Social Misfit

Merry Christmas and Seasons Greetings from Mexico!

I wish it felt more Christmassy this year. As I am constantly reminded by every Hallmark Christmas movie, this is a time of snow, family, and love. That’s one of the downsides of living in a temperate climate. Thousands of miles away from everyone in your family. In a foreign country.

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To be honest, I’m not sure anyone in my family would visit me even if we lived across the street from each other. That’s probably my fault. I burned a lots of bridges back when I was drunk all the time.

Some fault also has to be allocated to my siblings. We’re all fairly fucked up, and almost everyone in my family has decided it’s way easier to just keep drinking than it is to try to fix all of those broken personalities and relationships.

That’s just one of the many upsides to living in a temperate climate, thousands of miles away from everyone in your family, in a foreign country.

* * * *

Speaking of burning bridges, I’ve discovered that I don’t need to be drunk to do that. For those of you who placed bets on how long it would take for my Twitter account to be permanently disabled, if you picked December 4, 2019, you win.

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Even I thought it would take me longer than that.

I wasn’t a big fan of the Twitter. It was the domain of mystic poets and nude selfies. I fucking hate poetry and no one wants to see me naked. Including me. Twitter is the social media equivalent of a moral wasteland. I never understood the language of the Twitter, which no doubt makes me the Ultimate Twit.

So? What did you do to piss off the Twitter police, dude?

According to the Twitter police, I was guilty of engaging in a pattern of hate themed speech, which was a repeated violation of the community standards that Twitter sometimes takes seriously.

In the interest of transparency, I am totally guilty of everything Twitter accused me of doing. But there was another person who consistently violated Twitter’s community standards, and he did so without any fear of repercussions.

Donald Trump consistently lied about his accomplishments, blamed his political opponents for his failings, and fired off endless insults, taunts, and disparaging names at anyone that didn’t kiss his ass.

I pointed out Mr. Trump’s pattern of inflammatory fabrication to the Twitter police more than once. They had a response. If I didn’t like the things that Mr. Trump wrote, I should simply stop reading them.

That was their official stance on the matter.

That was something I couldn’t do, so I called out The Donald every time he bragged about a success, or projected his shortcomings off onto others, or insulted Adam Schiff, Nancy Pelosi, or any of his Democratic opponents.

Donald Trump is a pathological liar. I could live with that if not for one, small, tiny, insignificant detail. He’s also the President of the United States. Because of his status, I find his actions morally reprehensible, even though I have often stated that I don’t have any morals or ethics.

Yeah, I know. It doesn’t make any sense to me either.

Unfortunately, and I honestly feel it was an unfortunate course of action on my part, I tended to end the majority of my rebuttals to Mr. Trump with …you lying cocksucker! Or, …you motherfucking piece of shit!!

My Twitter account was temporarily suspended three or four times for saying bad things about the 45th President of the United States.

I was a psych nurse for thirty years. The one thing I hated more than anything was when someone started name-calling. I’m sure that can directly be tied to all of times I had to endure it when I was a child. That, and spitting. I really hated being spit on.

In a nutshell, because it was something I wouldn’t want to happen to me, I should never have engaged in that sort of behavior toward someone else. Even a fucking douchebag like Donald Trump.

Christians call it The Golden Rule. Everyone else calls it not being an asshole.

At some time during the day of December 3rd, I called Melania Trump a whore. And a mindless cunt. There’s probably not any evidence supporting my claim that The Donald ever literally sucked any cocks or had sex with his mother. And for that, my Twitter account was temporarily suspended several times.

However, there is a veritable ocean of evidence that indicates Melania Trump is both a whore, and a mindless cunt. And because those accusations were true, Twitter shut down my account forever the very next day.

I’m okay with that. I was engaging in behavior that I would never condone in another. Besides, getting into a Twitter war with The Donald isn’t just stupid, it’s a fruitless cause, and I already have one of those.

It’s called Golf…

* * * *

I’ve been a social misfit almost all of my life. I may still be one, but there’s one major difference between the old guy me and the young kid me. I no longer care what other people think of me.

Being an outsider looking in was easy for me when I was a kid. I was almost always the new kid in town. We moved a lots when I was in grade school. Minnesota, at least twice. Michigan. South Dakota. Arkansas. North Dakota, twice. California, twice. Missouri. And finally, Montana.

Eleven different school districts to complete eight years of school. I was either so far ahead of my classmates that they thought I was some kind of genius, or so far behind them that everyone thought I was a total moron.

Moving from one place to another in the Midwest was bad enough, but moving from the North to the South was absolute hell. Not only are you the New Kid in Town, you’re a Damn Yankee to boot. And back then, the only thing white southern kids hated more than damn Yankees was niggers.

Yes, I know I’m not supposed to say that anymore. But as I write this, it’s 1963. I was in the second grade when we moved to Little Rock. I was picked on so much in Arkansas that I shit my pants in school. Twice.

I vividly remember both of those incidents. What I don’t remember is why it didn’t happen more often. It’s possible that my heartless tormentors started feeling sorry for me, but it’s far more likely that they thought they might end up covered in shit, too.

Third grade, we were living in Grand Forks, North Dakota. It was the only time I was considered the most popular kid in my class. And the only reason I know this is because my teacher whispered it into my ear one day.

I wasn’t the most popular kid in my class in Michigan. Or South Dakota. Or at either of the schools I attended in California. And I wasn’t even close to the most popular kid in my class when we moved back to Grand Forks because we lived in a different school district on the other side of town. 

1967. I was in seventh grade. That was the worst year of my grade school career. I started out the school year in Minnesota, spent something like six months in Missouri, then finished up the year in Montana.

Missouri might have been even worse than Arkansas when it came to being bullied because I was the New Kid/Damn Yankee in town, but that was one of the school districts where I was so far ahead of my classmates that even my teachers were in awe of me.

* * * *

There were no anti-bullying initiatives way back in the Middle Ages when I was a kid. As I reflect on this period of abject humiliation of my life, it’s a good thing my dad didn’t own any handguns.

I doubt that I ever would’ve been able to shoot anyone, but I’m pretty sure I thought about it. When I was a kid, there were probably a dozen different Western TV shows. Bonanza. Gunsmoke. The Rifleman. Conflict resolution was usually handled with a six-shooter.

But it’s far more likely that I wouldn’t have been able to hit the broad side of a barn even if I had access to a handgun. I got my first pair of glasses when I was in the third grade because I was essentially blind, but I refused to wear them because it was just another thing the other kids could use to make fun of me. I didn’t want to give them any extra ammunition.

That changed when I started the eighth grade. My new teacher introduced me to my latest set of new classmates. And then she said this, And class, please remind Mark to wear his glasses. His mother told me he doesn’t like to wear them, but he really needs to wear them… 

It was something like that. I stopped listening when I started playing for God to quit fucking around and kill me to death for real this time.

* * * *

It was probably around the time that we were living in Missouri that I started utilizing a few defense mechanisms that would keep me and all of the people around me alive.

The first is called a reaction formation. It’s a complicated Freudian concept. In essence, negative emotions or impulses which are mastered by substituting the opposite emotion or impulse. The substitute reaction is usually overly exaggerated.  I’m not an expert in psychoanalysis, so I’m not sure if this is commonly used or not. I do know this: my substitute reactions are not overly exaggerated, and I’m pretty sure that’s not very common.

Another is mirroring, and it’s pretty much what it sounds like. One person unconsciously imitates the gestures, speech pattern, or attitude of another. Almost everybody uses this, especially with family and close friends.

And the third is humor. People are less likely to want to punch you if you can make them laugh.

* * * *

When I was a freshman in high school, I achieved the dual distinctions of being both a genius and a moron in just a matter of months. The first semester of the year, I was in the Honor’s Math class where I struggled to get D’s. My math teacher actually announced to my entire class I had no business being in his class, and told me to get out of his classroom.

I didn’t need a second invitation. I picked up my books, walked out the door, and kept on walking until I got home, five miles later. I’ve told this story to my lovely supermodel wife. She said I must’ve felt humiliated. I suppose I did, but what I mostly remember is feeling relieved.

I was called into the Principal’s office the next day. I fully expected to be suspended or expelled. Instead, I received an apology and I was placed in a different math class. The second semester was an entirely different story. I was a straight A student in the Math for Morons class.

I’ve tried not to make a big deal out what happened to me on that day so long ago when Father Weiss told me to get out of his classroom. I’ve tried, but I still hate math.

* * * *

I didn’t really have a best friend until my freshman year of high school. That’s when I met Dave Nelson. We’re still buds. I didn’t have a girlfriend until my senior year. That’s when I fell in love with Maureen Browne. I think we’re still friends.

She asked me if I was going to attend our fifty year class reunion in 2024. I told her I was thinking about it, but I was terrified of seeing her face to face again. She said I should be. And then she said she was joking.

I told her I wasn’t. And that’s not an exaggeration.

Dave and Maureen both gave the best gifts I have ever received from anyone. Acceptance. Friendship. Love. They were the first people outside of my family that showed me there was also beauty in the world.

* * * *

The Greek philosopher Socrates once said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” That might be true, but from my point of view at this precise moment, examining your life doesn’t increase its value by any appreciable amount.

I’m not sure what the point of this post is supposed to be. No doubt there’s an Aesopian moral of the story that’s supposed to enlighten me. There’s only one small, tiny, insignificant problem.

I’m pretty sure I didn’t write it.

My writing process isn’t this organized. Nor is it usually this specific. My Muses apparently have a much better idea of what they’re doing than I ever will.

I hope they’re happy. Maybe they’ll take some time off for the holidays. My lovely supermodel wife and I are going to Mexico City. I’d like to be able to to enjoy it.

But you have any ideas for the moral of the story, leave me a comment.

Golf, Sex, and Other Drugs

If you’re here because you’re hoping to learn something about golf, or sex — or anything else for that matter — you’re probably wasting your time. I’m not a good enough golfer to give you advice about how to improve your game.

Keep your head down. Keep your eye on the ball. Follow through on your swing. Wash, rinse, repeat. That’s about all I can tell you. And you’ve probably already heard that a hundred times.

Any golfer will tell you that golf is a humbling game. My game has experienced a couple of setbacks since I posted my best score ever. I’m still pretty good on fourteen holes, but those other four have been killing me.

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You just have to keep playing. Everything will balance out eventually. I’ve probably heard that a hundred times in the last two weeks.

* * * *

If you came here because you wanted to learn something about sex, old guys actually know quite a bit about the subject. We’ve probably forgotten more about sex than young guys will ever know, but therein lies the rub, to coin a Shakespearean phrase.

Little Known Fact About Retirement Communities: they’re sometimes like unto soap operas in terms of sleeping around and sex. In that sense, being retired can be like unto high school, only worse. It’s kind of funny because when you reach a certain age you should know better. How many times do you have to repeat a mistake before you realize it’s a mistake?

It would appear that some people never learn.

* * * *

Advertisers learned long ago that sex sells. I’m not selling anything, but I’m hoping to have more than five people read my blog someday. So I’ve decided to start adding the word SEX to all of my titles, you know, just because.

At first blush you might not think that there are many, if any, similarities between golf and sex, but the two activities have a remarkable number of similarities. Or, maybe they don’t. This will be one of those compare/contrast papers that I used to have to write way back in school.

I’m going to ramble on in no particular order of importance on some of the things that have been popping into my head since I conceived the idea for this post when I was golfing two weeks ago.

* * * *

Sex has been around since, well, forever. Maybe longer. Biblically speaking, sex was a physical act between a man and a woman to produce children. And that was all! Life as we know it is essentially a sexually transmitted disease.

Nowadays, sex is still a physical act between a man and a woman. It can also be between a man and a man. A woman and a woman. Groups of people. People who used to be either men or women and now are either women or men, and the procreation of children has been almost eliminated from the equation.

The pleasure principle has been elevated in sex. It’s fun. So is golf, at least, that’s what almost everyone says. When you’re playing well, golf is a lots of fun. The rest of the time, just like sex, you get fucked.

Some Little Known Facts About Golf: it was invented by the Scots in the 1400’s because life under the repressive rule of the English just wasn’t miserable enough for them. The first woman to play golf was Mary Queen of Scots, and she invented the term caddy.

Golf is a simple game. A golfer hits a ball with a club until it is “holed,” no matter how many strokes that may take. And you count every fucking swing you take at the ball. See? That’s simple, isn’t it?

The idea is to get the ball in the hole in the fewest number of strokes. And that’s where the simplicity of golf ends. There are 18 holes in a round of golf. The standard par score for a round is 72.

Really good golfers will turn in scores close to par, even under par. The best score I’ve ever had was still twenty over par, which makes me an almost not terrible golfer. Once.

The easiest way to improve your golf score is simple. You cheat. Among recreational golfers out for a good time, cheating isn’t cheating as long as you’re open about it. Improving your lie, using a hand wedge to get out of a bunker, picking up a short putt — no one cares.

A gimme in golf is a short putt conceded to an opponent in casual or match play, the premise being that there’s no way you could miss it. In truth, there’s no such thing as a putt that can’t be missed. So, a gimme is simply an agreement between two golfers, neither of whom can putt worth a damn.

Again, the objective is to have fun. If you really wanted to have a good time, you probably wouldn’t be playing golf.

But if you’re seriously playing a round of golf, you seriously have to follow the rules, or you are most definitely cheating. There are actual golf rules that have been physically written down somewhere in something, like, you know, a book. In a seriously disturbing survey, 55% of the people polled admitted they cheated when they were seriously playing golf. 33% of the golf cheaters admitted that they cheated at other things, too. That’s the disturbing part.

