life, non fiction, nursing home, short story

The Fire Alarm Story from the Nursing Home

A few weeks ago, I posted on here that there had been a fire alarm at the nursing home where I work. The single most terrifying words to ever hear, when working in a second floor dementia unit at a nursing home, are “This is NOT a Drill! “

So, there we were. It was about 8 pm. Luckily the hospice aides were still with us. They usually work from about 4om to 8:30 pm. had it been a half hour later, there would only have been 3 of us, to move all of the residents, including lifting heavy people out of their beds and getting them into wheelchairs.

There were 3 of us , plus 3 hospice aides there, on the unit. The hospice aides were great and stayed with us, until the danger was cleared.

The alarm system at a nursing facility, is not the same as what you have in your home. It is extra loud and there are all kinds of buzzers and lights flashing, in addition to the alarm ringing noises. The noise and the flashing lights are enough to raise anyone’s blood pressure through the roof.

In addition, there was a terrible problem with communication to the main nurse station. Since we were upstairs, on the second floor, we had no idea where the fire was, or what exit we should be taking people towards. At first we did not even know if it was a real fire.

Upon trying to contact the nurse station with our walkie talkies, we quickly found out that they could not hear us and we could not hear them well, over the sounds of the alarms. I was trying to ask them which way to take the residents. The response that I heard was “take everyone to a common area”

This idea of a common area was confusing, based on the way the dementia unit is set up. This is a lock down unit, with a coded door. The unit is sectioned away from the rest of the facility, in order to contain the people with Alzheimer’s disease, for their own protection.

If they were not locked into the unit, they could end up wandering outside in front of a car, going into the kitchen and getting burned and any number of possible dangers.  Also most of the are “Fall Risks,” which means that they cannot walk without falling. but they also do not remember not to get up and walk.

Many of them think they are 30 or even 19 and they do not remember that they are in a wheelchair, and cannot walk by themselves without falling. This was a frightening issue during the fire incident, because we were afraid to lose track of anyone or leave anyone in a place where they might get up and fall.

In addition, these alarms are blaring and the lights are flashing and everyone is feeling that “fight or flight” mode in their body. We wanted to move them to the proper place, but where was the proper place?

What is the “common area” ? I was speaking into the walkie talkie and they could not hear me asking “DO you want us to keep them in the lounge area ?” “Do you want us to bring them out of the lock down area, into the hallway” …”DO you want us to bring them downstairs?”

No one could hear my questions. We had no idea where they wanted us to bring them all. SO, we guessed.

We started to bring all the residents in their wheelchairs, into the hallway, outside of the lounge , but still in the dementia lock down area. Some residents had to be gotten out of bed.

We had trouble even communicating with each other, over the extreme noise of the alarm system. And the longer the alarms kept going, the longer our brains and bodies stayed on “high alert” with blood pressure elevated and the whole body in that frightening “life and death” emergency mode.

The supervisor working with me that night had us take the residents down the hall. towards the back stairs.

Each bedroom was checked. As we were going along, we closed the door to each room that was cleared, and placed a pillow on the floor, outside the bedroom door. The pillow is an alert that the particular room has been checked and cleared.

The pillow system is  great, because there is no time to be checking rooms that another worker already cleared. As it was, we were having trouble communicating because of the extreme noise.

Let me tell you something about the stairs….We would never get everyone out ! There simply would not be time.

It is terrifying that In the midst of this situation, there dawns this realization on you that….We Would Never Get Everyone Out.

How would we get people down the stairs? The ones that can walk, do not walk well. It would be a very slow process, walking one old person down the stairs, and keeping them from falling,

Then what?

The wheelchairs don’t go down stairs. The residents cannot walk. We are supposed to take one at a time, lay them on a sheet, and with one person holding each end of the sheet…..drag them down the stairs with the sheet.

How difficult would this be? How long would it take? Do you think that argumentative residents that will throw their grilled cheese sandwich at you during lunch…are just going to allow you to lay them on a sheet….and just cooperate ….

…while we drag them down a hard set of stairs, inevitably banging them and hurting them a little bit, on the way down?

Do you think we could even get them to cooperate enough to lie down on a sheet? It would not happen…

Not only that…Even if we got one resident outside, what would happen to them, as we went back up to get the next one? These are the people that we have in the lock down unit, for the very reason that they are not safe to be left alone.

So, there we were. I was beginning to wonder about my own safety. Where was the fire? Was it on our floor? Was it right beneath us?  Was is blocking our exit?

After a few minutes, before we had tried to get anyone do go down the stairs, the nurse came up from downstairs and said “NO ! You have taken them to wrong place. The fire is right underneath all of you ! “

So, then we had to start all over again, and move the 25 wheelchairs down the other end of the hallway. This time they wanted us to take them out the lock down door and into the 2nd floor hallway. This we did.

