For many years, my mother worked as a nurse’s aide in a local nursing home. It was not, by the way, a highly regarded one. I recall the familiar morning ritual of my mom recounting her war stories to my dad. Life on the nursing home frontier was never boring. My father, in turn, regaled my mother with tales from the dark side, aka the third-class mail center in the General Post Office on Eighth Avenue in Manhattan, where he plied his trade. Pop had the not especially enviable four-to-midnight shift, commuting from Kingsbridge in the Bronx via the subway—the Number 1 train—for a quarter of a century. Although the behind-closed-doors postal-employee antics were frequently the stuff of TV sitcoms, my father’s job really wasn't a barrel of laughs.
The nursing home experience was completely foreign to me as a youth. I could never have envisioned anyone in my life circle—and certainly not me—ending up in one for any reason at all. While growing up in the Bronx in the 1960s and 1970s, families—by and large—took care of their own come hell or high water. There were certainly a few nursing home candidates in the neighborhood—by today’s standards at least—who remained in their homes courtesy of family on the premises.
Fast forward to the here and now and I have been in the belly of the beast. Fortunately for me, I was merely visiting a close relation for four months running. And happily for the patient, she escaped the nursing home confines and has lived to tell. A lot of people there will not be so lucky. For those ill-fated souls: the nursing home is their Roach Motel—they’ve checked in but won’t check out. Well, not exactly. They’ll leave at some point in the future—but they’ll be carried out feet first.
I looked upon permanent residency in that nursing home—or in any nursing home—as a fate worse than death. It is, though, not out of the realm of possibility I could one day end up in one—a destiny, too, beyond my control. This reality bite is why I'm not interested in longevity for longevity’s sake. Anyway, to keep my sanity in the nursing home milieu, I embraced my rather potent cryptic side while there. The guy in the room across the way, I thought, was a Burt Mustin clone. He shuffled along in his pajamas like an old geezer out of central casting. His roommate—on the other hand—was a textbook blowhard who once worked as a cook, I learned. He awaited with bated breath his breakfast, lunch, and dinner—and also offered culinary commentary on everything on the menu.
I’ll give the place its due in that it was very clean. Just a few seconds in its interior ensured that your clothes and hair would reek of disinfectant. I always changed my clothes and showered, too, when I arrived home from the home.I had little choice but to conclude that if the strong disinfectant stink—or whatever combination went into that distinct nursing home aroma—attached itself to hair and clothing with such alacrity, it likely wormed its way into the food chain with equal rapidity.
A nursing home is just not a good place to be—as a patient and as a visitor, too. New Age disciples like to declare: Life is good! It’s not typically the case in a nursing home. The blaring TV sets alone were enough to drive me batty there. They nicely complemented my disinfectant cologne.