of Sam’s lust-inflamed eyes popping from his cadaverous head and the inanity of the goings on in nursing homes in general.

Arthur felt a bit weird working for the Private Health Industry, where profits were the primary goal, not the well-being of the residents: their TLC only happened if the nurses worked twice as hard, for costs were to be curtailed at every level and nothing was too cheap that it didn’t pass muster. There was always a shortage of bandages and cotton wool, a lot of equipment fell to pieces in the hand, the food was whole-sale synthetic sludge, and the R.N. had to do the work of three looking after seventy-seven demanding people, all packed in like rancorous sardines. Still it was a step up from the Government run geriatric wards Arthur had worked in down the back of Callous Park Hospital where everything was dun-colored and the oldies really got starved and pushed around. The Moron Health Group tried hard to make their aged care facilities more like a ‘home’ for the retired than a jail for the dying, with soothing aqua-green color-schemes and prints of Masterpiece paintings hanging wherever one looked.

All the basics of daily living were taken care of and a bit of diversion therapy was thrown in for good measure to tamp down any bored grumbling. There is an urban myth that only burned out and incompetent nurses ended up working in nursing homes where they can get away with lazy stupidity, nobody cared about the decrepit and dying, society didn’t want to know and few wanted to participate. This was sad for the oldies as they’d worked hard all their lives and deserved better, and Arthur knew from experience that at least fifty per cent of gerontology nurses took the field seriously and tried to do their best given the limitations of profit orientation and the prevalent horror of aging. And for all Arthur’s cynicism and freakiness, he gave his utmost, all the knowledge and skill he’d developed over a tumultuous lifetime, whatever he did he attempted to excel at, and this job squeezed all he had out of him.

The Government didn’t fund the nursing homes properly, the owners were in the business of making a profit out of the resident’s shaky, collective existence and the general public couldn’t face the purulent horror of the longtime dying, thus society’s feeble were relegated to the barely survivable edges, the nurses, in the main, being the one’s to take up the slack. (In traditional, third world societies the aged died at home, with their families tending to them, but to Aussies, wiping mum or dad's bum was impossible and they left it to third world immigrants to do it for them.)

The obvious trouble was, there were just too many of the aged and long-term ill, all being stacked in back-sheds like cord-wood, becoming more and more unaffordable to keep; a compassionate, generous government giving top priority to aged care was desperately needed but sorely lacking. If the Moron Healthcare Group were to suddenly shut up shop, thousands of decrepit, crippled people would be turfed onto the streets with nowhere to go, their families gone or uncaring, they’d be rotting under bridges and dying in every doorway.

Of course, Arthur was in the job for the money, only that could compensate for the hellish milieu, though he liked to see it as a kind of soft employment, where he could be kind and considerate, maybe improve people’s lot with applied knowledge and tender loving care. He had to bring forth a few of his twenty-one schizo selves to fulfill the function of capable nurse: responsible, smart, energetic, in charge, considerate, unlike his other personalities, the demonic misanthrope, who hated everyone, the jaded cynic and anarcho-nihilist of the cafĂ© demimonde. While his friends seemed to have great confidence in his abilities, he amazed himself that he pulled it off; that he could in fact be a very together, responsible person when he needed to be.

The life of an artist just didn’t pay him much over his long non-career, he never did make it, get famous or rich, it was all voodoo magical thinking, for all the years of effort it wasn’t going to happen; he had to face up to the reality that nursing was the only work that paid him regularly and reasonably well. But as the Universe was always blowing cosmic jokes in his face, Art mocked him from every wall of the Nursing Home with beautifully framed prints of the Australian masters. Tom Roberts, Russell Drysdale and Arthur Streeton,  the Heidelberg school of painters, constantly in his face, including a bush-scape that hung right in front of the nurse’s station and depicted the back paddocks of Darebin Creek, the very area in Melbourne where Arthur grew up, played and dreamed of artistic glory as a child.

More vexing were the French Impressionists, attempting to brighten up NoGod’s Waiting Room with their florid colors: Matisse, Manet, Bonnard reminding Arthur of all that was wonderful. And shrieking existential angst in their midst were all the great Van Gogh paintings, the stark  ‘Sunflower’s, the gloomy ‘Blackbird’s and the forlorn ‘Old Shoe’s, each reproduction of the priceless, desperate works making Arthur feel that much more defeated, like signposts to mad failure; if that crazy genius couldn’t sell such wonders, what hope had he. It seemed only Death could vindicate the breakthrough artist and that was not an appealing alternative.

