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Elvis parked his battered Corolla in the visitor lot and entered the building. He was not an army-trim Elvis, but a paunchy, mutton-chop Elvis in a sequined sausage casing of red polyester. He lugged his drum box, electric guitar and amplifier through the double doors, and hummed Blue Suede Shoes to himself as he readied for his performance.
Most of the audience were pushed into the auditorium in wheelchairs. The able bodied tottered with walkers to their seats. Perceiving that the time was right as only rock stars can, Elvis grasped the neck of his guitar, tipped the toggle on his drum machine with his toe, and whirled around on a platform heel to the crowd. In a chocolate baritone, he tested the water. “A one for the money?” Then a hip tilt. “A two for the show.” Pout. “A three to get…”
“Ready and go cat go! Don’t you! Step on my blue suede shoes…” a suddenly teenage audience responded, arthritic hands clapping with joy. Even the grumpy old men couldn’t help singing along. After a couple more hits, Elvis snapped open his Samsonite and pulled out dozens of turquoise taffeta fabric scraps. “Are you lonesome tonight?” Elvis gazed into Myrtle’s eyes, placed a turquoise scarf round the back of her neck, and pulled her close. Myrtle was mush. “Did you miss me tonight?” He glided to another resident. “Are you sorry we drifted…” Elvis circled her neck with a scarf and squeezed her shoulder, “Apart?” Gasp!
Through Love Me Tender, and Can’t Help Falling in Love, Elvis connected with everyone in the auditorium. Handshakes for the gentlemen, hugs and scarves for the ladies and deep eye contact with all. Elvis was everyone’s Teddy Bear. I mentally tipped my hat to the activity co-ordinator who hired this Brylcreemed saint for the afternoon.
Elvis left the building two months ago, but turquoise taffeta still adorns picture frames and headboards throughout our old-age home. Every time I see a fabric scrap, I’m reminded of the passage of time. I decide that the day a golden-maned “Robert Plant” visits in crotch hugging jeans, shirt open to belly button, I will retire.
In the fall of 2015, after years working in the hospital pressure cooker, I moved here as an evening and night charge nurse. The vibe in the facility is homey, and I get to know the residents well before they are inevitably discharged, toes up in a hearse. In that time, the Alices and Helens, Johns and Bills have been giving way to Lindas and Sharons, Dicks and Jims. Now Old Blue Eyes and Johnny Cash records cover Glenn Miller and Guy Lombardo on the hi-fi in the lounge. The first Lauries and Lisas, Mikes and Steves will arrive soon.
According to the Conference Board of Canada, there were approximately 255,000 long-term care beds and 8,400 hospital beds occupied by seniors awaiting long-term care in Canada in 2017. The need for long-term care is expected to almost double by 2035. The oldest of Canada’s 9.5-million baby boomers will turn 71 this year and, in the swing of a golf club, many of them will be decorating their nursing-home suites with “Live Laugh Love” plaques. The health-care python may choke on the boomer pig.
As I ponder demographic realities and the existential angst of my own aging self, I hear a familiar scrape, step. It’s Myrtle Bird. “Excuse me!” She tugs my sleeve. “Excuse me. My glasses are missing. Someone has stolen my glasses!”
“Well, shall we look for them together? Maybe you’ve misplaced them, Myrtle.”
I’m trying my best to look sympathetic. We’ve been through this many times. I guide Myrtle back to her room so that we can look for her glasses together.
The room is in disarray, quilts turned back on the bed, magazines spread on the couch. I discover that Myrtle is a Cosmo girl. A cursory search reveals no glasses, but I recall that we keep about five spare pairs labelled with Myrtle’s name in the nurses’ station for this sort of emergency. Time is passing swiftly. I have residents who need medications before bed.
“Well, Myrtle, shall we see if anyone turned them in at the Lost and Found?”
She sighs with exasperation.
At the nurses station, I take a box down from a shelf and pull out a pair of glasses marked MYRTLE BIRD. “Here you are, Myrtle! Your glasses.” I smile eagerly.
Myrtle perches the glasses on her nose. She takes them off, examines them, and frowns. “These are NOT my glasses. You’re trying to trick me. These say, ‘MYRTLE BIRD’ in all capital letters, and mine do not have a label like that.”
I struggle to find a solution that will satisfy her as I shift back and forth on end-of-shift feet. “We’ve searched everywhere.” I cast the problem back to Myrtle. “What do you think we should do now?”
“Call the police!” Myrtle punctuates her declaration with her cane.
“Well, why don’t we wait a while to see if they’ll turn up? In the meantime, let’s fill out a Police Report so we’re ready if they don’t.” I search through a desk drawer for a file prominently labelled “Police Reports.” A creative personal support worker typed up blank reports for times such as this, and I pull one out.
We fill out the form together and Myrtle returns to her room with a terse “Good night.” I rush to complete the bedtime medication round, and then I find glasses marked “Myrtle Bird” in the library, next to a dog-eared bodice ripper, When the Duke was Wicked. Myrtle surprises me every shift, as will the resident, perhaps a Barbara or Bruce, who will live in her room after Myrtle joins Helen Gurley Brown at a poolside in paradise.
Like other long-term care facilities in Canada, our lodge is held together with duct tape and runs on the energy of good people, from the laundry staff who toil in obscurity to famous superstars such as Elvis. As a front-line RN, I steer the creaky HMS Nursing Home on evening and night watch, but I wonder if the admirals of the long-term care fleet are preparing adequately for the demographic icebergs that lie ahead.
Louise Krantz is a pseudonym to protect her client’s privacy; she lives in southwestern Ontario.