Author Topic: Assisted Living [Candy Grab Bag 2017 Contest Entry]  (Read 725 times)

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   It takes a lot of strength to look after someone with a mental disability or illness.

   It’s not enough to just sit them down and leave them to their own devices. You’re not paid to act like a minimum-wage tweenage babysitter who’d rather be texting with their BFFs. You can’t simply sit them down with an iPad and expect them to entertain themselves. It takes a lot of hard work and dedication.

   If you haven’t been inside an assisted living facility, it’s every bit as grossly pristine and uncomfortable as a retirement home. The plain, grey-speckled linoleum floors have this cold, unwelcome look to them that isn’t helped any by dimmed overhead fluorescents. Some residents decorate their rooms with figures, knickknacks and other items of personal value. Though no matter how cute a stuffed teddy, or how admirable a soccer trophy, or how touching a birthday card from a relative may be, it does little to cover the unhomely feeling that the plain, hospital-like environment exudes. Everything feels too clean and unlived-in, and even in the almost unnaturally evenly pruned courtyard filled with bright flowers, the stale odour of copious amounts of floor, furniture and medical cleaners is inescapable.

   With my job, the work would get hard. There’s no sense getting into the nitty-gritty of it but know that I had to give daily baths and changed countless diapers and underclothes. Some people, if their routines were broken, would grow aggressive. If I wasn’t speckled in yellow and purple spots by the end, the screams and moaning sometimes were almost as painful on the eardrums. While some other staff would work with the often quieter alzheimers or dementia patients, I was looking after a small handful of Level 3 ASD diagnosees with the help of two other workers and multiple nurses.

   Though all this is more than enough for some to shy away from, I loved my job.
I worked with four adults, and each one had a specific interest that would keep them focused for hours. It was motivational, in a way, to see someone have such a strong dedication to one interest or hobby.

   One nineteen-year-old, if left to his own devices long enough with the right number of pieces, could construct an entire maze of elaborate LEGO architecture spanning his entire room’s floor within a day. He was incredible at creating tall towers and small cities out of his bricks, and though he was always reluctant to tear them down, he would always build something completely different but equally impressive the next time.

   Despite being confined to a motorized wheelchair, a twenty-one-year-old I looked after adored birds. A feeder was hung from a low tree branch in the far corner of the courtyard so he could watch the local sparrows and nuthatches peck away at the tower of black and beige seeds. Eventually, after citing the added benefit of providing the more elderly tenants with some pet companionship, a large cage with two budgies was situated in a west-hall sitting room. He loved to watch them flutter about inside, letting out small groans of happiness at every tweet.

   There was one woman I worked with, age eighteen, that loved art. It didn’t matter what medium it was; as long as she had something to draw with and something to draw on, she was all over it. She definitely was no Da Vinci but she could certainly paint better than I ever could (though considering I haven’t picked up a brush since elementary school, that isn’t saying much). I likely have at least one of her drawings floating around my home somewhere. Most of the time she focused on depicting people standing in landscapes of enormous flowers, ranging anywhere from waist-high to several stories tall.

   Another nineteen-year-old was fascinated with cars. Not only did he have a large collection of Hot Wheels and other lesser-known brand models, but his room’s window pointed east towards the parking lot. He’d listen carefully for the sound of tires crunching so he could peek out at the life-sized ones driving by. More often than not he’d have a toy car in hands. He’d use his thumb to roughly graze the underside to rotate the wheels under his grip, alternating between letting them spin freely for a few moments longer and forcing them to a stop as he passed over them.

   These hobbies aside, there were still plenty of other little things that made them excited or happy. When the therapy dogs were brought into the main lobby once a month, occasional kid-safe cartoon screenings, even mundane things like a cupcake on their birthday or fresh waffles for breakfast once in a while brought a broad, crooked smile to their faces.

   That’s the kind of thing I worked hard for.

   If one thing is well known about those with ASD, it’s that change is really hard on them. They prefer to have everything in a routine, and anything that upsets that can and will incite fits of rage and aggression. Due to being run on a schedule as-is, with set times for meals, activities, hygiene practices and shift-swapping, it wasn’t difficult to maintain that kind of order in the home.

   But if there’s one thing that was guaranteed to throw a wrench in and break all the gears on this well-oiled machine, it was a fire alarm.

