I Solemnly Swear I Am Up To No Good

Attitude. What is attitude?  To paraphrase that great American philosopher, Yogi Berra, half of attitude is ninety percent mental.

In an earlier post, I talked about at least one instance that I needed to adjust my attitude. When it comes to adjusting your attitude, you have to take a long, hard, unflinching look at yourself. This is in no way as easy as it sounds.

To illustrate this, when someone orders black coffee in Mexico, they do it this way: ‘Negro, negro como mi alma.’

Black, black as my soul.

There is a darkness that lives inside all of us. But there is also light. The question is, where do you want to reside? I think it’s a safe bet that most of us would choose the light. But life is not fair, and sometimes you can get all judgmental on yourself. The next thing you know, you’re so depressed you can hardly get out of bed. Or more likely, you turn your judgemental eye on others and become something abominable.

Attitudes are fluid constructs, and your attitude depends entirely on what you make it. If you don’t like how you’re feeling, change the way you feel. Radical advice, I know. Learning to control your thoughts and emotions, rather than letting them control you, is part of the process I like to call growing up.

It all comes down to directing your energy flow. Have you ever heard the story of The Two Wolves? You can look it up if you like. It’s an adequate metaphor for this topic, but I’d like to use another one.

Back in the 1960’s, there was a meteorologist and mathematician named Edward Lorenz. He was trying to create a computer program that would accurately predict weather for an extended period of time. What his data revealed was that weather couldn’t be predicted on a long term basis because there were just too damn many variables.

Dr Lorenz published all his findings in a scientific journal and he called it ‘SDIC–Sensitive Dependence on Initial Conditions.’ And I think the story goes something like this: another smarty-pants scientist guy read his article and said, ‘If what this guy says is true, then a butterfly flapping its wings in Africa can produce an hurricane that will destroy Florida a month later.’

That’s how Chaos Theory was born, and its first child was the Butterfly Effect.

Let’s examine this: What’s an hurricane called before it becomes an hurricane? A tropical storm. What’s a tropical storm called before it’s a tropical storm? A tropical depression.

So, a butterfly flaps its ethereal wings, and a small gust of air is moved out over the Atlantic Ocean. Because of the existing atmospheric conditions, an immense amount of energy starts getting generated around it, then more and more energy gets funneled into it. And it does the only thing it can do under those circumstances. It grows. And grows. And grows.

Say hello to my little friend…

And finally, what happens to an hurricane when it makes landfall? Sure, it destroys Florida, and anything else in its path, but then what? It dies. And why does it die? Yes, it’s cut off from its energy source.

There’s a saying: Watch your thoughts. They become words. Watch your words. They become deeds. Watch your deeds. They become habits. Watch your habits. They become character. Character is everything.

I don’t know if character is everything. From my perspective, there’s something far more critical. Attitude–your attitude is one of the things that defines your character. Your attitude is going to determine if you seek the Light, or descend into Darkness.

There’s nothing good that can come out of a bad attitude. Keep that sucker tuned up. Avoid future disappointment and regret. Seek balance. Live in the light, but know what lurks in the shadows. And make wise choices. Mischief managed.

If you can do all those things, you will be a successful adult.

In and Out of the Chakras We Go

Lea had survived her first near death experience at Fairview Medical Center. Her post-op recovery went well and she was discharged. I brought her home for the first time in months. I can’t remember how long she stayed home. All I can remember with certainty is she was repeatedly admitted into and discharged from Fairview Medical Center for the remainder of 1991, all of 1992 and 1993, and at least half of 1994 if not more.

Our life together back then would revolve entirely around Lea’s physical health, or the lack thereof. She would have a period of relative stability, then she would have a relapse, and back into FMC she would go. There was no pattern to this, nothing we could identify as a precursor. It wasn’t related to her diet. Stress? Maybe, but doubtful. The most stressful part of her life was being hospitalized, not being at home or work.

I came to think of this period of time as the Era of Living in Two Hospitals and Occasionally Visiting Our House. We lived in a charming arts and crafts bungalow about five miles from downtown Minneapolis. We redecorated that place several times, entirely changing its interior appearance until it eventually looked like showplace for the Pottery Barn.

I doubt that I did many, if any, of those renovations while Lea was struggling to survive her malignant flare up of Crohn’s disease. What I remember most from this time is feeling exhausted all the time. I was essentially a sleepwalker. I owe so much to my co-workers at the MVAMC–they had my back and picked up all the pieces of my job that I missed.

My mind was occupied by two things: my lovely wife, and how long she would fill that role. And how in the hell was I going to pay for this? My health insurance covered most of Lea’s medical expenses, but not all of them, and the part that wasn’t covered had quickly grown into the tens of thousands of dollars. Here’s another time when a great social worker saved the day.

I don’t remember her name, and this is so unfortunate because that woman saved our financial asses. She submitted an application for Medical Assistance on our behalf–something I didn’t think we’d even be eligible for based on our income, but lo and behold, we were, based on the extent of our medical bills. Thanks to that incredible social worker, I only had one thing to worry about.

Lea’s hospitalizations were mostly uneventful, except for the endless reconstruction that the hospital was going through. Fairview was a non-profit organization, and starting in 1992, FMC would begin reinvesting their profits by completely renovating every floor of the building. It was a noisy process, hammering, sledgehammering, jackhammering; even small doses of therapeutic dynamite.

I know, right! Freakin’ dynamite! In a hospital!! Filled with sick people!!! The nurses that took care of Lea were so great. They would move her as far from the construction noise coming from the floor above as they could so she could obtain a semblance of rest, then move her again as the process neared her room again.

The inflammatory process at work inside Lea’s body was every bit as inexorable as the construction process going on inside the hospital. It ebbed and flowed, but mostly flowed. And while Lea’s condition could be described as mostly stable, there were times of profound decompensation. I was sure I knew the answer to the one question that remained in my mind. And the answer was, not much longer.

Dr John was consulted by Dr Kromhout once more. Dr John remained conservative in his approach, but he wasn’t quite as cautious the second time around, and Lea’s condition deteriorated only to the point where she looked like she could possibly die instead of it being a foregone conclusion.

The second surgery was possibly the most unremarkable of all the surgeries Lea would have during this time period. Dr John removed another section of Lea’s large intestine, taking roughly sixty percent of that portion of her GI tract.

There were a couple of significant post op events after this surgery. The first, Lea sent me home. I could not help myself when she got out of the Recovery Room and was being transferred to her room on the Med/Surg floor. I had to touch her. I was gentle. I’m a nurse. I have a great sense of touch, and great hands. But even my careful caresses were too much for Lea.

“Don’t touch me.” she said.

“I’m sorry, honey, but I can’t not touch you!”

“Then go home.”

I’m pretty sure the nurses that were caring for Lea and were part of the transfer team actually heard the sound of my heart breaking. I stopped in my tracks in the hallway as Lea was rolled into her room, sat down with my back against the wall, and cried.

I went home and called my best friend, Gary Miklos, who was living near Dallas, TX at the time. Gary did something only a best friend will do at a time like that. He bought an airplane ticket on the next flight to Minneapolis.

I can’t remember if I tried to stumble my way through work the next day or if I called off, forcing my boss to cover one of my shifts with another nurse. I picked up Gary at the airport. I went back to the hospital to see Lea. She sent me home for a second time.

Gary took me to a billiards hall. We played pool, drank pitchers of beer and smoked packs of cigarettes. I’m pretty sure I lost every game of pool we played that day.

Gary had to work for a living, too. He flew to Minneapolis to be with me for one day, and then he had to fly back to Texas. And this wasn’t the only time Gary would travel halfway across the country to be there for me.

I went home and passed out. I know I had the following day off because I was still asleep when the phone rang.

“Hello?”

“Hi, honey!” It was Lea. “I think I’m gonna live!” Even over the phone I could see and hear the smile in her voice.

There had been a second post op event. One of the night nurses that took over Lea’s care was reviewing all the multitudinous IV bags and fluids and medications flowing into my wife’s veins, and she hung another bag of morphine solution. Not a big deal, but Lea already had a bag with morphine flowing, so she was now getting a double dose of very potent pain meds. This was a bad thing. A double dose of IV morphine will generally result in death.

“If that had been you or me, we’d be dead right now,” Dr Kromhout told me the next time we met. “But because Lea has been on high doses of morphine for awhile, and she has a strong tolerance level, all she did was get a good night’s sleep for once.”

The night nurse that accidentally overdosed my wife caught her mistake before it became a fatal med error. She called a code. Lea later said she had a vague memory of fifty people being in her room. I don’t know how many doses of Narcan she received, but it was more than one, and less than ten.

There was an investigation, of course. Lea and I met with a whole group of suits and skirts from various management and administrative departments. They wanted to know if we wanted to press charges or file a lawsuit. We declined. No harm, no foul was our take on the matter.

As a result of actually sleeping, even if it was a drug-induced coma, Lea actually felt better. She had a nursing student assigned to her when she woke up. Lea would refer to her as ‘my savior.’ That young girl helped Lea shower, got her dressed, helped with her hair and makeup, and had Lea sitting up in her room, looking like an angel when I arrived.

Despite the inflammatory process that was mindlessly trying to kill my wife, despite the construction process that prevented her from getting much rest, despite being cut open and losing another section of her GI tract, and despite almost being accidentally overdosed to death–Lea had survived by the grace of God.

God is great. God is good. God brought us together; we both believe that. It’s taken a lots of work and intentional living on both of our parts to stay together, but it’ll be twenty-eight years of staying together in one week.

I know. I can’t believe it. I’m not sure Lea can believe it either.

Sometimes you take things for granted in a relationship. I’m sure I’ve been guilty of this. But I also know my relationship with Lea has been the most life changing experience in my life. Nursing might have made me a better person, but being married to Lea has made me into a better man.

The Witch Queen of New Orleans

I met the Witch Queen at St Luke’s Behavioral Health. I had just started there after fleeing Banner Del E Webb Medical Center. The Witch Queen had been on my unit–AP 5–for quite some time. She was what we in the business refer to as a ‘placement problem.’

Almost all psychiatric treatment centers are acute care facilities. In places such as these, patients are stabilized as quickly as possible and then discharged back home, or to a halfway house, a group home, a homeless shelter–something/anything like unto that. In essence, all patients have to be discharged to a some where.

Every now and then a patient will be admitted to your facility that finding the where place to send them to is supremely difficult. This is usually the result of said patient being an unimaginable, monstrous pain in the ass, and they have essentially been kicked out of every decent existing placement facility in your area. Even all the roach motel placement dives that will normally accept anyone with a pulse and the money to pay for their care won’t take them either.

What you’re left with is a nightmare because the person no one wants is stuck inside your facility, and you’re trapped inside with them. It’s like being in a horror movie, except it’s not a movie, and no one ever gets to say, “Cut!”

This is where having an amazing social worker comes in handy. In the world of Inpatient psychiatric treatment, the psychiatrist orders medications. The nurse administers the meds and manages any medical issues, as well as as a varied assortment of other duties as required. And the social worker drives the discharge bus. Social workers also perform a thousand and one other miscellaneous duties, much like nurses. Take it from me, a really good social worker is worth twice his or her weight in gold.

My personal favorite social workers based on the fact that I actually worked with them: Tom McClellan, best social worker at the MVAMC. Mike Greeman, second best social worker at the MVAMC. Brian Lockwood, great social worker at the MVAMC. Denise Blackfeet Wagner, really great social worker at the MVAMC. Michelle Zwemke Burns, great social worker at Del E Webb. Amy Bressler, great social worker at Del E Webb. Ray Young, great social worker at Aurora. Karen Rae Goff, my personal favorite greatest social worker at Aurora, ever. For all time.

Oddly, I can’t remember the names of any of the social workers at St Luke’s. I do remember one of the social workers–she dressed like a prostitute, right down to the fishnet stockings and the miniskirts. Maybe social worker was her day job…

Now then, where were we? Oh, yes. The Witch Queen.

Her name was Larue. I think ‘The Diary of a Mad Black Woman’ was written about her. If it wasn’t, it could’ve been. She was from New Orleans, and she ended up in Arizona in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, somehow. This is how I imagined it happened: someone, probably a social worker, bought her a bus ticket as far away from the Big Easy as they could afford, and that’s how she ended up in Phoenix.

It didn’t take long for Larue to develop a reputation once she arrived in Phoenix. She was quickly banned from all the nice placement facilities. The placement dumps followed suit quickly. She probably set a record for how quickly no place in Phoenix wanted her at their facility.

Larue was truly psychotic. Even when she was as stabilized as much as modern psychiatric treatment could possibly accomplish, she was still crazier than two Mad Hatters. She would sit quietly in the day room, absorbed by whatever it was that was playing inside her head. And then she’d get up and stroll toward the nursing station…

There are times when a narrative is just not sufficient to portray the quality of something, like Roya’s darlingpreshadorbs Persian accent. Or Larue’s psychotic Witch Queen motormouth, blackmagicmojo ramblings. It’s been probably five years or more since I’ve heard one, and I had to go make sure she wasn’t standing outside my front door before I started writing this.

There were three points of patient access at the AP 5 nursing station. There were Dutch doors on either end, and a window in the middle of the station. Larue would randomly pick one of those three spots, and for lack of a better descriptive term, go off like a motherfucker on the unfortunate nurse sitting at that spot in the nursing station.

Larue didn’t appear to have any preference. She didn’t single out any particular nurse. She just let whomever have it with both barrels at point blank range, and there was no such thing as verbally redirecting Larue once she got started. She was a laser guided, heat seeking missile of psychosis that delivered a payload of unintelligible insanity. Her speech was a combination of English, Creole, spittle and craziness delivered in an extremely loud shriek.

Larue would let her victim have it, and when she had completed her rambling voodoo curse, or whatever it was she was doing, she would take a deep breath, nod her head and walk away. And there was peace once more. Until the next time…

It was inevitable that Larue would pick me for one of her rants. In fact, I can remember a few. The first time, I wanted to die, maybe. I should’ve pretended to have a seizure, that might’ve distracted her–but if you’re going to fake a seizure, you really need to pee your pants or no one will ever take you seriously.

The second time I was better prepared and smiled every now and then, but mostly nodded in agreement a lots of times.

The third time, I actually don’t remember the third time, but my first ex-work wife, Deb Goral does. Larue went all batshit crazy on me, as usual. She’s shrieking at me in Chinese Creole English or something, and spitting all over the plexiglass window separating us. I think she wanted me to discharge her, “…or all your hair will fall out! Great googly-moogly, prolly nolly dictum!!”

I ran my hand over my head and said, “Oh my God, it worked!”

