Authors Note: I’ve redacted some names and places, mostly for the sake of other’s privacy but also so I don’t lose my job. Anyway thanks for reading.
The humid, inhuman heat that existed on every floor of the building became a comforting constant in a universe of perpetual decay. It was as if every brick in the wall, tile on the floor and poorly constructed light fixture existed for the sole purpose of tormenting me in its icy indifference. Over the last few weeks I’ve been acting as an ‘IT consultant’, if I can even call myself that, for a rather large care-home in North West. They have over a hundred and twenty rooms, most of which are full of some of the most deranged and detached dementia patients in the North of England. In short it’s a home for the ill, a home for the dying, and a home for the insane. This might sound like a toxic mixture of differing levels of human frailty and it is. The home is fairly new only two years old and recently they’ve begun installing computers at the nurses’ station. Because apparently Nurses need computers and no one ever told management.
It buffedle me the first time I entered. I have never seen a collection of decadence and incompetence in such close proximity, but this Home managed to surprise me. I have in my fair time, visited a number of homes for the infirm, usually for the sake of friends and family and trust me, it does get easier. Because often the first gut reaction of anyone who ends up visiting one of these godforsaken places is an immediate overpowering sense of wrongness. Not because of what the place is doing but why it’s doing it. You see as younger person who not long ago saw adults as these omnipotent, always competent and in control creatures, a care home is a rather dangerous place. Wherever you go you’ll be watching endless droves of listless and infirm adults.
Suddenly in a sea of catheter bags and medicated war veterans, you’re the responsible one. For me this is a special horror as responsibility is not so much an alien concept as it is an uncomfortable one. Yes you, the often lost, poor, feckless fool you are, the kid who can hardly look after themselves is now in the presence of those whose survival depends on you. There is no other place that will irreversibly shatter your assumption of adults, for these places nakedly display the old, stripped bare of knickknacks and self-sufficiency. They are, and will forever remain in my mind whenever I think of old age, and that’s something that I think has already aged me beyond my years.
This home has apparently had a series of unsuccessful managers, all of whom have suffered from mental breakdowns and hence left the place in a state. The day I arrived the home and just come out of a care embargo and looked as if it was about to slip right back into another one after an alleged abuse case.
Now this isn’t really my field, I deal with machines not people, and I don’t really have authority over what’s going on, and care is a very, very protected field. You just can’t go in with good intentions and make things better. I’m not being one of those sensationalist anti-health and safety nuts, but even helping someone up can be considered assault. It’s silly really because how else are you supposed to help a ninety year old up? Well you just do, even though you’re endangering yourself and your wellbeing. It sucks sure, and it sort of breeds a disenfranchisement with the carers and the rules, which as you can guess, is never good.
I came into this building, my job not really defined by anyone, because absolutely no one there had any clue what the problem was. All they could do was vaguely point and trail off about emails, repeating the same phrase ”it’s not working” as if it was some biblical chant. The first computer I tackled was in the lobby, set up for the guests and residents to use, (presumably to Skype distant friends or family members). Now this computer could not be in a more uncomfortable place. I swear this computer defined space and time. It was both out in the open with no privacy, yet tucked away in the least appealing corner of the room that no one would ever want to visit. So I squeezed between the structural pillar and the wall it was located next to and began work.
”Toolbars” I muttered between dry heaves and gritted teeth, not a big deal of course, but annoying.
Looks like someone had been torrenting from it. Yes a UTorrent client and the installer was right there on the desktop.
Whoever was behind this didn’t even bother to hide it. I started working immediately and it became obvious by what they meant when it ‘didn’t work’. Toolbars, adware, keyloggers, millions of them. This always surprises me, that people have the aptitude and knowledge to torrent yet fail when it comes to avoiding the toolbars.
This wasn’t even the really infuriating thing. You see this computer was also being used to run CRB checks.
Now if you’re not in the know, in order to work with possibly damaged or sensitive people in any legitimate capacity you need to get a criminal record check . Basically before nurses or carers can get paid they need to be stamped off as safe. Otherwise our precious care homes could get swamped by Nan stabbers. Works well in theory and makes sense, but it isn’t really ”enforced”, at least not in my experience.
This boggled my mind, that management would use a computer open to everyone to handle people’s sensitive information and hold employee records! Confused at this fact, hoping myself to be wrong, I spoke with the manager, (who I’ll call Jeff). He said, ”It’s in the lobby so we can see who’s on it”. Which would have been fine logic if that was true. Yet it wasn’t obviously, otherwise how did the torrent client end up on there?