Then to rub salt in the injury, strung between all the gorgeous masterpieces along the corridors were the reproduced water-colors of Greta Moron, the Healthcare-chain owner’s wife and partner. Repeated over and over were wan vases of flowers or streetscapes that looked slap-dash and lifeless, as if haunted by ghosts; she must have grabbed the franchise on wallpaper art for the dying, and maybe wrote it all off as a tax break as well, for her prints were in every damn room of the Moron Nursing Homes and retirement villages. The Moron family was forever in the scandal rags over interminable family squabbling; it had been alleged one son committed suicide because the old man was tight with the money and wouldn’t give him any, and the widowed daughter in law had to sue for maintenance.

Many a nurse Arthur gossiped with in the nurse’s station had a dour view of the Moron family shenanigans, centering on old Moron coming to Auz as an immigrant entrepreneur and seeing Aussies as a soft touch for a business empire as they absolutely didn’t want to deal with their aged and dying. He made millions somehow, with old age pensions and government grants flooding in, plus left-over deposits and bequests mounting up. The family had a pink champagne lifestyle by running nursing homes on an orange cordial budget. Arthur was often shocked to find a resident at the kitchen door begging for an extra slice of bleached white bread.

One night he arrived at work to find the home settling down from a huge brouhaha, a demented resident had been missing  all day, the staff searching high and low, fearing he’d got out of the house unnoticed and wandered into the traffic, run down and killed, a scandal that could ruin reputations. Hospitals, relatives and police stations were rung, all to no avail, then the nursing home was searched again, every closet, toilet and laundry room inspected. Finally a bright nurse got the idea to check the kitchen and the locked walk-in fridge, impossible though it was that anyone could get in there without being seen. Sure enough, there in the fridge, freezing his arse off in his pajamas and slippers, was the old man, found gnawing on a frozen leg of lamb, such was his hunger. A little kindness went a long way, Arthur instructed the kitchen to leave out any of the day's left-over sandwiches and cakes and he encouraged residents to partake of a late supper if they so desired.

To create some kind of philanthropic smokescreen and have an edifying fling with artistic patronage, the Moron Family held a biennial portrait competition with a huge cash prize, probably writing that off as a tax-break as well. For every event they printed up a panel of the finalists' works in miniature and, tastefully framed, one was hung near every nursing station to remind anyone looking that there was an army of genius painters lurking out there in the suburbs and how kind the Morons were to encourage them. Arthur fantasized about painting portraits of the most quirky of the Moron Health Group’s geriatric residents, vivid, psychotic, cartoon photos of the soul, and sending in to the portrait competition entry after freaky entry, to glare out at the Family judges, existential presences howling justice, “What are you doing with my money? How about giving me some real ham instead of dreary Devon?”

He never did it, he was too tired from the relentless dilemmas rising up throughout the graveyard shift, on his days off he couldn’t even party, he just lay like a zombie in front of the television. At Givemore Nursing Home he was constantly on his toes, like surfing a post-quake shock-wave of muck and alarm, sourcing from his deep reservoir of potential aptitudes, he made a fine art of overcoming debacles. His libertarian nature also came in good stead as he truly felt the "business" should be a place of relaxation, not incarceration. 

Take the story of Dianne B for example. She was a big lump of a woman, forty years old, deaf and dumb and schizophrenic who had no family or wherewithal to live independently and, as the State didn't know what to do with her, they put her in a geriatric nursing home. She was restless as a caged tiger, ever at the nursing station with a glum face and furious sign language, pleading for cigarettes, having gone through her daily allowance of ten. She threw constant temper tantrums, smashing up her bedroom and the dining-room, and often absconded from the "home" in the afternoons to meet her boyfriend in a local pub. As the Home was locked at night this escape became difficult and she grew more and more sexually frustrated at not getting any evening liaisons. 

One morning she sent the Home into an uproar when she attacked the baker delivering the bread, grabbing him crushingly by the balls and not letting go till dragged off him. Arthur was asked to write a review of her case and he strongly advised that keeping her in the house of the dying was cruel and inhuman treatment and that a place should be found for her in a supervised hostel where she would be free to come and go as she pleased. Within weeks such a place was found for her and to Arthur's knowledge she henceforth led a happy life, regardless of her limitations.