All things must pass. Nothing in this world is permanent. Larue was eventually discharged to a facility near Tucson. The Witch Queen was gone, the memory of her presence would fade. She would be replaced by other nightmare patients, some of whom would make the Witch Queen look like a fairy princess.

Psych nursing is a lots like working in a pawn shop. You never know what’s going to walk through that door. So be careful what you ask for. You just might get it.

Fabulous Roya

One of the most pleasant surprises I would experience working at Aurora was Roya, or as I came to think of her, Fabulous Roya. The photo above was taken at Christmas. Roya might be Iran’s Christmas present to America.

Roya was an RN. She worked full time at an Eye Surgery Clinic in Scottsdale when I first met her. She picked up extra shifts at Aurora on the weekends because, well, you never know what’s going to happen, and you shouldn’t put all your camels in the barn before the peacocks have their pajamas on.

I’ll tell you what. I used to spend a lots of time in Texas, and when it comes to turning a phrase, can’t nobody beat a Texan. They have a way with words, Texans do.

Now I’m gonna tell you damn what–Texans got nothing on Persians when it comes to turning a phrase. And not even a Texan can hold a candle to a Persian when they start waxing philosophic about life, or love, or food, or anything. And maybe it’s not all Persians. Maybe it was Roya. After all, she is fabulous.

I will never forget my first time working with Roya. My wife took one look at me when I got home and started dialing 911. I had to convince her I hadn’t been assaulted and ended up with a traumatic brain injury. I had a dazed look in my eyes.

“I’m fine. I just worked with Roya today.”

“What does that mean? What’s a ‘roya’?”

Roya’s family fled Iran after Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi was ousted from the Peacock Throne in 1979. She was the youngest of something like fifty children; the Prophet David would’ve been proud. This was perhaps the only subject Roya wouldn’t expansively talk about, but I think Roya was an honest to Allah, 100% genuinely real princess in Iran.

She came to this country, learned to speak English and got her nursing license. She got a job, divorced her husband, bought a house, and renovated everything inside and outside of it. (Spoiler alert! It was fabulous!) She built a life of her choosing, and continued her education, getting her Master’s degree in Nursing and she’ll be nurse practitioner by the end of the year.

Roya told me she became a nurse because the nurses in Iran wore the cutest outfits back before the overthrow of the Shah. I did a Google search. Iranian fashion was very Western before the Ayatollah took charge and burned all the miniskirts and go-go boots, and I think that’s what Iranian nurses once wore. I encouraged Roya to dress like her nursing idols, but she declined. That doesn’t mean she donned a chador–I didn’t call her Fabulous Roya for nothing.

Roya was one of the best nurses I’ve ever worked with. If there was a code of any color, Roya was always one of the first responders. There was one time I know of that she was the only responder. I used to be a first responder. The longer I worked in Psych, the less likely I was to actually respond to a code, unless it was on my unit. Also, the longer I worked in Psych, the less likely it was that there would be a behavioral code on my unit.

On the second day I worked with Roya, one of her patients started escalating. He probably wanted more meds, or different meds. And by different I mean Ativan, or maybe Subutex. Roya told the guy what she was willing to do for him, and she also told him what she wouldn’t do. She’d check his MAR, talk to his doctor; he was going to have to be patient and wait, but she was going to take care of him. And she called him Sweetheart. I can’t recall if the guy got what he wanted or if he was so stunned he simply walked away, but Roya was impressive.

“When I first saw you, I figured you were just another pretty face, but you’re a damn good nurse.”

“Seriously, you think I am just pretty, and nothing else? Markie! I can’t believe you would think that about me!” See? Fabulous.

Part of Roya’s charm was her voice and her accent. Replicating the sound of someone’s voice isn’t easy to do in a narrative. And in terms of Persians, what do most Americans think of when they hear that term? The Shahs of Sunset? I Dream of Jeannie?

Roya’s voice is what Jeannie’s voice should’ve sounded like. It was lilting, it was lyrical and musical. And it was non-stop.

In an earlier essay, I talked about my friend and mentor, Sondra, and I mentioned that she liked to talk. Sondra was a catatonic mute compared to Roya. Sondra was talkative. Roya was hyperverbal, on steroids. Seriously, I have never met anyone that wasn’t hypermanic, or on methamphetamine that talked as much as Roya. I doubt Roya had much self awareness about this aspect of her personality, and I know she had even less awareness about her volume. She even processed her thoughts out loud.

That part wasn’t so charming. In fact, for myself and almost everyone that ever worked with her, it was exhausting. I have described certain people I know as a force of nature, like, for instance, my wife. After working with Roya, I think Forces of Nature need to be measured on something like unto the Fujita scale for tornadoes. And based on that scale, Roya was an F-5. Maybe an F-6.

We all have our issues, right? Well, you do. As I sometimes tell my daughters, can’t everyone be perfect like me and you. And when it comes to fabulous, well, there’s only one Roya. The rest of us look like the Three Stooges trying to get a cat out of a tree compared to Roya.

I’ve been retired for a little over a month. Do I miss working for a living? I might, if I weren’t living in heaven on earth. Do I miss the people I worked with? Yes. And some of them I miss a lots.

Dooset daram, Fabulous Roya. I miss your koon.

The Guy With Lea

Having a social life when you’re a nurse can be a tricksy thing, especially if you’re trying to get together with another nurse. I never worked a set schedule until I moved to Arizona. During the two decades I worked at the VA, I never knew what my schedule would be from one month to the next, save that those two months would not be the same.

Here’s an example: Suppose I wanted to get together with my good friend, Sondra. We worked at different hospitals. Our schedules were different. Finding a date and a time we were both available required a supreme effort on both our parts

“What’s your schedule look like next week? Yeah, that’s no good. No, I’m working Nights on Wednesday. How about the week after that, I have Monday off. You’re working Nights. No, that’s the the only day that week that works for me. How about the week after that? You’re going to be in Chicago. Well, forget that week. What about the next week? The week after that? Seriously! I’m free on Thursday, too!”

Invariably, something would come up and we’d have to reschedule at least once. It took, on average, making plans about six to eight weeks in advance for us to get together for a couple hours. It got worse after Sondra got pregnant and had her daughter, Tanja.

Tanja was a cute baby kid, and she grew into an even cuter kid buddy. And she absolutely adored me.

“Tanja, we’re going to see Mark! The nurse I used to work with!” Sondra would tell her toddler kid buddy daughter.

“Yaaay! Yay, Mark! I love him!” Tanja would shout. It was so cute, so darlingpreshadorbs! I felt incredibly honored.

And then I got married. And I took my new bride to meet my friend and her daughter. And Tanja fell in love with Lea. Things would never be the same.

“Tanja! We’re going to see Mark!”

“Who?”

“Mark, the nurse I used to work with…”

“Um…Mark?”

“Yeah! The guy with Lea!”

“LEA! I love Lea!! Yay, Lea!!!”

Uh-huh. That’s right. I didn’t even have a name anymore. I had become the guy with Lea. I’ll admit it, that kind of stung a little, but I soon discovered Tanja’s reaction would not be a singular occurrence. There would be a lots of people that identified me by my relationship to my supermodel wife.

And who can blame them? Which would you remember seeing more? A bonfire, or the blazing flight of a comet?

My nieces and nephews–I had known those adorable brat kids their entire lives–I had been Uncle Mark, for the love of God! And two minutes after meeting my lovely wife, I was suddenly remembered as being Aunt Lea’s husband. And she had become Aunt Lea because she was married to me, goddamn it! I doubt any of nephews or nieces would’ve been able to pick me out of a police line up if I wasn’t standing next to my wife.

Back when Lea was in and out of Fairview Medical Center, we developed a post discharge tradition. Whenever Lea got out of the hospital, we’d drive a short distance down the road to the nearby Perkins restaurant and eat breakfast. On this particular occasion, I looked around as we walked in, and I recognized some of the people seated at the booths and tables. After we were seated, I looked around the room and realized I didn’t know some of the people, I knew all of them.

Everyone at this particular Perkins on that particular day were all former patients of mine from the MVAMC.

“Um, honey. I’m really sorry but you’re about to get surrounded by a bunch of crazy people.” I told Lea. She was incredibly gracious as she always is in those types of situations. One by one and two by two, all of my former patients approached our table.

“Hi, Mark! We don’t want to talk to you, we want to say hi to your beautiful wife!”

At least they called me by name…

Before we retired from the American workforce and moved to Mexico, Lea and I used to live in Surprise, AZ. We used to eat at a place near our house called Nick’s Diner II. Presumably there was a Nick’s Diner I somewhere, but we never ate there.

We were perusing the menu, and I noticed a group of servicemen sitting in the back. I asked Lea how she felt about buying lunch for them. She agreed, so we told our server to bring us their bill, and Lea paid for their meals.

We ate our meal and as we got up to leave there was, I kid you not, a freakin’ stampede of servicemen that almost knocked over three tables in their haste to hug my wife and thank her for her generosity. These guys had been sitting in the back for at least fifteen minutes, watching us. Their server had let them know who had picked up the tab for their meal. They had to have seen me sitting at the table with their benefactor. Did they care that it was my idea? Did they almost knock over even one table to come thank me?

It is as the Bard of Avon said, ‘Oh, she doth teach the torches to burn bright!’ Mere mortals can’t compete with something as immortal as that.

My Favorite Joke

Yep, that’s what it says. This is my favorite joke, ever. For all time.

This gal comes home, and she finds her husband sitting at the kitchen table with his head in his hands.

“Oh, honey! What happened? Is something wrong?”

“Yeah,” her husband replied after a moment. “I lost my job today, and if I don’t find another job soon, we’re going to lose everything! And with the economy being what it is…well, it just doesn’t look good for us”

“Well,” the gal says after a few minutes. “You know, I’m pretty good looking. I could put on that cute outfit you bought me for your birthday, and I could go stand on one of the corners downtown, and maybe I could make some extra money until you find another job”

So, the guy takes his wife downtown and puts her on a busy street corner, and then he parks across the street because this is his wife and he loves this woman. She looks really cute. She’s wearing a tight sweater with a little tartan skirt and high heel shoes. And as darling as she looks, it doesn’t take long before a guy in a sportscar pulls up.

“Hey, baby. I’m looking for some action. How much would it cost to have sex with you?”

“Um, just a minute,” And she runs across the street and tells her husband. “Honey, this guy wants to have sex with me! How much should I charge him?”

“A hundred bucks!” he says, and his wife runs back across the street.

“Hey, big boy, got a hundred bucks?” The guy shakes his head. “Um, just a minute.” and she runs across the street again. “He doesn’t have a hundred bucks, what should I do?”

“Ask him if he has twenty bucks, give him a blowjob.” So she runs across the street again.

“Hey handsome, got twenty bucks? I can give you a blowjob.”

“Hell yeah, I’ve got twenty bucks!” the guy says. She gets in the car. The guy unzips his fly and he…has…a…huge…cock!

“Um, just a minute!” And she runs across the street once more and asks, “Honey, can you loan this guy eighty bucks?”

Who’s Who

I don’t know if this has ever occurred to you or not, but sanity is kind of a one trick pony. I mean, all you get is rational thought and linear thinking. Insanity, on the other runs the gamut from abstract to zany.

This has nothing to do with this story, though it might be a topic for later discussion, but I have probably been certifiably crazy more than once in my life. I know my wife thinks so. I told her my life’s ambition was to become a prophet. She still doesn’t know what to think about that, and I divulged that factoid to her about fifteen years ago.

As much as I’d like this installment to be all about me, it’s not. It’s about the incredibly famous people I’ve met as a psych nurse. So let’s take a stroll down the Hall of Fame, shall we?

Jesus Christ. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve met Jesus. A dozen times or more, easily, and I ran into him at every hospital I’ve ever worked or trained at. The most interesting thing about Jesus–he never looked the same twice. Jesus was a young fat long haired white guy. A young tall skinny long haired white guy at least three times, if not more. A young skinny gay guy with a crewcut. An older, much heavier gay guy with an Elvis kind of hairstyle, except he had red hair. A fat Hispanic guy. A couple of different fat black guys. An old, generally crabby, white guy–one, two, three times.

Jesus–in the Bible–is my favorite guy, all time, hands down. Jesus–as a psych patient–was nothing like he was portrayed in the Bible. First, and foremost, he could no longer heal. Jesus, in his many manifestations as a psych patient, couldn’t fix a hangnail–forget about doing anything useful, like casting out demons or raising people from the dead. Secondly, Jesus the psych patient had nothing new to say about God, or the Kingdom of Heaven, or whom the blessed really were, or what we could expect when The End finally came.

One of the psycho Jesuses I met during my career was a guy named Ed. He was one of our frequent flyers at the MVAMC. One day Ed said this,”You know, I think I’m getting better. I used to think I was Jesus Christ, but now I know I’m John the Baptist.”

“You remember how John died, don’t you? I asked, after I stopped laughing.

“Yeah, and I think I’d rather have my head chopped off than get nailed to a cross.” It’s hard to argue with that kind of logic.

I’ve met God the Father twice, both times at the MVAMC. He was really tall, both times. Once he was middle aged. Once he was in his seventies. He was mostly calm, with moments of explosiveness in both of his incarnations. Papa God was mostly an entertaining psychiatric deity. And, if I remember correctly, he kinda liked his women with a little meat on their bones, if you know what I mean.

I met the Holy Spirit but once. He was the last of the Holy Trinity I’d meet, and I had almost given up hope of ever meeting him. El Espíritu Santo was an Hispanic guy who was hurriedly admitted to my unit at Aurora one Saturday morning. The Admissions staff was afraid he was going to kill them, so they rushed him to my unit first, and left all that pesky paperwork to be figured out later.

The Holy Spirit was a hot mess at first, but he settled down and became quite cooperative after a double dose of Zyprexa Zydis and a couple hours of answering my questions, and I had a lot of them. I asked every divine avatar I met these questions. How did that whole Triune God thing work anyway? How, exactly, were we created in the image of God. Did God have a physical body? What did He look like? How many angels, exactly, could dance on the head of a pin? Where was Heaven, and did Elijah have anything he wanted to say to his friends or family? I’m pretty sure those guys regretted being admitted to my unit, and most of them stopped saying anything about being any kind of god whenever I was around.

The only other deity I’ve met was Mars, the Roman God of War. He was a patient at the Minnesota State Hospital. He only identified himself to me as Mars once, and he couldn’t speak Latin. However, I took him seriously enough that I had to think myself invisible in order to survive.

