A New Roommate
Even before the sheriff issued his notice that you had to be on the road for a good reason, people were stopped, citations written and then there was a considerable fine. But see, in here, there ain’t no ins, and no outs neither. Only the staff have hall passes. And without them there would be no one to conduct what is, for some, the highlight of our week. Though lately it’s only via an intercom. We still have Bingo.
Bebia is both my friend and laundry lady. We’d grown used to visiting when she came to collect dirty linen and in it’s place she left the clean. But now we text back and forth, or just wave. She’s also my son’s mother-in-law, so we share the same grandchildren. Truly a godsend in that she keeps me stocked up with enough snacks to get through the next little while.
I reveled in the luxury of having a room to myself up until they moved in a lady from New Orleans, about two months ago. She is what they consider long term care, and as it turns out, mentally challenged. In my mind, we are okay. For now. Her name, like mine, is Linda, but in an amusing accent, she insists on calling me Mary.
In spite of stashing everything she owns in scads of bags, she has a tendency to lose things. Each action announced before its completion is also verbally confirmed. This process doesn’t exclude the emptying of her bladder and/or bowels, which she often manages to achieve without closing the bathroom door. All things considered, I’m probably safer in here, with the madding crowd, than out there with the real nuts.
It’s getting real in here. Newly established, the isolation ward has been set up too close for comfort. From my room, I’m able to hear most comings and goings, and I know the current number of patients is exactly nine. In the last twenty-four hours, out of two patients who went to hospital, one died, though not of Covid-19. Then they moved two more into the ward. What I’m not sure of is how many, in total, have gone to the hospital or been identified as having Covid-19, because they move them around during the night. They say about five or six staff tested positive. But a couple of them were out sick before testing was even available. Me, I hydrate. I take daily doses of vitamins and apple cider vinegar. I’m good.
My roommate and I have been advised to stay in our room for physical therapy and we wear masks when venturing out. Our only break from each other is when she showers, or if I go to the whirlpool. I’m sure she is equally fatigued by our togetherness. I say that because, once or twice a week, she packs a bag, and sits on her bed fantasizing about a family member or driver that will rescue her. Lift her off for a visit to her home in Lafayette. An event that though imagined in detail, is not scheduled to happen in the foreseeable future. I fell for it several times, but that was way before we were shut in by the virus.
The next clue that she had a screw loose was when, several nights in a row, she asked if in fact, we were going to sleep over? And if so, could I direct her to the bathroom? Which was, incidentally, a distance of three feet from her bed. Most nights, in spite of her eleven year tenure here, I must remind her that someone will come to collect her, and escort her to the shower. And though she stuttered around it this morning, knock on wood, she hasn’t called me Mary once for a solid four days.
We’re doing okay, my roomie, Linda and I. Staying safe in our room, with the exceptional physical therapy walk or albeit brief, a coffee break. The dining hall dispatches a coffee cart not lacking for crackers, punch, and ice cream melting in little cups. Abandoned, it sits beside the nurse’s station, even as we’re admonished to stay in our rooms. So when it becomes clear that no one is willing to bring the cart around, as I’m one of the rare residents who’ve been diagnosed ambulatory, I don the mask. The rest are in beds or wheelchairs, watching as down the hall I trudge. What they don’t know is that I’m plotting to order a Tyrannosaurus Rex costume, in my size, for that one day when I’ll surprise them all.
‘I hear names that I recognize’
Our room is about ten feet away from a ward where ten residents have been put into isolation. On my hall of twenty-seven mostly double occupancy rooms, there are only nineteen patients now. No longer allowed to circulate, I don’t know what percentage of the population is sick or well. But I hear names that I recognize. Some mentioned as being in the isolation ward.