One of the easiest ways to meet a divorce attorney is to cheat on your spouse. According to statistics, infidelity is a component in divorce 30% of the time. I thought it would be higher than that. Every couple I know that ended up getting divorced did so because one spouse cheated on the other. 

* * * *

Golf courses tend to have dress codes for players. Because golfers are couth. Come to think of it, the country club I belong to is the only place I know of that has a dress code in the Lakeside Area. Everything else here is ubercasual.

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This guy would at least have to wear a collared shirt on my course…

Sex doesn’t have a dress code. In fact, surveys have shown that a majority of participants tend to prefer the lack of any clothes during sex. But the lights have to be off. Perhaps the biggest difference between golf and sex is you don’t have to change shoes in order to have sex.

Golf is an expensive hobby. Equipment. Greens fees. Cart rental. Caddy fees. Lessons. Alcohol. Psychotherapy. More alcohol. More lessons. New and improved equipment. The list goes on and on.

Sex isn’t a hobby. And it’s ridiculously expensive. Once you reach a certain age, literally everything you do has some connection to sex. Education. Employment. Housing. Divorce attorneys. Alimony. Child support. None of that stuff is cheap.

The preferred number of people for a casual round of golf is four. A threesome or a twosome is also acceptable, but more than four in a group is a breach of golf etiquette.

I don’t know if there are any written etiquette rules for sex, but I doubt being polite ever hurts if you’re trying to get laid. You don’t want to be too oblique, but you don’t want to be too direct either…

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Two appears to be the most popular number for sex for the vast majority of people. A threesome in sex is called a ménage là twats. More than three people is probably an orgy.

As previously noted, there are eighteen holes in a round of golf. There aren’t eighteen holes in sex, unless you’re at an orgy. It might be the only only time you would be required to say, “Could you please pass the pussy?”

And you’ll probably want to ask permission before you play the back nine.

* * * *

Nurses have a lots of stories about the weird sexual things they’ve seen.

I remember this guy who came into the ER because he had a lightbulb up his ass. Yeah, probably not his brightest idea. I can’t imagine that it was easy to get it in there, but it was impossible to get it out. We sent him to the OR.

Another ER case, a woman came in complaining of abdominal pain. X-rays revealed a vibrator in her transverse colon.

How long has that been in there?

Three days.

Why did you wait so long to come in?

Um, the batteries died this morning…

We sent her to the OR, too.

Hospitals are very popular places to have sex. It’s the only reason anyone ever watched Grey’s Anatomy. Psych patients have to be closely monitored to make sure they aren’t having sex. We caught people trying to hook up all the time.

There was that night we found Ruth and Christine in bed together at the MVAMC. Okay, we didn’t catch them in the act. The only way we found out about it was Ruth told her nurse on the day shift what had happened. So they moved Chris to another room.

Ruth was a chronically depressed middle aged woman. She was what we referred to as a frequent flyer. She had racked up a lots of miles over the years. To the best of my knowledge, Ruth wasn’t a lesbian. Her husband was a Vietnam vet who had committed suicide. She had two kids who hated her.

We had tried everything on Ruth. Medications. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Biofeedback. Different medications. ECT. More medications. Nothing had worked. Ruth remained depressed. In the entire time I had known her, at least a decade, I don’t think I had ever seen her smile. 

Ruth was sitting up in one of lounges when the night shift arrived. We got a chance to talk to her after report.

“I was asleep when Chris jumped into my bed and started kissing me. I was shocked, I mean, really shocked! I was going to come out to the nursing station and tell you guys, but then…  One thing led to another, I guess.” Ruth actually smiled! I’m not sure, but I think I actually heard a choir of angels sing when I saw that.

“I do have a question. Is there any way we can be roommates again?”

That still makes me laugh. There was no way we could grant her request, but part of me wanted to do it anyway, just because of that smile.

* * * *

Professional golfers play in tournaments, and top rated players can earn tens of millions of dollars a year. Male golf professionals earn 83% more than their female counterparts. That’s a huge difference. It’s unfortunate because female golfers are every bit as talented as the men, and they’re waay cuter. 

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Vast galleries of fans follow the pros around the course and cheer whenever anyone hits an amazing shot. And there are high fives.

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Watching golf on TV is boring, though the commentators are always talking about the suspense and drama as the tournament unfolds. Yeah, whatever. I usually take naps when I watch golf. Unless Tiger Woods is having a good day.

* * * *

Professional sex actors are called porn stars. Top rated adult film stars can make hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. Female porn stars actually make more money than their male counterparts, but that’s probably the only good thing about the industry.

I’ve watched a few porn movies. They were almost as boring as watching golf. There’s no suspense or drama in adult films. There’s no mystery about what’s going to happen. Porn movies are as predictable as Hallmark Christmas movies, except I don’t think any porn movie has ever brought tears to my eyes.

* * * *

I’ve been to a couple of golf tournaments, years ago when we lived in Minnesota. They were a lots of fun. There’s always that one drunk guy in the crowd who yells,

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“It’s in the hole!!!”

Come to think of it, that guy was probably me…

You have to be really quiet whenever a golfer is going to hit a ball, like, you’re in the goddamn library quiet, or at the opera, or something. It’s one of those etiquette things peculiar to golf. And tennis. Unlike most professional athletes, noise apparently makes it hard for golfers to concentrate on what they’re doing. 

Noise of some sort is probably preferable when engaging in sex for most people. It indicates that your partner is conscious and is presumably having a good time. 25% of women surveyed admitted to faking orgasms, so there’s that. I wonder why they don’t call that cheating.

* * * *

I’ve never been on the set of a porn movie, but I have been on a movie set before. Lea and I were extras in a couple of movies made in Minneapolis. One of them started Connie Sellecca.

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It might have been a Hallmark Christmas movie…

The other movie was so bad I don’t think it was released. I knew one of the girls in the movie. It was going to be her Big Break, and she was going to become a rich and famous Celebrity. And then the rest of us could kiss her ass.

I think she cried for a week when she found out she was going to remain a Nobody for the rest of her life. Ironically, her name was Starr.

* * * *

Much like golf tournaments, you have to be quiet on the set when they’re filming a scene in a movie. Any movie. Even porn movies.

I doubt that anyone yells, “It’s in the hole!” when filming adult movies, but now that I think about it, that would be pretty funny. I imagine there could be a fair amount of cheering and high fives when it’s a wrap. There was on the movie sets we were on.

Being an extra in a movie was the most boringest thing I’ve ever done in my life. You hang around doing nothing until the director is ready to start filming. Then you hang around while they reshoot the same scene seventy times. It takes hours! You don’t have any lines, you’re just hanging around in the background to make the scene look real.

That’s why everyone was so happy when filming was over, even the actors who had the main roles in the scene.

Then they could all go play golf.

Grumpy Old Men

It’s a rainy day here in the Lakeside Area. Muy lluvioso. I didn’t really have any plans for today, but it just became the perfect day to write. I’m going to have a lots of water to suck out of our supersized rain gauge once it stops raining.

I’m just hoping I don’t spend five hours rewriting this post after I finish writing it like I did with my last piece. The one thing I have going for me is that I actually know what I want to write about this time.

Believe it or not, that actually helps when you’re writing stuff.

* * * *

Historically, the Franks (Latin: Franci or gens Francorum) were a collection of Germanic peoples and tribes living along the west bank of the Rhine River since the 3rd century or so. Just in cases you didn’t know, the Rhine forms part of the border between France and Germany. And another just in cases, the country of France got its name because of the Franks.

When I was a psych nurse, the Franks were a collection of elderly male patients I cared for during my occasionally illustrious career. There were several of them, and in retrospect, you probably shouldn’t name your kid Frank. It’s seemigly a very popular name for crazy guys. There were a lots of Franks in my career. These are a few of my Most Memorable Frank’s. I could probably write a book about all of them if I ever get tired of writing my blog.

I met most of my Franks at the Minneapolis VAMC. The female nurses I used to work with there thought most of the old guys were cute, but as my buddy and former co-worker, Darrell, used to say, “There’s no such thing as a cute old veteran. I should know. I am one!”

You know what? Darrell was right. He wasn’t cute. I’m an old veteran now. I tend to agree with Darrell. I don’t think I’m all that cute either.

* * * *

Frank Bee was one of my patients at the Minneapolis VAMC. He was an old farmer guy who would check in periodically when he became depressed. He was a mostly quiet, round, little man who liked to hang around the nursing station and talk to the girls, especially the Night Shift nurses.

Part of the reason Frank was depressed was he lost his farm. He got old and he couldn’t keep up with all the stuff farmer guys have to do. And there was another thing. He told us his story one night when he couldn’t sleep.

Way back when Frank was a kid living on the family farm, he was the youngest child in a huge family. He had ten brothers and sisters. You need a lots of hands to get all chores done on the farm, so farmer guys tended to have a lots of kids. And the kids helped work the farm until they were old enough to leave the farm.

Farmer guys might love farming, but most of the time their children didn’t. They’d do anything they had to do to get the hell off the farm, even if it meant going to war in a country they’d never heard of before.

At any rate, young Frank had a pet rooster back on the farm. I didn’t know you could have a pet rooster, but according to old Frank, he and his rooster were inseparable when he was a kid. His rooster followed him around like a dog and they did everything together.

Being the youngest in his family, his older siblings would pick on him from time to time, and if their teasing ever got too physical, Frank’s pet rooster would have his back.

“He would fluff his feathers out and rip out with his spurs. He attacked more than one of my brothers. And at least one of my sisters. That rooster was kind of my guardian angel. He used to meet me at the end of the driveway when I got out of school. He was the only one that was happy to see me…  I would’ve let him sleep with me in my bed at night, but Mama wouldn’t have it.”

And then one day, Frank’s rooster didn’t meet him at the end of the driveway when he got home from school. He went inside to find his beloved pet rooster had been translated into a fried chicken dinner for the family while he was at school.

“You wouldn’t kill one of the hens, because they lay eggs. So if you butchered a chicken, it was always a rooster. But we had lots of roosters. Mama didn’t need to butcher my rooster.”

I can’t remember how or why Frank’s rooster got chosen. Maybe because Frank’s rooster had become too protective of Young Frank. But I do remember that Old Frank had carried a grudge against his mother for the rest of his life.

“I couldn’t eat that night. I loved that rooster, and everyone knew it. I never spoke to my mother again. She knew I loved that rooster. She didn’t have to butcher him.”

* * * *

Frank Dee was the first crazy Frank I met when I started working as a psych nurse. He was one of my patients at AMRTC, the Minnesota State Hospital. You had to be certified crazy by a judge to be there. I’m not sure how long Frank had been there when I started working there, but it was almost as long as I had been alive. I was thirty-one years old at the time.

Frank was bipolar. He was generally a genial guy, except when he wasn’t, and then he was like unto an angry bear. Come to think of it, he kind of looked like a bear. He had a thick beard, and bushy mad scientist eyebrows.  I learned a lots about the mood swings of bipolar people from Frank. Mostly what I learned was to tread carefully around Frank until I found out what mood he was in, and then continue to tread carefully because I never knew when the switch was going to flip.

Before he became committed to AMRTC for the rest of his life, Frank had been a high school football coach, I think. He was probably a teacher, too. He was certainly smart, and he knew a lots of stuff. He was married, and had two young girls under the age of ten. It was during that time in his life that Frank had a manic episode and became psychotic.

Very extremely psychotic.

Due to his illness, Frank began to believe that something terrible was going to happen to his daughters. Something very extremely terrible. They were going to be abducted, raped and murdered. My memory isn’t certain, but it was something along those dire lines. Frank was understandably distraught by this. He couldn’t eat. He couldn’t sleep. Nor could he come up with a plan to protect his girls from this terrible fate his mind had convinced him was going to happen.

What Frank finally did is much less understandable. To protect his daughters from being harmed at the hands of malevolent stranger, he stabbed his oldest daughter to death and severely wounded his youngest before he was stopped by his wife.

You get to hear a lots of sad, sometimes tragic stories when you’re a psych nurse. Frank’s story was one of the most tragic tales I would ever hear.

* * * *

Frank Pee was a patient of mine at the MVAMC. He was almost ninety when I met him, and he was one of the few World War I veterans I cared for. Frank was a gentle old man, soft-spoken, and kind to everyone. He would periodically get depressed and come in for a tune up. His wife of seventy-odd years, Eunice, would come to visit him every time he was in the hospital, and she always brought homemade goodies for the nurses to eat.

We liked Frank, but we loved Eunice.

Frank wasn’t a great story teller, but he had a lots of stories to tell. I was his nurse many times. He was a guy you only needed to ask one question to, and he would ramble on through his memories for hours.

Frank was seventeen when he went over to Europe to fight in the Great War.

“I was young, and stupid. All I really wanted to do was get the hell offa my dad’s farm. I never wanted to see another horse or a cow or a pig again for as long as I lived. I thought going to war was going to be, you know, dashing and glamorous, compared to working on the farm.

“Yah, I was wrong about that. There’s nothing glamorous about war. And trench warfare is even worse. It’s nothing but mud, and bugs and rats, and sickness. And artillery bombardments. And fear. And stench. And loneliness. And death. I saw a lot of good young men die, and it turned out that they all died for nothing.

“That was supposed to be the war to end all wars, remember?