That’s a scene from a cop movie that I can’t remember the name of, but this cop survives a mass shooting by a psychopathic maniac by thinking himself invisible in front of said psychopath–so nothing emanating from him was threatening or even challenging to anyone around him. And that’s what I did when I was cornered in the day room by the God of War in the dead of night. I’ve only had to resort to that defense a couple of times in my career, but it worked every time I employed it. You have to be able to think fast when you’re a psych nurse.

Moving right along down the Hall of Fame. Next stop, heads of state. Napoleon Bonaparte. Contrary to historical fact, the Little Corporal stood about six feet tall. The Czar of All the Russias was also quite tall. They were both my patients at the MVAMC. Napoleon spoke even less French than I did, but he did walk around with one hand inside his shirt, like people did when they posed for pictures during the Napoleonic era. The Czar of All the Russias called his mom frequently and asked her for permission to have people he didn’t like killed, like, for instance, his doctor.

“Mom, I don’t like this guy! He wants me to take meds, and–and I want to have him killed! Oh…o-okay, Mom. I’ll take the meds. Yes, Mom. And I’ll say I’m sorry. Yes, mom. O-okay. I love you too, Mom. Bye.”

I liked that guy. He probably would’ve made a great Czar. His mother certainly would’ve made a great Grand Duchess.

The King. Elvis’ real name was David Johnson. He was another patient at the MVAMC. This might be a HIPAA violation, but good luck tracking down which David Johnson I’m referring to. In Minnesota. Land of 10,000,000 Johnsons. DJ wasn’t just another Elvis impersonator, though it wouldn’t be inconceivable to think of him like that. DJ really thought he was Elvis. I’ll tell you what, karaoke was never the same after Elvis performed.

The Lizard King. Oddly, the guy that claimed he was Jim Morrison didn’t know that was one of his nicknames. How he ever pulled that identity out of his ass I’ll never know. He was a chubby black guy at St Luke’s that couldn’t tell you one single song The Doors sang, but he did know the lyrics to a lots of rap and hip hop songs. His real name was Morgan, and he was, without a doubt, one of the craziest motherfuckers I’ve ever known. Along with being the front man for rock band from the 1960’s, and Jesus Christ, he was also another one of the richest men on the planet guys. I’ve met that guy a lots of times too, now that I think about it.

Morgan liked me, so he gave me $300 million. Computer transfer. It should be on my next bank statement. Morgan was always asking me to bring him in a pack of cigarettes. After all, he had given me $300 mil. So, one day I bought him a pack of smokes and gave them to him at work.

“Wow, thanks, man. How much does a pack of cigarettes cost now?”

“Three hundred million dollars. We’re even now, okay.”

You have to be able to think fast when you’re a psych nurse. It could save your life. Or possibly your bank account.

The St Cloud VA

I spent more time at the St Cloud VAMC than I can probably remember. I worked there during the year I studied beer drinking and gas station attendant as a student at St Cloud State University. I had just gotten out of the Army and I still didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life.  However, I had a vague premonition that whatever it was I was going to do, I’d need a college education to achieve it. So I took a few General Education classes to get some of the basics out of the way, and I enrolled in a work/study program. Because I was a veteran, I got a job at the St Cloud VAMC.  I mopped floors, mostly. There are something like ten miles of hallways at the SCVAMC, and I probably mopped all of them at least once.

I spent three months there (from early October to just before Christmas) as a patient in the Chemical Dependency Recovery Program after I got a DWI in 1979(?) I have a memory problem. I think half of all the things that happened in my life before I became a nurse occurred in either 1979 or 1980. At any rate, the three months I spent there resulted in the only lengthy period of sobriety I had in my life until I was almost fifty.

Part of my Psychiatric rotation in nursing school was at the SCVAMC. I met some interesting guys out there. There was Leander. He was an older guy, a Norwegian bachelor farmer, perhaps. I asked why he was in the hospital.

“Oh, I hear voices, yah.”

“Oh, yah? Well, what do your voices say, then?”

“Yah, well.” he hesitated, then moved in closer. “They say, Kill, kill, kill.” he whispered.

“Oh, you don’t say! Well, I sure hope you’re not planning on committing any murders!” I tried to act shocked.

“Oh, God no!” Leander said, then looked around before he spoke. “I’m not really hearing voices. I just tell everyone that because I want to stay here until May.” It was maybe late October or early November. Leander just wanted a warm place to stay during the Minnesota winter. That, I would come to discover once I started working at the Minneapolis VAMC, was a pretty common goal for VA patients. Yeah, go figure on that one.

Henry was an older African American man. He didn’t understand how he suddenly became a black man because Henry was a white man. He had been a white man all of his life. And that’s why he was in the hospital. Henry would spend hours of time standing in front of the mirror in his bathroom, staring at the image he saw staring back at him, trying to figure out how THAT got happened.

And then there was David Smith, the Prophet of the Living God. David was perhaps the most interesting guy I’d ever met up to that point in my life, and certainly during my time as a nursing student. The Prophet David was bipolar, and he spent most of his life at the SCVAMC, according to him.

“I am the anointed Prophet of the Presbyterian Morman Church.” David informed me.

“I’ve never heard of that religion,” I replied.

“Of course you haven’t! It’s been a little difficult for me to spread the word because I’ve been locked up in this goddamn hellhole!”

For a guy that was locked up so much, David had been a remarkably busy guy. For starters, he had fifty wives. And each of his fifty wives had fifty kids. That’s one hundred, no, five hundred…  That’s a lots of fucking kids. Clearly, David’s mother hadn’t cursed him!

He lived in a big ass mansion on the Mississippi River with Errol Flynn.

“Isn’t he…dead?” I asked.

“That’s what everyone thinks!” David whispered in my ear. He lived in the mansion with his wife and kids and Errol, and one of his Army buddies. “He’s the only black man in America. I sent all the rest of them back to Africa!” No wonder Henry was so dismayed to discover he was black. Maybe he didn’t want to go back to Africa…  David could do that because he was also the richest man in the world. He had amassed his great fortune by finding and raising the greatest sunken ships in world and repurposing them. In fact, the Titanic was his personal yacht, and it was berthed in his backyard on the Mississippi River. “Do you know how I did it?” I did not. “I filled them with ping pong balls, and they floated right to the surface!”

I had to admit, it sounded like a stroke of genius. It also sounded like something only a crazy man would think up. So, I had to ask this question, “Say, Dave. Do you ever drink?” The Prophet David gave me a long, hard look. His response was the response of a man who had suffered immeasurable trials, tribulations and woe during his life.

“Let me tell you something, kid. When you sit at the left hand of God, and you have fifty wives, you are going to have a drink every now and then.”

And there you have it. If hanging out with a harem of women doesn’t make you lose your grip on sanity, hanging out with God will. This totally supported my theory that King Solomon was a complete idiot, and now I knew why.

I’ve often wondered what it takes to become a Presbyterian Morman. I’ve never seen so much as one temple, and I’ve looked. This might be hard to believe, but I’ve always wanted to be a prophet. I’m not sure what the criteria for being a prophet is. I’m not sure anyone does anymore, but then again, I’m not sure why everyone thinks Solomon is so goddamn smart either. His story doesn’t illuminate a lots of brilliance on Solomon’s part, and by the time you get to the end, Solomon is a moron.

But if I ever figure the prophetic criteria out, that’s what my next career is going to be. If I don’t, I’ll settle for being the Guy with Lea, a FB photojournalist and an obscure blogger guy. I’ve had worse options before.

Frankie Baby

One of my favorite patients at Aurora was Frank. He was my patient so many times I kind of adopted him after awhile. He was an Hispanic guy in his fifties. He was about my size, so he was essentially a Latino hobbit junkie.

Frankie Baby was a heroin addict. I detoxed him at least five times in three and a half years, but it was probably more like seven. And that’s not counting all the times he was admitted to other units. On the odd occasion that happened, Frank always dropped by the Canyon Unit nursing station to say hi.

Now that I think about it, I had a lots of guys like Frankie Baby during my time at Aurora. There was Kevin. And Justin. And Thomas. And Robert. And Bob. And other Robert. We’d detox them all, give them a little sober time, then DC them. And, they’d be back in a week or two. It’s a testament to the nefariousness of the disease, the tenacious grip of the addiction and the high probability of an addict making yet one more really bad decision.

After years of struggling with this myself, I’ve come to believe that addicts are more addicted to making bad decisions than they are to their actual drug of choice. I’m sure there are plenty of people that would disagree with this, but, yeah well, you know, that’s just, like, your opinion, man.

I’ve had many discussions with my unrepentant drug buddies over the years. None of them had any major objections to my theory. In fact, most of them supported it. It didn’t make them any less susceptible to their foibles, but it did give them something new to think about. Sometimes you look at a thing from the same perspective for so long you don’t think there’s any other way to see it…

Opiate addiction has become something of an epidemic in the United States of late, kind of like the obesity epidemic, only not as tasty.  Like obese people, opiate addicts leave a distinct carbon footprint in their wake. Frankie Baby used to come to the nursing station and verbalize multiple multitudinous somatic complaints in the hopes that I would transfer him to the nearest ED. The only symptom Frank didn’t endorse was already being dead, otherwise he had everything. Twice. And a bag of chips.

When I refused to give in, Frank would request any and all PRN comfort meds that were available. Opiate addicts were some of the most med seeking people I ever cared for. One of my opiate detox guys received thirty PRN’s in eight hours. Thats an average of five pills an hour. They can be exhausting people to manage, physically, because you’re in and out of the med room a hundred times a shift. And they’re emotionally exhausting, too. You give them everything you’ve got, and they’ll still want more.

“Hey, I just want to thank you.” Frank told me after a particularly exhausting day for both of us. “I just wanted to get high, and you knew that. That’s why you didn’t listen to any of my bullshit. I know I’m a pain in the ass sometimes, but I just wanted to thank you. You really care, man. And that’s not an easy thing to do with me.”

I had a hard time seeing when I drove home after that shift.

I was assaulted in February of this year, and my jaw was fractured as a result. Frankie Baby wasn’t in the hospital when it happened, but he was admitted shortly afterwards.

“Hey brother, I heard what happened to you.” Frank said when he swung by my unit to visit. He had been admitted to one of the units on the second floor. “I just want you to know, if I had been here, I would’ve fuckin’ killed that guy.”

I have to admit, I have always been in awe of the way psych patients know everything that happens in the hospital. Seriously, if you want to know what’s really going on in a psychiatric facility, don’t ask the staff. Ask one of the patients.

I don’t know if Frank would’ve actually killed the guy that broke my jaw, but I do know this: he very likely would have died trying if he ever made the attempt.

Hey, Frankie Baby. I want to publicly thank you for that. That came from your heart, brother. I love you for that, amigo. And caring for me hasn’t always been an easy thing to do.

ER, Part II

I lived in a cute little apartment building that was right on the Mississippi River when I was in nursing school. It was the perfect location for me, maybe four blocks from the school, maybe a quarter mile from downtown St Cloud. It was a three story square, brick building, and each floor was a complete two bedroom apartment. I lived on the top floor apartment. Directly below me lived Judy Nicegirl and Nora the Goon.

Judy was a nice girl. She used to make pizzas for me and my brother, and she asked me out multiple times. Judy was head over heels in love with me. She was physically attractive–she had a pretty hot body–but Judy wasn’t very smart. This will sound like the ultimate irony coming from me because God knows I was plenty capable of infinite stupidity, but I rate intelligence very high on my list of desirable qualities. Unfortunately, Judy had a very low rating in that particular area.

And then there was her roommate. I don’t know how many of you are familiar with Popeye the Sailorman, but there was a character named Alice the Goon in Popeye’s cartoons, and Nora kind of reminded me of Alice…

Judy had a boyfriend, Brian. He lived on the ground floor apartment in our building. Brian’s mom must not have cursed him because he got Judy pregnant and she had Brian’s baby. I don’t think Judy and Brian had that great of a relationship prior to making their baby, and it didn’t get any better afterwards. Judy and Brian had multiple arguments, multiple times. Then Judy would go to her apartment and argue with Nora the Goon. There was a reason for this that has nothing to do with the story, but I’ll add it because it was so great at the time. Nora was a lesbian and she wanted Judy more than Judy wanted me. My brother, Thomas Rowen, thought this was just about the funniest thing he’d ever seen in his life.

It was January, probably my senior year of nursing school. It was the weekend. Yeah, weekends in January were tough on me in nursing school. It was cold, colder than it had been one year earlier when everyone had been sledding on the hill at the end of the street. I was watching TV with my brother Tom, when there was a knock at the door.

“Brian beat me up!” Judy cried, as I answered the door. “I think he broke my arm!” I ushered her into the living room, and had my brother keep an eye on her while I went out to start my car and let it warm up before I drove Judy to the hospital. I had a 1980 Honda Civic CVCC four door wagon. It was the most undependable car I ever owned. It started about half of the time I wanted to drive it. Fortunately, this was one of its good days. My car started right up, and I shivered as I revved the engine periodically to warm it up faster. Neither Judy nor Nora owned a car. Brian did, but I didn’t see his car in the parking lot.

My brother threw me his coat when I returned to my apartment. Judy was already wearing my coat. I fired a quizzical look at my brother. He responded with a look that said, She’s not wearing my coat! I escorted Judy down the stairs and into my car.  She was crying. I tried to distract her, told her a joke or something, and her sobbing abated somewhat. And then we were at the hospital. Yeah, it took about that long.

“Wait here, I’ll go get a wheelchair.”

“I can walk.” Judy replied. She had stopped crying.

“No, wait here. I’ll be right back.” There was an empty wheelchair near the entrance. I wheeled it out to my car, and helped Judy get in it.

“You’re such a sweet guy. That’s why I like you so much. You’re so nice. Thank you for driving me here.”

“Yeah, well, I wasn’t going to let you walk here.” It was pretty damn cold outside. And she had a broken arm… I wheeled her down a short hallway into the ER waiting room. The ER was dead on that day. There might’ve been a couple people waiting, but mostly I saw the ER staff sitting around the nursing station in small groups, shooting the breeze.

“Can I help you?” a guy in blue scrubs said, approaching us as we approached the nursing station. He had a neatly trimmed beard, and he smiled a warm greeting as we came in from the cold.

“I broke my arm!” Judy sang out, catching me by surprise. I had an explanation I wanted to say before anyone got the wrong idea.

“Oh, did you have a skiing accident?” he asked, looking at our outerwear, which could’ve been used as skiing jackets, I suppose. He was still smiling, and now all the other staff members behind the nursing station started taking notice of us and some of them got up and stated heading toward us. I opened my mouth to reply.

