The Silver Lining

Follow on from:

Each face, and each person – regardless of their histories, was a gem to me. Someone to love and give dignity and peace to. THAT, I never would have had, unless I was stuck in a foreign country because of marrying a fucktard. So what I would like to try and do here, is to share some of my memories. The men and women who lived full lives and had an impact on me.

Fred was ex-military and had Dementia. He was pedantic about time and about the order if things. He super glued his salt and pepper shakers to the radiator so that they would not be stolen. Then he would forget that he had done that, and all hell would break loose. Fred had a son, but he never visited. He was watering a plastic plant one day – when he told me that his son would come ‘one day’. I handled Fred with care and I fast became the only person who he would let bath him, or help him set his clothes out.
I got a call one night at about 3am, to say that Fred was standing on the landing naked calling for me and that he had become aggressive when they tried to talk to him and demanded that I come immediately.
I arrived, and Fred, true as fudge was standing starker’s on the landing. The look of relief on his tear covered face was intense. “I have a bad feeling, Duck” he said. My name was Duck.
“A bad feeling about what, Fred?”
“I don’t know exactly.”
“Well, how about we get you dressed, and you can try to remember? I will sit with you until you fall asleep Fred. Maybe it will come back to you in the morning?”
“Ok Duck.”

I was fired from that home two days later for throwing an industrial sized stapler at the attending RM. She was a bully and she didn’t like that I was not British.

I’m not a Brit. Oh shit.

A week later – for reasons that I still don’t know, Fred was in Tiverton hospital, with an amputated leg. One of the staff at the home knew that I would raise hell from its core if no one told me, so she sent me a text. I went straight to the hospital and there he was, in a wheel chair, slumped forward, trying to shine the arms on his wheel chair with shoe polish.

Two weeks later, Fred died. A little box of all his belongings had my name and number scribbled on it, with a note saying: My Duck, Yours. Love Fred. Ps. Except the watch, that is my son’s.

There were two things in that box. A watch, and a Polaroid photograph of Fred and me, taken one week earlier.

Edie was in the lock up ward of a psychiatric facility in Tiverton. She was TINY and slow moving with her walking frame. She had a pair of glasses that were way too big for her nearly hairless head and she wore a pink cardigan which she never took off. Not without force. She was the picture of sweetness, until she saw someone head to the exit – where there was a keypad with a 7 digit code to open the door.

I am TERRIBLE with remembering numbers and so I was always inevitably standing at that door for TOO long. One of the other residents, Noel, used to pee on anyone who stood still long enough. So I usually ended my shift with urine on my uniform. But this particular day, Noel wasn’t standing there, so I wasn’t paying attention to anything else except trying to remember the 7 digits code for the door.

I did not hear her coming. Her slow shuffle was silent. I turned to look behind me just in time to see this tiny woman, having grounded herself with her feet firmly planted, her walking frame lifted above her head, about to be slammed into my head. “This is the WORST hotel resort I have EVER been to!!!!”

Charlie was a tall, strong man. He had mild Parkinson’s and Korsikoffs. Korsikoffs is a condition mostly caused by too much drink. It makes parts of your brain ‘soft’ and depending on the parts that are damaged – will determine the behaviour changes. Charlie was a Scotsman. He grew up in Glasgow and was also in the military. He was also pedantic. But Charlie counted EVERYTHING. How many steps he took. How many bars on the main gate. How many flowers in a pot plant. He was also alarmingly racist. If one of the black nurses walked past him or took him by surprise they would get shiners or serious bruising.

Charlie HATED bathing. One day the staff all came to me – saying they refused to bath Charlie anymore because it was dangerous. I remembered something I had learned in Devon about distraction, and suggested to the girls that they let me set the routine and that they follow it exactly.

Charlie loved his cigarettes and his coffee. So the instruction was to make two cups of coffee. One hotter than the other. To run a bath and to do it as a team. Tempt Charlie to the bathroom with the cup of coffee. GET in the bath so that he follows you in. Say: Oh no Charlie, your pants are wet. Let’s get new ones. Charlie would oblige and let you take his pants off. He would count as you removed each bit of clothing. The backup person would have in the interim made sure that Charlie’s comb, socks, underwear, clean clothes and the second cup of coffee were ready to be put through the door and the dirty ones taken out without Charlie noticing.

We had two cups of coffee to get Charlie washed, and dressed. He would check his pockets to make sure everything was the same (which we ensured it was) and he would comb his hair and walk out the bathroom like he had only been in there for one second.

Charlie had a temper but I was very fond of him. He came up behind me in the kitchen one day and slammed a frying pan into the back of my head, and then knocked the cook out cold with the same pan. It was amusing.

Evelyn has wild blue eyes and always carried a plastic bag with her valuables in it. She was a paranoid schizophrenic. According to her, her best friend murdered her sister and her husband. But when her sister came to visit – she believed it was her best friend.

One night on my rounds to kiss all my angels goodnight as I did every night, even on days off, Evelyn was particularly worked up. She was convinced I was going to stab her in the eyeball with a needle and suck all the information out of her brain. I loved her…   she made me smile. Not in a mocking way… but in a love of the beauty that her eyes held even in her darkest moments.

