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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.