“Home is a shelter from storms—all sorts of storms.”
—William J. Bennett
As a family nurse practitioner, I read Marianna Crane’s memoir with great interest and she did not disappoint. Her description of ministering to the frail elderly population was realistic and graphic. I’m thrilled to feature Marianna in this guest post about Stories From the Tenth Floor Clinic which will be published on November 6, 2018.
The Building as Character
As I wrote my book: Stories from the Tenth-Floor Clinic: A Nurse Practitioner Remembers, I recognized that the Chicago Housing Authority building was very much a central character.The clinic I ran, originally a one-bedroom apartment, was located in the middle of the long hallway facing two elevators. Our door was always open. Anyone could come in—our scheduled patients, or walk-ins who lived in the building or those from the surrounding neighborhood. Lucky for us, being on the tenth floor discouraged the drug addicts.
The twenty-story building rose above the surrounding multifamily homes. Chicago winds blew the debris of the dirty city along the wide expanse leading up to the entrance. The scent of ammonia unsuccessfully covered the sour odor that filled the lobby. Two elevators that carried the residents to their apartments frequently broke down. However, the view from the twentieth floor community room presented a view of the Chicago skyline that rivaled the luxury condos on Lake Shore Drive.
The CHA building offered subsidized apartments, mostly one-bedroom, to needy seniors and the handicapped. The few two-bedroom units had a long waiting list. The majority of the residents were of Eastern European descent, with a scattering of Hispanics and blacks. Each floor had a personality of its own.
Charlie Sparks and LeRoy Turner lived next door to one another on the 17thfloor. Both supported the prostitutes who prowled the building. Charlie was younger than the cut off age of 65. He had special permission to live in the building because he took care of his bedridden mother. I often wondered how Charlie’s mom, whose hospital bed sat in the center of the living room, dealt with Charlie’s dalliances.
LeRoy Turner was often drunk. He worked on his car that was permanently parked in the lot behind the building. He muttered a good morningwhenever I passed him but nothing more.
It was Molly Flanagan who told me about both men and their habits. Molly was a little bit of a woman in her nineties with no medical problems. She enjoyed visiting the clinic to gossip. One morning, Molly stopped by the clinic to tell me in her Irish brogue how she wielded her broom in the air, and chased the two prostitutes down the stairs.
“You’re fearless,” I said. But I warned her that one day one of the woman might knock her down with her own broom.
A formally homeless woman, who collected garbage, moved into an apartment on the twelfth floor. Soon afterwards, the stench from her place seeped down the hall and into the exit staircase. Whatever possessed the management to move a second homeless person, this time a man who also was a hoarder, onto the same floor? The stench only got worse until the Hazmat team appeared in bright yellow uniforms, hoods, gloves, and heavy shoes to evict the man, and decontaminate his place. The woman, watching his eviction, began to clean out her rooms with the help of her sister.
Each floor exposed the ethnicity of its occupants by the cooking aromas in the hallways: greens, ham hocks, kielbasa, sauerkraut, and spaghetti sauce.
Unwanted odors appeared in various locations. The elevators reeked of urine and beer, especially on Friday, payday, or when once-a-month social security checks came in the mail. The heavy scent of cigars and cigarettes lingered in the back of the building, especially in warm weather as the smokers scattered butts and used matches around the two battered picnic tables.
Individual apartments didn’t have thermostats. The heat would often become oppressive in both summer and winter. In winter, one could open the casement windows but in the summer, the apartments became ovens. Since older persons aren’t sensitive to high temperatures, they were at danger of suffering heat stroke, and sometimes they died.
When I came to work in the mornings, I often had to walk up to the tenth floor because the elevators weren’t working. I climbed the stairs slowly, stopping to rest often. The exercise was good, I reasoned. I could tell which floor I was on by the hand written number on the inside of the door. Or by the smells that seeped under the doorsill. I would arrive early, lock the clinic door behind me, heat up a pot of coffee, and sit in one of the mismatched chairs in the waiting room. Enjoying the silence and watching the sun rise above the Chicago skyline, I wondered who would walk through the clinic door that day.
Running a clinic for seniors requires a lot more than simply providing medical care. In Stories from the Tenth-Floor Clinic, Marianna Crane chases out scam artists and abusive adult children, plans a funeral, signs her own name to social security checks, and butts heads with her staff—two spirited older women who are more well-intentioned than professional—even as she deals with a difficult situation at home, where the tempestuous relationship with her own mother is deteriorating further than ever before. Eventually, however, Crane maneuvers her mother out of her household and into an apartment of her own—but only after a power struggle and no small amount of guilt—and she finally begins to learn from her older staff and her patients how to juggle traditional health care with unconventional actions to meet the complex needs of a frail and underserved elderly population.
About the Author:
Marianna Crane became one of the first gerontological nurse practitioners in the early 1980s. A nurse for over forty years she has worked in hospitals, clinics, home care, and hospice settings.She writes to educate the public about what nurses really do. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Eno River Literary Journal,Examined Life Journal, Hospital Drive, Stories That Need to be Told: A Tulip Tree Anthology, and Pulse: Voices from the Heart of Medicine.
She lives with her husband in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Her book: Stories from the Tenth-Floor Clinic: A Nurse Remembers will be published November 6.
Ordering information (book will be available on November 6th)
Barnes and Noble:
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