I knew there was no point in arguing this both because they wouldn’t understand and it was clear they didn’t have an alternative set up.
For the next eight or so hours I did everything I could, setting up new admin passwords and control settings so no one could install anything without my go ahead. Obviously not a permanent solution as my time with them was short, yet alas it is always important to empower yourself when working as IT. Otherwise you more often than not get taken advantage off.
The day passed rather uneventfully. It wasn’t tough work just uncomfortable work. Long waits between scans, installs and system checks. Eventually after I felt satisfied I headed up two floors to the EMI unit.
EMI stands for Elderly and Mentally Infirm and this is no exaggeration. It’s a ”locked ward”. Every wing fitted with a door with a four digit code to unlock it, then another lock for every room in the wing. The windows were sealed shut after an incident where one resident began screaming death threats to the people in the car park below. A moment even Stella would be jealous of. This meant that over thirty bodies shuffled around inhaling and exhaling the same air all day, and don’t expect AC. This is the north of England for christ sake.
My first visit to EMI was eventful, it included a lady swearing at me to just give her the train times for Manchester and ex-doctor punching a young man in the stomach. These were not unusual occurrences.
The computer on EMI was another victim of rampant torrenting, yet I easily tracked the suspect down. Paul was his name and he had been attempting to crack an illegal copy of Microsoft Office. least to say he failed, yet still managed to riddle the bloody thing with more bugs than NSA headquarters.
I could have cracked it right then and there, the .DLL’s were still solid, just copied into the wrong folder. Seriously it’s not that hard to check the README.txt. Yet I decided against it. Open Office would have to do, I did enquire after the budget they were running for these machines, what antivirus and software deals they had set up but they just shook their heads collectively in what could only be described as disgruntled disappointment. So freeware it was.
Rather confusingly the monitors upstairs were all set at the wrong resolution, and worse they weren’t touch screen. Which isn’t an issue normally unless you bought the whole fucking building Windows 8. Yeah great, now every utility is twice as hard to get to just because of that swipe menu. After dicking around with everything a rudimentary scan discovered over two-thousand threats. I was surprised. I’ve never seen such a number. I opened the browser to see what was going on and found out the most ingenious plug-in I’ve ever seen. This thing opened up four ad banners at the top of every webpage opened. This basically means you have to scroll at least half a page down to get to the real thing. If I had made that thing I could have bought a house after a month.
I cleaned it up and went home, mentally preparing my psyche for the day ahead.
When I awoke the sun was still a halo on the horizon, blazing in iridescent yellows and greys. I drank a coffee and watched the rain through the window, ready to begin what could only be described as my day.
It was less intense then yesterday as I had already done the brunt of the computer work. The PC on the Nursing was in great condition, not through competence, but simply because it hadn’t been turned on since it was installed. This made getting updates quite difficult as it was still on whatever version shipped in the factory, eventually after some troubleshooting and driver installs this was resolved.
At lunch I informed my boss that the computers were basically fixed and I might go out for an hour. They instead offered me a job doing some archiving work as apparently I’m not inept and quite likeable. I accepted as I wasn’t exactly well off and money is money.
This new job still retained my old responsibilities however it never got more advance then fixing printer errors.
The archive room was what could only be described as a cave. It had one large fire door that wouldn’t stay open no matter what amount of weight you heaved behind it. A single mirror that looked out to the chain link fence that protected the neighboring ASDA loading bay and a single, steep, sloping roof. Just low enough to force you to stand as if you were on the bow of an inebriated ship.
However the single worst thing about this room was the light. It was motion sensitive, which meant as you sat on the floor surrounded by file after file of death certificates and unremarkable eulogies the light would fade a little, then all at once. This forced me to wave my hands above my head in a manic motion as if I was some primitive human summoning a sun-god to return to my crops, which it rarely did.
A few days in I had begun to question my existence and as the torment continued I became convinced I was the only sane one left.
I scanned often, taking breaks from productive work to read these files of people now dead. Their likes, dislikes, middle names, diets and even relatives all flashing by me. I wondered if I would ever suffer the same fate. My whole life reduced to an un-archived file, stuffed into a bare unloved room whoes only visitor is an angsty, hateful asshole who can’t even keep the light on.
If only I could be so lucky.