“No! My boyfriend beat me up!!”

It became very cold in that Emergency Room, very quickly. The smiling faces approaching us suddenly took on the appearance of every pissed off Mom/Dad/Brother/Sister/Cousin of every victim of every case of domestic violence, ever. And all of those dark and damning eyes were staring at me.

“Um, hey, no way, guys,” the words stumbled out of my mouth. “I’m not her boyfriend. I’m her neighbor. I just brought her here for help.” Looking at the eyes staring back at me I could see not one of them believed anything I said.

“Oh!” Judy cried out as I gave her a nudge in the back with my knee. “No, he’s right! He’s not my boyfriend, he is my neighbor, and he’s the nicest, sweetest guy I know.”

The cold stare in the eyes of the ER staff thawed a little when Judy said that. They rushed toward us, and took the wheelchair from me, in case I suddenly became her boyfriend and decided to break her other arm, maybe, and quickly wheeled Judy off into an exam room. A group of rather large, unfriendly men spread out around me, blocking my access to the door.

“You don’t mind waiting until we check her story out, do you?” the bearded guy said. It wasn’t really a question, the way he said it. The army of men behind him crossed their arms, almost daring me to try to get past them.

Nope. I didn’t mind. I sat down and didn’t make any sudden moves. I prayed this would be resolved quickly. And it was. A female staff member came out of Judy’s exam room and talked softly to the group of men around me. Afterwards, they looked over at me and smiled warmly once more. Some of them nodded in my direction, some came over and clapped me on the back or the shoulder. The bearded guy that hailed me initially came over and apologized.

“Sorry about that, but we have to check everything out. You be surprised how often something like this happens around here.”

Actually, I woudn’t have been that surprised, but I nodded and shook the guy’s hand. I asked what happened next and how long this would take. Setting Judy’s arm and putting it in cast would be relatively quick, but the police report could take a couple hours. I gave the guy my number.

“Call me if she needs a ride when she’s done.”

That’s the story of why the ER staff were as angry with me as they were with the alcoholic mom that let her little girl get knocked up by her boyfriend, and you’d be surprised how often something like that happened in St Cloud. Not so surprising, perhaps, was that Judy actually filed charges against Brian. He packed up all his stuff and slipped off into the darkness. I never saw him again. Nora would have all her dreams come true. Even Judy would have some of her dreams come true before my time in nursing school ended.

I’m not sure there’s a moral to this story. I don’t even have a punchline to end it. But not everything in life is funny, or has a happy ending.

PEDS, ER, ETC.

My darling niece, Danielle Knosalla, just posted a photo of my nursing class on our Graduation Day. We’re FB friends. Some of you have expressed awe and wonder at my seemingly amazing memory. For the record, I’m sure I couldn’t tell you who ninety percent of the people in that picture are. In fact, I’m not sure that’s really me.

Here’s another tidbit for you, I can’t remember anything about my Pediatric rotation. Okay, I can remember a couple things: I had a Pediatric rotation, and I dressed up in a clown costume once. I have a vague memory of this, but that’s all I have. I can’t remember anything about any of the kids I took care of. That’s about all I can pull out of the memory vault. It’s as though someone had redacted most of the actual events, for reasons unknown to me.

Neither can I recall any of the details about the childhood of my daughters. Oh. Lea says we weren’t married when her girls were little, so that explains a lots. I have two stepdaughters, Gwen Markes Henson and Abigail Zorawski. We’re FB friends, too. Gwen was fifteen when Lea and I got married. Abi was twelve. They are, without a doubt, two of the most perfect people on this planet, but that’s only because I’m not their biological father. If I had been, they both would’ve been screwed up beyond all hope because I had been cursed by my Mom.

I was a terrible human being when I was young. And one day my totally exasperated mother looked me in the eyes and said, “You just wait until you grow up and have kids of your own–they’re going to be just…like…you!” Yep, she hit me with the Mother’s Curse, of all parental curses, it’s the most powerful. It scared the hell out of me. I made sure I never had any kids. Birth control. It was the one responsibility I took seriously even when I took nothing else seriously.

Another rotation I have difficulty remembering is the ER. I do have a few memories of my time in the ER. It was the only rotation that we were required to work the night shift. It makes perfect sense. When does all the weird shit happen? At night, of course! So we hung out in the ER during the Witching Hours, when the kooks, the crazies and the zombies come out.

For someone who would spend half a lifetime hanging out with kooks and crazies, I don’t remember running into anyone resembling that description during my ER rotation. I do remember hanging out with the ER staff, shooting the breeze and drinking coffee. And I remember talking to the oh-so-incredibly-cute Diane Hanson, and agonizing over whether to ask her out or not. The nuclear meltdown that had once been my relationship with Cynthia ‘Fatass’ Jamieson would play a significant part in my decision not to ask Diane out. And then there was Rebecca.

When I was in nursing school, I was totally infatuated with the oh-so-beautiful Rebecca Ann Brown. If you look at my nursing class picture, Rebecca is the back row, five girls to the right of me, or she’s the second from the end on the right hand side of the back row. I became a cardiac care nurse because of Rebecca. Even at the time I knew it was a stupid thing to do.

I had asked Rebecca out, more than once. She rejected my advances for a few reasons. One, I was roughly ten years older than she was. Although she didn’t endorse as a reason not to date me, it could’ve played a part. Two, I was a nice guy, but… For the love of God, just kill me! was my response when she uttered this line to me. Three, she already had a boyfriend. Of course she did! She was the eternal goddess of nursing, she could’ve had ten boyfriends if she wanted, and I wanted to be one of them.

Alas, it would not be, and I would suffer from an acute broken heart. I considered going to the ER, then decided against it. I doubted the ER staff would be able to do much to help me.

My ER rotation produced one hallmark memory. An older looking woman brought her thirteen year old daughter in because of the incredible abdominal pain the girl was complaining about. Her mom looked to be a lots older than a woman with a thirteen year old should look, and that was most likely related to her alcohol consumption.

She was clearly inebriated the night she brought her daughter in. Apparently mom didn’t spend much time looking in on her daughter because an ultrasound revealed the cause of the girl’s abdominal pain. The young girl was pregnant, and about to deliver.

Her mom evidently hadn’t cursed her–she was so eager to provide her mother with grandchildren, she had been having sex with her mother’s boyfriend.

The ER staff whispered all kinds of curses at the drunken mom. They were so angry! I had seen this reaction from the ER staff before, but on that occasion they had directed their anger toward…

Yep, you guessed it.

Me.

The Devil Drives a Chevy

Back when I was in Oklahoma, I had a couple of Army buddies that were from the Great State of Texas, which just happened to be conveniently located due south of Oklahoma. Several of us would pile into a car after work on Friday afternoon, fill up the gas tank, load up on beer and munchies–and hit the road. It was party time.

We’d end up at Johnny’s parents’ house. Or Kim’s parents’ house. Or Tommy’s parents’ house. Or Raoul’s parents’ house. The parental units were always happy to see their son and almost always happy to meet his new friends. We were happy to be out of Oklahoma and the Army, if only for a couple of days.

On the weekend that the devil went down to Texas, we ended up at Raoul’s parents’ house, and it was just Raoul and myself, not half the company. He had a blue, two door Chevy Nova. It was a beautiful car.

Raoul’s parents lived somewhat west of the middle of nowhere, if memory serves me right. We got in late Friday night, grabbed a couple hours of sleep, ate breakfast (Raoul’s mom could’ve made one of my boots taste great), and headed out to party down with a couple of Raoul’s cousins.

Raoul was about ten years older than I was. He was divorced, and that, is going to be one fuck of a story if I ever find the courage to write it. Raoul was an Hispanic guy, and the first group of his cousins we partied with were on par with his age. We met up at a little bar in a little town, and started drinking our way toward the geographic center of the middle of nowhere.

Sometime around midnight, maybe, we ran into another group of Raoul’s cousins that were closer to my age, and they knew about this monster party out by the river that was east of the middle of nowhere. So we all decided to go to that.

Raoul’s younger cousins were less into booze, and more into pot and psychedelics. They asked if I wanted to try some acid. I said make mine a double, and smiled. This was going to be an epic night.

I’m sure my memories of what happened next are a bit blurry, but they’re the only ones I have. The Party at the River was huge! It was like Woodstock, only smaller. And there were no live bands. And it didn’t last three days. There was music, and people dancing in the moonlight. Lots of beer, lots of pot. And then the acid kicked in and the world went Technicolor®.

I wandered around the party grounds with Raoul’s electric younger cousins while the Old Guard kicked back by the tables where the audio system was set up, and drank beer.

At around 3:30 AM, the party was still going strong, I was tripping my balls off, but Raoul thought we should head for home and catch a few hours of sleep. We still had to drive back to base, and go back to the Army, and all that buzzkill crap.

I was going to be up all night tripping the Light Fantastique, so to speak, so I told him what I thought he could do with his idea. Raoul got really pissed! He started yelling and swearing. His electric cousins told him to chill out, man. He started yelling at them in Spanish. The Old Guard Cousins formed a line, facing off against their younger Electric Cousins. And then there were a lots of people, all of them yelling.

The Electric Cousins and I decided enough was enough, and started to walk off. And then Sergeant Raoul Killjoy got all up in my grille and said, “Get in the goddamn car! We’re leaving!”

I refused. Raoul shoved me in what I think was the general direction of his car, then he punched me in the jaw. That’s when I lost my glasses. A brawl broke out, and we were all kicked out of the Epic Party at the River, East of the Middle of Nowhere.

Once we got kicked out of the party, Raoul’s cousins started laughing and helping each other up, clapping each other on the back. Raoul and I were not laughing. I was essentially blind without my glasses, and I had somehow broken Raoul’s arm when I retaliated against his unprovoked aggression, though neither of us knew that yet.

We said goodbye to all the cousins, got on the highway and drove off into the night. Raoul was pissed off as two hells at me for being such a goddamn hammerhead, and not listening to him and disobeying a direct order. He did outrank me. He was an E5. I was an E4.

I was tripping on maybe a couple thousand micrograms of LSD, and I wasn’t too happy either. I couldn’t see anything clearly, except the hallucinations I was having, and they were vividly intense. I looked over at Raoul, but he wasn’t there. In his place was the Devil!

Yes. Satan himself was my chauffeur, driving across Texas as the sun was starting to come up. I had been raised Catholic and the stereotypical image of the Devil–horns growing out of his head, red skin, pointed tail, glowing eyes, evil smile–it was all there, just to my left, driving the car down the highway to hell.

I’m not sure if I screamed, but I think it would’ve been appropriate, don’t you? At the very least, I should’ve done the Home Alone face, but I know I didn’t do that. I did what any other hallucinating former Catholic would’ve done in that situation. I opened the door and jumped out of the car. The moving car, that was traveling at least 55 mph.

Whatever you think should have happened to me for doing what I did, probably didn’t happen. I didn’t got dead. I didn’t lose consciousness. I didn’t break any bones. I don’t think I even ended up with road rash after sliding across the highway. What I did end up with was a very small, very superficial cut on the top of my head.

Raoul slammed on the brakes and got out of the car. It was right about this point in time he figured out he had a broken arm because his left arm hurt like hell when he tried to open the door.

“WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING!?!” he screamed at me. I could kind of make out Raoul’s features in the distance, and this was a relief to me. Satan, the real Prince of Darkness, was gone. And at that moment the sun rose over the horizon.

We drove to a military base that was kind of in the general direction of Oklahoma. Raoul had x-rays taken, his bones manipulated back into place, and a cast put on his left arm. He also got a bottle of Percodan for dessert, which we washed down with a twelve pack we bought at a convenience store to get us back to Ft Sill.

I’m not sure anyone believed the story we told them–and the story you just read is the story we told everyone–when they asked us what happened.

If I hadn’t been there, I probably wouldn’t believe it either, but I have had a blessed life and what appears to be ten thousand guardian angels protecting me or I wouldn’t be here now.

You might think Raoul and I would be anything BUT friends after this. Nope, we were buds right up to the day I got out of the Army. He came to see me when I took a trip to Dallas in 1978 with my then almost best bud ever, Gerald ‘Shorty’ Girtz.

And if you think The Devil Went Down to Texas trip is the weirdest thing that ever happened to me, you’d be wrong. It’s in the Top Five, for sure. Maybe the Top Three.

That trip to Dallas though, that might be Number One.

To Sleep, Perchance to Dream

I don’t know what the problem is, but I’ve been having trouble sleeping ever since I retired. It’s not like I have a lots of stuff on my mind. The two most pressing problems in my current life are, Where did I put whatever it is I’m looking for? I just had it! And, where should we eat today?

This may not sound serious to you, but me not sleeping–it’s like Guy Fieri having problems with his appetite. It’s like Hillary Clinton not having problems with integrity, or Donald Trump not saying something stupid.

I don’t usually make political references, but I used to facilitate a lots of groups, and one of the things I used to examine was how people tend to stereotype things. Now, stereotypes rarely stand up to rigorous examination, except this example: Are all politicians crooks? And everyone always said, Yes! It was true every time.

So, now that I’ve retired, I can’t sleep. Well, it couldn’t have happened at a better time. If I failed to sleep and I had to work the next day, it would surely effect my performance. I’d most likely run out of gas sometime in the afternoon, and probably sputter to the finish line.

Now that I’m retired if I can’t sleep, I can take a nap any time during the day I finally feel tired enough to actually doze off. It doesn’t have any impact on my productivity because, well, my entire lifestyle has changed. My boss is…me?

Well, technically, my wife’s the boss, then the cat. But they’re pretty easy to please, especially the cat.

Back in my nursing days, I had a lots of bosses. Administration. Management. Supervisors. Co-workers. And finally, my patients. I used to let some of them think they were my boss. It made life easier for everyone. And not all of my many bosses were easy to please.

One of the most common complaints by unhappy patient/bosses was this: I can’t sleep!

As a nurse, you have options. You can do nothing. Tell them to back to bed, stop trying so hard. Relax, you’ll fall asleep. This is generally seen as an inefficient response by the patient.

“I tried that! I’m still awake! That’s why I came out here to talk to you!!”

I would always ask my patient/bosses what they did when they weren’t in the hospital. Smoke. Drink. Take a pill. Yeah, well, we can’t let you smoke. We sure as hell can’t let you drink. Which pill did you take and what dose?

Benadryl. Ativan. Klonopin. Valium. Xanax. I don’t know. The green pill. You never knew what you were going to hear.

If there was a med order, I would dispense meds. The unhappy customer would take his or her medicine and go back to bed. Most of the time it was as simple as that. If there wasn’t a standing order, I could call the POD, Physician On Call, and usually get an order because I had a teacher that taught me how to get what I needed from almost any doctor.