“And you know what I thought the worst part was at first? When I got to France, my sergeant found out I worked on a farm. Well, a lot of us boys had. But I was real good with the horses. I could gentle them real easy when they were spooked. And that’s what I did during the war. I took care of the horses.

“The one thing I ran away from home for, I ended up doing in the Army. Life is funny like that, isn’t it?”

After the war, Frank was part of a military exercise pitting horses against machines. The military saw promise in all those newfangled automobiles and trucks. In 1919, the Army staged a cross-country race, animals against machines. Frank was still working with the horses. Despite the frequent mechanical breakdowns and the sorry state of most of the roads, machines easily outperformed horses, and the modern Army was born.

Frank didn’t return to the farm when he got out of the Army. I can’t remember what he did, but I know it wasn’t farming

* * * *

Frank Vee is the last of the Frank’s I’m going to write about today. He was the oldest of all the Franks. He was in his mid-nineties when I met him. He was also a veteran of the Great War, like the previous Frank. But this Frank didn’t have any stories to tell. It wasn’t that he couldn’t speak. He could. But he only said one thing. And he said it at the top of his lungs.

“HELP!!!”

It wasn’t a polite, “Excuse me, but could you help me.” This was much more of a terrified demand. It was as if Frank Vee was being stabbed to death by Frank Dee. It was like Frank had fallen into quicksand and he couldn’t get out. It was like he was being gang raped by the Oakland Raiders. It was that kind of a primal scream.

It was hell to live with. Nurses started calling in sick in record numbers, and no one volunteered to stay for an extra shift. Eight hours of Frank yelling in terror was actually more than anyone could take. No one wanted to go through it for sixteen hours straight.

For at least an entire month, that one very loud word became the mantra of my unit, and the bane of all of our collective existences. We heard Frank scream it almost every thirty seconds for roughly twenty hours a day or more. I’ll give it to Frank. That guy had a lots of stamina.

You try screaming at the top of your lungs for awhile. See how long you last.

It made no difference what we did. Frank shouted that he needed HELP!!! so we did everything we could think of to make sure Frank that knew he was being helped. Maybe he’d stop yelling. But still he yelled and shouted and screamed, even while we were frantically trying to help him. All day, and all night.

We put a radio in his room and played soothing classic music. Frank continued to yell. We put a TV in his room and played movies. I tried to get him to shout, “Stella!” just for a change of pace. We had a nurse sit at the side of Frank’s bed, holding his hand, saying anything comforting she could think of, and Frank still screamed.

I’m pretty sure I suggested we hire strippers to entertain him. Everyone thought I was joking, and laughed. I was serious. It’s a good thing no one took me seriously. My idea probably wouldn’t have worked. But if it had, we would’ve had twenty guys yelling for HELP!!! at the top of their lungs.

We had to admit defeat. There was nothing we could do to help Frank enough to get him to stop yelling for HELP!!!

Well, there was maybe a couple of other things we could’ve done. We could have medicated him into a coma, I suppose. There were certainly a lots of people who argued for it.

His psychiatrist was Dr Bob. He would occasionally order Thorazine 25 mg. (PO) on days when Frank was especially loud, but mostly he said we all had to learn to live with Frank. It was a low dose, but it would knock Frank out for hours, sometimes up to an entire blessed day. Dr Bob refused to order it on a regular basis, or even as a PRN. He didn’t think it was ethical to put Frank into a coma every day.

As much as I found the constant cacophony that was Frank unsettling, I had to admire Dr Bob for not crumbling to the course of action that all of the nurses demand he take.

We searched Frank’s old charts and records, looking for a clue to his distress. We contacted everyone listed in his chart. Maybe they knew something. We talked to the staff at other facilities Frank had been at. Did Frank scream and shout while he was there? Did anything work to make him stop?

Someone told us Frank used to hang around with a guy named John Dillinger, and might have been his driver for a time before Dillinger became Public Enemy #1. One of the Evening Shift nurses was convinced that Frank knew where Dillinger had buried some of the money he had amassed robbing banks, and spent hours trying to get Frank to tell him where it was.

We had the VA Corps of Engineers come to the unit to assess the situation. They attached noise absorbing mats to the walls of Frank’s room. Frank seemingly only yelled louder. After a couple of weeks, I don’t know who was more miserable. The other patients who were on the unit, or the staff.

This was a VA facility. At least seventy-five percent of the patients on my unit had a diagnosis of PTSD. It’s a complicated disorder that can be triggered by any number of external stimuli. And one of those triggers can be noise. Frank triggered every one of the patients on my unit. And at least half of the staff. Including me.

I have a bitch of case of PTSD. It’s gotten better the longer I’ve lived with it. But there’s no cure for PTSD. Sometimes it still catches me by surprise.

The only one who didn’t appear to be miserable during that time was Frank, who contentedly yelled for HELP!!! as loud as he could, no matter what. And the only reason I say contentedly is yelling seemed to be the only thing that made him happy. And yet, he sounded so fucking terrified.

I’ve spent years wondering just what it was that he was so afraid of.

More than one of our patients had a solution for Frank’s constant shouting, “Leave me alone with him for five minutes. I guarantee you he’ll stop yelling.” I don’t think that was an idle statement. A few of those guys probably would’ve snapped Frank’s neck, or smothered him with a pillow, without a second thought.

And don’t think we weren’t tempted. Frank’s verbal onslaught probably could have been construed as cruel and unusual treatment by the Geneva Covention. Too bad we weren’t actually prisoners of war. It just felt like we were. By the third week of Frank’s screaming, a few of the nurses weren’t just thinking about killing Frank anymore. They wanted to kill Dr Bob, too.

We eventually started moving Frank off the unit at night and had one nurse sit with him while he yelled for HELP!!! At least the other patients could get some sleep after that.

Our only hope was finding a place we could send Frank to. Our social workers called every facility they could think of. None of them wanted a guy who screamed for HELP!!! all day and all night.

A few facilities sent case workers to take a look at Frank. They didn’t need to even take a look. All they had to do was hear him for a minute or two. One of them said, “I don’t know how you’ve been able to put up with this, day in and day out. How long has he been here? Man, you’d think he would’ve lost his voice by now…”

That was something we couldn’t understand either. Frank, it seemed, had a superpower. He was The Voice. And nothing could silence him.

All good things must come to an end. So it is with all bad things as well. We eventually transferred Frank to the St Cloud VA for long-term care. They actually had a long-term care unit, and at the precise moment that none of the nurses felt they could endure one more minute of Screaming Frankie Vee, a bed opened up for him at St Cloud.

I’m sure Frank yelled through the entire ambulance ride, and he probably continued to yell for HELP!!! right up to the moment that he got dead. I know we all breathed a huge sigh of relief. I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy so see someone leave my unit as Frank. I’m pretty sure I got drunk for a week.

I still have flashbacks from my time with Frank. I can still hear him screaming if I even think about him.

* * * *

Mad Max was probably one of the most aggravating guys I’ve ever met in my life. I didn’t give him his nickname because he was crazy/mad. Max had a real talent for irritating almost everyone he came into contact with. He made everyone around him mad.

Max was kind of an anal old guy. He was obsessed with neatness, which was unusual for an old veteran guy. Most of them weren’t. But Max wanted everyone to be as obsessed with neatness as he was, and that’s what most everyone found to be really annoying. Max had no sense of tact or decorum when it came to being neat.

He always made his bed. The area around his bed was spotless. If Max had cleaned the rest of the unit, we might have been able to tolerate him easier. But what he tended to do was point out the flaws he saw in everyone and everything else in a form of speech that was more or less incomprehensible, and he spent hours lounging in his bed like unto psychiatric royalty or something.

I don’t know what Max had done for a living, but he had a lots of really nice, stylish clothes, and a really expensive pair of shoes. He was a snappy dresser, no doubt. He was tallish, had a slim, kind of athletic looking build. I didn’t like Max much. I can’t think of anyone that did, but I liked his fashion sense. It’s something I picked up being married to a supermodel.

The main thing about Max that annoyed everyone the most was the way he talked. It was a cross between a whisper and a mumble. I called it a whumble. I probably even charted it that way. As a result of his difficulty saying anything understandable, anyone who actually wanted to know what Max said usually had to say this:

“What?”

And then there was thing: no matter how clearly anyone spoke to Max, no matter how specifically and precisely the words were enunciated, Max always whumbled this in response:

“what?”

I doubt that Max ever misunderstood anything that was said to him. I think he took a kind of sadistic joy in making everyone repeat what they said to him. I’m just guessing, but he might have done simply because everyone had to make him say everything twice because hardly anyone could understand his initial whumble.

Well, there was one more thing, but it only applied to nurses. About every fifteen minutes or so, Max would come up to the nursing station and whumble:

“is it time to eat yet?”

Max could have just finished eating a meal, and he would whumble that question. All of the meals were delivered to the unit by the Dietary Service in a huge stainless steel cart about the size of a Volkswagen Beetle. They were cumbersome things to maneuver, and were about as quiet as a tank.

It was a mystery to everyone how Max didn’t weigh five hundred pounds, given his obsession with eating, but there was never any mystery about when meals were served on the unit.

Never.

You might think that Max would be first in line whenever a meal was served. The fucking dietary tank went right passed his room. He watched his goddamn tray roll by his room three times a day, but Max would purposely lay in bed until he received a personal invitation from the staff to dine–the staff he had interrogated all day about when he’d get his next meal–and we would always tell him when the next meal would be served, to which he always responded:

“what?”

Seriously. The guy didn’t know how many times he was almost assaulted by the nurses. Max usually stayed in the hospital for about a month. None of us missed him when he was gone. None of the female nurses thought Max was cute.

My favorite Max memory is the day we had an old drunk guy admitted to the unit, and because he was an old guy, I put him in the same room as Max and the other old guys. Max didn’t whumble when he saw the guy. He actually spoke understandable English when he saw the guy.

“Does this drunk Indian have to be in my room?”

I probably responded the guy was a Native American. Not only that, he was a veteran, and was as deserving of the same level of excellent care as any other patient on the unit. And if Max wanted to be in charge of bed placement, he could go to school, get his nursing degree and take my job. Otherwise, he could just keep his comments to himself. To which he responded:

“what?”

The old drunk Indian guy was a semi-frequent flyer on my unit, and I liked him. Too bad I can’t remember his name anymore. I liked most of the drunk guys, except the asshole drunk guys. After all, the only difference between me and the drunk guys was the side of the nursing station we were on. I knew I’d want someone to be nice to me if I ever ended up as a drunk guy in the hospital, so I was nice to them.

I checked on the old drunk guy frequently, and Max always whumbled something to me, and everyone else in the room, about not liking the drunk Indian guy. Max didn’t think that guy was neat and clean enough to be near him.

And then one of the funniest things I ever saw in my entire life happened.

The old Indian guy might have been drunk when he was admitted, but he wasn’t deaf. He heard every whumbling complaint Max had registered, and he decided to let Max know that he knew.

And that resulted in the second time that Max didn’t whumble. He came running up to the nursing station and said, very clearly, “That guy pissed in my shoes!!”

I went to Max’s room go see what had happened, and sure enough, someone had pissed in Max’s shoes, his very nice, very expensive shoes. All the way to the top of each of them. But that’s the only place he had pissed. There wasn’t a drop of urine on the floor.

“Man, that’s impressive! How the hell did you do that?” I asked Max’s roommate.

“I don’t know how that happened. But I’m an Indian. We never miss when we shoot.”

Max was furious! He kept on not whumbling about his shoes, and what were we going to do about it, and stuff. I carefully carried Max’s shoes to the bathroom, poured out the urine into the toilet and rinsed his shoes out in the sink. And I laughed my ass off the entire time. I had tears running down my cheeks. I laughed so hard I almost pissed my pants. And my shoes. When I thought I had probably rinsed all of the urine of the shoes, I gave them back to Max.

“You should let those dry out before you wear them again.”

“That’s it? That’s all you’re going to do? That guy pissed in my shoes!”

“He says he doesn’t know how it happened. But if I were you, I’d apologize to him.” I chose my words carefully, and enunciated each and every one of them. “If you keep this up, and you keep making those disparaging remarks about your roommate, someone will probably shit in your shoes the next time.”

To which Max replied:

“what?”

I knew Max understood what I had said. He had never not known what anyone had said to him. His roommate clearly understood what I had said. He had a kind of wry grin on his face, like he wished he had thought of that first. And judging by the look on Max’s face, he knew that too. He kept looking at his shoes as if he were seeing them filled with excrement, then he looked at his smiling roommate, and then he looked back at me. And he stopped whumbling bad things about anyone.

I don’t know if Max ever apologized to his roommate. But he never spoke clearly again. He went back to whumbling about food and saying,

“what?”

But his roommate never had to shit in Max’s shoes. So maybe Max did apologize. He did like those shoes a lots…

All of the nurses loved that old Indian guy after that, even if they didn’t especially like alcoholics. Even Darrell thought what he had done was kind of cute.

* * * *

The Duke of Earl is the last of the old guys I’m going to write about today. Earl was an old farmer guy who returned to the farm after he got out of the Army. He worked the land for as long as he could, then sold the farm and moved into the closest town in rural Northern Minnesota when he retired.

Earl wasn’t a big fan of ‘city living.’ He’d check into the VA every six months or so when staring out the window and yelling at the kids who walked on his lawn got to be too much for him.

