I was a janitor in a nursing home for two years after I graduated from college. I really was a musician, but since I had no music gigs, I needed the janitor job for the money. Apart from me, the staff included registered nurses, licensed vocational nurses, cooks, housekeepers, administrators, and an accountant who worked a couple of days every month. People were often puzzled that a college graduate would work as a janitor, and I didn’t bother to explain. The accountant said I was “coasting.”

There were two long hallways with residents’ rooms on either side of each. One hall was called the unskilled wing, and the other was called the skilled wing. Those who lived in the skilled wing needed the care of skilled workers. Most of them could not live without assistance, and many stayed in bed all day. The people who lived in the unskilled wing were mostly able to walk and talk, but some of them behaved strangely. A resident named Hazel Derrington acted normal most of the time, but occasionally she forgot where she was, which made her frustrated and angry.

It was a good place to work, and everyone worked hard. The nursing staff worked three shifts to give the residents 24-hour care. My shift was daytime only, 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Everyone got a half hour for lunch and two 15-minute breaks. Both tables in the small break room were occupied every day during break times, and the staff filled the room with chatter.

Much of the talk was harmless gossip about residents and staff members who were not present. One day the subject was the head nurse, Hazel Smith, whom nobody liked. When I sat down for lunch, they were trying to determine whether she was schizophrenic or not. The discussion got very detailed and serious. Indeed, someone in such a position of responsibility should not have symptoms that could impair her judgement.

In college I took two semesters of Psychology and one semester of Abnormal Psychology, so I thought I could at least contribute a definition of schizophrenia. Confidently, I described the symptoms and examples and summed up, “So, that’s why, even though she may act weird at times, Ms. Smith is not clinically schizophrenic.”

The room was silent for a moment, and then it erupted in laughter. “We were talking about Hazel Derrington, not Hazel Smith!” Then we were all laughing.