Burned Out

Liam McConnell

 

The caretaker had only bought 2 packages of light bulbs, each containing 4 new bulbs. The Assistance Needed strip had ten bulbs, each assigned to a different resident. This was only the latest in a series of minor frustrations suffered by the nurse, who was particularly annoyed at the constant demands put upon her by her floor’s surliest resident.

She unpacked the bulbs and began replacing them. Her favourite resident, a comparatively young woman afflicted by an aggressive form of skin cancer, died in the previous month and the nurse still hadn’t recovered. Her bulb was chosen as one of the two to leave unchanged: partly because the room was still vacant, and partly as a sort of memorial. She had decided immediately what other bulb to leave unchanged: that of the cantankerous old codger who had bogged down her day with trifling complaints. To leave his warning light with an old bulb was a sort of silent revenge that, once her task was complete, she found disappointingly unfulfilling.

She left to perform a sponge-bath on one of her nine surviving residents, not realizing that the man’s bulb, stressed from too-frequent lightings, had already burned out. The filament had overheated and burst earlier that day when the man, complaining about a lost TV remote, stubbornly held his finger on the button. As such, he could not warn anyone of the hard candy that had become lodged in his throat. Again and again he pushed his button, but the useless bulb did nothing to alert the nurses to his peril. He died with his hand on his throat and his finger on the button.

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