It felt like high school except this girl isn’t in the A-list clique and no one roots for her bad behavior. Her name is Serena, and she’s a resident at the Actors’ Home in New Jersey. She has a shock of wild frizzy red hair, piercing green eyes and pointy nails.
It was Saturday afternoon, a gorgeous sunny day. Several residents were outside with their aides or family members enjoying the long-awaited sun. Serena stayed indoors.
She held forth, as if she were a fire and brimstone preacher, addressing the group at large or anyone who would listen. Most of the residents were gathered around the nurse’s station in chairs, wheelchairs or standing with walkers.
“You wouldn’t believe it by looking at him, but he came into my room in the middle of the night, stripped, and dumped his dirty diaper on my bed!” she said, pointing to Raymond, who was passing by.
Raymond shook his head and frowned, “No.”
“He looks so innocent, doesn’t he? Well, drop dead!” she said, looking straight at Raymond.
I scanned the other residents’ faces and saw signs of discomfort and alarm.
“She’s mean,” I said to my mom.
“She’s always like this,” she said.
Serena started following Raymond in her wheelchair. “I said, ‘drop dead’! If you died, I’d be celebrating.” She cackled, self-satisfied.
Raymond said, “Don’t say that,” and shuffled away from her, down the hall.
“Hey, nurse,” she said to Rosalinda, “I need someone to change me.”
Rosalinda said, “I’ll call a CNA.”
“But it can’t wait.”
“I’ll tell Ming, she’s with another resident right now,” said Rosalinda.
“Ming’s finished with that resident. I saw her leave the room.”
“She’s still working.”
“What, am I supposed to wait all day? I’m soaking wet!”
“Calm down, Serena.”
“I won’t calm down. I see what’s happening here. She’s trying to avoid me. I don’t miss a trick.”
“Ming will be with you as soon as she can.”
“You wait all day, and no one changes you. I’m lucky if they change me morning and night. It’s appalling.”
The mood around the nurse’s station was growing more agitated—it was palpable. I wished she would shut the hell up. It had been a lovely day up until now.
“Hey, Ming, I need you. You gotta change me now,” Serena said, pointing at her and starting to look pathetic.
Ming came walking out of another resident’s room with a pile of clean disposable diapers.
“Yes, yes, I’m here,” she said with an acid face.
“You’re doing a great job,” I said to her.
“Thank you. She’s always like this. Your mother is good.”
I smiled at her.
“Hurry up, Ming. I can’t wait any longer. I’m soaking wet!”
Maybe there’s some way they can oust this woman. The Alzheimer’s Unit is for the most part peaceful, but this woman is mean. I never saw her in action before, but this was atrocious. It’s got to upset the other residents. I know about negative attention—it’s a game my mom used to play on me all the time before she was diagnosed with Alz. Maybe the only time Serena thinks she gets attention is when she is nasty and raising her voice or misbehaving. I don’t know. But on that beautiful Saturday afternoon, after Mom and I had luxuriated in the garden together under a gentle April sun, I wanted this woman to disappear.
*Pseudonyms are used for all staff and residents.