Society couldn’t entirely cut itself off from the nursing home, there was one on every suburban block; a multitude of workers and supporters marched in and out twenty-four hours a day, and Arthur had to have the good grace to satisfy every one of them, no small feat considering his irascible character. Harried ambulance officers, angry cops, finicky relatives, mourning priests, irate neighbors, stern doctors, jolly therapists, grumpy cleaners, horny delivery men, the onslaught was ridiculous, as if churned out by some drug-addled soap-opera writer. (Arthur could never get over the case of the infamous Sydney serial killer, “the Granny Basher”, John Wayne Glover, who, after delivering groceries to the nursing homes, would sneak into the rooms and sexually molest helpless old ladies shriveled up in their beds, then going out and murdering five old women on the streets.)

There was one rainy night he had to batten down all the hatches because his assistant’s drunken husband was banging on the front door, wanting to beat her up for some imagined indiscretion. Arthur had to dredge up his best snooty Lawrence Olivier imitation to tell untruths through the locked doors to the bellicose bastard, swearing the wife hadn’t come to work that night, while she hid upstairs in a closet. Then there was the morning, just as he was about to gladly flee the joint, when the cook stomped into the nurse’s station yowling that someone, a psycho resident, had gotten into the kitchen and left the freezer door open thus defrosting the week’s meat supply. “What a waste!” All the beef and lamb gone soggy and what was Arthur going to do about it? Arthur could only reply with his Mona Lisa smile, “Make them all a huge pile of roast lamb sandwiches and beef patties and serve it up to them all day long. Tell ‘em it’s Christmas and give ‘em a meat feast.” Always some crisis, each announced as if it’s the end of the world, the Titanic forever sinking.

Over the years Arthur worked in many nursing homes across the Sydney metropolitan area and he got a good sampling of good, bad and horrendous. Givemore was well-run in comparison to many and the Director of Nursing somehow kept it afloat, light and cheery, the ongoing attack of entropy kept at bey. She had to satisfy four sets of people, firstly running the joint at a profit, with no mishaps, to keep the Owners happy. Government officials and various concerned social bodies had to be convinced that the place was functional and every three years had to go through a rigorous accreditation process, thus government subsidies were gained for every resident, and this helped to achieve the profit margin. Then she had to encourage, coddle, order, placate, reprimand the army of workers that swarmed into the corridors, all making a livelihood out of the aged care industry, and all bitching tirelessly about the management, their pay, hours, conditions, and what they saw as haughty treatment from the bosses. 

Lastly the residents and families had to be pleased: complaints rained down like a frog pestilence, “Old Rita was not attended to fast enough, she wet the bed pressing the buzzer!” “A cockroach was found on Sally May’s pillow, a turd was found on Walter Cloggit’s windowsill, Errol Klump was pissing in the garden out the front without any pants on!” The food was the most cluck-clucked over, archetypal hospital gloop with a glitzy blurb to impress the punters. Each day a fancy menu was pinned up that might read, “Your choice of chicken a la mode, with sesame lemon sauce and salad, or beef Provencal with sauted vegetables, followed by ginger date pudding and brandy custard”. In reality they got limp frozen chicken in a sour, watery gravy or minced meat patties with diced veggies from the snap-freezer and tasteless sponge-cake with a viscous jelly that could’ve been horse glue.

The disgruntled relatives often threatened to go to “60 Minutes” with the feeding scandal but the media weren’t interested, everyone knew oldies ate badly, they have done so for centuries, they actually like processed food like Devon on white bread and anyway, they have to make way for the hungry young. Somehow the Heaven-bound enterprise sailed on, never mind the staff shortages, funding cutbacks, temper tantrums and faulty fire alarms. As soon as someone died, they were replaced by another wizened ancient, a twin to the last bed occupant, like they came off a conveyor belt, there was no end to the city’s production of humans ready for the trash can.

