“Beep . . . Beep . . . Beep,” the flashing yellow light over the resident’s doorway blinked on and off incessantly.
“Who is it this time?” nurse’s aide Victoria mumbled under her breath, “hope it’s not another catheter overflow.”
She scanned the care home hallway nearest her. Bingo! It was Mr. Canton in A-38.
“What can I help you with, Bruce? Here, let me adjust your dinner tray closer for you.”
Pointing a gnarled arthritic finger to his sagging toothless mouth, the old gentleman began to speak unintelligibly.
“Oh, dear, your teeth dropped out again! No fun trying to eat without being able to chew, is it?”
Victoria scooted the table tray aside and began searching through the rumpled bedclothes, layer by layer.
Lifting the homemade patchwork quilt from his granddaughter, the aide peered under the bed and found a runaway dirty sock and a cookie wrapper, but no dentures. The sputtering fan on a diminutive nightstand whirred away, accompanying the enlarged wall clock’s insistent ticking in tandem with the squeaky steps of nurses’ rubber-soled shoes out in the hall and slipper shuffling of other wandering residents. Another thirty minutes worth of fruitless searching through the patient’s clothing and cabinet drawers, and Victoria had to assist in meal-tray pick-up.
“I’m sorry, Bruce,” replacing his now cold food tray within reach, “why don’t you drink your coffee and milk and I’ll order you some soup for your supper?”
Meanwhile, Nurse Borton, assigned to the corridor next door, was carrying on a similar conversation with Grace Edwards in Room 47.
“I’ll call in our dentist in the morning to schedule impressions for a new set of dentures for you, hon. It must be your missing ones were too loose, anyway,.or they wouldn’t be dropping on the floor all the time.”
The staff break room was abuzz with the unusual situation plaguing their charges.
“That makes six this month! Why are everybody’s dentures suddenly falling out?”
“Maybe their jaws are just doing the usual age shrinking?”
“Are you kidding? All in the same time frame?”
“Too coincidental—not possible,” most agreed.
Subsequently, cafeteria nutritionists were ordering extra food puree blenders. Appointments were scheduled with dental hygienists while custodian and housekeeping personnel were alerted and laundry services notified to join in the search, all to no avail. It wasn’t long before the media got involved, which in turn resulted in police involvement, complete with search teams and private detectives hired to solve the mystery.
Months passed. The toothless patients were fitted with new dentures. Things settled back to normal with typical convalescent home issues along with the usual turnover of patient releases, admissions and deaths. Fall turned into winter as the case gradually grew as cold as the weather. The facility’s window air conditioner units and fans retired for the season as steamy radiators sputtered to warm the residents’ drafty rooms.
An unexplained unpleasant odor permeated Hall C, growing ever stronger until it became the main topic of conversation during the weekly staff meeting.
“Family members are complaining! Even Beatrice, who can’t smell a bucket of peeled onions right under her nose, has remarked about it.”
“Has the custodian searched for the source?”
“Yeah, Charlie got offended that we even hinted he may have missed something.”
“Perhaps a critter got trapped in the boiler?”
“The smell isn’t like that—it’s more like burning rubber or plastic.”
The meeting was interrupted by loud feminine laughter interspersed with barks of male guffaws from the direction of Hall C, unacceptable behavior for the “lights out” shift, so Night Supervisor Gladys went to reprimand the culprits. The disturbance became even louder, until the entire staff rushed to investigate.
Gladys had joined the cleaning aide and maintenance worker and was trying to mask her laughter while she doubled over, her sides shaking, outside a vacant room. In front of them stood a smoldering mop pail, the appalling stench causing all to grab washcloths from a linen cart to cover their noses.
It seems the former resident, Martha Mapes, had a problem with her dentures falling out, poor thing. The Administration allowed small pets, which lead to quicker physical healing. Martha had a tiny poodle trained to retrieve the wayward teeth as they hit the floor. Apparently, though, and unfortunately, scavenger Rascal had not learned how to differentiate one patient’s dentures from another’s and had stored his cache of treasures under the room's radiator, creating a nasty, melded mass of gummy saliva-baked false teeth.
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