The Devil and Delta Webster | Life of a Nurse

Who knew that Popsicles could save the day?

Come along with a swing shift charge nurse and a colorful denizen of a long-term care unit as they battle the record-shattering heat of a long summer afternoon, unhappy staff and residents, and each other.


  • Long Term Care Columnist / Guide
    Specializes in LTC, assisted living, med-surg, psych. Has 26 years experience.
Who knew that Popsicles could save the day?

I could hear the complaining all the way down the hall as I clocked in for my shift.

"Will somebody tell me again why we don't have air conditioning!?"

"Because the owner's too cheap to put it in."

"This is supposed to be the hottest day of the year. How're we supposed to get through it?"

"Ask Viva. She's weird. She actually LIKES the heat."

Yes, I'm known for being relatively heat-tolerant, but on that particular afternoon it was expected to reach well over 100 degrees in a locale where it never gets that hot, and I was already losing my happy thoughts. Then over the staff complaints I heard the unmistakable voice of the one resident whom I knew was going to plague me all night:

"DID THE DEVIL JUST SIT HIS BUTT ON TOP OF THE (blankety-blank) WORLD??!" bellowed the inimitable Delta Webster* (name changed to protect privacy). "Somebody get me a cold wet washrag and put it on my neck! I'm DYING here!!"

I'd better explain a bit about Delta. She was alert and oriented, a brittle diabetic, and somewhere in the neighborhood of three hundred pounds. She was also one of the loudest, crudest, and most profane human beings I've ever met, and she loved nothing more than to scoot around in her wheelchair and gripe about anything and everything. In fact, I'd worked at that facility for over a year at that time and never heard her say a single positive thing to anyone.

She also made a habit of hanging out at the nurses' station, so the day shift nurse and I went into the med room, which was even hotter than the hall, to do report. Oddly, Delta was wearing her customary white shawl, and as I passed by I suggested that she take it off so she could be cooler.

"ARE YOU (bleeping) KIDDING me??!" she yelled. "I don't go nowhere without my prayer shawl! How long you been working on this hall, woman?"

There would never be another afternoon as long as this one. Or as hot. Or as full of short-tempered residents and staff. Someone who had checked the weather report on break said the temperature outside was 108 degrees, which was a record-breaker. It felt like 300 degrees in the building. The swamp coolers were completely overwhelmed and circulated only hot air, making things even worse. Staff members were wearing wet towels around their shoulders, and even I got desperate enough to dunk my head in a sink and get my then-short hair completely soaked before I started my 1600 meds.

Despite the heat, the residents were refusing the extra fluids offered to them even in the face of repeated warnings about the danger of dehydration. Delta, of course, could always be counted on: "I hate water," she proclaimed. "All it does is make me pee like a racehorse. Why don't you do something useful for a change and go out and buy us some (bleep-bleep) Popsicles? And none of them sugar-free ones---I want the real thing!"

It was on the tip of my tongue to remind her that I couldn't just run out to the store, but then it occurred to me that the Popsicle idea was actually a very good one. That would be a way to get fluids into the residents.....after all, who doesn't like a frozen treat on a hot day?

So I went to the administrator with a request for Popsicles, and he was only too willing to go fetch them because he was sick of hearing the griping too. He was back within the hour and brought down four Costco-sized boxes for our unit. No sooner had the first box been opened than Delta was breathing down my neck, demanding one. Of course I handed her the wrong kind. "I hate the orange ones! Don't you know I like the cherry ones? Stupid nurse, she don't even know what kinda Popsicle I like."

By this time, I was heartily sick of her attitude and wished I could tell her where to go, but then we were already in Hell, so it wouldn't have been far enough. She finished the first Popsicle in record time and told me to get her another. I didn't want to because I knew her blood sugar would spike, but I also knew her well enough not to argue with her on this point because she didn't CARE that her blood sugar would spike. The second Popsicle went down in a matter of two minutes, and of course she wanted a third. She got it.

Meanwhile, the aides were walking around eating Popsicles, as were the med aide and the residents, and you could almost feel the tension on the unit decrease as the tasty treats went down. It wasn't any cooler in the building, but even Delta subsided a bit after she'd had a couple more. Still, I was shocked when, toward the end of the shift when most of the residents were in bed, she wheeled up to me in the hallway and said begrudgingly, "You ain't the best nurse on the #&!%* planet, but thanks for the Popsicles."

It was the nicest thing she had ever said to me. She died unexpectedly a few weeks later, but in the days following the heat wave, she was just a little less hostile and uncooperative. Maybe she sensed death was coming and decided she didn't want to meet that old devil after all, but to this day, I suspect the Popsicles had something to do with the change.

I'm eating a root-beer Popsicle as I type this.....and I can't help but wonder if Delta would've liked it.

Long Term Care Columnist / Guide

I'm a Registered Nurse and writer who, in better times, has enjoyed a busy and varied career which includes stints as a Med/Surg floor nurse, a director of nursing, a nurse consultant, and an assistant administrator. And when I'm not working as a nurse, I'm writing about nursing right here at and putting together the chapters for a future book about---what else?---nursing.

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ktwlpn, LPN

3,844 Posts

Specializes in LTC,Hospice/palliative care,acute care. Has 35 years experience.

"You ain't the best nurse on the (expletive deleted) planet, but thanks for the Popsicles."

No higher compliment has ever been paid to a nurse....I love that.


223 Posts

Specializes in LTC. Has 22 years experience.

well I think you are a pretty awesome nurse Viva! and even Delta felt that way....she just couldn't break her negative record and say that!!

Whispera, MSN, RN

3,458 Posts

Specializes in psych, addictions, hospice, education.



897 Posts

Specializes in CVICU. Has 1 years experience.
By this time, I was heartily sick of her attitude and wished I could tell her where to go, but then we were already in Hell, so it wouldn't have been far enough.


Specializes in School Nursing. Has 9 years experience.

Great article. When I first read it, I thought it said that the admin was too cheap to TURN ON the AC-- I had to re-read and see you didn't even have an AC unit in the building. Here in Houston, that would get you shut down! lol


5 Posts

Thanks for that great story. For the last 8 years I have been

working with the greatest RNs in the world. I happened to see one of those great nurses this evening that I had not seen in over a year, Trish RN in the state of Washington.


617 Posts

Specializes in Care Coordination, MDS, med-surg, Peds. Has 22 years experience.

When I worked in a NH in Michigan in the 1976, it got hot hot hot in the summer! The owners did not have AC or swamp coolers or anything except multiple fans. The owners reasoning for this: Old folks aer colder natured than others, they don't get as hot, so they don't NEED AC. SAY WHAT!! True story!.

kbrn2002, ADN, RN

3,748 Posts

Specializes in Geriatrics, Dialysis. Has 21 years experience.

Good for Delta! I love residents like that. Here's hoping she's looking down, wearing her prayer shawl and enjoying a popsicle.


70 Posts

Specializes in Hospital, Foot Nurse, NRSNG Educator.

Great story ! and as the south is one of my "homes" I could just feel the day as you described ! I always wonder what has happened in the long lives of some of these, seasoned folks ! hugs to you for surviving it... well done !


439 Posts

Specializes in long term care Alzheimers Patients.

Viva what a great story!

Specializes in Pediatrics, Emergency, Trauma. Has 18 years experience.

I wonderful story...enjoyed it more while sitting in my air-conditioned bedroom. ;)