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You See, It's Like This........
Here's a slice-of-life look at what happens in the break room of the average health care facility, where 'war stories' from the front lines of nursing mingle with ex-boyfriend/husband/kid dramas, mid-life angst, and the ever-popular "did you hear the latest about so-and-so?" Here, too, is where the personal and the professional meet.....and so, oftentimes, do the minds of people who might otherwise have nothing in common.
"Hey, you should've been there when I finally let Arwen have it," Sarah (not her real name) tells me as we sit down in the nondescript break room of our assisted living facility to sip go-go juice and discuss our weekends. She's telling me this because I think her live-in dipwad---excuse me, significant other---is a horse's patootie who sponges off her and treats her like last week's garbage. "You'd have been proud of me...I threw all his junk out the window, then I told him where to go and how to entertain himself when he got there!"
The mental imagery of shy, five-foot-nothing Sarah screaming curses at the POS in question and flinging his fishing gear out the window of their second-floor apartment tickles my funny bone, but of course I bite down on the laughter because I know she's completely serious. I also know this isn't the first time she's been serious, nor will it be the last: she always forgives him and lets him come back home no matter HOW rotten he is. And I let her pretend that she really means it this time.
You see, it's like this in employee break rooms all over the world.....this is where you really get to know your co-workers as people, not just people you work with. Confidences are shared, grievances aired, tears shed, hugs given. And unlike Vegas---or most places on earth, for that matter---what happens in the break room stays in the break room.
Have you ever heard healthcare workers discuss bodily functions in terms of food? Yeah......me too. The other day, one of our CNAs ran into the break room with no two hairs going in the same direction, and she was panting like a black dog in July. "Did you give Benny the Hot Slider this morning?" she demanded, glaring at me as though I'd just betrayed some dirty, dark secret. (FYI: this "slider" is a concoction made up of 240 mL prune juice, 30 mL of Lactulose or MOM, and two pats of butter---zap for 45 seconds in the microwave, stir well, and drink daily PRN for constipation. It's failed only twice that I can recall, and since I've spent most of my career in geriatrics, you KNOW I've mixed this brew a time or ten.)
"Yes, I did. He hasn't 'gone' in almost a week," was my explanation, to which the aide promptly responded with an outraged sigh. "Well, he's more'n made up for it. You should SEE the river of (brown word) I just cleaned up in there---it was pourin' off the bed like uncooked brownie mix!!"
The break room is also where one goes to hear fascinating tidbits about co-workers' personal lives, whether one wishes to or not. It's where I discovered that not one, but four of my staff were expecting babies.....all of them in the third week of August! After finding out that two more were due in mid-September and early October, I wondered about how safe the drinking water in the place is.....and while pregnancy at my stage of life would be next to impossible, I'm bringing in my own bottled H2O anyway.
And then there the tales from the dark side that are told in the break room....
Some days it's like Comedy Central in there; others, it's more like a morgue. But either way, it's often instructive and always entertaining. Here's an exchange between several staff members that I walked into recently:
A CNA with dripping hair and a slightly greenish cast to her face was standing by the refrigerator, evidently trying to decide whether or not she really wanted her turkey sandwich as she told the story about her most recent encounter with "Ed", a resident who is notorious throughout our community for his eye for the ladies, his poor hygiene, and his resistance toward any procedure that involves water or might scrape more than a millimeter of dirt off his ornery hide.
"......and THEN what did he do?" Uncomfortable laughter and a few grimaces.
"Ugh, he put his (brown word)-stained hand on my back and started playing with my hair!"
Expressions of disgust followed. "Eeewwww!" "Gross!!" "Oh, barf!" "What did you do after that?"
"I told him, very nicely, that I didn't want him to do that. Then I got the (fritz) out of there and stuck my head under the whirlpool sprayer till it ran cold."
"Nice work, Candace," agreed another CNA. "But is Ed still running around with (again with the brown word) all over his hands?"
"I dunno. Maybe Marsha got to him and took care of it. All's I know is that I'd-a puked if I'd stayed there a second longer."
More cries of "Yeccccccchhhhhhh!" and fake dry-heaves along with snorted laughter and a hint of eau de poop filled the air, briefly pushing aside the day's chosen Scentsy fragrance. And what I learned from this lovely little tale is that I never want to be demented, incontinent, and living in a place where fingerpainting is not allowed and the employees run away when I try to pet them.
Such is life among the denizens of our dingy, poorly-lit oasis, hidden behind a dented door with a sign that reads "Employees Only".