The ambulances didn’t always make these daily trips, but this place is inadequate for critical care patients, so when someone gets to a certain point, they’re shipped out. We’ve lost several who went to hospital. Three in the past ten days. We’re told they were classified hospice, not virus. Some long time residents, but others were, perhaps just like myself. Before all this happened, we were here for rehab. I’m quick to occupy myself with crochet and jigsaw puzzles on an app. And I don’t touch much of what other folks touch. Got no qualms wielding this can of Lysol, which I won’t hesitate to use.
I hesitate to mention it, but without a single lapse, for about a week now, my roomie seems to have caught on to the irony that my name is, like hers, Linda. I lose patience telling her something that hasn’t changed in the eleven years she’s resided here. No, we will not be served tea with dinner. The staff have posted a sign on the bathroom door to prevent her needlessly heading down the hall. If we were not the same age, I suppose her shortfalls wouldn’t trouble me so. But her issue is not entirely age related. She is capable of parroting just about anything she hears, but appears unable to self-direct. For example, if someone accompanies her on a task, she is perfectly capable of completing it. She’ll spend the day coloring in pages provided for her to do just that. She’ll rearrange her clothes, or pack her possessions, in anticipation of an imagined trip to, of all places, Metairie. I then have to talk her down from that place. Not Metairie, but a mental place. Once or twice a week.
I fielded a video call from my son on my granddaughter’s tenth birthday. It was my first time doing that type of thing. Loved being able not only to hear, but see them all. Their homeschooling is going as well as can be expected, but when I asked the girls how they like their new teachers, they went quiet.
I tolerate wearing a mask and hope that the need to do so, all the time, will soon pass. We’ve twenty positive cases in isolation and/or hospital right now. Our day clerk has gone to the hospital. She’s the first staff member I knew who got sick, but several have gone through the cycle of: symptoms, sick leave, recovery, and finally testing negative for Covid-19. There have also been a few who did not return.
We were on the sunny south side with its early exposure. Just outside the Covid-19 unit. Until they moved us to a room at the opposite end of this hall we still share with the isolation ward. Now we have a private bathroom, including a shower, which is a plus. And we are now situated off a main patio facing soft northern light. Close enough to smell the coffee in the kitchen. They say the city is starting to open up again, even the restaurants that had been closed down.
My roomie is okay, but it is sometimes a challenge to cope with her doings. She has periods of forgetfulness, I guess. Several times a week, she gets her things together, expecting someone to pick her up for a visit out of town. When she’s not rushing out of the room to see a godchild who isn’t there, she’s wondering how late her family will arrive for a visit not rooted in reality. I talk her down from all that, and remind her there are no ins or outs allowed.
Of course, since we moved, she’s disoriented the minute she does step outside the room. Her only diversions are Bingo and coloring, so I wish the staff activities director would simply ensure she has enough pages to color before that department disappears for the entire weekend. I attempted to engage Linda in making crafts, but because I didn’t hover right over her to keep on demonstrating how to do things, she just gave up. We no longer go to the dining hall or gather for group activities as we used to because of this Covid-19 virus they’re now calling The Rona.
This Linda, meaning me, is having a better day, today. Long story short, the other Linda’s bedside lights only came on when the ceiling lights were illuminated, but as the electrician is currently forbidden to call on us, staff remedied our situation in the interim by removing the ceiling bulbs. Now, without blinding me all night, Linda has again the use of her own lamp’s light to color by. Stress level, managed. Also, as an avid Amazon shopper, I had Jeff Bezos deliver a nonslip safety mat and matching bath rug for our private shower. Stress level, lowered. I didn’t have to buy it for myself, but instead of waiting for someone else to get around to it, that’s what I did.
We cower in our rooms. Three more residents have been moved to the Covid-19 unit. That’s a total of twenty-three positive cases. The clerk, who had been working here for several years, has succumbed, after two weeks on the ventilator. She was in her late fifties, but because she commuted, she won’t count in this cluster’s contribution which is a hefty 36% of the deaths in our parish* to date.
