When you’re a psych nurse, you get to meet a lots of crazy people. Even if you’re not a psych nurse, you get to meet a lots of crazy people. But they’re your friends, or your parents, and they don’t count.
I’ve met so many kooky people, I can’t keep them all straight anymore. But these are some that stick out in my mind.
The Tin Man. He was a patient at the MVAMC. I would meet him only once, which was actually quite rare at the VA. He was an incredibly muscular young man, which probably explained all the people that escorted him to the unit. Almost all of the Outpatient staff had walked him over. You could tell right away he was going to be interesting. For starters, he drew a crowd. For another, he was wearing a hat made of aluminum foil.
“What’s with the hat?” I asked.
“Like, from Outer Space? Those kind of aliens?”
“What does the hat do?”
“Ah! It…prevents…mind control?”
We did skin assessments on all of our patients when they were admitted. We needed to know if they had any open wounds, or lice. Stuff like that. We also wanted to make sure they weren’t concealing any contraband items, like guns. Or knives. Or drugs.
When we did our initial skin assessment on the Tin Man, we discovered he wasn’t wearing just a hat made of aluminum foil, he was wearing a suit made of aluminum foil. Hence, the nickname.
“That has to be incredibly uncomfortable.” I observed.
“Yessir, but you get used to it.”
I was able to convince the Tin Man to surrender his special suit to us with the assistance of my good friend, Paul Anderson. I told the Tin Man he was in a government facility, and all government buildings have a secret layer of lead added when the building is constructed.
“For real?” the Tin Man asked. I am apparently quite a convincing liar. I’ve had many people tell me they couldn’t tell if I was telling the truth or not. Even when I said something ridiculous. And those were people I worked with.
“Oh yeah,” Paul said. “We have a lot of politicians and high powered dignitaries that visit here, and the last thing they want is space aliens taking over their minds.”
“Definitely.” I added. “They might do something unthinkable, like their jobs.”
* * * *
Wally World. He was also a patient at the MVAMC, and he would check in every few years or so. Wally was homeless. Well, he said he lived in a dumpster, so he wasn’t technically homeless in his mind. You wouldn’t believe how awful he smelled when he was admitted. Be that as it may, he was quite kooky, and he collected things.
That’s what he called it. His roommates called it stealing, and threatened to beat the shit out of him. We had two private rooms right by the nursing station, but we generally filled those rooms with old confused guys. I moved Wally into a seclusion room for his safety. Then I ended up locking him in it to keep him from getting killed to death. He couldn’t stop collecting things.
Some of the guys on the unit were combat veterans, guys who had fought in wars, and had killed other human beings in the service of their country. And some of them were the last person you’d want to piss off because they probably would kill you.
Being homeless, well, living in a dumpster, Wally probably didn’t have a lots of stuff. I doubt any of the stuff he had could be classified as nice. I’m sure the temptation to have nice stuff was overpowering to Wally. If he saw anything he liked, he simply took it. Being crazy as a loon probably didn’t make it any easier…
The rules and regulations for seclusion and restraints were the parts of my job that changed the most during my nursing career. When I started in Psychiatry, patients were secluded and restrained for almost any reason. Locking Wally in his room because he couldn’t stop stealing may seem punitive today, but it was acceptable back then. My boss had no problem with my decision, as long as I tried setting Wally free every day.
Nowadays, you need overwhelming evidence of a clear and present danger to self or others before you even think about using S & R. Especially in the private sector.
I worked for the VA. Technically, each VA hospital is supposed to follow the statutes of the state it’s in, but the VA is a Federal institution, and the Federal government doesn’t like the States telling it what to do. We pretty much did whatever we wanted to when it came to controlling the unit and managing the behavior of our patients.
I met with Wally every day that I worked while he was there during that admission. I thoroughly explained my expectations about his behavior to him. Don’t take anything that doesn’t belong to you. If it’s not already in your room, it doesn’t belong to you!
I’m not sure if Wally didn’t listen, or if he couldn’t process what I was saying. I stepped between him and a very pissed off person more than once to prevent bloodshed. I’d return whatever he had taken, and then I’d lead Wally back to his room and lock the door.