Earl was one of those nondescript guys that I probably wouldn’t even remember anymore if it hadn’t been for one encounter I had with him. Earl came in for a tune up, and we sent him back home after a week or two in the hospital. But instead of returning in six months like he usually did, Earl came back in six days.

I was up for the next admission that day, so I went to talk to Earl to find out what had happened. And this was the reason Earl gave me for coming back to hospital so soon:

“My wife is having an affair!”

“Well, you’re, like, eighty years old. How old is your wayward wife?”

“She’s the same age as I am.”

“Okay. Your eighty year old wife is having an affair. Why would you think that?”

“Well, I was here the hospital, you know–“

“Yep. I was here too. Then what happened.”

“Well, when I got home, there it was!”

“There what was?”

“The turnip!”

“I have to ask this, Earl. Where was the turnip?”

“Sitting right there, on the kitchen counter!”

“And then what happened?”

“What the hell do you mean? I already told you what happened!!”

“Yeah, you said your eighty year old wife is having an affair…  Wait a minute, let me get this straight. You think your wife is having an affair… because of a turnip?!?”

“You damn right I do! Wouldn’t you?!?”

You better believe I told my wife that story. She knows better than to leave any turnips just laying around where I can see them.

Viva Las Vegas

I love Las Vegas. My lovely supermodel wife and I have been there several times, and we’ve always had a blast. We don’t go there to gamble. And now that I’ve quit drinking, we don’t go there to party. We like staying in the luxurious hotels. We love the shows, and fine dining, and the people watching.

But the other day, something happened in Vegas that didn’t stay in Vegas.

Dear God, where were you that day? There are a whole lots of hurting people down here who could have really used your help and protection.

On the offhand chance you haven’t seen the news, a lone gunman opened fire on a crowd of people attending a concert in Las Vegas with multiple automatic weapons, killing over fifty people and wounding something like unto five hundred.

And while we are left feeling stunned and shocked, and filled with dismay; there’s one thing none of us are.

Surprised.

It’s a sad fact of our lives that these occurrences have become all too commonplace. If a mass shooting can be described as four or more people, do you have any idea how many of those have happened in the last ten years? I don’t know the exact number, but I know there have been hundreds of them.

Hundreds. Let that sink in for a moment.

And the even sadder fact is almost all of us have come to believe that nothing can be done to change it. I am one of those people. And there’s a reason for that. The most obvious solution to this problem is the hands of our elected officials in Congress.

Need I say more?

It’s a gun issue! No, it’s a mental health issue!

Both of those arguments have merit, but the solution, if there is one, is hardly that black and white. So let’s take a look at them.

* * * *

It’s a gun issue.

We need better gun control.

That seems like the most obvious solution, doesn’t it? But there’s that whole Second Amendment thing. And the icing on that cake is the NRA. There are many powerful lobbyist organizations at work in America, but not many of the them have the political clout and power of the NRA.

What seems to be missing in this issue is another inalienable right, and that is all about not having to live in fear that you might got dead going to the movies, or to a concert, or going out to dinner.

If there weren’t a multitude of reasons for term limits in Congress, this issue in and of itself should be enough to mandate its implementation.

Guns don’t kill people!

Oh yes, Virginia, yes they do. And in the violent country of my birth, they kill a lots of people on a daily basis.

Personally, I’m not sure gun control is the only answer, and I don’t own a single gun. I know a lots of people who do, and none of them have killed so much as one person. And that’s true for the majority of gun owners. If this were strictly a gun issue, the gun owners living in an area as small as Northern Idaho could’ve killed everyone in the US already, twice.

That said, I can’t think of any reason why anyone would need to own an automatic assault weapon unless they needed to kill a whole lots of people to death at once in a very short amount of time. Without the arsenal he had, the guy in Las Vegas would’ve been hard pressed to kill even one person attending the concert from where he was.

Should there be a ban on the sale of assault weapons in the the United States? In my opinion, yes there should be. Will that be enough to stem the tide of future occurrences like what just happened in Las Vegas?

Good question. Let’s find out.

* * * *

It’s a mental health issue. 

I used to be a psych nurse, and this argument pisses me off so much I want to kill someone. If it’s only the crazy people killing everyone else to death, then working in Psychiatry would be the most dangerous job on the planet, and pysch nurses would have gone extinct years ago.

Most of the craziest people I’ve known have been too disorganized to figure out how to turn on the fucking shower, let alone plan and carry out a massacre of dozens of people.

There’s a whole lots of people working in law enforcement right now who are trying to figure out why the shooter in Las Vegas did what he did. Why don’t we ask him?

Oh. That’s right. He’s dead.

And that’s what has happened to almost every person who has chosen to take this course of action, so we’re never going to know exactly why he, or any of them, did what they did.

Was he mentally unstable? We’d certainly like to think so. Sane people don’t do these kinds of things, do they? No, they most certainly don’t! When trying to put the pieces of an investigation like unto this together, law enforcement officials generally find out the person they’re investigating is:

Well, he was a quiet guy. He kept to himself. He seemed like a normal person, you know. He liked to eat pizza. And burritos. No, he never said anything about wanting to kill anyone. I didn’t know he even owned a gun…

In other words, there were no warning signs, nothing that even hinted at any danger. In general, most mass murderers don’t seem to be anything beyond nondescript, until they do something that isn’t nondescript. It’s too bad because they’d be a whole lots more easier to stop if they were more up front about their intentions.

Oh yeah, he was always talking about killing people. In fact, that’s just about the only thing he talked about.

And did you take any actions to stop him?

We sure did! We got rid of all the hammers! And his mother hid the cheese grater in her underwear drawer in the bedroom!

For some reason, that part about the cheese grater seems to be something that actually happened with one of my former patients, but I might be wrong about that…

I have a theory about why people decide to kill a whole lots of people to death before they kill themselves, and Andy Warhol summed it up when he said, “In the future everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes.”

We can’t all be Paris Hilton or one of the Kardashians…

Let’s suppose for a moment this actually is a mental health issue. What are we as a society doing to combat this crisis? Has there been an increase in resources to provide better care?

Um, no.

In fact, Congress has been trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act. And if you follow that logic, it’s probably because the NRA told them to do it.

* * * *

I felt like dying yesterday. If my lovely supermodel wife’s birthday wasn’t today, I would’ve been happy to check out, but that probably would’ve ruined her birthday today, so I’m glad to still be alive and be together with her.

The horrifying events that happened in Las Vegas will fade from our memories, and in a few months we’ll probably be collectively shocked and dismayed by another equally terrible and senseless event.

And nothing will be done to prevent it from happening again.

From the Odds and Ends Department

Have you ever watched something on TV, or read something, and thought, Man, I could do so much better than that! You might even be thinking that right now…  Especially if you’ve read more than one of my blog posts.

I mean, all this guy writes about is getting wasted, his slutty girlfriends, and how all of his relationships fell apart! There was that story about his nympho Russian girlfriend, Ivana Sukyurkokov. And his heartbroken Chinese girlfriend, Wat Wen Wong. Jeez, his blog is dumber than putting wheels on a ball! I liked him more when he wrote about crazy people!

And I hear you. Before I started writing my blog, I thought bloggers were people who needed to get a fucking life, man. They were probably people who thought Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian were the epitome of American society and they all wanted to be Paris-ites, or biffles, or twat waffles with them or something.

I’ve started reading some of the blogs that are out there on the Interweb, and I was wrong about bloggers. Most of them appear to have lives.

Except me.

I’m retired. If I were to write about my day-to-day life now, my blog would consist of restaurant reviews in the Lakeside area, and stories about how much I love my Sleep Number bed®.

And to be honest, I probably liked me more when I was writing about crazy people, too. But those stories are relatively easy to write, and like everything else in life, it’s only when you step outside of your comfort zone that anything meaningful happens. It’s the stories I didn’t want to write that taught me the most about myself. It was the stories that hurt like hell that showed me how far I’ve come.

And how far I still have to go.

And the other thing about writing about my nursing career is not every person I cared for resulted in a story worth telling.  Knife wielding homicidal maniacs were the exception, not the rule, thank God. Most of my patients were never a problem, unlike medical dramas on TV. I’d probably hate being a TV nurse, unless my work partner was the hot nurse with the big tits…

The majority of my nursing career was pretty ho-hum. Mischief was managed. Shit got done. No one died. And that was that. But there were a lots of snippets and moments and oneliners, and if I could patchwork a lots of them together, I might be able to spin a tale or two…

* * * *

I’ve discovered that time management is still necessary once you retire. I certainly have more time to do things I enjoy now, like reading. And because other bloggers sometimes read my posts, I feel a certain obligation to read some of their posts, too. My favorite blogger is a young woman in New York who writes about her struggle to overcome her eating disorder. Her blog is called Beauty Beyond Bones. And while I love her now, I probably would’ve hated her as a patient.

Back when I was a psych nurse in Arizona, there were a couple of eating disorder treatment facilities in the little town of Wickenburg, about thirty miles northwest of Surprise. Remuda Ranch and Rosewood Ranch. She’s never come out and said if she was a patient at either of them, but I’m going to guess she was at Remuda. I hope she doesn’t mind me saying that. I interviewed at both facilities, but decided not to take a position at either one of them. I absolutely sucked at working with eating disorder patients.

Remuda is a Christian based treatment facility. One of the questions they asked me in the interview was did I think the Bible was the sole source of truth. I said no, it wasn’t, and I wasn’t even sure all of the things written in the Bible were true. After my interview, they told me I wasn’t Christian enough to meet their criteria. I told them that was okay. They weren’t the first Christians to tell me that.

A few weeks later they called me back and told me that they had changed their mind about me, and asked if I was still interested in working there. I wanted to say something like, God, you guys must be fucking desperate! But instead I thanked them for thinking of me, and told them I had found another position and I wasn’t available anymore.

Well, it was the truth…

Like most every psychological/psychiatric disorder, eating disorders are caused by a multitude of complex factors, and as with every psychological/psychiatric disorder–except dementia–the successful treatment of anorexia or bulimia depends completely on the patient. If they don’t want to change their behavior, there ain’t nothin’ anyone can do for them once they’re discharged from the hospital.

It’s like alcoholism or drug addiction, only worse. Just as the drinking and chemical use are usually a symptom of a deeper, darker pathology, eating disorders are about far more than food.

Eating disorders are incredibly difficult to treat, mostly because eating disorder patients are the spawn of Satan. I mean that in a Christian way. They are sneakier than a ninja. They can vomit silently so they can purge without anyone knowing. They stockpile food so they can binge feed when no one is looking. And if their lips are moving, they’re probably lying.

The other thing I remember most clearly about most of these women, and they were all females, is the majority of them were gorgeous. And that is truly one of the great mysteries that used to keep me awake at night when I was learning how to be a psych nurse. How could someone so beautiful be so fucking miserable?

One of my first posts was about one of my patients at the MVAMC. I called him the Piano Man because he liked to play the piano. About the time he walked onto the unit for one of his many admissions, we had just discharged a gal with anorexia. She had been on our unit for a couple of weeks, and none of the staff were sad to see her go.

After we got the Piano Man admitted, he sat down at the piano and started playing, and the piano sounded like a wounded moose. We opened the top to find the eating disorder girl had hid enough food inside of the piano to feed Hannibal’s entire army when he crossed the Alps to attack Rome. Including the elephants.

For someone who has never worked in a psychiatric setting, it would be easy to say that we, as staff members, totally sucked at our job, and I really don’t have much of anything to say in our defense. We were hardly specialists at treating eating disorders, and the fact we were so happy to see that particular patient leave speaks volumes to the level of struggle we all had with her.

* * * *

To be sure, it’s very easy to be an armchair quarterback or a wheelchair general, and criticize someone doing a job you’ve never attempted. And when you’re in a service oriented occupation like Nursing, you are never going to be able to make everybody happy. No one is that good, and people can be incredibly demanding/entitled. And it is generally the people who were making the least positive contribution to anything who were the most demanding and entitled.

You guys have to be the worst fucking nurses I’ve ever seen! I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that one. And it was usually a guy that you and your team had spent a month busting your asses trying to arrange housing and follow up for, who had been discharged from your unit forty-eight hours earlier, and was already back because he chose to drink as much alcohol and smoke as much meth as he possibly could before he came crawling back to the hospital.

Most of the time it’s better to just agree with someone like that, and walk away. But there were times when I couldn’t.

“Maybe you should get out more…  That means a lots coming from you…”

I said something like unto that to one of my unhappy frequent flyer guys at the MVAMC who probably spent as much time in the hospital as I did. His name was Ray. I’m going to guess that the total bill for the many, many times we detoxed him off of alcohol, sobered him up and set him up to succeed was in excess of one million dollars, and he had this response, “You used to be a good guy, but you need a new job. You’ve been inpatient too long.”

“So have you.” I replied.

He froze to death one cold December night in Minneapolis. He had gotten drunk and was walking to the hospital so he could be admitted again. His body was found propped up against a tree across the street from the hospital in the morning. He had stopped to rest before making his final stumbling trek to the ED, and had fallen asleep.

You meet a lots of guys like unto that when you’re a psych nurse. There was Charles. He was another MVAMC guy who spent an inordinate amount of time getting drunker than fifty guys combined, and the rest of his time detoxing on my unit.

We had safely detoxed Charles for the umpteenth time, and discharged him at 9:00 AM on a Friday morning. At 2:30 PM that same day, I answered the phone. It was Charles.

“Hey, I don’t think this discharge thing is going to work, man. I’ve been out of the hospital for about six hours, and I’m pretty fuckin’ wasted, man.” he slurred.