By some miracle, none of the residents fell or fought us too much, or tried  to get up out of their wheelchairs.

So, the alarm is beginning to make my head hurt. It is disorienting my brain. My ears, and everyone else’s are about to bleed from listening to this alarm, for 10 or 15 minutes by now.

Then the fire department came and they cleared the danger. We were told that everything was okay now and we could return the residents to their rooms.


The alarm was still going….and going….and going…

By now, the residents were becoming very agitated, The ones that have hearing problems were the best off, but the others were becoming over stimulated by listening to this alarm, the buzzers and the flashing lights…which …would….not…..STOP !

I called down on the walkie talkie, but they could not hear what I was saying over the alarm.

“Turn off the alarm ! Pleeeeaaaase turn off the alarm. My ears are bleeding! “

“What? We can;t hear you. The alarm is still going off on your floor.?”

“Really ????”

“yes, we cannot hear you.”

“Turn off the alarm! The residents are getting combative, Sarah tried to kick me and 2 others are climbing out of their wheelchairs and they are going to fall.”

“What? We can’t hear you.Your alarm is really loud.”

“Really ? I did not notice. “

Anyway, I  gave up on the walkie talkie and I called the office from the phone in the kitchen, The alarm was going in there too, but somehow they could hear me a little bit. 

They told me….and you won’t believe it ……

“The alarm is off on the first floor, where we are The alarm seems to be still going off, where you are, The fire dept has already left. We have to call maintenance . AT HOME, and have him come in to turn it off.”

“What?  Holy crap. We cannot tolerate this for another 20 minutes. The residents cannot even hear us, when we are telling them to sit down. They are climbing up because the alarm is frightening them. ..

“The workers cannot communicate with each other. This is a major safety problem, besides the fact that my brain is going to explode right  out of my ears, any second now !! “

“Yes, we are calling Marty now. He will have to come in from his home to turn off the alarm.”

FINALLY, 20 minutes after the 1st floor alarm was cleared, which was 20 minutes after the fire dept cleared the alarm originally. The alarm was off !

I could still hear it ringing in my ears, so I had to wait a minute to be sure it was really off, and not just a dream…

“Thank you. Yay ! Yay ! The alarm is off on second floor. “

dizzy, headache, room spinning, disoriented,,,,relieved.

car problems, life, parenting, single mom, single mother, single parent, uses for duct tape, women's issues, working mom, working mother

How to Duct Tape Your Wiper Blades…? In the Middle of a Snowstorm?

Snow was falling swiftly as I cautiously made my way to drive my teenage daughter to her doctor appointment. Just as we were  pulling up to the traffic light at the last turn, the windshield wiper blade broke. I said a few words my daughter does not usually hear me say…D$amn Sh*&^t ,,,

She asked why it was bad and I explained to her that it is not possible to drive without a wiper (on the driver’s side, no less) because the snow will fill up and cover the windshield, making it impossible to see what is front of you.

She asked what we would do and I told her that this was the time for creative ingenuity and “thinking outside the box” which luckily I am good at.

I am not so good with fitting in with the  crowd of figuring out the social norms, etc, but I can think outside the box and work with whatever resources are available to me, that other people might not see.

I told her we would go into the doctor appt because the wiper blade would not get any worse and it was already broken. An hour of it sitting just the way it is, should be fine.

I failed however to google the weather report. I should have actually cancelled the appt and taken care of the wiper blade ASAP.

So, as I was sitting in the waiting room, I formulated my plan. I was aware that there is a dollar store, walking distance from where the doctor office is. We could go there and buy supplies and rig that thing on. We only had to drive about 2 miles up the hill, to get to the auto parts store and there we could get assistance.

Not to brag but usually if I smile at the guy in the store nicely they fix things for me. (pretty good for 48 years old ❤ ) I was pleasantly surprised the last time I went to Home Depot that the 2 of the men were wanting to assist me. One of them was saying it was his section. I heard the other one say that he had seen me first, so he had first dibs.

It was really cute for guys in their 50’s to be arguing over who would wait on the blonde 48 year old lady in jeans and a sweater. So, that was nice. I rarely get an ego boost like that. But I digress…

Since I was inside the building, I was unaware of what was occurring outside. About a half an hour into my daughter’s appointment, the receptionist got a call from the supervisor that the office was going to close and to call the patients at home and tell them to reschedule their appointments. The snow weather was taking a turn for the worse.

I had to wait another 15 minutes and they sent my daughter out to me. Time to get moving.