It probably stands to reason that most of these urgent calls for sleeping pills occurred at night, right? Because that’s when it always happened. And I had a different name for the Physician On Call. In my terminology, POD stood for Prince/Princess of Darkness. As odd as this might sound, most of the docs I called in the middle of the night liked that term. Some of them identified with it. And you can get almost anything you want from the Prince of Darkness.

So, there was this guy at the MVAMC. Edison. He was an older guy, late fifties, early sixties. I can’t remember if he was depressed or schizophrenic, but what I can remember is he was the guy that couldn’t sleep.

I worked a rotating Day/Night shift at the VA. During the time in question, Edison was a patient on my unit, and I was working a stretch of nights. He was generally a quiet guy, kept to himself; makes me think he heard voices now. Because he couldn’t sleep, Edison didn’t even try to pretend to go to bed. He sat up in the lounge listening to whatever it was his voices had to say.

Edison didn’t complain about his insomnia, well, not at first. I offered him meds, but he declined. He said meds didn’t work. He just sat in the lounge every night for maybe four or five nights.

Edison started coming up to the nursing station. He still wasn’t sleeping, but maybe he’d try some meds. And that’s when the problems started. Edison wasn’t lying. Medications did not work.

I called the Prince of Darkness, he gave me an order for Trazodone. It’s an antidepressant, but it has one helluva sedative side effect. We used it for sleep all the time.

Didn’t do a thing.

Next night, get an order for an extra dose.

Didn’t do anything.

Next night, Edison says he hasn’t slept at all during the entire time he’s been in the hospital. I have to admit, I didn’t believe him. No one can stay awake that many days straight and not go crazy, or in his case, crazier, I suppose. I got a higher dose of Trazodone, plus a repeat dose if needed.

Didn’t do a thing.

We tried other meds as the nights progressed into Week Two. Haldol. Benadryl. Combos of Haldol and Benadryl. Add Ativan. It didn’t matter what we did, the meds did nothing. Edison asked me to get a big hammer and hit him over the head with it. I told him we already tried Maxwell’s Silver Hammer, and it didn’t do squat.

At some point in time around here I had a night off. Maybe two. I didn’t have any problems sleeping on my days off. When I went back to work again it was for another stretch of nights.

As for Edison, it was allegedly Night 11 of no sleep at all, day or night. I wasn’t the only skeptical person when it came to believing Edison’s claim of total sleep abstinence. No one did. We all figured he had to have gotten a few minutes of sleep here and there.

I couldn’t stay awake that many days in row. I’d nod off for at least a few minutes, if not more, especially between 3:00-5:00 AM. It wasn’t called the dead of night for nothing. That two hour timespan was a killer for me. If I could make it through those hours, I could make it through the night.

It just so happens there’s a threshold/drop dead timeline when it comes for how many days you can survive without any sleep whatsoever.

Anyone want to guess how many days that might be?

I returned to work, and there was Edison, still not sleeping. Also there on this night was my nursing bud and all around best friend, Paul Anderson. This was going to be a great night, I thought.

Edison was becoming more vocal in his claim of not sleeping, not even a goddamn five minute catnap, for Christ’s sake! His voice was starting to incorporate a kind of annoying whining tone.

I checked his medication record. He’d already received everything he could for sleep. I gave him a couple Tylenol and a shot of Maalox, and encouraged him to lay down and try to relax. Edison whined as he walked down the hallway, but he didn’t go to bed, he went back to the lounge.

Paul and I had a great time that night. We told jokes and said funny stuff. And we were working with Gail Sebesta, an uniquely talented LPN who could run with the wolves, and by wolves I mean Paul and myself.

The night seemed to fly by. We were having a minor great time inside the nursing station. I looked at the clock. It was almost 3:30 AM already! This was going to be the best night ever. And that’s when Edison came up to the nursing station.

“I still can’t sleep!” he kind of whined.

“Yeah, I know. The problem is, I don’t know what to do about it.”

“Can’t you call the doctor?”

“Sure, I can call him, but then what? Edison, I’ve gotten orders for enough meds for you to put this entire unit to sleep for a week. I’m pretty much out of suggestions. You guys got any ideas?”

“Hey, Edison.” Paul said. He went through the Mark’s a good nurse and he’s done everything he can think of speech. Maybe more medication wasn’t the answer. It hadn’t seemed to have been very effective so far. Paul was a master of redirection, and when that didn’t work, he was a master at setting limits. All I had to do was sit back and relax.

“But I haven’t had ANY sleep in almost two weeks!” Edison cried, his voice was more whiny, and he was getting louder.

“It’s more like eleven days, isn’t it?” I thought that sounded better than two weeks.

“No. That’s not possible.” Paul disagreed. “It’s physically impossible for you to go that many days in a row without any sleep. Your brain will automatically shut down all by itself.”

“Mine just shut down right now,” Gail added. I laughed. Edison did not. He got louder.

“Why won’t anyone believe me?!? I haven’t slept since I came in here! I. Can’t. Sleep!!”

Other patients were coming to their doors to see what was going on. This was suddenly becoming a nightmare. No night shift nurse wants to take care of a bunch of cranky people at 3:45 AM.

“Hey, bud. Can you turn down the volume a bit, you’re starting to wake everyone else up.” I said.

“I DON’T CARE! I CAN’T SLEEP AND IF I DON’T GET SOME SLEEP SOON, I’M GONNA DIE!!”

“Hey, Edison!” Paul jumped back into the fray. He voice was stern. “You’re gonna have to trust me, man. No one has ever died from a lack of sleep.”

There are moments in every life when everything happens in slow motion, right? Have you ever felt that?

Paul finished his pronouncement. Edison started making these strange creepy-croaky noises in the back of his throat. His eyes rolled back inside his head, and he turned a kind of beet red color. He fell to the floor without even a hint of muscle tone or control. He landed face-first with a smacking sound like unto the sound a beaver makes when it smacks its tail on the water.

“Holy shit! Call a code!! Gail said, running for the crash cart.

There was a phone right in front of me. I called the Operator as Paul went flying by me to try to save the life of the man he’d just assured there was no way he was going to die.

And then everything became a blur. We started CPR, the Code Team flooded onto the unit and took over. But despite Paul’s promise, Edison was DRT.

I haven’t been awake eleven straight days, so there’s no chance I’ll die from Terminal Insomnia. My condition is probably a cumulative effect of all the profound changes I’ve gone through lately that have upset my sleep pattern. Life seeks equilibrium. We’re usually the cause of most of our own turmoil. It’ll all balance out again, soon…

I usually try to wrap these vignettes up in a nice, neat bow, and add a moral or something. But what do you say about a guy that was telling the truth, only you didn’t believe him, and then he got dead? My gut had no extrasensory messages for me, and my head was telling me that guy was full of it.

Maybe Gail summed it up best as we were walking off the unit when our shift was over.

“This only goes to show me what my mother told me as a little girl is true.”

“What’s that?” I asked. Paul wasn’t talking.

“Never trust a man that says trust me.”

How We Operate

The only true piece of cake rotation I had in nursing school was OR, the Operating Room. After all, I had been a surgical technician prior to enrolling in nursing school. It was something I knew very well.

The hospital I went to for clinical experience as a nursing student was the same hospital I went to for my clinicals as a surgical tech. When I walked in to the OR on my first day as a nursing student, I was more than a little surprised to find that the OR staff still remembered me.

“Mark! Is that you? Hey, everybody! Mark’s back!”

Warm welcomes come few and far between whenever you’re a student, and they’re especially rare in nursing, a profession that is legendary for eating its young. My classmates were duly impressed.

There was a reason why the OR staff remembered me. My very first solo as a surgical tech student was a simple case, a D&C–dilatation and curettage–a dusting and cleaning in OR speak.

The OR staff felt this was the perfect case to fly solo, so to speak, because there was virtually no way I could make a mistake egregious enough to cause permanent harm to anyone, and if I couldn’t handle this I needed to re-examine my career choices.

My female patient had already been put under. Her legs were in the stirrups as I visualized world peace and cathed her. I held a sterile basin in my left hand to collect her urine, and as I was performing this task, the surgeon, a man universally despised by everyone that worked in the OR, stormed into the room and started yelling at everyone.

I was already nervous, and now I became really nervous. I completed cathing my patient as Dr Gnarly Guy approached. I lost control of the basin as I turned to my right to set it down, and I kind of dropped/threw it in the general direction of the yelling surgeon. The empty basin clattered to the floor and came to rest in one of the corners. The urine stopped flying when it came into contact with Dr Gnarly Guy, showering him thoroughly from the waist down.

Want to get away?

Son of a bitch! I’m not sure how red I turned, but my embarrassment was evident even under the surgical mask I was wearing. I started apologizing. The OR staff started apologizing. The anesthesiologist apologized. He was even going to wake up the patient so she could apologize.

But, Dr Gnarly Guy didn’t explode with rage. He stood there, staring at me, as if he was trying to figure out what I was or something.

“I’m so sorry. I’m so incredibly sorry. I didn’t mean to do that.”

“Well, I hope you didn’t do it on purpose. Maybe I should have you buy me breakfast after this case is over.” he said. He even managed to sound slightly amused somehow.

The OR staff recovered far quicker than I did. They quickly introduced us, then suggested Dr Gnarly Guy buy me breakfast because I was only a student, and the circulating nurse told me to get my head out of my ass in a hurried whisper, and we were off.

The case went incredibly smoothly. We were in and out in thirty minutes. Dr Gnarly Guy actually thanked everyone, and walked out of the OR suite to go take his third shower of the morning.
No one could believe what had happened.

“Maybe I should throw urine on him every time he walks in here…”

“Don’t push your luck, kid. You must lead a charmed life. I doubt he’ll let that slide twice.”

I scrubbed in on a few more cases with Dr Gnarly Guy while I was a student. He made sure I had safely set the urine basin down before he started yelling at everyone in the room on every other case we worked on together, including me. Maybe I should’ve doused him with urine…

The second event was my first C-section. I was also flying solo on this case. There was a second tech that had scrubbed in, just in cases, but she was just standing around, making easy money on this case.

The surgeon was a young guy, Dr Dzubinczinski. He was a fine Irish lad. Not! He was as Polish as they come, and he was just a sweetheart of a guy. The OR nurses loved him. The younger nurses really loved him (mrugniecie). Everyone called him Dr Dee, for obvious reasons.

So there we were, the baby had been delivered, the bleeders had been cauterized. We were closing the incisions up, making some small talk. I was handing off instruments and keeping track of all the sharps and sponges and needles and everything. I was becoming impressed with the precision of the surgical teams and how smoothly everything flowed in the OR. I’d been scrubbing in on cases for maybe a month. I was beginning to think maybe I’d like being a surgical tech.

“You’re doing a fine job, Mark. I think you’ll make a good surgical tech someday.” Dr Dee said, catching me by surprise. I mean, he startled the hell out of me. He was one of the few surgeons that took any interest in any of the students, and he was actually nice to all of us. We loved him, too.

“Wow. Thank you, Dr Dee. You know, you’re doing a fine job yourself. In fact, if I ever need one of these operations, I’m gonna come see you.”

Dr Dee stopped everything he was doing. He peered over his mask, and looked me straight in the eyes.

“Mark, if you ever need a C-section, I’ll do it for free.” he said, and he meant it.

The OR staff never forgot that. Nor did they forget the day I gave Dr Gnarly Guy a golden shower, and lived. I received what appeared to be a hero’s welcome when I stepped back into the OR as a nursing student. Even the janitor guy came over and hugged me. He was a German guy named Adolph.

“Gott, I vish I could be you the day you throwed the piss all over that bastard!”

It’s easy to laugh about it now, but I would’ve gladly traded places with just about anyone at the time that it happened. Like, for instance, my Nutrition instructor.

Life is funny, is it not? Some things that look like the iceberg that sunk the Titanic have a way of diminishing with time. Their impact is no longer so devastating, and most of the time no one died.

I like that aspect of time, how it can heal you when nothing else can, if you let it. Perhaps the most healing aspect of time is so much other crap happens you more or less forget how wounded you were, and you go on living.

And every now and then, especially if you live a blessed life, you can pour piss all over someone and still come out a hero.

But don’t press your luck.

The Pebble in the Pond

Almost every new nurse had that one incredibly special person that took them under their wing and showed them the ropes–that awesome person became your mentor.

In my case, that person was Sonie Roberts-Johnson. After I endured the easiest job interview ever at AMRTC, I accepted the position and eventually was introduced to Sondra. That’s her real name, but I’m probably the only person that calls her that.

Sondra was an LPN. She was younger than I was. She had shoulder length naturally curly blonde-ish hair that fell into ringlets. I thought she was kinda hot looking.

Sondra ruled the night shift on Cottage 8, the unit that would become my base of operations for roughly the next year. The state of Minnesota had recently changed their regulations, and required all LPN’s to be directly supervised by an RN.

Sondra didn’t accept this change quietly. She is perhaps the most least shyest person I’ve ever met.

“I’ve been running this unit for the last three years and I thought I was doing a pretty good job, but what do I know, I’m just an LPN. So now what? I have to teach you how to do my job, and you’re going to be my boss? Is that right? That doesn’t seem fair to me.”

Fair or not, once Sondra decided to teach me how to be a psych nurse, she put her personal feelings aside and taught up a storm. I learned more from her in a month than I learned from anyone.
She taught me everything she knew about psych patients, and how to manage them without resorting to threats. She taught me about psych meds and which meds worked best, which meds required routine lab monitoring and how often labs needed to be ordered. She taught me what to say to the docs to get them to do what I needed them to do. She taught me which staff members I could trust and who to stay away from.

By the time I had absorbed everything she was willing to share with me, Sondra had become just about the coolest person I had ever met. And I was no longer the fuckin’ new guy who was going to ruin her life.

I’m sure Sondra said something about the change in our relationship because there was nothing she didn’t talk about. Seriously, she never stopped talking. I once bet her ten bucks she couldn’t stop talking for ten minutes.

“That’s just stupid. Of course I can be quiet. If you want me to shut my mouth, all you have to do is say something. Jesus!”

“Okay. I’ll bet you ten bucks you can’t stop talking for ten minutes, starting…now!”

“What? Wait! I’m not ready!”

“Okay, now.”

“No! If you want me to be quiet, you have to leave!”

“What? No! Ten minutes, total silence, starting now.”

“No! Nononono. No. I can’t do that. You have to leave the nursing station.” And then she laughed that Sonie laugh. She has one of the best laughs, ever. I miss that laugh.

