The hall lights are down, soft glows amid shadows. There is a cozy atmosphere in the East nurse’s station tonight. We are all hanging out. An hour before ten and most residents are in bed, asleep. The charting we do, as aides, is done. The nurses have finished hydration sheets, logged I/Os, voice recorded their reports for evening shift. Will soon count, pass along their workload to a night nurse. Jolene and I are lounging in chairs, legs crossed, sleepy grins on our faces, when the call board sounds. High tone, low tone. Slow and persistent, like a doorbell. Wild Bill calling. He wants to go to bed. We rise, stretch the aches out of our backs. Walk to his room.
“You’re one hot mess in this bed, sweetheart,” says Jolene. “Look at you all the way down there. We’re gonna have to scoot you up.”
Wild Bill is slouched in bed, tangled in the sheets. The head of the mattress raised thirty degrees. His head and pillow a good twelve inches down from where they should be. Twisted at the waist. Withered legs bent rigid, as usual. He is wearing sweat pants, another cowboy dress shirt from his collection. For a time, before undressing him any further, we play. Jolene lays her hands on his belly, side. His armpit, left nipple. Wherever skin shows. Wild Bill howls with laughter.
“Whatsit they say. Cold hands …”
“Cold hands, warm heart,” says Jolene.
“You’re my baby.” Jolene smiles down on him, pure, beautiful. “But we’re gonna have a hell of a time taking off that shirt.”
Wild Bill’s limited arm mobility, she means. I haven’t yet read the fat binder containing his past medical history, diagnoses, so I don’t fully understand Jolene’s comment. But I have dressed and undressed Wild Bill enough to know rigor mortis seems to have set early, in his joints. He can’t straighten his legs without pain. Placing a Hoyer sling, rolling him onto his side for pericare, or to dress, is always awkward.
Wild Bill’s left arm slides out of the sleeve easy enough, which surprises Jolene. She passes the rest of the dress shirt behind his back, around to me. Patiently, I slide out his right arm, mindful of his bruised, papery skin. The undershirt pulls off over his head. Jolene and I take opposite sides of the pad beneath his hips, clutch it like a draw sheet. He needs to be raised, she says, joking that on a count of three we’re going to put his head through the wall. Wild Bill grins. Somehow, I get the feeling it wouldn’t be the first time.
Before the gown, we play again. Jolene lays her cold hands on Wild Bill’s naked chest, teases him amid bright laughter. Warm hearts all around.