Good jobs are hard to come by in Winnfield, La. There's Walmart. There's the lumber industry. There are the schools. And then there are the nursing homes.
For such a small town, at the time Winnfield was the home of two of the largest nursing home chains in Louisiana. Through some connections of my dad's, I was finally able to find work as the activity director at Autumn Leaves after months of searching.
You'd think the job was playing bingo, right? WRONG. That was a small part of it but there was so much more. In addition to the mountain of chart notes I had to maintain for each resident (we had 124 beds), I had to make sure that each resident participated in at least three activities each week, note how they reacted to the activities and if I saw any improvements/declines, etc.
My employers wanted at least one special event each week, preferably more. So I organized monthly birthday parties, beauty pageants, holiday parties, easter egg hunts, a wedding for two of the residents, barbecues for the entire town, eat out groups, sight seeing trips, trips to the movies, etc. It was an insane amount of work for not much pay but I was just grateful to have finally found a job.
Of all of the craziness, perhaps the most memorable experience was the fishing trip from hell.
It was April, National Nursing Home Week, and time for the annual fishing trip. The mother of the owner of the home had a stocked pond on her property outside of town with a dock and picnic area and every year she invited any of the residents that cared to come for a day of fishing. I had 15 or 20 resident sign up; I don't remember the exact number anymore. I had to organize enough aides and nursing staff to accompany us, meals for everyone, fishing gear, bait, tents, bug spray, sunscreen, the whole nine yards. I literally had a list of my lists getting ready for this thing.
It was a beautiful day, the kind we get for about two weeks every spring. You know the ones - clear and mild with a breeze, the kind of day that just makes you want to be outside.
The vans are brought around, we load the residents up. We load the accompanying items and staff in personal vehicles. Before we even get out to the highway, we have to turn around and go back. Grandma Pearl realized she forgot her lucky bait - some earthworms she'd dug up herself. To this day, I'm not sure where an 82-year-old nursing home resident found worms to dig up, let alone the implements to do the actual digging. I think I probably don't really want to know the answer.
We get the bait and head back out.
We arrive at the pond and start unloading the residents, many of whom are in wheelchairs or use walking aids. This is fine on the parking pad, but out in the grass on the way to the pond or dock? Deadly. My one-legged resident decides to try and do it himself; he turns the brake on his wheelchair off and rolls down to the lake faster and faster until his chair is out of control. I was convinced I'd have to jump in the pond and save him. Thank goodness one of the nurses could run like the wind and caught him before he dumped over.
Crisis averted, right? WRONG. Next Ms. Linda, a little lady that looked like an elf and nearly as wide as she was tall, tripped over a cypress knee and took a pretty hard spill. She just kind of bounced back up - I can't even describe it. I would have been sore for days.
In the mean time, the nurses and aides were working towards getting everyone situated on the dock, lifting wheel chairs and assisting residents with the step up. Grandma Pearl realizes that we have a rod and reel for her to use and has another tantrum, this time demanding that we find her a cane pole to fish with. Brother, the home handyman, drove off to find her a pole while she moaned about her good luck worms going to waste.
The wind picked up and is now pretty stiff. I noticed that the sky is definitely becoming a little over cast, but it doesn't look like anything that threatening. Brother returns with a cane pole and sets himself up with Grandma Pearl to help her out.
By this time, it's 11:30 a.m. and time for lunch. We get everyone down from the dock and over to the picnic area. I pass out sandwiches, chip bags, juice boxes, cookies, etc., making sure that I follow each resident's dietary restrictions. Talk about a pain in the butt!
After the residents finished lunch, we get them back on the dock. Keep in mind each move of this nature probably takes at least 30 to 45 minutes to get everyone situated. I noticed that the wind had really started to pick up.
I looked over my shoulder and saw the meanest, blackest line of storm clouds it has ever been my misfortune to see. I started freaking out - I know this storm will come before I can get everyone off the dock and back to the vans or to the picnic area. The nurses and I debated whether to get the residents to vans or the pavilion. We decided on the vans because if the storm was going to be that bad, the pavilion wouldn't be that much protection. Most of the residents were worn out by that time anyway.
It's drizzling steadily and starting to get heavier by the time we got almost everyone back into the vans. I'm counting heads and trying to figure out who's missing when it came to me.
Grandma Pearl was still on the dock with her cane pole in her hand. Brother, the handyman, was trying to talk her into walking back to the vans. I could see her shaking her head from way over by the parking pad.
I went back over to the dock and asked her why she wasn't back at the vans with everyone else. She replied, "I ain't caught a dang thing yet and I ain't leaving until I do." By this time it was an hour later and the storm had completely blown over so I couldn't use that as an excuse to make her.
So I left her with Brother and an aide while I took everyone else back to the home, got them unloaded and situated, and had the fish brought to the kitchen to be cleaned and prepared for their dinner that night.
I ran back out to the pond for Grandma Pearl, Brother and Lola the aide. Still no luck with the fish but fortunately for me, Grandma Pearl had run out of her lucky worms by this point and I was able to talk her into leaving.
Of course, she made us stop by the grocery store and pick up some fish fillets so she could have fish for supper too. By this point, I was just relieved the trip was over and that I was able to get everyone back in more or less one piece.
Do you know what the real tragedy is? I hate to fish and don't like to eat it. It truly was a day of torture for me...