LAFF #4: Tales from the Nursing Home

My first job out of college was as a special correspondent at my small town’s newspaper. My beat was profiling senior citizens in the area, telling their stories from their point of view. My job was made easier by the fact that I also volunteered in the laundry room of a nursing home (more on that next week). I was allowed the freedom to pick any subject pertaining to the elderly and then interview the appropriate persons.

One day I decided it’d be fun to figure out who was the oldest resident of our small town and interview them about their life. I called up the nursing home and found the name of a woman they claimed was the oldest living person currently residing there. She was 102 years young.

I called her nurse on the floor where she lived and set up a meeting. I was told she was hard of hearing, so I’d need to speak loudly and make sure she could hear me. I set about typing up questions for her–who was your favorite president, what is your favorite invention that debuted in your lifetime, ect….  Because she was hard of hearing–who isn’t at 102 years young?–I decided to make sure if she couldn’t hear the question, she could see it. I enlarged the print of my questions to 30 pt. type. Genius, right?

On the morning of the interview, I arrived on her floor and found her nurse who took me to her room. On the way there, the nurse looked at me and said, “Oh, by the way, did anyone tell you she has macular degeneration and is blind??” The answer to that would be a solid, “nuh huh!” No one in all the pre interviews I conducted told me this crucial piece of information. I mentally threw out the giant stack of questions I had for my subject. I resolved to just yell my questions. And I did. While my face was about 3 inches away from hers at all times. In journalism, things come up out of the blue and you just have to roll with it. So I rolled. All the way down the hallway in my wheelchair to interview a woman who lived through more presidents than I had.

The interview went well and I went home to listen to the tape. Yes, one thing you learn as a journalist is to always tape your interviews, as well as take notes during said interview in case anything happens to the tape. Another thing that you learn, usually the hard way, is to always ALWAYS check your equipment before interviews to make sure they are running properly or you could lose the precious words of the oldest person you’ve ever met. Yep. Glad I had my notes! I’m also glad after I submitted my piece that my boss asked me to do one more interview–her sister lived down the hallway from her. I was gonna get a chance to redeem myself.

Here is where our tale really takes a turn. On the way to my 2nd interview, the floor nurse warns me that this woman can be a bit abrasive. In her 90’s, she had given up on politeness years before. So we enter the sister’s room and the nurse introduces me then leaves. The sister looks me up and down and then abruptly declares, “I have to go’t the toilet!” Ok, mentally rolling with this. We are both in wheelchairs and the room is small, so I maneuver out-of-the-way to give her room to roll into the bathroom. Now, this specific wing of the nursing home was for folks that needed special supervision and care–and the rooms resembled those of a hospital, complete with freakishly large bathroom doors. My only option to get out of her way was to wheel behind the open bathroom door–which remained partially open. Once settled I got out my materials to ready for our interview when she was done in the bathroom. So it kind of came as a shock when I heard her voice from behind the partially open door declare gruffly, “Ok, now what did you want to ask me??”

At this point, I quietly asked myself, “Seriously, this is happening now?” Ok, continuing to roll with it. I push record and conduct my interview. At this point it should be noted that the bathroom door is still partially open, and I began hearing sounds from said bathroom that should not be heard by ears trying to focus on writing an article that could potentially vie for a Pulitzer. My subject, sensing the sounds coming from her could be heard, managed to plead, “Don’t print this!” She soon finished, came out of the bathroom and we completed the interview, without further awkward incidence.

I always figured I’d be a journalist way longer than a few weeks before I’d experience the preceding scenario. But much like life, things rarely follow a specific course or timeline without at least a minor interruption. The key to getting through these times is to roll with it, wait patiently outside the proverbial bathroom door, and remember to pack extra batteries.

Phew! That was a long one. I hope this story put a smile on your face. I’ll see you back here on Monday!

Remember you are not alone.

Cheers!

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