“Hey, Charles. Has it ever occurred to you that you need to quit drinking?” I decided to ask. There was a long silence, and then Charles said this,

“Is there anyone else there I can talk to?”

For one of the few times in my life, I had no response. I handed the phone to one of my co-workers. Charles would also die to death as a result of his alcohol abuse.

Sometimes the disease wins.

* * * *

You never know what you’ll see or hear as a psych nurse, and there’s a reason for that. People are capable of an infinite amount of kooky stuff, not that you have to be a psych nurse to experience the full spectrum of kookiness available out there.

All you really need to see that is a family.

But one thing you may not experience unless you’re a psych nurse is the dreaded Dissociative Identity Disorder, or more commonly, Multiple Personality Disorder. In my thirty year career, I met a lots of people who claimed to have multiple personalities, but none of them ever seemed to be legitimate to me, or anyone else I worked with.

Multiple Personality Disorder was virtually unheard of until the 1970’s. That’s when the book Sybil was published, 1973 to be exact. Three years later, the TV movie of the same name was broadcast on NBC, starring Sally Field and Joanne Woodward, and like magic, suddenly everyone had multiple personalities.

For my money, all of the people I met who claimed to have multiple personalities were just assholes looking for an easy excuse for their behavior.

* * * *

I was working nights at the MVAMC fairly early in my career. I was the Med nurse that night, so anyone needing any medications had to see me. Enter Sam. It was around 2:00 AM. We had detoxed Sam off of alcohol with a Valium protocol. Once someone had been safely detoxed, the protocol was discontinued.

Sam had been off the protocol for a day or two, but he wanted more Valium. I explained to him how the protocol worked, and Sam had a five star meltdown. He screamed at me, waking up everyone on the unit. One of the other nurses called the POD and got a one time order of Valium for Sam, and he went back to bed.

At 6:00 AM, Sam came up to the nursing station to get his morning meds. He was quite pleasant, and I remarked that he was much nicer than he had been at 2:00 AM.

“Oh, that. That wasn’t me. That was Samuel.”

“No kidding. He looks just like you.” I said.

Sam gave me, and anyone else willing to listen, a detailed description of his three personalities: Sam, Samuel and Sheryl. A line of patients had formed behind Sam. They were waiting to get their meds so they could go smoke. According to Sam, Samuel was the troublemaker. Sheryl was the lover, and Sam was the drunk. I listened to Sam, and gave him his meds.

“Well, the next time you talk to Samuel, give him a message.” I said. “If he ever talks to me like that again, I’m gonna punch you in the fuckin’ mouth.”

Sam’s jaw dropped. He turned to the guys standing behind him, “Did you hear that! He threatened me!”

“Hey! Take your goddamn meds and get the hell out of the way! And if you ever pull that shit again, if he doesn’t punch you in the fuckin’ mouth, I will.” one of the Nam vets growled.

Yeah, not one of my better moments, but Samuel never made another appearance.

* * * *

I think the last time I met anyone who claimed to have multiple personalities was at Aurora. I walked onto the Canyon Unit, and Nikki was on a 1:1. She was a frequent flyer, and I was usually her nurse.

A 1:1 is a special precaution, usually reserved for patients that are acutely suicidal. In essence, one staff person is assigned to one patient, and that patient is never more than an arm’s length away from the person assigned to watch over them.

Well, that’s how it’s supposed to work, but it’s rarely played out that way.

I went over to talk to Nikki. She had scratched her wrist with a plastic spoon on the evening shift. She didn’t even break the integrity of her skin, and her nurse had placed her on the 1:1.

I’m shaking my head while I write this. I don’t usually like to criticize the actions of other nurses, but that was a lazy-ass intervention. If the evening nurse had taken even five minutes to talk to Nikki, that ridiculous waste of manpower and resources wouldn’t have been needed. We barely had enough staff to cover the units, let alone have one staff assigned to watch someone for no good reason.

I asked Nikki to tell me what happened.

“I didn’t do anything! It was Alexandra!”

“And whom might that be?”

“She’s one of my three personalities! She–”

“Stop. Cut the crap, Nikki. You’re on a 1:1. You can’t smoke if you’re on a 1:1.” I said.

“But they let me smoke last night, and this morning!”

“I don’t care what they did last night. This is my unit, my rules. If I can’t trust you to be safe on the unit, I’m sure as hell not going to trust you to be safe off the unit, with a lit cigarette in your hand. What if you decide to burn yourself?”

“It wasn’t me! It was Alexandra!”

“I don’t care who did it. None of you get to smoke.”

“I’ll be safe, I promise! Please!!”

Less than five minutes. Mischief managed. And I never heard another word about Alexandra again. Ever.

* * * *

There was a fairly consistent response whenever I told someone that I had just met that I was a psychiatric nurse. Their eyes would widen, and they would say something like unto, “I bet you’ve seen it all, huh.”

I would reply, “No. I’ve seen a lots of strange stuff, but the kookiness of humans is infinite.”

And that is the fucking truth.

Every time I thought I had seen it all, something I didn’t think was humanly possible walked through the door. I eventually made peace with the fact that I would never see it all, and I was okay with that. My two other personalities are still sulking about that a bit, but they’ll get over it.

Or I’ll punch them in the mouth.

Strawberry

I would meet Strawberry because of a seizure. He was a Vietnam vet, working as a janitor on the night shift at St Cloud State University. He was also an alcoholic, and it is assumed he had a seizure related to alcohol withdrawal.

In essence, Strawberry wasn’t as drunk as he usually was, and his body freaked out, resulting in the seizure that almost killed him to death.

Withdrawal seizures occur in about 5% of detoxing patients. 90% of withdrawal seizures occur within the first forty-eight hours. The mortality rate of alcohol withdrawal is pretty low nowadays, maybe 2%, but really severe alcohol withdrawal can kill you to death.

I doubt Strawberry had much of a meaningful life prior to the seizure that would irreparably damage his brain, but he had no life afterwards. He would only exist. The person he had once been would disappear, never to be seen again.

Strawberry was mopping the floor of a long hallway at SCSU when his seizure hit. No one knows how long he had been seizing when he was found laying on the floor, but he was in convulsive status epilepticus, a very serious medical emergency.

Convulsive status epilepticus is a seizure lasting more than five minutes, or a series of seizures that occur essentially one on top of the other, with no time in between for the person to recover. This results in hypoxia, a decreased supply of oxygenated blood to body tissues.

Brain cells start dying when deprived of oxygen for about five minutes. As a result of lengthy seizure activity, Strawberry’s brain was deprived of oxygen for an unknown, but extended period of time.

Someone found Strawberry laying on the floor, and called 911. EMT’s probably administered IV Ativan to control the seizures. He was taken to the St Cloud Hospital, and eventually was transferred to the MVAMC, where we would meet.

He was short, and slight; about the same size as me. Light brown hair, brown eyes. I think he had a mustache. He was six or seven years older than me. We probably had a lots of stuff in common.

I would be his nurse for at least the next six months or more.

* * * *

Strawberry was the most cognitively impaired person I’ve ever known. He could walk independently, but that was just about the extent of his skills. He needed help getting dressed. He could take his clothes off all by himself, and he did so semi-frequently.

He would eat if you put food in front of him. If you sat him down on a toilet, he’d poop and pee. He could speak, but he couldn’t converse. He’d randomly utter a word or words, maybe a complete sentence, but he couldn’t say where he was, how old he was, or even his name.

I started calling him Strawberry because he seemed to like the name, and he tended to be more cooperative when I asked Strawberry to do something, as opposed to John. That was his real name.

John...  No response.

Don’t like that name? How about Fritz? Nothing.

Yo, Strawberry…

Yeah.

You like that name? Strawberry?

Strawberry.

That’s how that got happened.

* * * *

For you cinematic aficionados, Strawberry was a character in Cheech and Chong’s Up in Smoke. He was Cheech’s buddy, a Vietnam vet with one bitch of a case of PTSD.

That’s where my inspiration for John’s nickname came from. He was also a Vietnam vet, and more than likely also had a bitch of a case of PTSD. There was probably more than one reason why he drank as much as he did.

At least one of the nurses I worked with wondered why I didn’t call John by his real name.

“He doesn’t know who is anymore. And he seems to like the name.”

“Yeah, but that doesn’t mean you can call him whatever you want.”

“He doesn’t seem to mind.”

“John. John!” the other nurse said. John didn’t respond. “Hey, Strawberry!”

“Yeah.” Strawberry/John replied, probably randomly. He may have even looked at the other nurse.

“Wow. That’s really weird.”

“See? I told you.”

* * * *

I don’t think Strawberry had a seizure disorder before he had the seizure that would change his life forever, but he had one afterwards. We ended up buying him a magic helmet to keep him from splitting his skull open the next time he had a seizure.

It was your basic protective headgear, made of firm molded foam. But it was as magical as Siegfried’s Tarnhelm to me. It kept Strawberry as safe as humanly possible, as long as he kept it on.

Aside from major concerns about his safety, Strawberry wasn’t that difficult of a patient, most of the time. The hardest part of his care was getting him to cooperate with whatever it was we wanted him to do.

If you handed him a toothbrush, sometimes he brushed his teeth, sometimes he’d put it in his pocket. Sometimes he tried to put it in your pocket.

He wasn’t combative, but he could be very uncooperative and resistant to care. I came out of Strawberry’s room more than once with Strawberry clinging to one of my legs. It was easier than trying to wrestle with him, and overly strenuous resistance from Strawberry almost always triggered a seizure.

Actually, it didn’t take much to trigger seizure activity in Strawberry. He had a lots of seizures, despite the medications we gave him to control his seizures.

One day Strawberry came out of his room and headed down the hallway. When he didn’t return in a few minutes, I went looking for him, but he couldn’t be found. I asked my buddy Paul Anderson to help me find him.

We found him Carl’s shower. Carl was a frequent flyer, an old bipolar guy. Carl told us Helmet Boy was in his shower. Carl put him there when he started having a seizure.

“I turned the cold water on. I thought it’d do him some good.”

* * * *

I called Strawberry’s family to let them know he was in the hospital. He had a daughter. She was an ER nurse at Regions Hospital in St Paul. I can’t remember her name, but she was an attractive young woman.

Strawberry tried to take her clothes off the one and only time she came to visit. He had no idea who she was, and she left in tears.

His brother visited several times. Strawberry gave no indication he knew his brother, either.

“How long is he going to be like this. He’s going to get better, right?”

“No. He’s not going to get any better. He’s going to be like this for the rest of his life. He’ll never be able to live independently again. He needs twenty-four hour supervision.”

“Hey, John. It’s me, Scott! Wow, he acts like he doesn’t know who I am.”

“It’s not an act.”

It took three or four visits before reality finally set in for Scott. His brother was gone, and he wasn’t coming back. Scott eventually stopped visiting, too.

* * * *

It was my birthday. My shift was just about over. I was reviewing my notes when Strawberry walked out of his room and headed down the hallway. There was something weird about the way he came out. He almost looked like he knew what he was doing.

I probably sighed. It was my birthday. I’m pretty sure I was planning on going out for drinks and stuff with my lovely supermodel wife and some of my co-workers. The last thing I wanted to do was work right about then, but I went down the hallway to see what Strawberry was up to.

I found him about halfway down the hallway. He held a turd in his hands that was probably ten inches long.

I’ve tried to figure out how the hell he did that more than once. He was fully dressed when I found him, and he wasn’t out of my sight for more than five minutes. And that turd was a whopper, it took two hands to handle that sucker.

And then I had a dilemma. How the fuck was I going to get that thing away from him without both of us wearing it?

“Come on, Strawberry. Let’s go to the bathroom.” He came willingly, and I stood him in front of the toilet. But I couldn’t get Strawberry to understand what I wanted him to do. I pantomimed throwing stuff into the toilet, then I decided to have a little funeral service, much like you’d have for a pet goldfish.

“Dearly beloved, were gathered here today to say goodbye to this…turd. As far as turds go, it was a fine turd, one of the best turds ever, probably. But as in all things in this world, it’s time to say goodbye to this one, and let it complete its journey to the sewer system. So, with a heavy heart, and smelly hands, we bid thee farewell, O best of turds.”

I threw a crumpled wad of toilet paper in the toilet, and motioned to Strawberry to do the same. But that seemed to be more than Strawberry could do. He turned toward me. I don’t know if he wanted me to do the honors, or if he wanted to put it in my pocket.

Either way, I wasn’t going to let him complete that handoff. I grabbed Strawberry’s wrists and yelled for

“HELP!!!”

And the weirdest wrestling match in the history of the world ensued. A whole lots of nurses came running, then ran out to get gloves. I pulled Strawberry into his shower, which was, thankfully, huge. And that was a good thing because there were six nurses, one patient and a ten inch turd in it.

One of the nurses connected a showerhead and turned the water on. In a matter of moments we were all drenched with water and fecal matter.

We got Strawberry cleaned up and dressed again. If I could have burned my clothes before leaving the unit, I would’ve done it in a heartbeat, but it was December in Minnesota, and it was barely 20° that day.

I think my clothes froze walking through the parking lot to my car. I couldn’t get the smell of shit out of my noseholes. And there was a reason for that. I was literally wearing liquid poop.

I threw the clothes I was wearing in the garbage when I got home, and took one of the longest showers I’ve ever taken, and everything still smelled like crap.

I have no doubt I ended up getting totally drunk that night.