As is sometimes the case in nursing, Sondra and I would part ways. She transferred to another unit at AMRTC a few months after I started, and I would transfer to the VA. Despite that, we remained close friends and kept in touch through all the trials, tribulations and celebrations in our lives. The impact she made in my life resonates inside me still.

In a figurative sense, we are all pebbles thrown in a pond. The ripples of our impact, good or bad, flow outward in an infinite pattern, effecting everyone we meet. You never know how something you do or say can make a difference in someone else’s life.

You were a good pebble, Sondra. You still are. I hope you never forget that.

images-2

And by the way, you still owe me ten bucks.

I’m Too Sexy For My Clothes

**This is the post that landed me a three day suspension from Facebook**   

It wasn’t what I wrote so much as it was the accompanying picture (See above) that FB had an issue with. And it was their decision–a process that has no appeal, you’re simply denied access to your account–to block my page that ultimately led me to create this blog. So, if you’ve enjoyed anything you read here, send Mark Zuckerberg a thank you card.

I’m not sure what it is about crazy people and clothes, or rather, the lack of them–but crazy people love to get naked.

There was Duane. He was a frequent flyer at the MVAMC. No Brain Duane would start disrobing in the parking lot. By the time he reached the front door, he was doing the Full Monty.

I called him No Brain because it rhymed, and because he just looked…gone. It was usually a time consuming process to get admitted. Duane got a police escort straight to my unit, completely bypassing the Admission Office. Now that I think about it, the guy was a frickin’ genius. When Duane could keep his clothes on for 48 consecutive hours, we knew he was ready to go home.

Old Joe didn’t come into the hospital naked, but once inside, Joe must’ve thought he was at a nudist camp. He rarely wore clothes.

I was working a double shift one evening. Old Joe had been admitted earlier that day. I was on the phone, taking report on another admission.

“Well, goodbye.” I heard Old Joe’s voice with half an ear while I took notes on the patient we were going to get. When I finished, I looked up and saw a wrinkled ass and scrotum swinging in the breeze as Old Joe walked off the unit in the general direction of the front of the hospital. Our units were ‘open’ back then. Our patients could come and go as they pleased, as long as they signed out at the nursing station and checked in with the staff when they returned.

That would change when a former patient walked onto one of the units carrying a knife.

“Hey, Joe!” I called out. He stopped and turned around. “I used to think you were crazy, but now I see your nuts. Don’t you think you should get dressed before you leave?”

Old Joe looked down, and almost seemed surprised to see his penis. He nodded, said, “Oh, that’s a good idea,” and returned to the unit. He must’ve forgotten he was leaving when he got back to his room because he didn’t try to streak to freedom again. Old Joe was another guy we knew was ready to go when he could keep his clothes on for two days straight.

There was another semi-naked guy. He was a young guy at St Luke’s, and he was actually kind of handsome. He crapped on the floor one day, then picked up his turd and ate it.

“EEWWW!” all the female staff howled in unison, then looked at me and asked what they should do, like this happened to me all the time.

“Whatever you do, don’t kiss him. His breath probably smells like shit.” was the only advice I had to offer.

Crazy guys are far more likely to strip and go naked in public than crazy girls are. Men are also far more likely to masturbate in public than women. I called it ‘playing the skin flute.’ I’ve lost track of the number of guys in the Skin Flute Band, but there were a lots of them.

If you want to play an imaginary instrument, what happened to air guitar? But it’s not as bad as playing the rusty trombone, I suppose…

I can only recall one girl that masturbated in front of me. She was a cute-ish young Korean American girl at Aurora, I called her K-Pop. She rang her joy buzzer, a lots. I went to her room to give her her meds one morning, and she was…busy.

“Just leave them on the table, I’ll take them when I’m done.” she said without missing a beat. She was laying in bed under the covers, but there was no confusion about what she was doing. She didn’t seem to be embarrassed in the least by my presence. I can’t do that, I replied. “Well, you don’t expect me to stop now, do you?” she asked. I’ll close the door on my way out.

There was another Asian girl, from China. She was acting weird in the community and running around outside naked, of course. Most Asian families will try make it through a situation like this without seeking professional help, but once the clothes come off, all bets are off.

From report, I learned she didn’t speak English. So I went to the Babblefish Translation site and printed some greetings and instructions in Chinese and English.

You’re at the County Hospital. 你在縣醫院
We will take good care of you. 我們會照顧好你
Are you hungry? 你餓了嗎?
Please keep your clothes on. 請保持你的衣服

My niece, Amber Rowen, could verify this because she knows Ung Fu Chinese.

China Doll read each page, then looked at me and smiled sweetly. She nodded her head in what I guessed was understanding. I went to the kitchen to find her something to eat. When I returned, China Doll was standing in the hallway where I’d left her, wearing nothing but a smile. She was probably the only psych patient I’ve had that I didn’t mind seeing naked. She was really quite lovely.

Rondi, on the other hand, was not. She had been my patient at the VA many times, and her main problem with all of her previous admissions was her Borderline Personality Disorder.

Da Do Ron Ron was a tough-looking, heavy set lesbian. In regards to her nudiditity, all I will say is if Samson had been female…

On her last admission as my patient, she went off the deep end and started flashing her boobs at me, then my co-workers. She eventually went full throttle stripper. All she needed was pole.
You might wonder why a lesbian would disrobe in front of a guy. I can’t explain it, but one of the ward clerks I used to work with, Justine Henley, once told me I was very ladylike, so it might be that.

I tried to talk Da Do Ron Ron back to Earth. Hell, we all did. I almost begged her to stop.

“When you come out of this and you’re on the other side,” I said. “You are going to be sooo embarrassed. Do yourself a favor and stop doing this now.”

Rondi eventually did get better, but she was mostly naked for almost a month, I think. And she was incredibly embarrassed by what she had done. She got so much better she actually got a job in the Billing Office at the VA after she cleared. I’d see her in the hallway occasionally. She couldn’t look me in the eyes. She couldn’t speak to me. I felt so bad for her.

Rondi is the only person I can think of that improved after a series of Full Frontal Nudity therapy, or I might be inclined to recommend it. Oh, and the guy at St Luke’s got better too, but he was on a specialized diet.

Send me a private message and a picture if you’re curious about this, I’ll let you know on an individual basis. If you’re a guy, let me save you some time. Keep your damn clothes on.

Creepy clowns and zombies are bad enough. We don’t need a Skin Flute Marching Band and the Joy Buzzer Corps added to the mix in our society at this point in time.

When I tell people what I did for a living, they give me a certain look most of the time. They nod knowingly, and say, “I’ll bet you’ve seen it all.”

I reply that I’ve seen a lot, but there were a couple times when I saw it all.

Alcoholics Anonymous

Hi, my name is Mark, and I’m an alcoholic. I’ve been sober for ten years. Prior to that I drank for probably thirty-five years. When people ask if I was always an alcoholic, I used to say yes. It’s not easy to defend my former drinking habits. But while we’re on the subject, let’s take a look at them.

I started drinking when I was fifteen or sixteen years old. A beer here, a sip of whiskey there. The legal drinking age back then was eighteen. I went to high school in Montana in the 1970’s, when the legal age was more of a suggestion than a law. Things were very different then.

I joined the Army after high school. The Vietnam War was winding down, and I was stationed in Oklahoma. There was no chance I would fight in ‘Nam. And there were no more Indians to fight in Oklahoma, so me and the boys sat around the barracks drinking beer and smoking joints, and talked about what we’d do if there was ever another Indian uprising, or if the Vietcong decided to invade Oklahoma.

And for the record, there was never a successful Vietnamese invasion of Oklahoma while I was stationed there. You could look it up if you like…

I discovered the Wide World of Drugs while I was in the Army. Weed, pills, powders, liquids. I never met a drug or drink I didn’t like, except tequila. Yeah, that was a night to remember, if only I could remember it. I’ve heard stories though…

I liked to drink back then. It was fun. Lots of good times. Was I an alcoholic then? No, and yes. I say no only because I need to have a end game, but I had all the hallmarks of someone who would become an addict. I drank, I smoked, I took pills. I was the embodiment of the sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll lifestyle. It was the 70’s, man! All the cool kids were doing it.

When I got out of the Army, I quit popping pills. I no longer had access to the pipeline of drugs that were so readily available on base or in an Army town.

One down, two to go.

I think I liked smoking pot more than I liked drinking at this stage in my life. I seriously loved weed. I’m still not sure why I stopped smoking it. I woke up one morning and I didn’t feel like getting high. I’ve never actually quit smoking pot, I’ve simply never lit up again. Oddly enough, given my affinity for it, not smoking weed again was probably the easiest thing I’ve ever done in my life.

Two down, one to go.

I discovered microbrews and craft beer. Oh. My. God. Grey Goose vodka and the Famous Grouse scotch. And I discovered that my nursing career enabled me to purchase mass quantities of all of the above. I didn’t hang out in bars. When I drank alone, I preferred to be by myself.

You have to be especially inspired to engage in a behavior this destructive against your better judgment. Almost all alcoholics have some major traumatic issues they’re avoiding. I’m no exception to this. I have some serious demons.

Mark Twain’s saying (illustration above) is no doubt true, but when you’re an addict, there’s also a B side to that record that is equally true. I embarrassed my wife. I embarrassed my daughters. If I hadn’t been so out of it, I would’ve realized I was embarrassing myself as well.

I have very few regrets from this stage in my life that are related to the things I didn’t say or do.

Drinking was still fun, most of the time, I think. I certainly told myself it was, but it was also starting to become less and less so. And then I turned forty. I don’t know what it was about forty, but the brakes on the bus started to fade. When I turned forty-five, the brakes failed altogether. Looking back, I’d say I wasted at least half of my life getting wasted. I can’t change that, but I don’t have to perpetuate that behavior any more.

And that brings us back to the beginning and the answer to the question, Were you always an alcoholic? Here’s my vague differentiation regarding my early and late drinking habits.

Early: Was it fun to drink? Yes. Did I drink a lots? Yes. Was I drunk all the time? No.

Late: Was it fun to drink? No. Did I drink a lots? Yes. Was I drunk all the time? Oh hell yes.

That’s where the whole alcoholic thing set in as I see it now. Any time you have to get drunk to feel ‘normal,’ you have a serious problem. For ten years I persisted in a behavior I really didn’t enjoy all that much, but getting drunk was the only thing that mattered to me. It makes no sense, but logic and rational thought don’t apply when it comes to addiction.

The end to my drinking career came in late 2005. I went on an epic binge drunk and almost killed myself to death. When I came to, I knew I had to do something, or I might not survive the next one. I talked to my lovely wife, and she helped me decide what to do. She told me she would support me, and added if I didn’t quit drinking, I had to leave our home. She had had enough.

I reluctantly started going to AA. As I was driving to my first meeting, which just happened to be held at Fairview Medical Center, the hospital that saved my wife, I was praying for the road to open up and swallow me before I got there. I think I cried tears of relief all the way home afterwards. To the members of Squad 46, the bestest squad in all the land, you all contributed to saving my life, and I want to take this time to say,

Thank you.

I had one relapse about one year into my first year of sobriety–in September of 2006–picked up right where I left off. I don’t need to go down that road again to find where it might lead. That was ten years, one month and eight days ago. It took me a long time to come to this realization, but sobriety is the coolest drug I’ve ever tried. If I’d only been willing to try it sooner…

The Intimidator

In an unofficial survey of my nursing school instructors completed at the end of my senior year, one student was unanimously voted as the most intimidating student of the Class of ’87. That student was:

Me.

I know, right!

Some of the people that have been reading my musings have actually met me and know me, and I doubt very many of them would say I’m the most intimidating guy they know.

I worked with a guy at Aurora, Brandon Schroeder He’s like seven feet tall and is as big as an entire defensive front line. Would he say I’m intimidating?

“Uh, Mark? Intimidating? Uh, yeah, I suppose he could be. If you were afraid of Smurfs.”

See? Didn’t I tell you? I stand about five and a half feet tall. There have probably been Hobbits that were taller than me, and Smurfs that were more fierce.

There’s another guy, James Jr Hunt. “Mr Mark. Intimidating… Um, let me see. Oh, Mark the RN! Oh, yes! Now I know who you’re talking about. Umm, I’m gonna go with…maybe, but I couldn’t visualize a situation where it could actually, you know, happen.” James stands about nine feet tall, maybe ten. I need to stand on a stepladder to shake his hand. James can be very, very intimidating.

And yet, in nursing school, I struck fear into the hearts of instructors everywhere. Unless they happened to be a nun or a lesbian. I, too, have my kryptonite.

There was no actual survey of my instructors. However, many of them told me this, of their own volition, as my class neared graduation. Why any of them felt compelled to tell me I’ll never know, but people have sometimes come out of the woodwork to tell me things, all kinds of things, and stuff. And they all had reasons.

“You’re not a teeny bopper fresh out of high school.” one of my instructors said. She was an older gal named Bea. We did have a lot of them teeny bopper types, bless their little pink hearts.

“You have a lot of medical experience.” another added. That was true. I already knew a lot of the material we would cover, and as far as nursing practice went, that was just a whole lots of common sense.

“You’re so confident.” That was one of the greatest acting jobs, ever, on my part. I was just as terrified as every other nursing student in my class was, at first. Face one fear, move on…

“There’s that one question you ask…”

Yeah, well, there was that. Even my fellow students were in awe of it because it was the greatest lesson derailer. Ever. For all time.

“Why do you suppose that is?” was the question that struck fear into the hearts of my instructors, except the heartless ones.

It’s a line from ‘Electric Horseman.’ Robert Redford. Jane Fonda. Willie Nelson. He might have the best line in the whole movie. Redford’s character used that line to distract Jane Fonda’s character, and it worked so well in the movie I decided to try it out myself, not because I wanted to intimidate anyone; I just liked to see people’s response to a question that made them think.

Life sometimes imitates art.

It worked so well in school I tried it at work. It was not a one hit wonder. That one question could make a manic person ramble on for hours. I can’t guarantee this method will work for you, but it made me a legend.

And I might be wrong about this, but I don’t think I was all that intimidating to my co-workers, most of the time. I could be a moody son of a bitch, especially back in my drinking days, and I wasn’t always very kind.

The people I tended to intentionally intimidate most were Management & Administration, and that was probably because I rarely believed anything they ever said.

Now that I’m no longer working, I’m kinda curious. Was I, or was I not, intimidating?

Yes. No. Maybe, if you’re afraid of Smurfs. Whatever.

