When I lived in Bennington, Vermont I worked very briefly at Prospect Nursing Home. This was the ritziest nursing home in town. It was right behind Bennington College, up on the hill near what was the music building called Jennings. The view out front of Prospect Nursing Home was spectacular, if ever you had a chance to stand out there and gaze out over North Bennington. At the time, I lived on top of the hill opposite the nursing home. All I had to do was walk down that hill, then uphill toward the back hill of the College to get to work.
The facility was small, smaller than the other nursing homes in town. We had Bennington Nursing Home which was situated not far from the hospital in town, and one other which frankly I can’t even recall now.
I hired myself at Prospect as a volunteer after getting out of the nuthouse simply because I didn’t know what else to do. My shrinks didn’t encourage me to go back to school. They didn’t encourage me to even try working. I tried volunteering at the hospital but they didn’t give ma a useful job. For the hospital volunteer job I had to sit at a desk for four hours and do nothing. I felt so insulted I didn’t know what to do. At least the nursing home put me to work.
That was 1983. To this day, I remember my “patients.” They aren’t alive anymore. There was one guy they called Mr D, and Blanche, and Hulda, and another guy who had been a judge. They said he had this newfangled disease called Alzheimer’s. I met another man whose name escapes me now, maybe Joey or some such thing. I remember many of them. I remember two of the workers, a nurse named Karen and a nurses’ aide also. I recall the supervisor, too.
When I was a volunteer I could pretty much do what I wanted. I tried to figure out the needs of each patient and then, brought in materials such as paper and glue or crayons or clay. One of the patients liked to smoke but needed supervision while smoking. I believe he was blind, but I cannot quite recall.
In the fall of 1983, two things happened. I was rejected for “disability,” for one thing. My psychologist threw his hands in the air saying, “I don’t know what you’ll do now.” I figured that if SS said I didn’t qualify, then I should immediately try to get a job. That’s about when Prospect Nursing Home made me an offer. From what I recall, I was out of town at the time and I called them long distance to accept. Did I want the night shift or days? I said days, which was probably a mistake.
So I was a “working girl” now. They taught me how to bathe the patients. This was how: Wake the patients up. Take them out of bed and put them on the commodes. Tell them to pee. Strip them down naked. Wash them while naked and exposed and seated on the commode. If they complain, yell at them. Then, dress them and put them back in bed.
Shortly after I learned that exposing patients is highly disrespectful. The personnel at the nursing home were trying to tell me that demented patients didn’t have regular feelings like other people. The demented patients didn’t matter. Even if they tattled, who would believe them? We should do this the most efficient way, then lie to their families. Standard fare.
One day, I was transferring Blanche from the bed to the commode. Blanche decided to rebel. She wouldn’t bend her body. Blanche couldn’t speak, so this was her way of saying “No I will NOT!” She continued to keep her body straight in such a way that I couldn’t keep my grip on it. Slowly, gradually and gracefully, yet much to my horror, she slid to the floor. She was totally uninjured. There was no impact.
Unfortunately, I had to summon Irene, the nurses’ aid, who summoned Karen. Karen was a bitch. She said she had to write up an “incident report.” Well, so be it. I was a brand new employee and they shouldn’t have had me working all alone with Blanche, who was much heavier than me. They knew Blanche was frequently up to tricks, especially when it came to newbies.
All in all, it wasn’t a big deal, or shouldn’t have been. Most of my work was fine. I showed up on time and did what I was supposed to do. One day, Karen the bitch summoned me into the break room. She sat down with a cigarette and ashtray and motioned me to do likewise. Then she said, “You’re not catching on as fast as you should.” She went on and on, saying a bunch of berating stuff, saying I was stupid, spacey, didn’t know my right from my left (I don’t!), etc.
A lot of her moral criticism of me was simply pointing out the realities of the way I am, the physical reality of how I was born, which isn’t a moral issue at all. Certainly Ii wasn’t lacking in motivation, as she claimed. I really am physically clumsy which isn’t an “attitude problem.” Sadly, many ignorant people attach a moral overtone to clumsiness. This is a false association.
Undoubtedly I didn’t belong in a job like that, but that, too, isn’t a moral issue. It was matter of finding a BETTER job, if any were to be had, considering I was female.
Karen went on and on. I should not have even stayed in the room. Sadly, “mental health” taught me to “listen to feedback.” Fuck that. I sat in the breakroom and let the tears fall down my face. For that, therapists used to praise me. “There, there,” the therapists would say. On the job, tears should never show. Oops.
Then, Bitch Karen said, “Oh dear, I didn’t mean to make you feel that bad.” Hmm…So her intention was to make me feel bad, but not so bad I cried.
Okay, after that I saw my feel-good therapist Tom Alkoff. By feel-good I mean he didn’t really do therapy, he only told me what I wanted to hear. For that, he got paid. From what I recall Tom put me in the hospital that afternoon. I was in for three days.
My roommate called Prospect Nursing Home to tell them I was “sick” and wouldn’t be in for a couple of days. I honestly wonder how that conversation went and I’ll tell you why in a sec.
Upon my return to Prospect Nursing Home, oh, after I’d been at work for about an hour, I disovered I didn’t have a job. I had been “replaced.” So I was there, but I wasn’t an employee anymore! I found out because the supervisor took me aside and informed me of this little fact. “We didn’t know how long you’d be in the hospital, so we replaced you,” she said.
I never found out how they discovered I’d been in the hospital. Except Bennington was a very small town. I knew the personnel at the hospital had big mouths. Any of them could have leaked it out to the nursing home staff. They could have been drinking buddies or neighbors. Or Tom Alkoff himself could have said something, thinking it was the “right” thing to do. I never ever found out.
On the other hand, the nursing home people could have questioned my roommate. They could have said, “Oh, so Julie is sick, eh? Is she in the hospital?” My roommate would have avoided answering, but they could have been extremely pushy and forced her to answer. That would have put my roommate in a quagmire, and honestly I doubt she would have wanted to tell me even more bad news.
After I found out I’d been essentially fired, I had yet one more appointment with feel-good Tom Alkoff. I told him I had been fired because they found out I’d been in the hospital. I told him I was going to kill myself. He said, “You’re doing great. Keep it up. I’ll see you next time.”
I went home and took all my pills. Which was good and bad. It was bad because the punishment was two months in the slammer and almost six months in Gould Farm. The good was that Tom Alkoff and his buddy Carl Burak were shaken out of their minds. It’s possible, of course, that they weren’t. I knew them both to be excellent fakers.