* * * *

I’m not sure how much longer Strawberry stayed on my unit after my birthday. It seemed like forever. Our biggest issue with him was placement, and there were very few facilities that were willing to take patients like him. In fact, there was only one.

Ah Gwah Ching was a state hospital way up near Walker, MN, originally built to treat people with tuberculosis. It eventually became the last stop for people like Strawberry, patients with challenging behaviors. It’s Minnesota’s version of the Hotel California. You can’t check out of The Ching. Death is the only way out.

I gave report to one of the nurses there. They said they’d discuss his case and get back to us. I know I couldn’t believe it when he was accepted. I packed up Strawberry and all of his worldly belongings and sent him off to Ah Gwah Ching.

He may still be there, but for his sake, I hope he isn’t.

The Doctors

You get to work with a lots of different disciplines as a nurse. Social Work. Adjunctive Therapy. Physical Therapy. Laboratory. Dietary. Even Housekeeping.

But the most challenging discipline you’ll likely encounter is the doctor. Well, Dietary can be a real pain sometimes. You know who the sweetest people are? The housekeepers. I loved them, especially the housekeepers at Aurora.

Doctor shows are incredibly popular on TV. I have no idea why. I’ve spent years hanging around doctors, and I never found most of them to be that interesting.

TV doctors have changed a lots over the years. They used to be older, wise, fatherly figures that made house calls and took care of you and your family from birth to death and everything in between. Nowadays they’re young, pill-popping, supersexy smartass mannequins who perform some obscure lifesaving surgery, then go get drunk and have sex with another supersexy doctor or the nurse with the big tits.

From a nurse’s point of view, doctors can either make or break your day, depending on a wide variety of factors and variables. Sometimes the most difficult part of being a nurse is getting what you need from your doctor.

And as a psych nurse, mostly what you need from your doctor is good coffee in the morning, and a shitload of medications to offer your patients.

* * * *

My first psych nurse position was at the Minnesota State Hospital. You had to be certified crazy to be a patient there, and some of them were downright scary.

Vincent was a certified crazy, angry young man, and he often made threats of death and other types of destruction to the staff. I never found those situations to be especially fun, so I asked his doctor to maybe increase his meds, just a little.

Vincent’s doc was a tall guy named Bruce, who spent about five minutes a month meeting with his patients. When I spoke to Doctor Bruce and informed him how his patient had decompensated of late, and was threatening death and destruction to pretty much everyone, Doctor Bruce had this classic response:

“Well, Mark, we all have to die from something.”

* * * *

The next stop in my career was at the MVAMC, and I would stay there for almost twenty years. I would meet a lots of doctors there.

Doctor Bob was an older, wise, father figure guy who had been at the VA for eons. He was an alcoholic, but had quit drinking some years before we met. But that was all he did, and he was a mixed bag of moods most of the time.

We had a guy on our unit named Duane. Duane was a was what we called a non-compliant patient. He refused to take any medications. He refused to take part in any programming. Duane just wanted to eat and sleep and he was rather rude in his interactions with the staff.

Doctor Bob walked onto the unit one morning, and walked into Duane’s room. They had a brief, loud interaction, then Duane started screaming. Two seconds later, Doctor Bob emerged from Duane’s room with Duane in tow. He had grabbed Duane by the ankle, pulled him out of bed, dragged him down the hallway to the nearest dayroom, and told him to stay there.

Doctor Bob was investigated by the hospital for alleged patient abuse, and ended up getting a three day suspension. Anyone other than Doctor Bob would’ve been terminated immediately and most likely would’ve lost any professional licensing they had.

* * * *

Lori Suvalsky was my favorite doctor at the MVAMC, and my personal favorite doctor of all time. She knew her stuff, and was a very good doc, and she was hotter than July in Phoenix.

I’m very serious about that.

We took care of a lots of crazy people together, and she was the first doc I worked with that seriously listened not just to me, but all the nurses. As hard to believe as that might seem, a lots of doctors weren’t all that interested in what the nurses had to say. Doctor Lori absolutely loved the nursing notes I wrote. It was so refreshing working with her.

Doctor Lori spent a lots of time talking to her patients, and she almost always took the nurse caring for a patient with her to get input from the patient and the nurses. She was the only doc I worked with that consistently did that.

Doctor Lori wasn’t just the first doc I formed a professional relationship with, she was the first doc that I counted as a friend. We went out for drinks and dinner after work. We talked about the problems we had in our personal lives. She threw elegant parties and invited me and my lovely supermodel wife.

She told me I needed to quit smoking. I told her she had a nice ass. She helped me survive the traumatic aftermath when one of our patients committed suicide on our unit. When the VA decided to create an assistant head nurse position, she lobbied for me to get the job, and she had my back when I quit finally drinking.

She cried when I left Minneapolis and moved to Phoenix. Of all the people I would miss when I left the MVAMC, I missed her the most.

* * * *

I worked at several psych facilities in the Phoenix area, but it wasn’t until my third job that I found a doc I really liked. I worked with some decent doctors at the County and Del Webb, but there were some real losers, too. Especially at the County.

Hey, Dr Loser. We have a guy starting to escalate here. He’s hyperventilating and pacing. He just punched a hole in the solid concrete wall, and he’s threatening to kill everyone. What kind of injections would you like us to give him. Immediately!

No injections. Offer him Haldol 2 mg by mouth, and a half a milligram of Ativan.

Seriously? This guy is six foot five, and weighs about four bills. With all due respect, we’ve had four Code Blacks with this guy in the last three days. Yesterday we gave him ten of Haldol, two of Ativan and a hundred of Benadryl. And it finally caught up with him after we gave him a repeat dose!

Are you a doctor? Do you think you know more about this than I do? You don’t give me orders, I give orders to you! Do what I say!!

That might be an extreme illustration, but shit like that happened occasionally. The big badass guy would inevitably go off. Fifty staff members would come running, and there would be an huge wrestling match. We’d shoot the guy up with what we knew would work, and then get orders. If Dr Loser still refused to give us orders for what we needed, we’d call the Medical Director, and he’d sign off on them, then he’d call Dr Loser and chew him a new asshole.

* * * *

My favorite doctor at St Luke’s was Naveen Cherukuri. My favoritest thing about Naveen was listening to him tell a funny story. He would start laughing so hard I couldn’t understand a thing he said, but was still thoroughly entertained listening to it.

Naveen was also a really good doc, and he took care of the nurses. St Luke’s could be a really scary place to work at times, and Naveen wasn’t afraid to lock and load. I really liked working with him.

He married one of my favorite St Luke’s nurses, Stacey Supermodel. They have a couple kids now. Hopefully, they look like their mom…  Just kidding, Naveen. I don’t know if I’ll ever see him again, but I hope I do.

* * * *

I ended my semi-legendary psych nursing career at Aurora Behavioral Health, and I would work with several doctors there that I would come to view as not just colleagues, but good friends.

Bill Sbiliris was the primary doc on the Canyon Unit, my home at Aurora. We didn’t get along all that great at first. We probably had a similar opinion about each other: That arrogant sonuvabitch thinks he knows everything!

And then we discovered between the two of us we really did know everything, and we were both Minnesota Vikings fans, which was rare in Arizona. After that, we made a great team. Too bad our football team didn’t achieve similar greatness…

Doctor Bill also wasn’t afraid to lock and load medications. He was pretty easy to work with in that regard, and that made it easy for the nurses to drop the Canyon Hammer if we ever needed to.

Doctor Bill wasn’t so great at spending a lots of time with his patients. They called him Dr Drive-by. Be that as it may, Doctor Bill was a good guy to work with, and we stabilized a lots of crazy people together.

Doctor Bill also took very good care of the nurses. He usually stopped at Starbucks on his way to work and brought in a wide variety of caffeinated beverages for the nurses. He bought lunch for the nurses more consistently than any other doc I worked with, and he also threw great parties.

* * * *

Michael Fermo was another Aurora doc. He was also a very good doc, and another wizard of psychopharmacological management, and he spent a reasonable amount of time meeting with his patients.

Doctor Mike used to transfer a lots of patients to my unit. Fiona, the Queen of the World, was one of his patients. The nurses on his unit used to say their patients needed to spend some quality time in the Canyon. Doctor Mike used to say this: “I think they need some quality Mark time.”

That was a pretty high compliment.

For his especially difficult patients on my unit, we would do a Good Cop, Bad Cop routine. Doctor Mike always played the Bad Cop, and would rip his patient a new asshole, and then I’d put a band-aid on it and make it all better. And then we would laugh our asses off. We were incredibly successful, and there was mostly peace on the Canyon.

“How’s my boy doing today? Do I need to get all medieval on his ass again?” he’d ask.

“Nope. He’s got his damn mind right now.” I’d reply.

“Good. I love it when a plan comes together.”

And when it came to throwing epic parties, none of the docs I worked with could hold a candle to Doctor Mike. The only thing he didn’t have at his parties was strippers, even though I lobbied hard for them the next time.

* * * *

But my favorite Aurora doc was Reyes Topete. He was the staff addictionologist, and he was a freaking dream to work with. Whatever I needed for my detox patients, El Topete delivered.

“Give him Ativan 2 mg now, and set up a taper, 2 mg QID. I’ll see him when I come in and take care of the rest.” Or “Give her Subutex 8 mg now, and set up a four day taper. You need anything else?”

If I wanted a Subutex taper extended, no problem. If I wanted one stopped, it was done. If I thought we should add something, like phenobarbital, sure, why not. It was the same if I thought we should remove something from a patient’s med profile.

“You’re my eyes and ears on the unit.” he told me one day. “And if you tell me one of my patients needs something, or doesn’t need something, I trust you.”

As far as compliments from doctors go, it doesn’t get any better than that.

I told him about my drug use history, and he had trouble believing parts of it. Mostly the quitting part.

“And you just stopped? Cold turkey? Man, don’t tell my patients that! I have kids in college!!”

El Topete is from Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico–the Big City about forty miles away from where we’re currently living. He was thrilled when I told him we were going on vacation here the year before we retired.

“Really? I’m grew up in Guadalajara. You’re gonna love it! You have to go here, and there…” He was so excited he started speaking a combination of English and Spanish and probably a couple of languages no one has ever heard before, outside of a Star Wars® movie.

And when I told him we were retiring down here, he was jealous. At my retirement party, he cried. To this day, that touches me more than I can say.

* * * *

I’ve said before that I don’t miss working for a living, and that’s true. I’ve also said that I miss some of the people I used to work with. That is also true. I’ll probably travel back up to the States again from time to time, but I have no intention of staying there, and I sure as hell don’t plan on rejoining the workforce.

I’ll try to see as many of my friends as I can cram into any of our Stateside visits. But we do have a guest room here…

The Time Machine

I used to facilitate a lots of groups back when I was a psych nurse. Just in cases you didn’t know this, there are two types of psych nurses: those that love to lead groups, and those that don’t. There’s no middle ground.

That’s the truth. You can ask around if you like.

I loved doing groups. Probably not a big surprise there. I did groups on mental illness, medications, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, cardiac health, whatever. I did groups on stuff no one had ever heard of before, like, the Ghost Dance of the 1890’s.

Maggie, did not like groups. She hated them. I worked with Maggie at the MVAMC. She wasn’t one of the best nurses I ever worked with. In fact, she was probably one of the worst.

Maggie would come to work early and check out her patient assignment, and then she started charting. Before her shift started, and before she even assessed any of her patients. She wrote the same two sentences on all of her patients:

Met with pt. Says he’s okay.  XOXO, Maggie.

Something like unto that. Everyone knew she did that, even her patients knew she did it. She spent most of her shift sitting behind the nursing station drinking coffee and taking cigarette breaks. Marj, my horrible boss, knew Maggie’s charting routine. And this is what she did about it.

Nothing.

Marj was an horrible boss in more ways than one.

* * * *

Want to hear a funny Maggie story? She had come in early and had done all of her charting before her shift started, as usual, and one of her patients had a seizure around the end of our shift. We called a code and ran down to his room to take care of him. And Maggie said this, “Goddammit! I just finished charting on this guy! I’m not writing another note on him!”

And everyone in the room stopped what they were doing, and turned to look at her. Even the guy having a seizure…

Another Maggie story. One of her patients had a condom cath, and she was supposed to remove it. A condom cath is pretty much what it sounds like. It’s an urinary catheter in the form of a condom. You unroll it you apply it, and it sticks to a penis like glue if it’s applied correctly. There’s actually an adhesive on the inside of a condom cath.

I probably put that catheter on that guy, so it was properly applied. Maggie had never removed one, so she asked me to come along. She told the guy what she was going to do, grabbed the tip of the catheter, braced one foot on the frame of his bed and started pulling, like she was trying to land a blue marlin or something.

I just about died to death. And you should’ve seen the look in that guy’s eyes. I made Maggie stop, and took it off myself. That guy thanked me every time he saw me.

And, one last Maggie story. Patient assignments were done by the charge nurse. I decided to have a little fun with Maggie one day, and assigned her to lead groups. Maggie just about had a fucking seizure.

“Are you kidding me!” she confronted me when I walked onto the unit that day. “I’m going to walk in there and look like an idiot for the first time!”

“Oh, it won’t be the first time.” was my response.

* * * *

One of our patients at the MVAMC was a guy we called Forrest Gump’s Smarter Brother. He kind of looked like Forrest, and although he was smarter than Forrest, it wasn’t by much. I can’t remember his real name, but he wanted us to let him use our time machine so he could go back in time to undo some horrendous mistake he had made years earlier.