I’d ask my wife, but she’d probably just give me that look, and I’d have to go hide in my bodega.

Horrible Bosses

When I was a manager for BannerHealth, I went to classes on how to be a good manager. Did you know seventy-five per cent of employees that leave a job do so because of poor management?

I’ve left at least three nursing positions because of my manager, including BannerHealth. As it turns out, Banner wasn’t as interested in being a good employer as they claimed to be.

My first horrible boss was Marj. She was my manager during the years Lea was so very ill, and I was working at the Minneapolis VAMC. Lea and I learned an interesting thing during that time period. During a time of crisis, you find out who your friends are. During a time of extended crisis, you find out who your real friends are.

Marj was understanding with our situation at first, and she was even very supportive. Then she became less understanding, then she became a bitch.

There were two In-patient psych units at the MVAMC. 1K &1L. Marj managed 1L. Kevin, the guy that would eventually make a baby with Sue Severson, was the manager of 1K. Marj called me into her office around the time of Lea’s fourth, and worst, major surgery to talk to me about my attendance.

“You’ve been missing a lot of work lately.”

“My wife is in the hospital fighting for her life. I think I’d almost be expected to be missing a lot of work under those circumstances.”

“Well, this has been going on for quite a while…”

“And you think I somehow missed that?” I asked.

“No, that’s not what I’m saying. I’ve had to cover for you, a lot. I’ve had to use float nurses and PRN staff when you’re not here.”

“Yeah, well, you know, that’s your job.” I replied. “Right now, my job is to be with my wife, but if it’s any consolation to you, she may not survive this time, and you won’t have to cover for me anymore.”

That’s when Marj started crying. If there’s anyone in this office that should be crying, it’s me, I thought. But I gave Marj a hug and told her to hang in there, she was doing a good job.

She had her boss, Mary Erdman, talk to me after that. I would end up writing them both up and pissing them off forever in the process. I would eventually transfer to 1K and live long and prosper under Kevin’s management. Mary Erdman was also Kevin’s boss, but he never asked her for help in managing me, so she became a non-factor in my life after that.

There’s a lot more to this story. We’ll be back.

Lea and I moved to Arizona in October of 2007. My first job in Phoenix was working for Maricopa Integrated Healthcare Services, or as it’s commonly called, the County. My boss at the County was Karen Swine, I mean Stein. She was an unpleasant woman that wore clothes about two sizes too small for her, which may have had a lot to do with her unpleasantness.

Karen and I never got along. She thought I was the Know-It-All new guy, so… Hey, we did agree on something after all! Who knew?

Karen didn’t like my methods, not that she would’ve known anything about them if it weren’t for the day shift nurses. The day shift nurses spent what seemed to me to be an inordinate amount of time tattling to Karen about me instead of actually doing their jobs.

I worked the evening shift at the County, and my crew would spend the first two hours of every shift getting the unit settled down and establishing a semblance of peace. The patients on our unit used to give the evening shift crew a standing ovation when we walked in. The day shift nurses hated us.

Karen and I had brief chats in passing, until the day she called me into her office. I had been at the County roughly six months. She asked me to explain why I did whatever it was I had done–something related to de-escalating a patient, I think. I started to explain —

“That’s not what I heard.” she interrupted.

“Yeah, well, that’s why I’m telling you what really happened.”

“That’s not what I heard.” she said once more. You know, she did kind of look like a pig that had learned to stand on its hind legs and wear makeup.

“You’re not interested in what I have to say, are you?”

“Not really,” she kind of oinked. I got up and opened the door of her pen, I mean office. “I’m not done–”

“I am.” I handed in my two week notice, and moved on. Next stop, Banner Del E Webb Medical Center.

I loved my boss at Del Webb. Jane Stevenson, you’re the sweetest boss I ever had. BannerHealth had just acquired the Boswell and Del Webb hospitals in Sun City and Sun City West. FYI: BannerHealth is the second largest employer in Arizona. Walmart is Number One.

I started out as a staff nurse at Del Webb, but Banner wanted a lot of middle management people. Jane asked me if was would be interested in one of the clinical manager positions. I pulled a quarter out of my pocket, flipped it in the air, and said, “Yep.”

All was well at Del Webb until the second year of Banner’s ownership, and then Banner showed its ugly side. In something like unto a Nazi blitzkrieg, Banner started firing all the managers that had been in place before they bought the Boswell and Del Webb hospitals.

My darling boss had lost her husband about a month before this happened. He had a heart attack and died quite suddenly and totally unexpectedly. Jane was probably still in the Denial Stage of the Grief/Loss process, when the Banner Nazis attacked.

What they did to her is a sin in every organized religion, including Atheism. All they had to do was terminate her–bullet to the head, get it over with. They didn’t need to eviscerate her and eat her liver in front of her before she bled out.

I knew I was next after Jane’s departure. My new manager was very cordial, and assured me I was welcome to stay as long as I wanted. Would I like some Kool-Aid?

I goddamn near jumped out of her window, and her office was on the fourth floor.

The rest of my Arizona bosses have been okay, though I probably would’ve left Aurora if I hadn’t retired. That place was getting kind of kooky…

Management. It can make or break a place. And even if their expressed purpose isn’t to make your work life miserable, that’s probably what they’ll end up doing anyway. It’s the people you work with on a day in, day out basis that truly make the most difference in the workplace environment. They will likely be the greatest factor in whether you stay or leave at any job you have.

The Muppet Woman

Sue Severson gave Ailene her nickname. Ailene was one of our patients at the Minneapolis VAMC. I had been working there a little over a year, I think. I had been an RN for about three years or so. Sue was one of the nurses I worked with. She was younger than me, taller, attractive, long blonde hair. She had been at the VA longer than I had, so she was teaching me how to be a psych nurse.

“Doesn’t she look like a muppet? I mean, it looks like someone has their hand inside her head, making her jaw move, doesn’t it?” Sue said. She was getting kind of obsessed with the whole muppet theory thing.

Well, yeah, I suppose. I thought. Ailene did kind of look like a muppet. She was an older African American woman that stood about four and a half feet tall. I think she was around fifty years old when I first met her, but she looked to be closer to seventy. Her eyes were overly wide, so she had the appearance that her eyeballs were trying to jump out of their sockets. And she had one of the weirdest voices of any of my patients ever, like Elmo on helium, maybe. Ailene became the Muppet Woman that night.

The Muppet Woman was a relatively benign crazy woman most of the time. Sometimes she’d get all worked up about something, but she was easily redirected, and rarely a problem. She had never been violent or assaultive before, and therefore not a serious problem.

I was working the night shift. It had a been an uneventful night. Sue and I had been talking at the nursing station. There was one more nurse working the unit with us, a hulking taciturn woman who rarely spoke to anyone.

Sue had been telling me she had to pee for the last hour. I got up to do rounds on the unit, and had just checked on Ailene. She was in bed and appeared to be asleep. I filled in the blanks on the Rounds sheet. I was standing in the hallway facing Ailene’s room, which was about halfway down the hallway from the nursing station, when I heard the sound of a Helium Elmo being possessed by the devil. I looked up to see the Muppet Woman charging me like a fullback headed for the end zone, screaming as she ran.

I dropped the clipboard I was holding to the floor, and caught one of the Muppet Woman’s arms before she hit me. Her free hand grabbed my shirt and pulled. Hard.

Pop pop pop pop pop went the buttons, flying off my shirt and bouncing off down the hallway.

“Hey!” the other nurse we were working with said. I remember being more surprised by that nurse speaking than I was by being charged by a possessed muppet.

“Help! We need help over here!” the nurse called out toward the nursing station, then proceeded to envelope the Muppet Woman in the steam shovel maneuver. She essentially scooped the Muppet Woman into her arms and carried her down the hallway.

The only thing not perfect about her intervention was the Muppet Woman was still firmly gripping my shirt, and I was being forcefully pulled down the hallway by a possessed muppet in the arms of a big nurse moving like a bulldozer.

“We need help over here!” I said loudly, looking back over my shoulder. I saw Sue Severson fly around the corner, then fall to floor laughing when she saw me being dragged down the hall by the Muppet Woman and the Bulldozer Nurse.

Bulldozer carried the Muppet Woman, and dragged me, into a seclusion room, where we waited for a moment until back up arrived in the form of Sue, who was laughing so hard she almost peed her pants.

Bulldozer saw help arrive, and dropped her load. The Muppet Woman fell to the mattress on the bedframe, and because she still had a death grip on the front of my shirt, I fell on top of her. Sue gave out a little scream because this time she did pee her pants, a little, but that didn’t stop her from laughing.

I don’t know who Bulldozer was more irritated with by this time, the Muppet Woman, me or Sue.

“Oh! That’s enough of this nonsense!” Bulldozer snapped, and pulled me off of the Muppet Woman, who apparently had no intention of ever letting go of my shirt. And it was right about then I started wondering what I had done that had enraged the Muppet Woman in the first place. “I said enough!” Bulldozer snapped at the Muppet Woman. “Let go of him!!” she ordered, and grabbed the Muppet Woman’s arm.

“Get your fat hands off me, you gray haired old whore!” demon-possessed Helium Elmo Muppet Woman shrieked back at the Bulldozer nurse. Her crazy eyes were popping in and out of her head simultaneously.

“My hair isn’t gray,” Bulldozer replied meekly.

Sue let out a higher pitched scream, because she peed her pants again. This time, a lot.

I never did find out what I did to the Muppet Woman that made her react the way she did that night. She died not long after getting out of the hospital.

Bulldozer retired and moved to Arkansas a couple years after that incident. I loved to tell that story to my co-workers. Bulldozer never thought it was as funny as I did. And she never forgave Sue for acting so unprofessionally, and for pissing all over the floor.

Sue Severson transferred to the Outpatient Department. She was only nurse I ever worked with that laughed herself incontinent while responding to a behavioral management situation. She would eventually marry my boss and make at least one baby with him before I left the VA. She forgave herself for pissing all over the floor. So did I.

“It’s not like the Muppet Woman was actually hurting you, and you should’ve seen how funny you three looked…”

All true. I was probably in more danger when I was being dragged down the hall by Bulldozer.

But I learned some important things that night. Never, ever, let your guard down at work. Always know your crew. And take bathroom breaks. You just never know…

Back When I Was in Oklahoma

Looks like a twofer kind of day. I just finished going through all the boxes of stuff we had shipped to Mexico. And I’m on Day Two of my No Fumar Permitido program. I haven’t killed anyone or anything yet, but I’ve been damn close. I need this to preserve my sanity.

Unlike Captain Ken, when I was in the Army I wasn’t stationed outside the US, and I didn’t really spend a whole lot of time with my commanding officer.

I was called into my CO’s office several times so he could scream at me. You may find this hard to believe, but I wasn’t the best soldier to ever serve this country. I didn’t like being in the Army all that much.

I joined the Army because I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life after I graduated from high school. I had a vague idea of becoming a dentist, maybe, someday. So I enlisted in the Army to become a dental technician.

In retrospect, I should’ve given a bit more thought to becoming a dentist, and I sure as hell should’ve given a whole lot more thought about joining the Army as a means to an end. But I didn’t, and this would be my first serious journey down a road less traveled.

When I arrived at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, which was my permanent duty station, the last thing they needed was another goddamn dental tech, so I became whatever the Army needed me to become, unless you count that whole good soldier thing…

I drove a truck. I took x-rays. I drove a different truck. I worked in the Ortho lab. I worked in the Dental lab. I took more x-rays. I drove yet another truck. I was a company clerk. And, I took even more x-rays. The Army loved me, except my attitude–but they were never able to rehab it the way Barb Hansmeier would.

I had been in the Army for roughly two and a half years, and I was on CQ duty at Dental Clinic #2, which was attached to the front of Reynolds Army Hospital. The Army takes care of its own, and the Army required a 24 hour clinic for dental emergencies. And the person that handled these emergencies was called the CQ, Charge of Quarters.

Most of the time there were no emergencies, and CQ duty was a piece of cake. Most of the dentists I worked with weren’t all that thrilled about having to come into the clinic in the middle of the night. Many of them would pre-write prescriptions for 3-5 Percocets or something like that, and have the person follow up with them the next day during regular clinic hours.

It was close to a perfect system. I rarely had to call the docs and disturb them. If anyone came in with a toothache, I’d offer them a prescription, and nine times out of ten they’d take it and make a follow up appointment. It was an incredible rarity that one of the doctors would ever have to actually come in to the clinic to handle an emergency. That more than one doctor would have to come in was unheard of.

It was Christmas Eve, 1976. While everyone else was snuggled in bed with visions of dancing sugar plums in their heads, I was listening to Christmas carols at the clinic and randomly waking friends and family members up by calling them to wish them a Merry Christmas at three or four or five in the morning.

My CQ shift was drawing to a close. The sun was starting to lighten the eastern horizon, when a guy walked into the clinic with his wife and two small children. He was a young officer, first lieutenant or a captain. Good looking guy, his wife was some kind of supermodel or something. She was entertaining one of their children, the youngest was asleep in her arms. The guy didn’t have a toothache. He wanted me to look at a sore in his mouth.

“Do you know what it is?” he asked. I did not, I only knew what I’d seen did not look good.

I called the Dentist on Duty. He came into the clinic, took a look in the guy’s mouth, and called the Oral Surgeon on Duty. He came in, took a look in the guy’s mouth and called his boss, the Chief of Oral Surgery. Colonel Kleehammer came in. I had worked with him a lot over my time at Fort Sill. He was probably the only high ranking officer on base that wasn’t concerned about my indifference toward being a good soldier. I took really good x-rays, and that was all he cared about.

I had pulled a lots of CQ duties during the time I’d been in the Army and I had never seen anything like this in my life. I was talking to the guy that was going to relieve me on CQ duty, the dentist that I’d called in, and the oral surgeon that the dentist had called in. The two doctors were tense, and they didn’t want to say what they’d seen, and that’s when I knew they’d seen the same thing I had.

Colonel Kleehammer joined us after he completed his exam. If there had been any snow on the ground that Christmas morning in Oklahoma, his visage would’ve been whiter than that.

“Thank you for coming in, all of you. You can go home now. But I have to figure out how I’m going to tell this young man and his family that he has cancer.”

I’ve had to have some tough talks with family members over the years. It’s incredibly difficult to deliver bad news to someone, and to have to do it on Christmas Day…

Captain Ken

I’ve had the honor and privilege to work with some of the best nurses in the country during my career. I’ve also had the misfortune to work with some of the worst.

Darth Vader. Anyone here remember her? What a bitch she was. Unfortunately, the Naughty Nurse List consists of more than one person. And given the title of this snippet of my life, you’d probably be safe in assuming it contains at least two. It does, but Captain Ken isn’t on that list.