“I don’t like you,” Wally told me one day as I was locking him back up again, after I saved his life and returned the item or items he had collected while he was free. “You’re mean, and icky. The only reason you’re doing this is because I can rap better than you!”
See what I mean?
Wally eventually came back to earth. He stopped collecting things, and we discharged him back to his dumpster until the next time.
* * * *
National Security. The Secret Service would bring people to the MVAMC from time to time because they had threatened to kill the President. It was always in conjunction with a Presidential visit to Minnesota.
If you’ve never met a Secret Service agent, they’re intimidating. They’re all tall, and their muscles have muscles. They all wear black suits and sunglasses. And they never, ever smile.
“Lock this man up in that room until we tell you to let him go.” a non-smiling agent would say, and point to a seclusion room.
“This is a locked unit. He’s already locked up.” I said, once.
“Locked up, in that room. Or you can join him. It’s a matter of national security.” When the President’s visit was over, the Secret Service would call and give us the green light, and we could discharge the person they had delivered into our custody.
And we would comply. Once we even put a man in four point restraints and locked the door because the Secret Service ordered us to. Several hours later we cut him loose, again, at the direction of the Secret Service. It was the only time I ever released someone that had been restrained and secluded directly to the street.
I have to admit, I’m not sure who was kookier now. The people that hated the President, the Secret Service, or us.
* * * *
The Mad Crapper. He was one of the kooky guys that liked to strip and go naked at the MVAMC. Truly crazy people emit an aroma or pheromone or something. I could tell how psychotic someone was simply from their smell.
That was true with the Mad Crapper, but he had a little something extra in his mix. That guy had a seemingly endless supply of shit inside him. He would crap like a moose. Nay, he would crap like a herd of moose. Yea, verily, he crapped like unto a veritable elephant.
The Mad Crapper crapped like no one you had ever seen. Or smelled. You would think after taking a dump like that, the guy wouldn’t need to poop again for a month.
After he downloaded enough crap to fill the halls of Congress, he would paint himself and the walls of the seclusion room with fecal matter. We would clean him up, and his room. And he would shit all over everything again with the same incredible amount of crap.
There’s something they never showed the nurses having to do on Days of Our Lives.
* * * *
The Piss Guzzler. His name was Patrick. I met him at the Minnesota State Hospital. You can probably guess why I gave him his nickname.
Patrick used to drink water by the gallon, and then he’d go crazier than hell. We’d have to lock him up with a few urinals and empty them as soon as he filled one, or he’d guzzle his piss like it was a bucket of beer.
Patrick was generally a pretty nice guy, unless he was intoxicated on water. He once charged my friend and mentor, Sondra, with deadly intent in his eyes. She had to lock herself in the report room. She later told me she was sure Patrick would have killed her if he had caught her.
Patrick climbed the flagpole one day. I’m not sure if I was there when it happened or not, but I have a vague memory of someone telling me I had to get him down from there. That was a very tall flagpole, and Patrick had climbed all the way to the top.
“The hell I do. Haven’t you heard of gravity?” I think I responded, if I was there.
Patrick eventually came down from the flagpole, all by himself, whether I was there or not.
* * * *
The Stalker. I met this guy at the County Hospital in Arizona. He looked to be a kind of a sweet, benign kooky guy. He mostly sat on the couch in the lounge, staring off into the distance at nothing, smiling to himself. I called him The Stalker because he had convinced himself one of local news anchors, Beverly Kidd, had fallen in love with him. He wrote her love letters, and started hanging around her TV station. He gave her flowers and candy. She filed a restraining order against him, which he ignored. He was arrested, and then he started writing letters to Beverly telling her how he was going to kill her and her children. The next thing he knew, he was locked up in a psych hospital.
He had two warnings taped to his chart. One, we were supposed to notify Beverly Kidd immediately upon his release. And two, we weren’t supposed to let him watch the news on Channel 3. That was Beverly’s network.
I think I left the County before he did, so I don’t know how his story ended.
* * * *
When it comes to my personal wild and crazy guys, this is but the tip of the tip of the iceberg. I’m sure I’ll visit this neighborhood again.
Sometimes the memories are still so real I’m not sure I ever left.