I woke up this morning thinking the world is a disgusting mess, in need of a good scrubbing. I wondered if it was worth the trouble. And I happened to think of Mildred.

For years I worked in a nursing home, on night shift. I was an LPN, but pretty much also worked as an aide, since we were always short staffed. Besides bed checks and getting people up and dressed for breakfast, we also had a certain number of assigned showers; and the worst showers were always given to night shift, probably because there wouldn’t be any visitors around to hear the screaming and complaining which would certainly make them wonder if we were torturing these poor old people. So we got the fighters and screamers, as well as the heavyweights who had to be transported on a mesh sling suspended from a mechanical lift.

Mildred was a holy terror, but we all liked her. The first time I saw her was when she showed up at the nurse’s station right after the evening nurse had given me report. She was about four and a half feet tall, and she eyed us with a suspicious scowl.

“Hello, Mildred,” the evening nurse said. And then to me: ”This is Mildred.” And to Mildred: “This is Connie. She will be here all night if you need anything.”

Mildred glanced from one of us to the other.

“Where can I get a drink around here?” she asked.

“Oh here, I can get you a drink,” the evening nurse said, and poured some ice water from the pitcher on the med cart into a plastic cup.

Mildred took a big swig, and immediately spit-sprayed it all over the desk. “That’s WATER!” She wiped her mouth with her sleeve in disgust.

Mildred was in her 90’s, and rapidly declining; the more unsteady she became, the more she fought; she fell frequently, usually while pummelling whatever caregiver was trying to help her, or taking a swing at someone just out of her reach.

So of course we got Mildred for one of our showers on night shift. And I volunteered to do the honors, since she wasn’t one of our get-ups except on her shower days. I picked out one of her nicest outfits, gathered up her toiletries, and wheeled her down to the shower room. She cussed me out the whole way.

I always kept up a running dialogue with whatever person I was showering, letting them know what I was about to do, trying to keep a towel draped over whatever I wasn’t washing at the moment to allow them at least a little modesty, assuring them that we would be done quickly. But Mildred was having none of it. She ranted, punched, kicked, grabbed and spat at me the whole time. When I stooped down to wash her feet, she grabbed a fistful of my hair and would not let go.

“If I had a gun, I’d shoot you!” she said.

“I’m really glad you don’t have a gun, Mildred!” I told her as I pried her fingers out of my hair.

I managed to get her dried and dressed, and she actually tolerated me blow drying her hair, and coaxing it into little waves on the sides. I wheeled her in front of the mirror.

“Well Mildred, we both survived, and look how nice you look!”

She was still scowling as I opened the door and pulled her wheelchair through it. She looked up at me and said, “Thank you.”

So I guess if you’re trying to get the world to clean up its act, and it seems to be fighting you tooth and nail, you just keep scrubbing. It may surprise you when you’re done.



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Constance Hutcheson

Constance Hutcheson


Old lady who lives in California, refinishes furniture for Hutch Vintage in Los Angeles