Arthur nursed one old lady for years, she was all curled up like a stiff pretzel, catatonic and non-communicative, had to be spoon fed and turned hourly to ward off pressure sores that tore large holes in her regardless, for her last year fed liquid morphine to palliate her agony, squirted from a syringe into her clamped mouth. She eventually, mercifully died, and the very next day her bed was taken by her sister, a one-eyed, mentally challenged crone with a fungal infection in her crotch and pressure areas building up on her unmoving feet. She was very sweet-natured, overly polite about everything, asking childish questions as Arthur tried to dress her wounds, stating proudly over and over how this was her sister’s bed and isn’t she lucky to be in it. The pathos of her tragic non-life made Arthur’s heart ache and he made a vow to himself in the face of all that was decayed, that he would squeeze life of its maximum fun and vivacity, that he would dance, learn, fuck and adventure, highly conscious of all those who couldn’t.

He'd sat with hundreds of dying people over his career and they'd died in a;; states of emotion, from quiet acceptance, to dull resignation to surprise, fear and violent fury. One old Jewess in her Nineties, with a concentration camp number  tattooed on her wrist, died very quietly, so that Arthur had to lean close to see if she was still breathing and, as he got right up to her face, her very last breath was exhaled straight into his mouth, before he knew it he was taking it in, her spirit into his, as if she passed on the baton, of life and survival, and survive he did.

Over the years he developed a sixth sense for when someone was going to die, even at the other end of the ward he would get a feeling and rush down to a far-flung room and sure enough Mrs.Verbinski would be about to drift up that white light tunnel and he'd be there to make sure she did it unencumbered. In all the bedside vigils he never saw a phantasmal astral body lift off or a diaphanous soul float free, no white ectoplasm issued from the mouth nor did a bright rainbow aura slowly fade: there was breathing and heart beating, then there was nothing, an empty husk of a body, a fleshy sack which the life spirit had vacated. Thus, as far as he could figure, there wasn't any existence after death and he determined to squeeze life to the max and have the ultimate fun, in this incarnation.

Arthur had no complaints against the D.O.N., he was amazed she managed to keep the complex organism trundling on towards the horizon, year after year, without being hauled off to the trash-bin herself. She had, after all, given him a break when he first came back into the system, hiring him though he hadn’t worked for three years, seeing something in his C.V. that denoted capability, (his Writing Major from the University of Technology, Sydney.) She had been extra desperate for a regular night R.N., for six months she’d had a different agency nurse each night, and thus nobody in the joint had a clue about what was going on, as the night nurse communicates all the previous days’ business to the next nurse in the morning, providing the continuity. Few Australian professionals wanted to work in nursing homes, they’d rather be lawyers and chase ambulances instead of receive them. 

Only one in ten of the assistants were white Australians, the job too dirty, ugly and dangerous, without commensurate pay, causing immigrants to take the work nobody else wanted, and they worked very hard at it, often double shifts, and thus found a place for their families in contemporary, urban Sydney. Indians, Polynesians, Africans, Asians, sometimes a particular ethnic group would swamp the staff positions so there would only be Phillipino or Polynesian running the home.

At Givemore there was a fair mix of all nations on the staff, generally everybody had dark skin, and it looked somewhat ironic to see strong, black people heaving and carrying around frail, old whities, the very generation that had prospered under the White Australia Policy. It must have been a little galling to the white Anglo-Saxon Aussies that they were seen off through the Pearly Gates into the dustbin of history by smiling black people who were happy to carry on with the venture of bringing in a new generation of Australians.

Unless they die in the gutter or a palace, most citizens end up in a nursing home to eke out their last decrepit days, all walks of life hobble in for sanctuary, it’s the greatest leveling field society can manage, all getting off at the last station at the end of the line, for in death everybody is equal. Lying and dying in beds near to each other might be a supreme court judge, a train driver, a chronic schizophrenic, an environmental scientist, a housewife, a scrub nurse, a psychiatrist, a bricklayer, a longtime junkie. And Arthur had to nurse them all equally, play no favorites, take no gifts, hold no grudges. But people had personalities, even the most infirm, and Arthur couldn’t help liking some, like cute angels, and having an aversion to others, like petulant ogres.