   Fire drills were a huge hassle. They usually came without warning, with their obnoxiously loud ringing immediately causing distress in all our Autistic residents. It’s hard enough ignoring the ear-numbing screeching sounds of those red boxes lightly lining the hallway, but when combined by sometimes equally high-pitched vocal protests, it becomes a nightmare. Unlike a typical office building or school evacuation, residents have to stay put until first responders deem it too unsafe to do so. Virtually every interior door is designed to be thick and fire-resistant, so instead of making a rush for the outdoors where the noise is much softer, it’s our job as faculty to close each occupant into their respective rooms until help arrives. It takes extra prepwork on top of this to ensure that everyone is ready to leave within moments of their doors opening. You’d have to fight with them tooth-and-nail to get them ready to leave if they were stuck in bed or the bathroom at the time, and you’d be likely to catch a blow or two in the process.

   So when I heard the alarm go off in the middle of me giving one of the patients a bath, I was understandably cross. In a thrashing mess of flailing arms and flying suds, I pulled the screaming adult out of the tub, quickly slipped him into enough clothes to cover his privates, and got him into his chair. Luckily, I came out of the ordeal with little more than a pair of stinging red smacks on either arm.

   After the wafting scent of the soapy white foam quickly left my nostrils, however, my angry embers were cooled by a freezing splash of primal terror.
Smoke. I could smell smoke.

   Once out in the hall with his door closed firmly behind me, though nurses and faculty seemed to be setting to work in an orderly fashion, it was easy to tell everyone was in a panic. It was a worst-case scenario and everyone was struggling to keep everyone else calm over the piercing wails of the alarm and the distressed howls from inside several rooms. Hearts were pounding, hands were shaking, all eyes were darting wildly to find the fire and anyone out of place. The air felt heated and was starting to fill with a dark-grey haze.

   That’s when I caught sight of the fire. Bright yellow flames licked greedily at the chairs and sofas, posing themselves in a ghastly, haphazard mockery of the human beings that would normally have sat in their place. The light breeze from one of the open windows just fanned the inferno as it raced up the billowing curtains. Black clouds rose up and billowed against the ceiling.

   I quickly checked on neighboring doors to ensure everyone was safely locked in, but soon after my eyes started to water from the excess of smoke and I ran practically blindly to the opposite end of the hall and into the main lobby. The double doors were closed behind me shortly after, blocking us from the heat.

   Though the local firefighter team only took moments to get on-scene, it was long enough to contain the breakdowns of several workers, including myself. Many sobbed silently into each other’s arms or wept freely into tissues, while I simply slumped against the wall across from that wing, mindlessly watching the glass windows shift from opaque to a hazy grey. I’m never going to forget the the wailing of one female employee that tapered into pathetic groans and whimpers with each cry. Our day-to-day work was stressful, sure, but nothing had ever come close to the feeling barricading our inhabitants in against a fire brought on.

   I didn’t pay close mind to the firemen when they initially arrived. In my dazed state all the running, shouting and radio babble melded together into an incoherent mess. It wasn’t until I saw five men rush in with a stretcher that I was partially brought to my senses.

   Everyone was silent with shock. The lounge was clear. All the staff from that wing was here. We’d locked every door. We took every precaution. Who could have possibly been caught in the blaze?

   I didn’t recognize the pinkish-yellow body strapped to it as they stepped back out, but once I noticed the fragile, bony structure and the crumpled position, I knew it was one of mine.

   It wasn’t until much later that I learned that his door, just a few rooms down from the fire, was not properly locked by the nurse looking after him at the time and was eventually pushed open. His chair was found in the middle of the room, engulfed.

   He died from smoke inhalation and severe burns before he even made it to the hospital.
   After enduring what I thought would have been the biggest devastation of my lifetime, I later was informed of two things by local officers.

   The first was the source of the fire. Investigators found evidence of accelerators used on furniture’s remains, meaning it was started by an arsonist. They were still looking into how exactly they were able to get inside, but the nearby open window was clearly suspect.

   Not only was the fire set, but it was set as an attack. The west wing was furthest from the lot, and they chose it over every other more easily accessible parlor at the end of every hallway in the building. They intentionally planned to target this specific wing due to it being the one used for nearly every ASD patient we housed.

   The second was that someone called the station to report a pair of misplaced parakeets, found a few blocks down.

Delicious Candy: Stabbing, Mental Illness, Arson, Insects/Spiders
Okay Treats: Funeral, Wheelchair, Police
Nasty Goodies: Delicious Waffles, Four-Foot Long Tongue


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A really fun story.

But I have one question?

Who let the burds out? Who who who who? Who let the birdz out? Who who who who?