I’ve been dwelling on how life has changed in the year-and-a-half that has passed. My way of life was vastly different before, while doing something rather ordinary, a casual misstep occurred. It was something I did several times a day. Every day. That life before was routine for me. I came and went at my leisure. If I wanted to go to the local grocery at 1:00am, I did. If I wanted to grab a burger, or breakfast in the middle of the night, thank you, America, I could grab my bag and hit the road. I’m single, and don’t have a pet, so I did as I pleased. I ate as I pleased, with pure self-regulation, or if I chose, with sweet abandon to a point. Finances being my only impediment. Then one day, just as I was about to reel myself in, fate or karma – choose your causation – intervened and I missed that step.
After a brief stay in hospital, which in hindsight, I wish had been a rubber room, I ended up in a rehab facility. The ultimate rubber room. I figured this would be for a short stint, to get my feet back under me and regroup. Reality reveals to me that life, as I knew it, has changed. I’ve become reliant on assisted ambulation, unable to step away on my own. And so I sit and crochet, or work jigsaw puzzles on my iPad. Physical therapy, as dictated by evaluations, comes welcomed, but in fits and starts.
I was winding up my courage to find a way back home, when the whole world turned into a rehab facility. No one comes in, and no one goes out. Even the group activities, which held no interest for me, were cancelled. Bingo over the intercom is not the same, but you are drawn into it, because whether you want to or not, everyone hears the call, “B-9!”. They experimented with players sat in their doorways down the hall; however even those who were interested to participate, couldn’t hear. Either way, I do not feel benign.
Then wearing masks at all times became mandatory, and also remaining in your room. “Don’t come out, we will bring whatever you need,” they say. And they do. What they do not say is how long you will have to wait. And so, we wait.
An extra unit, dedicated to isolating Covid-19 cases, also created an immediate shortage of staff. Not to mention the virus running its course through workers as well as residents. Staff go home for two weeks or if they test negative twice. One in particular did not return. She was the backbone of the unit. The clerk. I was once the clerk in an Intensive Care Unit, so I feel her loss greatly. We were kindred spirits.
Still cowering in our rooms, we are now startled by a cough, and pray for desirable readings when our “vital signs” are checked, even as beds are being rolled down the hall to the locked doors. With cheer we greet the “baby docs” from the local Louisiana State University Medical School, who come bearing swabs they bring back for study in their lab. One of many which is working on a vaccination.
Hope springs eternal, and in the past week, only one new person tested positive. Five wrung out souls have been “clapped out,” applauded for having graduated with test results confirmed negative. They are the brave who weathered the storm with basic intervention. No hospitalization, just medication and the tender loving care of nurses who had already looked after them for years before this beast began to move among us.
As for me and my changed perspective, I appreciate so much more the freedom I once had in my previous life. I promise daily that if I find my way home, I’ll not act the same. I’ll be more thoughtful and frugal, more measured. Then I realize I am snacking on the Kraft Caramels I ordered from Walmart.
In 1986, the great comedian, George Carlin, performed a stand-up routine about “Stuff.” He challenged me then, but life has dealt me the bigger challenge. George opened my mind, but it is life that has demanded my obedience and in the end prevailed. I’m still learning to discern the difference between stuff and essentials.
A year-and-a-half ago, unknowingly, I downsized my life in an instant. When Emergency Medical Services hauled me away to the hospital, I didn’t know how little I really required to get along. All I had was the clothes on my back. Fortunately, because it was winter, that included shoes and a coat. For the first week, I slept in a hospital gown, and when I was discharged from the hospital, I then went to stay in a friend’s home. There, she loaned me some of her husband’s clothes, while she washed mine. I returned to the hospital for a spell and finally checked in to this rehab. After a few days, I was escorted to my house, where I gathered several changes of clothes for day and night, and some toiletries. With no intention of staying long, I selected only a few favorites, but I’ve only been back once to gather essential paperwork.