We got outside and it was obvious that the roads were getting bad. We wrapped up our heads with scarves and began walking to make our way to the dollar store. Once inside the store, we shook the snow off our shoes and asked the lady at the counter if they carried duct tape.

She told me to turn around and low and behold there was an entire shelf, piled high with rolls of duct tape. Halleluja ! Score ! I grabbed the duct tape, a pair of scissors and a cheep shower curtain. Why, you ask?

We walked back to the car and got to work. I cleaned the snow off the car, while Delenn worked on opening the packages and removing our tools.

I said to her “We have the technology. We have the tools. We have the duct tape !” 

By this point there was another problem. Because I have raynaud’s syndrome, my hands cannot tolerate the cold and the wet cold is the worse kind!

They first become numb at the extremities and useless to do anything, since I cannot feel my fingertips. Then is they are not brought to heat quickly, they will become extremely painful! So, I ran back into the car and warmed them on the heating vents.

Then we went out together. My daughter, the duct tape, the scissors and the shower curtain ! We got to work. I slid the wiper blade onto the arm and balanced it there. The clip was broken so it was just kind of hanging there. I held the shower curtain over top of my daughter’s work area.

I instructed her to dry the place where we were going to tape it. We had a towel for that. I held the curtain overtop so that it would not get wet and interfere with the tape.

She wrapped the tape once and then one more piece.  It had to done exactly at the joint where the screw was supposed to be. To tape too far over would force the blade not to move, where it was supposed to be loose and possible cause the wiper motor to overheat.

We were done. It was taped together and it looked like it might possible hold together for a few miles.

It was the moment of truth! We got into the car and I sat for a minute and said a prayer. Then I slid the lever that works the wipers. It worked ! It held and it cleaned the window. There was no time to waste; the snow was turning into ice.

We drove very slowly, in second gear up the road to the auto parts store. I turned into the driveway. It was a tire store. It used to be an auto parts store and now it had changed. The ice got louder and I could here it making noises on the car roof. We were running out of time.

The guy in the tire store tried to put the wiper blade on for me, after he pried off all the duct tape. He thought it was “inventive” and laughed a little.

The blade was not going to go back on. as hard as he tried to do it. He instructed me to go right away. across the street to where the auto parts store had moved.

Finally we got the blade replaced and we were on our way. The guy in the auto parts store was amazed when I told him that the duct taped blade worked for me, for 2 miles up the road to get there. Mama had saved the day, but now we still had to get home.

Crawling in 2nd gear, even 1st gear a few times, we made our way the 4 miles to our house. I was so glad to arrive home safely.

That is my story and I’m sticking to it!


abnormal psychology, health, mental health, mental illness, non-fiction, short story, wellness

Old and Tired at 101 years old

I had a conversation with a man that is 101 years old. The other workers told me to stay with him for a while because they thought he had become confused and forgetful. They thought he would not be safe alone in is room.

So, I sat with him and asked him what was up. He told me.

He said, “I am old.”

I said, “How old are you?”

He said, “I was born in March of 1913.”

“You are 101 years old? Wow, that is really neat.” I said

“I am old.” he said ” I am old and tired. They all think I am confused because I say that. But I am old and I am tired. I don’t understand why I am still here.”

He continued on “The same thing happened to my mother. She lived to be over 100. She was not happy about it. She was old ad tired.”

“I understand,” I said. “You are old and tired and everything is hard for you. Your family and friends are all in heaven and you don’t know why you are still here.”

“That’s right,” he said.

It is strange to me that people think someone is confused when they say they no longer want to be here on the earth.

Sometimes people are old and tired and they are just done. That is how they feel. They are not confused about it. They are only wondering when they will die and why they are still here when everyone they love has passed on.

They miss their spouse and their children who have long since passed away. It is not easy to be 101 years old.

He is not forgetful or disoriented at all. he is not confused. he knows exactly how he feels and no one wants to listen to it.

Feeling like you want to die is unacceptable. It is not proper therefor the person must be confused or have dementia.

I spoke with this man for 20 minutes and he had no signs of dementia. His memory is better than mine is.

Afterwards I told the supervisor that he was depressed. She said “he is forgetful and confused.”

There is a difference between forgetful and disoriented and being depressed. Most people don’t expect old people to feel depressed.

They think they are too old to have anything going on with them except dementia and forgetfulness.

Sometimes people feel the way they feel, even if it doesn’t fit into people’s comfort zone.

I was glad they called me to sit with him. He was honest and forthcoming with me because I was willing to listen without judgement.

Whenever someone says they don’t want to live, people tell them “You don’t mean that”. But they do. People don’t say things like that if they don’t really feel that way.

At least someone listened and believed him. It isn’t much but it was the least I could do.