99 years old, and full of life. Lottie could dance, pelvic thrusts included. But what she could also do was pretend to be stone deaf when she didn’t like what you were saying. She refused point blank to use a walking frame instead of her regular walking stick. Lottie was not a small woman, so if she fell, it would be … hard. But she took a stroll every day, and on one day in particular, she did fall. The wailing was startling. I was the first to get to her, and she had literally taken half of her face off. From her hairline, down to her chin looked as though she had been skinned. There was a lot of blood and a lot of chaos.

The ambulance arrived and her daughter met us at the hospital. Lottie was drugged and flirting with all the doctors and most pleased to have had an outing. The funniest part of it all was that for weeks afterwards, she kept asking why she had man hair on her face – when actually it was the stiches.

Val could tell it was me by the sound I made when I walked. I shuffle, and drag my one foot slightly. So she would bellow for me and then spend half an hour telling me in every detail of the bad things that were happening that I didn’t see in the home. She considered herself my confidential informant. The only thing with Val was, she was also psychic. It was unnerving to have people I knew visit her because they would always be told flat out ‘You are Pregnant’, or something like ‘You really should go and see a doctor about your chest..”

Val was followed constantly by every stray cat and was always sneaking into the kitchen to feed them whatever she could find. She smoked like a chimney and was a marvel to be around.

My father arrived one day to come and visit Charlie (mentioned earlier) and Val came marching over to his car window and tapped her little hands on the glass. She had piercing blue eyes and snow white hair so she had a presence about her that was hard to just relax in unless you knew and understood her. “You are Samantha’s father.”

“Your daughter is an angel.”
Humouring the strange old person that had just blocked his path, he thanked her.
“No. You are not listening.”
“I understand. She is a lovely girl.”
“NO!! You are NOT HEARING me! Samantha, your daughter, is a REAL ANGEL.”

Being a home for the mentally frail, my father was not really paying that much attention to what Val was trying to say. He smiled, edged his way out of the car, and tried to go around her.

“Your mind is deaf.”
“Okay. Thank you…”

“Dignity. Trust. Kindness. Respect. Care. Love…”

“I know, she is a good manager.”

“She is not a manager. She is an angel. I can see them.”

That was the point my father assertively walked away from her. One of the nurses overheard the conversation and the next morning I found hex bags in my room. They were meant to harm me, and whoever came in to my room was determined because one of them was placed on top of my Red Tail Boa’s tank. The staff were all terrified of my snake, and the ONLY way any of them would go near that tank was if they believed their witch doctors concoction would actually kill me. They decided that Val was wrong. I was not an angel, I was a devil.

In that meetings morning I produced all three bags and emptied the contents into my hand. Crushed bones, herbs, a few things I didn’t recognise, and I poured it into my mouth and chewed, looking into the eyes of all of the girls that stood there (wondering why I was not dead).

“Your magic is not as strong as mine.”

Then Val appeared at the door laughing in a creepy way that even I was taken aback by. One of the girls burst into tears and the following day I was brought beaded bracelets to wear to signify my being a witch doctor. I gave them to Val. She was most pleased.

Now, Annette was a nurse once. She assisted in surgeries and she was a very respected nurse too, until she had a bad accident, sustained a head injury and pretty much downed her days in whiskey. I was forever fishing mini bottles out of her fish tank, out from under the mattress, and behind the heater.

One night – one of the sisters calls me, to tell me that there is a man waiting in my office. There was no mention of the fact that he had an axe stuck in his head and that he was bleeding everywhere. You think they would have said something.

So I arrive, to this man, axe in back side of head, and here comes Annette, believing somehow that she was on duty and starts to want to pull the axe out of the man’s head. I freak out because it has to stay in, and it was like time slowed down.

Annette, drunk, trying to get to the axe.
The nurses trying to pull Annette away and one of them trying to explain how a man with an axe in his head ended up in my office.
And the man with the new decoration to his head, sitting quietly, looking VERY pale.

I offered him a smoke. As one does in an emergency.

And then I called an ambulance.

Annette saw the mini bottles of booze I had put up on a shelf, and lost interest in the man with the axe in his head.

There are more. But I will leave it at that for now. I think of them often. The hysterical things and the sad things. The moments where the life disappears and I am grateful because they are free.

Mr Hunter upon coming to inspect the place, didn’t greet me at all. His first question was: Do you believe in Euthanasia?


“I will take the room. Thank you.”

10 thoughts on “The Silver Lining

  1. After my mother spent some time in such an institution, I got to witness some of this behavior first hand. My mother and I still talk about “that time when there were octopus crawling down the walls at the ward” (followed by unexplainable laughter.) It’s just how we deal with it, as you know those are some pretty tragic places.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I enjoyed Fred’s story by the way, very touching.
        PS: Concerning Edie, my mother still refers to the facility as “The Hotel” (though she is fully aware of what the place was.)


  2. The story gave me a glimpse of what you were dealing with while working there. I would have taken on too much sadness in that work because I am sensitive and I feel the emotions of others all the time. Grateful for people like you who can handle these situations with love, humor, and compassion.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I taught in the inner city for 15 years and then worked at the college level to prepare teacher for urban schools. The work took its toll on me as well. It is part of why my PTSD is so severe. Adverse childhood experiences with secondary or vicarious trauma through my work. However, I loved every minute of it. It really should me that I had the capacity to connect and bond as well as love deeply.

        Liked by 1 person

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