Arthur was quite fond of sweet Molly, seventy-seven going on five-years old and so grossly overweight that she had to be lifted from bed to an armchair with a pelican-belt machine. She still got her hair permed every week and put copious make-up on, with a ton of bead necklaces and earrings hanging off her so that she looked like an ancient temple prostitute. She often wrote Arthur love letters or asked him to send down the handsome nurse from upstairs to make love to her, then announcing she was pregnant to the doctor, whispering it like a coy, mischievous child. Morbidly obese till she couldn’t move, she gradually sank into the weight of her own blubber, disappearing into a necrotic lump of soggy flesh. 

On lifting her feet to put her slippers on Arthur discovered two gaping, necrotic black holes where her heels should’ve been, rotten caverns he could’ve put his fist into, gouged out from the pressure of them resting for ages on the bed or floor. She’d just come back from hospital where they don’t have a turning policy and must have left her in the same position for days on end. As gravity tore her to bits she bellowed like a slaughtered cow and Arthur was quick to run to her with the strong painkillers, to come to her relief and quieten the moaning which kept the whole nursing home awake.

Then there was old Percy Woodburn, whom Arthur couldn’t stand and tried not go near. He was going on a hundred and refused to die, ever complaining and demanding, once he tried to hit Arthur on the head with his urinal because Arthur didn’t jump quick enough. He fussed endlessly over trying to have a shit, refused to use the bedpan or the commode, had to be painfully levered into a wheelchair and trollied down the corridor to the toilets where once again he’d have his trembling, saggy butt tortuously shifted over to the dunny, then sit there for half an hour and produce nothing. It was a ritual he wanted repeated several times a night, all the time abusing the nurses, calling them “No good, lousy cunts and dirty rotten fucking bastards!”

After dragging him along seven times one night, Arthur gave up and handed him a toilet roll and sat him on a commode in his room. Old Percy shrieked, “What the fuck am I supposed to do with this, you dirty poofter?” He then threw the toilet roll in Arthur’s face. “You can shit in your bed for all I care! I’ve had it!” was Arthur’s unsisterly, terse response. Always cantankerous and spitting venom, old Percy was a living belly-ache, with a cancerous growth sprouting from his guts like some alien monster about to burst forth. Arthur could do nothing to placate his irritable bowels, and tried to avoid going into the old horror’s room, so when his buzzer droned on and on furiously, an assistant with more patience was relegated to attend to him. There were seventy-seven disintegrating residents tumbling from their beds, all crying for Arthur’s attention, so many individuals that there were times when one would stagger out of a room and Arthur would think, “Who the hell are you, I’ve never seen you before!” He could barely keep track of them all and only just coped.

When he finally got to go on his long respite in exotic climes, from the flying carpet of his bed high in the Himalayas, he would ponder, with a slight shudder, on certain incidents that had exploded back in the nursing home. Then he’d drum up the courage to face all the challenges that could get thrown at him on the road, as any outrageous adventure was a thrill in comparison. He thought of the eighty-seven year old Mr.Shwitzenziller, who came in quite mobile and lucid, but his time was up and within weeks he lay dying. He was hanging on hard, dying inch by inch, the final moment only hours or days away, when suddenly he lurched up in the bed, gasping in desperation, thrashing about and clutching at everything, strong as an ox, making one last, brave attempt at fighting off death. Arthur was trying to connect the oxygen cylinder up to a mask and put it on the old desperate to make his breathing easier and he could die relaxed. He jumped about in a furor and hung onto Arthur as if he were a life-raft, gripping his wrist with his bony claws and pleading, “Help me please, I’m begging you, I don’t want to die, I don’t want to die, help meeeee!”

They struggled around the bed and over the oxygen equipment, the about to be ‘newly departed’ shaking and beseeching Arthur to do something to save him. Arthur finally got the mask perched on Mr. Shwitzenziller’s caved-in face and he seemed to relax for a moment but then, as if remembering the import of the moment, started panting, shuddering and begging for succor again. They’d heaved about so much somehow the oxygen mask’s connection to the cylinder got loosened and the poor geezer wasn’t actually getting any oxygen to relieve his anxiety, unnoticed by Arthur in all the wrestling and squalling. Arthur tended towards the policy of letting residents die comfortably, quietly, with respect, in their beds, without too much fuss, just a doctor’s examination, family notification and visit by a priest if requested. Mr. Shwitzenziller panicked and specifically requested help, he didn’t want to die alone, so Arthur obliged and rang the Ambulance service to come and rush him to Hospital where they might possibly revive him so he could live for another couple of days.