I worked with Captain Ken at the Minneapolis VAMC. He wasn’t really a captain, I think everyone called him that because it sounded neat. I can’t truthfully say Captain Ken was a bad nurse. He wasn’t. He was a genuinely sweet and sincere man. He was an adequate nurse, I suppose. You could never say your day was ruined because you had to work with him. But likewise, you couldn’t say your day was made by his presence.

Unless you liked his stories.

It’s been said most people don’t listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply. If that’s true, Captain Ken was in a league of his own. He interrupted with the intent to one up.

Any two people or group of people could be having a conversation, about anything–You could be telling a story about your first baby, and how you were in labor for 59 hours. And Captain Ken would barge in and say this: “Oh, that’s nothing,” like he had been in labor for 65 hours or something, and then he’d add, “Back when I was in Okinawa…”

Yes, all of Captain Ken’s greater than anything you’ve ever seen or done adventures had two common elements. They all occurred in Okinawa, and they all involved a nasty guy called the Commander.

Ken had been in the Navy, so maybe he actually did know a commander. But there was always something weird going on with the Commander, and it was seemingly always up to Captain Ken to save the day and keep the Commander from following through with his threats of bodily harm and injury to sweet old Ken. So, here we go.

“Oh, that’s nothing! Back when I was in Okinawa, the Commander lost one of our nuclear submarines. So he calls me into his office, it was a Saturday, and I wasn’t even on duty that day. I was supposed to be planning the surprise birthday party for the Commander’s wife… But anyhow, he calls me into his office and tells me what happened–I mean, how do you lose a submarine, right? Anyway, the Commander explains the situation, and then he says, ‘Goddammit, Ken. You find that missing sub, or you’ll have a new asshole by the time I’m through with you!”

You remember the movie, ‘Home Alone’? The iconic scene where Kevin slaps on some aftershave, and makes that face? Captain Ken made that same face every time at this point in his each of his grand adventure stories with the Commander.

I used to sync my movements in the nursing station to Ken’s stories so I would be standing right behind him when he got to this point in his narrative. I’d make the Home Alone face with Captain Ken, and then leave the nursing station entirely. It was the only part about any of Ken’s stories that I liked.

Captain Ken never failed. He found the missing sub. He surprised the Commander’s wife. He had 300 lbs of barbecue ribs and 50 lbs of cole slaw airlifted to Okinawa, overnight. He was like Superman, if Superman had been in the Navy instead of a reporter for the Daily Planet.

Whatever the situation, Captain Ken was on it. Whatever the disaster, Captain Ken surpassed it.

And I’m sure Ken has but one asshole, like the rest of us, because he never asked me, “What do you think this is?”

You’re a Nurse

Being a nurse has been the best accidental career decision I’ve ever kind of made, and most of the things that I did in my life have been accidents. And by accident I mean something that happened without much, or even any, prior thought or planning.

I know people that have planned their life out, complete with goals and objectives, like where they wanted to be in five years, ten years, and so on. I’m pretty sure the only things I’ve ever given any serious thought to before I did them was get married and quit drinking. Everything else more or less unfolded in front of me. I took a lots of roads less traveled than…

Nursing is not a job. Being a dishwasher or being the President is a job. Nursing is a career. It’s like the difference between having clothes and having a wardrobe.

Nursing also offers a wide variety of specialty areas, so if you don’t like the specialty area you’re in, you can try a different one. That’s how I ended up Psychiatry. My first nursing position was in Cardiac Care, but my heart wasn’t in it, so I left after six months. Once I started working in Psych, I could never convince the doctors I was better, and none of them would discharge me…

Being a nurse made me a better person. Nurses adhere to a high moral and ethical standard. I sometimes marvel at this because I was somewhat blithe of scruple prior to becoming a nurse. I don’t think I had any morals or ethics, but I kind of admired people that did.

Nursing helped define the things that were important to not just my professional life, but my personal life as well. I became grounded on a firm foundation for the first time in my life.
People started seeing me differently. I had become someone worthy of respect. I will never forget the first time my daughters told me I was wise. It’s not the kind of thing I was used to hearing. It was both gratifying and humbling.

Yeah, being a nurse was mostly cool, except for the parts that sucked. Working short staffed. Picking up an extra shift so your relief teams aren’t working short staffed. Problem patients. Asshole managers. Lousy healthcare benefits. It’s not as glamorous as they make it look on TV. And I never even got to have sex in the exam room! Where’s my agent?!? Get his ass in here, STAT!

That’s probably the coolest thing about being a nurse. You get to say that word. Only two or three types of people can use that word. Doctors and nurses, we can say it ever we want. I need a crash cart, STAT! I need that medication, STAT! Social workers can also use that word, but only if they’re ordering a drink.

However, there was one aspect of being a nurse, and all my nurse friends will vouch for this–the one thing that totally bites ass. You’re off duty. You’re at a party or something, and someone will come up to you and say, “You’re a nurse. What do you think this is?”

The first time it happened I was so excited! It was also the last time I was excited.

Do you ask your friends that are hair stylists if they brought their scissors to the party? Maybe you could just trim this up for me. Thanks.

Do you ask your mechanic friends if they could listen to your engine, and maybe give your car a tune up and an oil change? It won’t take long. This party’s gonna last awhile, bro. I’ll hold your drink.

You’re a nurse. What do think this is? Once I got over my initial thrill, it was all over. Hmm, let me see… I started throwing out vague illnesses and diseases. Cholera. Prader-Willi Syndrome. Jakob Creutzfeldt disease. Pika. Beri beri. Yeah, could be that.

Sometimes I made stuff up: cerebrolithiasis. Let’s see if anyone besides me knows what that is.

And people STILL asked me, What do you think this is?

And then it came to me. The perfect answer to that annoying question. “You’re a nurse. What do you think this is?”

“That? I can’t be sure, but that looks like cancer. You should probably go see your doctor, just to be safe.”

I’m a nurse. Do I know what’s wrong with you? Yes, I probably do. But I’m a psych nurse. I also know what’s REALLY wrong with you. You should see your doctor if you want an answer to that question. She probably has kids she’s putting through college, and she could use the money.

Life and Death

You get to learn a lots about these subjects when you’re a nurse, but one of the fair things about life is you don’t have to be a nurse to become familiar with either of them. You simply have more exposure as a nurse.

There are two things I’ve learned about life and death in my nursing career. One, when it’s your time to go, nothing will save you. I’ve had patients come up to the nursing station to get their scheduled meds, collapse as they’re going back to their room, and were dead by the time they hit the floor. They had no complaints, no apparent concerns–and then they were DRT. Dead right there.

Conversely, when it’s not your time to go, you will live through everything. I’ve had patients that had shot themselves in the head with a .357. A .22. A .45. I’ve had patients that sliced open their bellies like a samurai committing seppuku. Patients that had deliberately collided a motor vehicle into a bridge abutment, a tree, another vehicle. Patients that had jumped into traffic, off of a building, off of a bridge. I’ve lost count of how many of them tried to overdose or hang themselves. But they had at least one thing in common: they were all walking around talking about it.

Go figure.

My wife has Crohn’s disease. It’s an autoimmune disease where the body essentially attacks itself, resulting in sometimes massive inflammation and ulcerations throughout your entire GI tract. It can result in nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, and pain something like unto that scene in ‘Alien’ where the spooky monsterbeast pops up out of that guy’s chest.

That was what Lea was experiencing when she started the first of her serial admissions to Fairview Medical Center in 1991. Over the next three years she would spend roughly half that time in the hospital connected to so many IV’s she usually needed two IV poles to hold them all, and two or three–sometimes four–IV pumps.

TPN, total parenteral nutrition. That’s two separate components right there. One is a huge bag with yellow fluid that Lea and I called her margarita bag. The other is a small glass bottle filled with creamy white lipids–her Piña Colada. The nurses that took care of Lea liked that and started calling them those names, too. A bag of normal saline with a morphine drip became her martini bag. Shaken, not stirred. No olives. Lea couldn’t eat ANYTHING during these times.

All of her nutritional needs were met by IV’s. She had to have a PICC line for that, plus one or two ancillary lines in her arms. She was on IV antibiotics; we didn’t even try to get cute with that. There were more, many more. If Lea had put a flower in her hair, she could’ve been a float in the Rose Bowl Parade.

And for the record, the real nurses that cared for my wife during that time–you all were rockstars–we loved those nurses, they were all so amazing. They. Were. Un-fucking-real.

Her GI doc, James Kromhout, had no idea what to do anymore because nothing he had tried was working, and Lea only got worse. He sent a consult to a surgeon, Dr John Something… And we waited. And waited. And waited some more.

I ended up writing him a ten page letter, explaining our situation and our frustration. Dr John actually read it. He offered this explanation: Once you open someone up and start taking things out, you can’t put them back in again.

I understood that, but I also knew if he didn’t operate on my wife, and soon, a monsterbeast was going to tear her guts apart. We waited another week. Or two. I started writing Lea’s eulogy. I would get a lots of practice with that literary piece over the next few years…

Her doctors had decided to try high doses of prednisone as a last ditch effort to stem the massive inflammation in her guts. Lea’s condition continued to deteriorate. Dr John finally decided there was no other option and scheduled her surgery.

Prednisone is a ‘dirty’ drug. It’s a very effective anti-inflammatory drug, but it has a lots of nasty side effects. Moon face, weight gain, mood swings, insomnia, mania–even psychosis–plus about a hundred other things.

Lea had all of them, and a bag of chips, on the night before her surgery. I spent that night at the hospital with her. I tucked her into bed, told her a bedtime story, sang her a lullaby–and she closed her eyes. I turned to sit in a recliner in her room, and by the time I got to the chair she was in the bathroom trying to figure out who the person in the mirror was, and how did that person get into her room? I have no idea how she managed to get her IV poles into the bathroom without knocking them over or disconnecting her tubing.

I might have gotten five minutes of sleep that night. My wife had maybe five minutes of sleep that week.

Lea was the first case on Dr John’s schedule that morning. Most abdominal surgeries run about an hour, maybe two at the most. Lea was in the Operating Room for four hours. When Dr John’s scalpel cut through her abdominal muscles and the peritoneum, Lea’s intestines flew out of her body like someone had opened a prank can of worms.

Dr John told me this after her grueling surgery. He removed about half of her large intestine. It was so swollen it looked like the Metrodome. He spent at least two hours stuffing my wife’s guts back into her body, and closing her up before anything could jump out again.

“I think you were right. About the surgery. I should’ve done it sooner.” he said. I think the only thing I could do in response was shake my head.

Whether late or early or whatever, Lea had finally had the surgery I felt she needed to have to save her life. The only question that remained was the Big One about time.

Was it her Time?

Food for Thought

We had an interesting mix of instructors at the SCHSoN. As I said, our nursing practice instructors were all nurses. But we also had a bunch of professors from St Cloud State University. I think all of them were men. Almost all of them were engaging. And I got a lots of A’s and B’s. School was something I tended to be good at once I got beyond high school.

My scholastic performance in high school wasn’t as proportionally linked to how much I liked my teachers back then. Good grades were probably the last thing on my mind when I was in high school. There were so many other things that occupied my young mind. Like, girls. And beer.

Take, for instance, French class. We had a choice of three foreign languages to take at Loyola Sacred Heart. Latin was taught by Father Hurley, a grumpy old priest that would slap you silly if you pissed him off. Spanish was taught by a tiny nun, Sister Maria la Madonna de Guadalupe. I wasn’t all that fond of nuns. French was taught by a young woman, Barbara Purdy. She was once was a cheerleader for the University of Montana, and she was totally hot.

I was barely a B student in French, and knowing how to speak it has rarely been an asset for me in my life. Now that I’m living in Mexico, I’m wishing I had taken Spanish.

Nursing Practice was one of my worst classes, gradewise, in nursing school. Reading the Big Book of Nursing would put me to sleep. Having someone read it to me tended to have the same result. But not all of our instructors were old, or old school style.

There was Barbara Hansmeier, the instructor that rehabbed my attitude, but who also made me think for a moment that she had secretly become a nun and was conspiring with other nuns to prevent me from graduating. That was actually my first thought when she said she wanted to talk to me. Privately.

When did you become a nun, Sister…Mary…Barbara…Bitchfromhell!

There was also Diane Hanson. She was our ER preceptor, among other things. Diane was cute, really cute. Unlike Barb, she wasn’t married. She was divorced, nurses tend to make bad decisions about their spouses.

Diane got kind of flirty with me toward the end of school. I thought about asking her out on a date, then didn’t for two reasons. I had just broken up with Cynthia ‘Fatass’ Jamieson, and I was trying to decide if I should become a priest or try being gay. And, I knew I wasn’t staying in St Cloud after I graduated from nursing school. If I graduated from nursing school.

Yes, it was a-l-m-o-s-t over, but I still had to pass all my final exams, and there was one subject that was killing me.

Nutrition. And it was all my instructor’s fault.

Bernadette Maus walked into my life way back when I was a freshman. She stepped into her first class with us, introduced herself and then said this, “I’m a lesbian.”

What that has to do with Nutrition I’ll never know, but I do know this–I spent every one of her classes imagining what her diet consisted of.

I’ve met a fair amount of lesbians in my life. Almost all of them have looked like construction workers, only tougher. Bernadette was as far from that as I was from being tall, dark and handsome. She was beautiful, with long, long dark hair. I couldn’t concentrate on anything she said, and I was barely a D student in her class.

Thank God for Barb Hansmeier. Her adjustment of my attitude helped me get my head out of my ass, and Bernadette’s sex life, and I did something I had to do only once previously in nursing school: I studied my ass off. Anatomy and Physiology was the one class prior to this that had required an intentional effort on my part.

I aced my Nutrition final. I ended up with a B-.

And the one thing that I was almost positive would never happen when I started nursing school started looking like a reality. I was going to survive SMG, SMH, PTR, C’F’J, bad attitudes, lipstick lesbian fantasies–and I was going to become a registered nurse, if I passed my State Boards.

Attitude is everything, right? You’re going to need that tool in your toolbox because life will throw you one curveball after another. Life is filled with distractions and pitfalls and snares that can derail your plans and leave you sitting on the side of the road wondering what the hell happened.

You’re going to get tripped up. You’ll likely stumble. You’ll probably fall, probably more than once.

Regroup. Circle the wagons. Get. Back. Up. Do what needs to be done. Focus. Keep your eyes on the prize. Move forward.

And if you decide to become a lesbian, send me pictures.