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?”

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