In the rehab, I first shared a room with an older lady who was unable to care for herself. She was waiting to pass, which is another way to say die. We shared with another lady, one in the same condition, a lavatory, and I also had access to the whirlpool bath down the hall. My portion of the room held a single bed, dresser, wardrobe, TV and chair. After Mary passed, I was alone in the room for some time, but having lived on my own for twenty years, I was quite comfortable. Maybe too much so, because my stay began to stretch well into the next year. Since then, through the magic of online shopping, I have accumulated a bit more “stuff,” though with an exit strategy still in mind and heart, I manage on a minimum.
The shift was sudden, when a lady who was about my age, required a room change. She was mentally a child. One who needed a shepherd, of sorts. Having outlived her roommate of several years, it appeared her replacement roommate was ill-suited for the role. But see, I’m a mother, a grandmother, a daughter, and an aunt, who has not only been to beauty school and groomed the glamorous, but gone on to work in a hospital setting where I cared for crack babies by night. Disadvantaged newborns so underweight as to be inconsolable are no problem for a woman like me. Someone who has always operated in caregiver mode.
Not knowing the scoop, I agreed to my new roommate, as if I ever really had a choice. And she moved in with her stuff, which was considerably more than mine. We have since been upgraded to another room, with a private en suite. But it’s a constant battle to prevent her stuff from spreading to the point that housekeeping can no longer perform their chores.
Moving in to our new digs, I simply squeezed all my stuff on to my bed, which was then rolled down the hall, while hers took several trips. Considering that I’ve left behind a three bedroom house, packed to the gills, I think karma has indeed succeeded in downsizing me. I must say, not having kitchen privileges has kept that sort of paraphernalia off my list. For the life of me, I cannot imagine what I filled my house with. Only that it must be extra stuff I obviously never needed. There are moments when I recall some convenient item which I have at home and could use here. But buying a duplicate of something I know I already own, prompts me to think twice before ordering online. Creature comforts are often overrated.
The first time I was tested, we’d just been served a meal, so while the doctor cleared my sinuses with his swab, I predicted I’d probably test positive for banana pudding. Since then we’ve been swabbed three more times. It feels as if we’re participating in a study, but I wasn’t asked to sign anything. Sheepish or deep, it seems the state mandated 100% testing for all care facilities. Too little. Too late.
The Assistant Director announced three days ago, that we were 100% Covid-19-free. There remain a few patients, still recuperating in the dedicated unit, but it’s reassuring to know we are what they call clear. For now. Three more residents came out of the Covid isolation area on Thursday, greeted by all our eyes sparkling above still mandatory masks.
Perhaps it’s true that if it can be dreamed, it can be done. Indoctrination is rampant. Having fallen for this test run they call Covid-19, they now know if we can be herded over a virus, there is no limit to which they can control our lives and minds.
After all, who do you believe? Michigan’s governor who locked down her entire jurisdiction, and threatened to arrest people, before she travelled across state lines to a vacation home? Perhaps you prefer the brother of New York’s governor, who claimed in broadcasts, from his palatial home, that he had The Rona, and took the same drug for which he condemned the President? But who, while on quarantine, day tripped to his newly built home out of the city? Yeah, that one who then joked about a nasal swab used for his test, while several thousand families mourn their dead entrusted to nursing homes stuffed with active Covid-19 cases.
Then there is the California mayor who ordered the skateboard park filled in with sand, to keep kids out. Dominating the parks anyway, those little geniuses drove their dirt bikes in and out and all over the park. The way adults are acting, who could blame them?
For the fortieth time in four hours, Linda might have made her way past my bed to the door where once again, she will peer out, and not recognize her surroundings. However, upon hearing the man across the hall talking on his phone, she’ll rush to his bedside, and ask if by chance, he’s speaking with her nephew. Or is it her niece? Her attentions are rewarded by the poor man’s polite confusion.
Kids are right to peddle away from meddlers, and in to the night. It is just this, which grants each dawn it’s potential. One could even go so far as to call it a distinct possibility, however remote, of anarchy.
*Unlike the rest of the United States, Louisiana is divided not into counties, but parishes.