It was Arthur’s bad luck that the Ambulance officers who turned up were in a foul mood, having been involved in several calamitous scenes that night, and they were not impressed when they discovered the oxygen mask stuck to the old boy’s mummified face but the oxygen hissing uselessly from the top of the cylinder. They grunted to each other something about incompetent nursing home staff and Arthur could only counter with, “Look at him, fellas. He's been fighting me all night. Doesn’t he look like he’s in trouble to you? He asked for help, I got him help.” They nodded reluctantly and slung the moaning, bony Shwitzenziller onto a trolley, with lots of hearty encouragements, “Don’t worry mate, she’ll be right, we’ll get you through the night.” 

They applied their own fancy, computerized pulse, blood-pressure and oxygen-saturation machine, announcing that the old fellow had normal readings and was quite okay, while he turned yellow and went into a raving coma. They trundled him down and out to the Ambulance and rushed off into the night, siren wailing. And Mr. Shwitzenziller died in the back of the Ambulance halfway to the hospital, zooming off to Heaven after having had lots of people fuss over him.

As counterpoint to his lively, inspiring holidays, Arthur could also graphically recall the old Italian woman who took forever to give up her last breath. For weeks she refused food, and looked ready to go at any moment, yet she hung in tenaciously with the shallowest of breaths. Uncommunicative and unresponsive, she was reduced to a skeletal skin-bag, without a pulse that Arthur could detect and a body temp of thirty-five degrees. Yet somehow she managed to jump about fitfully, and deep in the night Arthur found her hanging upside down out of her bed. When he tried to lift her back, she slipped like a floppy rag-doll to the floor, eyes rapidly blinking in the death shock, splayed out in a grotesque form like a corpse. 

Arthur tried to lift her frail bag of bones to the bed; it was a dead weight, flopping lifelessly, exactly like the corpses one sees being tossed in mass graves in old documentary movies about German concentration camps. With the help of an assistant Arthur got her back into the bed and she truly seemed dead, just a withered husk with no signs of living spirit. As Arthur lent over her to check her breathing, she opened her dead eyes and jerked up in defiance, her cadaverous mouth sucking in barely perceptible breaths. She was not done yet and continued to barely stay just this side of the living for several more days and thankfully quit her mortal coil when Arthur was off duty, drained of spirit also.

He couldn’t get the feel of her clammy skin and floppy body out of his mind, feeling as if he was some kind of a corpse-slinging grave-digger, though someone had to be there with his fellow travelers in their last moments, assiduously and compassionately. In the 21st century, nursing home profiteers decided experienced registered nurses were too costly and unnecessary, assistants with sex weeks training good enough; or the R.N. could be sleeping in the building next door and paid only for a few hours per shift, awoken only if there is a dire emergency. Thus people were dying alone, miserable, in pain, all over the city, but nobody seemed to care, after all, they were going to die anyway.

Laboring among the dead was not a great living, yet Arthur was determined to be quite skilled at it. He was hopeless as a businessman, couldn’t sell a product if his life depended on it, and he was killed off as an artist, he was a nobody. Unlike a few infamous cops, drug dealing was anathema to him, to sacrifice humanity for the great God Money did not appeal to him. And he wouldn’t dream of climbing the shit-heap of some enterprise to lie, forge, defraud and steal from the public purse as quite a few bureaucrats, lawyers and politicians worked hard at, such as those fat cats caught at Australia Water Holdings, over-charging for non-services and trying to privatize Sydney’s water supply so they could make billions more. A hard-working nurse like Arthur would be looked down upon as scum by these thieves in Armani as they run from their Rolls-Royce to their exclusive Machiavelli restaurant.

For all his fuck-ups, he was a good nurse, he even had the healing touch and when called upon to accompany a soul to its last important station, he did it with aplomb, he was not only a professional, he considered it a great honor. He was like the warlocks and witches of prehistory, guides for those who are about to fly between the worlds. And when he was ready, he set himself free, to get lost traveling into the world’s freakzones, dancing along the infinite highway. In remembrance of death’s ever-waiting embrace, he led a very exciting, adventurous life, and all his wishes did come true, kind of.

If you enjoyed this story please go to the WEB address above and consider buying my book of tales about growing up anarcho-queer, rock and roll punter and mystic adventurer in Australia and India of the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s.