I can’t remember what he’d done, but wasn’t something of all that much consequence, as least as far as the staff was concerned. I think most of the people involved in the care of FG’sSB all thought the same thing: Hell, I’ve done worse stuff than that! That wouldn’t even be in my Top Ten!

It probably wouldn’t have been in my Top Twenty-five. Or Top Fifty.

The Time Machine is the classic novel written by H.G. Wells in 1895. It’s been adopted into several movies and TV shows. My personal favorite is Time After Time, 1979, starring Malcolm McDowell and Mary Steenburgen. It’s a romantic thriller where H.G. Wells travels to the future chasing Jack the Ripper.

I thought it was a great movie.

At any rate, a lots of staff members at the MVAMC talked to FG’sSB, and they all told him the same thing. We don’t have a time machine, but he refused to believe it. He was probably a little delusional, that guy.

Psychosis and delusions generally go hand in hand, like anxiety and depression. But I don’t remember him being that psychotic. He just wanted to use our time machine, and he was convinced we had one, probably somewhere in the basement. Where else would you store a time machine?

Delusions are incredibly difficult to treat. A delusion is a fixed false belief, and once a delusion is born, it never really dies. You know, like that one guy who wants to be a prophet someday.

According to some psychologists, all religious beliefs are delusions. And, the popular response to that would probably be something like unto, Um, not mine. Those other guys, maybe. But my God, is real!

I wasn’t FG’sSB’s nurse, but I had heard about him in report. One day, one of the docs had just spent about half an hour trying to convince FG’sSB we didn’t have a time machine, and I started laughing.

The doctor was one of our residents, and he walked over to me. He said something like unto he didn’t think this was funny, and added if I thought I could do a better job, I was more than welcome to take my best shot.

So, I did.

“Yo, FG’sSB. Let’s talk. You’re right. We do have a time machine.”

“What!?!” the resident doc shouted.

“I knew it!!!” FG’sSB exclaimed.

“But let me explain how time travel works. Have you ever heard of the Law of Equilibrium and Balance?”

“N-No…”

“It’s the primary principal of time travel. In essence, you can’t go back in time to undo a mistake. The only thing you can do is replace the mistake you made with a different mistake. Do you understand what I’m saying?”

“Yeah, I think so…”

“That’s why the Federal government won’t let anyone use the time machine anymore. They tried it a couple of times. The Feds have made a lots of mistakes over the years, right?” I said, and FG’sSB nodded his head in agreement.

“Look. I’m not supposed to tell anyone about this, but I used to be a data analyst for the CIA, and I had access to all kinds of super top secret files. The Feds have a base somewhere in Greenland, and that’s where they did their tests with the time machine. The first time they tried to change something in the past, the Nazis ended up winning World War II.”

“No way!”

“Way! The Nazis ended up developing the atomic bomb before we did, and they nuked America off the face of the planet.”

“Wow!”

“So the Feds learned something from their experiments. You can’t actually fix anything by going back in time. You can only make things worse. They ended up having to go back and repeating their first mistake again to fix the shit they tried to fix! There has to be balance, get it?”

“Oh. I didn’t know that. So, if I went back in time…”

“You’ll only make everything worse. Do you still want to use our time machine?”

“Um, probably not. I don’t want to make things worse…”

Home run.

The best part of that, the resident doc came up to me and said this: “That, was the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen.”

* * * *

I have no idea if there’s an actual Law of Equilibrium and Balance. And while time travel is theoretically possible, I’m not sure it’s actually possible. But it sounded convincing enough to FG’sSB that he abandoned his quest to travel back in time, and he was discharged shortly afterwards.

And I probably wouldn’t have tried that intervention on everyone, but I knew it would work with FG’sSB. You can’t talk someone out of a delusional belief, but maybe you can use their delusion against them, so to speak.

There was a guy named Steve that was a frequent flyer at the MVAMC, and every time he came in he accused the nursing staff of trying to kill him, and there would be an investigation. So I said this to him, “How many times have you been here? The nurses here are highly trained professionals. If we really wanted to kill you, you would’ve been dead years ago.”

He never accused another nurse of trying to kill him to death.

* * * *

I’ve met more than one person that wished they could go back in time and undo some of the things they had done. I’m sure I’ve wished I could do that myself.

One of my desperately seeking time travel patients was Kathleen. She was at Aurora, and the first time I met her she was laying in bed, crying. I checked on her several times, and that’s what she did all morning.

At noon, I went into her room and said, “Hey, Kathleen. If you want something new to cry about, your lunch is here.” She got up to eat, and eventually stopped crying. And then we talked. Kathleen didn’t want to go back in time to change one thing in her life. She wanted to change all of it.

“Let’s say you could do that. Do you really think you wouldn’t make any mistakes if you could live your life over? As near as I can tell, everyone makes mistakes. I know I have. But those are the things that taught me my most important lessons. I might have had to repeat some of those lessons a few hundred times before the lights came on, but I wouldn’t be who and what I am now if not for those lessons learned.”

And then I told her about FG’sSB. And I told her some of the stories about my crazy life.

“And he believed your story about the time machine?”

“I’m evidently quite a convincing liar.”

“You must be. I can’t tell if you’re telling the truth or not.”

See? I told you.

“And you look pretty well put together now.”

“Years of putting together the pieces of my life. And now it’s your turn. Time to get your head out of your ass and get moving. Go take a shower. You’ll feel better.”

* * * *

My lovely supermodel wife and I went for a walk down the Malacon in Ajijic yesterday. We’re planning to go for a walk down the Malacon in Chapala tomorrow. It’s supposed to prettier than the one in Ajijic, and the Malacon in Jocotopec is supposed to be the prettiest of them all.

I’ll bring my camera, and take a lots of pictures. I’ll post them on my Facebook page. This place is incredibly beautiful.

That should help me achieve better balance and equilibrium in my new life. I had no idea transitioning into retirement would be such a tricksy thing. If I had known that, I would’ve planned a little better, maybe. I might not have believed it.

There’s a couple of football games today to determine which teams will meet in the Super Bowl. I think Jim and Veronica are hosting a Super Bowl party. I’m going to make chili. It’s the only thing I cook anymore, but it’s the best damn chili you’ll ever have.

It takes a couple days to make the World’s Best Chili. If you want the recipe, let me know…

Let’s see if I’m any closer to being a prophet. Falcons over the Packers. Patriots beat the Steelers.

If I’m right about that, I’ll make a Super Bowl prediction.

Becoming…

I started thinking about the word becoming yesterday. It can mean something flattering, especially in regard to appearance.

That’s a very becoming outfit!

That’s not the definition I’m thinking of. It’s mostly used by women and spoken to other women, and if it were directed to me, it would indicate I’m wearing something that probably makes me look very ladylike, and that’s not at all something I’m trying to achieve.

It can also be the process of coming to be something different, or of passing into a another state.

That’s the definition I’ve been contemplating.

We’re all becoming something, and hopefully, something better. I think what I was becoming was a pathetic sissifated sniffle-snaffle whining crybaby, wandering in the dark. And that’s not what I want for my life. It’s not even what I wanted when it was the only truth of my life.

I’ve been blessed with a lots of friends that took care of me when I was incapable of doing so myself. In retrospect, that’s what Raoul and Nadina did for me back when they welcomed me into their home and fed me. And there were a lots of others through the years. I doubt I’d still be alive if not for them, so to all of you, named and unnamed, thank you.

Last night my lovely supermodel wife made spaghetti, and there’s nothing that will fill the emptiness of of one’s soul as deliciously as Italian food.

And then I did the dishes. I don’t cook, so I clean up.

There’s something therapeutic about cleaning up. It doesn’t require much thought, just repetitive scrubbing and rinsing until everything is clean once more. And that’s when my epiphany hit me.

Some things need to be cleaned. Some things do not.

It would appear I started cleaning out my closet, the place I chose to store the darker memories of my life. But as I was cleaning up after dinner last night I asked myself this question: Why?

And I asked myself that because of a question a friend of mine asked after she read one of my very dark posts. Who the hell is your Muse?

Just in cases you were wondering, there are nine Muses, and it took me a moment to realize she wasn’t asking me to identify which daughter of Zeus and Mnemosyne was fucking up my life, and hers.

If that had been her real question, I’d pick Melpomene.

Her real question was, What in the hell do you think you’re doing?!?

And my internal response was, What have I done lately that would indicate I have any idea what I’m doing! And that’s when things started coming into focus.

As another friend of mine observed, I have lived a crazy life. And while some of that stuff is funny, a lots of it is not.

Thank you, Maureen. Thank you, Lorrie. I’m better now. I slept something like unto the sleep of bronze last night, and sleep is one of the most restorative things ever invented.

You know what else is very restorative? A hot shower. I feel better today than I have in over a month. Today, life is good again, and I’d like to keep it that way.

* * * *

So, back to my metaphysical closet of horrors. I can’t undo what I’ve done. Unfortunately. I may have originally thought I’d be doing something therapeutic by trying to clean out that space of fifty thousand shades of black, but I’m thinking now that I may do more harm than good in the attempt.

I mean, do I really need to clean that closet out?

In terms of physical closets, why does one clean a closet? Well, to get rid of stuff one doesn’t use anymore, and to make room for stuff one does use.

I’m not planning on putting more mean-icky-nasty stuff into that closet, so I don’t really need to create more storage space, do I?

No, I do not.

One of the things I learned as a psych nurse was not to take on other people’s burdens. For one thing, they weren’t my burdens, and even if I were willing to carry them, it’s not an effective intervention. Personal burdens cannot be transferred from one person to another.

Another thing I learned was more isn’t always better. One of the things psych nurses do is dispense medications, and sometimes nurses can develop a very narrowly focused field of vision.

For example, confusion can be a common reason for someone to be admitted to a psych facility, especially if the person in question isn’t normally confused.

I think confused is my natural state.

Confusion can be caused by a lots of things, and a very narrowly focused nurse might think the only reasonable treatment is to medicate the piss out of a confused patient. But what if it was a medication that caused the confusion in the first place? More meds would only make it worse.

I’m sure there were times when I fell into that trap, but there were also times I did not, and would advocate for what is called a medication holiday. Stop everything. If it’s the meds, the patient will start improving very quickly.

It was worth a try. More often than not, it worked.

There’s another thing I learned as a psych nurse. When you find yourself at the bottom of an hole, stop digging.

* * * *

Mental illness is a tricksy beast to battle, mostly because Psychiatry is such an imprecise science. We can’t pop open the skull and replace the worn out or damaged parts of the brain. If we could, I would’ve replaced mine a long time ago.

We used medications, and talk therapy, and refocusing and redirecting. And we did a lots of reminding about boundaries because that’s an area a lots of psych patients have problems with. And sometimes psych nurses do, too.

As a psych nurse, you have to have boundaries, lest ye be pulled into darkness and lose yourself. It’s like saving a drowning person. You have to be careful or might got dead yourself in the process.

It gets even tricksier when the person you’re trying to save is yourself. Until I inadvertently fucked up my life, I wasn’t even aware I needed saving.

Life is all about choices, and I can control the choices I make. I’m sure I made a mistake when I decided to do some metaphysical cleaning, but I don’t have to compound it by continuing to do something that isn’t beneficial to myself to anyone else. I’ve already done enough damage to myself and others to last a couple of lifetimes.

When I started my blog, I did so as an avocation. It’s become more of a vocation, and that has to stop. And it most definitely has to stop going in the direction it’s been heading. The last thing I need to create is a written record of all my crimes and misdemeanors.

As I recall, I spent most of my life trying to avoid that outcome. I really need to follow the very good advice many people have given me over the years and get my head out of my ass.

I need to refocus. I need to redirect myself. I really don’t need to revisit the darkness hidden in my metaphysical closet of horrors. I put all that crap in there for a reason, and I need to respect that.

I choose a different path today. I choose the Light. I’m sure I still have plenty of available storage space for good memories, and if I don’t, I know how to make more.

I have a lots of power tools in the old tool box now, and I know how to use them.

How to Save a Life

As a nurse, I was given the opportunity to save at least a couple of lives during my career. I never had to talk someone off of a ledge or anything cool like that, but I did talk to a lots of depressed people and helped them try to find a reason to keep living.

That’s really the key to surviving a serious bout of depression. Not killing yourself. Suicide greatly decreases your chances of ever getting better. And it really, really messes up your family. Suicide is never a good idea. Talk to someone. Get some help. Do something!

Please.

When I was a nurse, I was certified in CPR. I think it’s probably a requirement for most nurses nowadays. I went through periodic recertification every year or two. And you need that refresher training, unless you do a lots of CPR. It was a skill I had to utilize only a few times in my career.

I think the only time that I may have saved someone with CPR was at the MVAMC. It was in the dead of night, of course. An old manic guy had collapsed in his room, and one of the other nurses discovered him laying on the floor, unresponsive. She called out for help, and all nurses on the floor went running.

If you don’t perform a lots of CPR, it’s kind of a tricksy thing. There’s a series of steps you’re supposed to follow, but in an emergency you tend not to remember them, and you can’t call a time out to check the manual. Adrenaline takes over your brain, and you just react.

This guy wasn’t breathing and I couldn’t feel a pulse, so I started chest compressions. And, I probably broke half of his ribs. That’s actually normal, especially with an elderly patient.

