Nina watched absentmindedly as the hot, amber-colored liquid poured from the urn into the pot in her hand. She realized that it was almost time to open the doors for the evening dinner service, so she tipped the urn, hurrying the last few dregs from the fixture. Moving quickly, she placed the last pot of tea onto the cart and wheeled it from table to table, gingerly placing each pot into the center, taking care not to spill a drop before moving down the row. She made sure to re-stock the sugar and milk as well, knowing that the residents often took a few with them when they left. Nina knew that having a hot cup of tea with their evening meals meant more to the residents than the meal itself sometimes.
Completely engaged by her task, Nina was startled to turn and see the receptionist already stationed at the podium, flipping through the dinner log. The woman must have come through the kitchen because Nina didn’t hear the familiar clang of the dining room doors at all.
Nina nodded her greeting while avoiding eye contact with the woman and pushed the empty cart past the podium and back to its station in the kitchen. She checked the overheard clock, tucked her stray hairs, smoothed out her apron, and began walking back towards the dining room to open the main doors when she heard a loud exchange coming from within. The familiar falsetto of the receptionist’s voice rang out. Nina peeked her head through the kitchen door, just enough to see Charlie, an older resident with Alzheimer’s who was also hard of hearing, on the receiving end of the receptionists’ ire. Nina watched, appalled, as the receptionist continued yelling at the stupefied man, left from behind the podium, pulled Charlie over to his assigned table, and shoved him down into his seat.
Nina was mortified. She looked around to see if anyone else had witnessed the scene, but the cooks were still out on their smoke breaks and the dishwasher, who would usually be chatting her up now, was uncharacteristically absent from the room. She was the only witness to the scene.
Nina continued watching as the receptionist, who was supposed to be helping to make her shift easier, made her way back to the podium, shaking her head and muttering to herself. Not knowing what to do, Nina hurried past the woman and over to the dining room doors, where she swung them open and loudly greeted the residents who were waiting on the other side. Nina stood off to the side and welcomed each resident. She performed her practiced cordialities with ease, and when she felt she had made enough of a presence, excused herself and hurried through the kitchen to the employee’s lounge. Nina sat and contemplated the scene she had witnessed.
Nina didn’t realize that her rage had bubbled to the surface until she reached her hand up to wipe away tears that were suddenly flowing down her cheeks. She was mad, madder than she had felt in a while and especially because she had no idea what to do.
Not one to sit for long, Nina sprang to her feet and hurried to the adjoining bathroom to wash her face. She had only a moment before the cooks would eventually ring the bell, letting her know that hot plates were sitting in the window.
Nina checked herself in the mirror and ran back to the kitchen just in time to catch the smirk of the head cook who was hovering his hand above the bell. Questions began swirling through her mind as she began running the meals. Would telling the cooks make a difference? She wondered. Would they even care or do anything? Does she confront the receptionist?
Passing by Charlie a few times, she visually checked him for signs of anger. As usual, he was hurriedly eating, seemingly without a care or even memory about the incident. That's Alzheimer’s for you, Nina thought to herself as she remembered her father’s final days battling the disease. Her rage surfaced again.
Was what she witnessed elder abuse? She asked herself. She was sure of it; if someone lays their hands on a resident in an aggressive manner, then it is serious, right? That's what the training videos said, and she was supposed to report it, even anonymously if she didn't want to be affiliated.
Nina pondered the implications of the accusation while she moved from table to table, serving food and replenishing drinks. She quickened her steps, trying to outrun her thoughts. When dinner was through, and the receptionist and residents had left, including Charlie, who had wandered back in, demanding a second meal, having forgotten he had already eaten; She cleaned the dining room and thought about her next course of action.
After an hour of cleaning and tidying the dining room, Nina allowed herself to slow down and resolved to tell her manager about the incident the next day. Her manager had more power and authority and would know what to do, right? Sure, Nina could say something; the director was on duty tonight, but it was late, and she was tired, and she didn't feel like starting anything so close to her shift being through.
Maybe if she saw it happen again, then she would be the one to say something, Nina thought as she packed her bag. Perhaps the receptionist was right to yell at Charlie; he is hard of hearing after all and sometimes indignant.
It would be too serious to make an elder abuse claim; she thought as she punched her time-card. It was all too major, more significant than she wanted it to be. Plus, if she got involved, she would be somehow responsible; she didn’t mind being responsible, just not this time and not like this. And when she told her manager, she would ask that her name not be used, with no mention of her as an eyewitness.