Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Death's Not Lonely

The phone wakes me up.  Again.  I’ve been dozing on and off - it’s a quiet night at Live Oaks Assisted Living.  My nursing shift doesn’t end until 5:00 am, but night duties are normally scant.   Since 11:00 pm when Mr. Robbins at 304 finally surrendered to the triazepam and fell asleep, silence has reigned.  Except for the phone in 315, ringing insistently every half hour or so.
Live Oaks is a senior residential complex; the perks include discreet nursing personnel (like myself) stationed like concierges on every floor, and apartments fitted with the best equipment painful arthritis, blindness, osteoporosis or diabetes can afford.  Residents are wealthy, and expect to be treated accordingly.  Most still have good lives to live; family visits, kids splash in the pool.  
315 is Mrs. Anderson (she insists we call her Bonita).  Nearing 90, she’s the oldest of the residents, but she’s more independent than some of the younger people.  A tiny woman, chipper and a pleasure to look after.  Her sitting room is filled with photographs spanning more than a century, and she delights in telling their stories.  She’s lost most of her loved ones already; my heart gives a little lurch of sympathy whenever I think of her, so alone.  Something to be said for dying young.  But tonight my patience was frayed.  Pick up the phone!
Shortly past midnight, I’d knocked on her door.
-“Mrs. Anderson?  Are you all right?”  Nothing.  My heart raced.  “Bonita?  I’m coming in.”  I turned the master key in the lock.
-“I’m fine, Charles.” She thinks ‘Charlie’ doesn’t suit me.
-“Why won’t you answer your phone?”
-“It’s bad news.  Don’t want to hear it.”
-“Oh,” I had no choice but to close the door.  “Good night, then.”  Fifteen minutes later, the phone was ringing again.
Apartments at Live Oaks have their own phone lines; during the day, if a resident doesn’t pick up, calls go to the switchboard.  At night unanswered calls are transferred to Security.  Ken, the guard on duty, said that as soon as he answered, the call disconnected.
The tinny ringing is boring a hole in my nerves.
-“Bonita,” I’m back at her door, “please pick up the phone.”
-“I’m sorry, Charles.  I don’t want to talk to her.”
-“To who?  Who’s calling you?”
-“It’s Beth,” I hear something in her voice, and pull out the master key again.  I find her standing by the window, huddled into a robe.  “Beth died today,” she whispers.
The phone at the nurses’ station rang.
-“I’ll be right back.”  Leaving Bonita’s door open, I dash to get it.  It’s Security.
-“Charlie, it’s St. Andrew’s hospital for Bonita.  An Elizabeth McKinney just passed away and Bonita is named as contact person.  Can you get her to pick up?”
-“Oh no.  They’ve been trying to reach her for hours!”
-“Funny you say that, Charlie…  I said the same thing, but the guy from the hospital said it’s their first call.  Bonita’s friend died just fifteen minutes ago.”
~ - ~

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