If you’ve never had a broken rib, or a lots of broken ribs, it kind of hurts like hell. And that’s probably what revived the old manic guy I was working on more than anything else. He took a deep breath, opened his eyes, and then punched me in the mouth, splitting my lower lip open.

Oscar Wilde was correct, again. No good deed goes unpunished.

I’ve unsuccessfully performed CPR a couple of times. Unlike TV, where everyone needing CPR survives and lives happily ever after, there’s about a 10% success rate in reality, and not everyone that survives lives happily ever after.

That’s why healthcare professionals have Advanced Directives and Living Wills, and 80% of us are DNR/DNI. If I collapse in front of you, just step over my body and keep on walking. I will fucking sue you if you even think about touching me.

I’m serious. I may punch you in the mouth.

I was a psych nurse, and there’s a little known fact about Psychiatry. The vast majority of our patients were sincerely depressed and suicidal while they were being assessed for admission. And the moment they learned they were going to be admitted, they were no longer suicidal.

In order to get admitted, you had to meet criteria. If you so much as whispered the S-word, you had to be admitted. And believe me, our patients knew the drill. Getting into the hospital was their primary objective. Their lives had gone to hell, and the hospital was their sanctuary and refuge.

There are many anxiety provoking aspects of psych nursing, but one of the worst is a patient that sincerely wants to kill themself after they’re admitted.

If someone truly wants to kill themself, they’ll eventually find a way. It’s true. I could suggest you talk to someone that committed suicide, but…

Our objective as nurses was to make sure they didn’t find a way to kill themselves while they were in the hospital. I had four patients take their lives while they were on my unit in my thirty years as a psych nurse, and it was a traumatic experience for everyone, staff and patients, every time.

I performed CPR on two of them, and I knew both times I wasn’t going to be bringing either one of them back. You don’t have to be a coroner to know when you’re looking at a dead person. They became organ donors, so they were able to help others in that regard. I do not recommend this method of organ donation, ever.

Life and death, they become part of the job when you work in healthcare. You win some, you lose some. You go on, or you quit because you can’t deal with it anymore.

But what if you’re not an healthcare professional? And you don’t have a lots of training? What if you’re just a guy riding your bike to work one morning? Then you might be my brother, Tom.

* * * *

My brother used to be a cook at the Perkins® restaurant in Sauk Rapids, MN. Like me, when I was I nursing school, he had a car that started about half of the time he wanted to drive it, and when it wouldn’t start, he rode his bike to work.

It must’ve been a morning that his car wouldn’t start, hence, the bike. And as he was pedaling his way to work, a panic-stricken woman ran toward him, screaming.

“Help! Help me! My son! I think he’s dead!” And she pointed toward a pickup truck in the yard, then ran to the house to call 911.

Her son was a teenage boy, and his head was stuck in the door of his truck, which was up against a tree in the yard. There’s a bit of a backstory to this. The boy was teaching his younger sister how to drive his truck. I’m not sure why they were driving in the yard, but it was Minnesota…

So, his sister was driving, and her brother was walking beside the passenger side of the truck, with the door open, giving her instructions on how to shift the manual transmission. I’m going to guess everything was going fine, until the truck got close to the tree. It was a really big tree.

It’s kind of difficult to imagine how something like this could actually happen, but the girl drove the truck really close to the tree–the passenger door of the truck was right up against the trunk of the tree–and wedged in between the door and the body of his truck was the head of the teenage boy, with the tree trunk as a giant doorstop holding the kid’s head hostage.

“His head was really fuckin’ stuck! His neck was caught between the door and the chassis and the tree. It was something so stupid even you couldn’t have done that!” Tom said, when he described the incident to me. “I tried to pull him out, but I couldn’t. So I ran around to the driver’s side. The girl that was driving was scared shitless. She was white as ghost. She had one foot on clutch, and the other on the brake, and her legs were shaking like crazy. Her brother was making all these weird choking noises, and his face was purple.

“I told the girl to shift into reverse, and she said, ‘I don’t know how!’ She was beyond freaked out, you know? She couldn’t fuckin’ move! The truck was in gear, if her foot would’ve slipped off the clutch, she would’ve chopped her brother’s head off, just like that.

“So I reached across her, and shifted it into reverse, then I lifted her leg just enough to engage the transmission to back the truck up. And when her brother fell to the ground, I reached in and shut the truck off, you know, so she wouldn’t run him over.

“I don’t know how long the kid had been stuck like that, but he didn’t look good. I mean, I thought he was dead. He wasn’t breathing, and his face was all purple and shit. I figured he needed CPR, you know, but I wasn’t gonna kiss him! So I just pushed on his chest, real hard, and then he started breathing again. And then he started looking better, and not all purple and shit anymore, and that was a big relief.

“I could hear sirens coming, so I figured an ambulance was on the way. So, I got on my bike and went to work. I didn’t want to be late.”

And that’s how my own bro became the Unknown Hero of Sauk Rapids. And he probably saved that kid’s life. I know his mother thought Tom had saved her son’s life. And his scared shitless sister did too.

I’m not sure if that kid ever tried teaching his sister how to drive again, but I doubt he ever tried teaching her by walking next to the truck with the door open again.

Tom wouldn’t stay the Unknown Hero. The next time he had to ride his bike to work, the entire family came running out of the house to thank him when they saw him pedaling down the road. They more or less adopted him as their official Wonderful Guy. A few years later when Tom almost got dead from a motor vehicle accident, they all came to visit him at the hospital.

* * * *

The accident my brother was in was because of something stupid Gary did while driving his car, and Tom was his passenger. Dan, Shorty and I would hear Tom’s version of the story, and Gary’s. Tom’s version won. And Gary was officially stupid, stupid, stupid.

Gary’s car was totaled in the accident, and his leg was smashed all to bits. He had to be put back together with metal rods and a lots of screws. He would spend close to a month in the hospital.

Tom had been hospitalized overnight for observation, and there didn’t appear to be anything wrong with him, so he was released the next day. I think it was a Sunday. I drove down to whatever little podunk town Tom and Gary had been in at the time of the accident to pick my brother up.

Tom and I were roommates at that time of our lives, and that would’ve been around January of 1980, I think. I had just started surgical technician school. We had an apartment across the street from the Vo-Tech.

A night or two later, my brother started complaining of severe abdominal pain, and his belly looked like a damn watermelon. I possibly helped save Tom’s life by recognizing his spleen had ruptured and got his ass to the St Cloud Hospital where he had emergency surgery.

Tom has never forgiven Gary for almost killing him to death.

But we all did stupid stuff back then, me and all of my friends from back in the day. Tom, Gary, Shorty and Dan. It’s probably more than a few miracles that any of us are still alive today.

Shorty almost killed me more than once, and he almost killed Dan to death and wrecked his motorcycle beyond all repair once. Dan almost got me dead at least once. I have no idea how many times I almost killed my best friends. You’d have to ask them. But we saved each other’s asses more times than any of us can count.

And that’s pretty much what life, and friendship, are all about.

And Deliver Us From Evil

I had my third session with Diamond Dave today. He performed his usual therapeutic assault on my body. And he also gave me a lots to think about.

Diamond Dave suggested I start sitting in a different chair at home. The fact that I haven’t gotten a lots better is somewhat confusing to both of us, so there has to be something still aggravating my back.

We have a couch, a love seat and kind of a captain’s chair in our living room. I rarely used the captain’s chair in Arizona, but it’s been a different story down here in Mexico. Lea and her kit-ten have taken up residence on the couch, and I started sitting in the captain’s chair. I figured it hadn’t gotten much use in the last nine years…

I had actually considered the chair as a possible suspect for my back problem prior to my appointment today. We’ll see how this plays out. Today, I’m semi-sprawled across the love seat, looking at the mountains on the other side of Lake Chapala. It’s quite lovely, actually. And once my back settles down after getting pummeled, I may even feel lovely myself.

The other thing David suggested is that I wear shoes whenever I’m not in bed. I think the chair is a much better suspect for the back pain I’ve been experiencing than my tendency to walk barefoot. But I’m willing to try anything if it means I can put this behind me.

That was interesting, but today’s major topic of discussion was energy.

* * * *

I may have mentioned this before, but I find Diamond Dave to be a rather interesting guy. And I’m pretty sure he’s a guy. David likes to wax philosophic about any number of subjects. And while I’m not sure exactly what sort of training one has to endure to become a Bowen Therapist, I think understanding energy flow has to be part of it.

I’m going to condense most of what David said into the next few sentences. After that, it’s all me. Humans are incredible energy generators. Think of feelings. In essence, a feeling is nothing more than emotional energy. The energy we generate can be positive. It can be negative. And it can be evil.

Now, as a guy, I am hardly an expert on emotions. If you doubt this, you can ask my wife. Guys have three basic emotions. Okay. Not okay. And pissed. We experience varying degrees of pissed, and these are expressed by the swear word in front of the word pissed. Guys can also be happy, but we use the word tits when we’re in that state of emotional bliss.

As a psych nurse, I knew something about emotions. Mostly that you need to tone yours down, okay? Most of my patients were emotionally out of control, that’s why they were in the hospital. And my job was to help them get a grip.

Unless they were evil. Then my job was to make them disappear as fast as possible and make sure no one ever spoke their name out loud again, ever. Or the evil people would be back.

I didn’t meet a lots of evil people as a psych nurse, but I met far more than I would’ve liked. Evil people are flat out scary, even when they’re trying to be nice. Actually, that might’ve been when they were at their scariest.

The two most evilest people I ever met were two people that had separately set themselves on fire. On purpose. They, and everyone else on the planet, would’ve been better off if they had been given another gasoline shower and a lit cigarette to finish the job. You might think that harsh, but I don’t really care what you think. Not about this.

There were very few people that effected me the way those two did. I would’ve killed them if I ever ran into them on the street. I’ve given this a lots of thought, and I’m pretty sure that’s a true statement. Seriously, I would’ve gone over the curb to run them over with my car while they stood on the sidewalk. And then I’d call the police and wait for them to arrive, but only if the burned people were dead. Otherwise, I would’ve kept running them over.

* * * *

As a Christian, I was raised to believe in evil, a very evil spirit named Satan. Once I decided to walk away from everything I had been taught about God, I also walked away from my belief in the devil. I was never able to stop believing in God, but I find it almost impossible to believe there’s an embodiment of ultimate evil anymore.

This is not to say I don’t believe in evil. I do. Evil exists, and it is very real. I fear its influence on the world in which we live appears to be growing stronger. I may not believe in Satan, but I’ve encountered some weird stuff getting lost seeking the Truth. Satan or not, there are some evil-ass things lurking out there in the darkness.

Satan is a Hebrew word that means opposer, or adversary. In the Book of Job, Satan appears in Heaven as kind of a prosecuting attorney if you will, that God allows to test Job’s faith. Satan is hardly the embodiment of ultimate evil. He appears to actually have been God’s ally.

According to Christian belief, Satan was thrown down from Heaven. Jesus said he witnessed this event. And because Jesus said this, it has to be true, right? Jesus was quite good at saying one thing while meaning something completely different at the same time. But if satan simply means opposer, well, this statement could mean that nothing that opposes God is tolerated in Heaven, and nothing more. And it still makes sense.

My dad didn’t live in Heaven, but he had a rule very similar to the above stated concept. My house, my rules. Anytime you decide you don’t like my rules, pack your bags and get the hell out.

I’m not sure when Satan transformed into the black-hearted sonuvabitch he is today. It was Satan that tricked Eve, right? No, it wasn’t. Satan is not mentioned as being in the Garden of Eden. There’s a serpent in the Garden, but the serpent isn’t named Satan.

There’s a common myth that Satan the devil used to be an angel of light named Lucifer that fell from grace and was banished from Heaven. And there’s the story that the fall of Lucifer came about because he refused the command of God to kneel before God’s masterpiece of creation, Adam.

In Milton’s Paradise Lost, Satan famously states, “Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.” I’ve given this some serious thought about that scenario. I probably would’ve done the same thing as Lucifer. If any of those myths are true, Lucifer/Satan doesn’t appear to be evil, he appears to be some kind of genius. With morals, and integrity.

He probably has me beat.

The Greek word for Satan is diabolos, which means slanderer. Satan is described as the father of all lies. However, lying is not a sin, and God doesn’t seem to have had any problems with the fact that all of the people He initially chose to interact with would lie about something, or even a lots of things.

From my point of view, there’s nothing that opposes the Will of God quite as perfectly as human will, and pride. And if that is true, then Satan lives and breathes inside of all of us. If I do this, it will please God. But if I do this other thing, it’ll please me! To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, Lead me not into temptation, for I can find it all by myself. In my experience, if Satan does exist, he’s never had to break a sweat to get me to “sin.”

I also find the concept of sin interesting. At this point in my life, I think the only real sin is thinking we’re separated from God. And as for the Ten Commandments, those are the building blocks of an happy life. If you do these things, your life will be much better. I have some experience with this. Personally, I’ve broken nine of the Ten Commandments, and my life was pretty much a mess.

One of the most amusing things to me about getting back into the church is the current Christian view about Satan, and how he is constantly seeking to distract and derail good Christians from their faith. Satan, it seems, has all kinds of spooky superpowers.

My darling daughter, Gwendolyn, told me this story about a Women’s Breakfast she went to at her church. There were electrical issues at the facility, and one of the organizers said, “Well, y’all, I guess Satan didn’t want us to have pancakes this morning…” Because, apparently, there’s nothing that will precipitate a crisis of faith like not being able to eat pancakes. Especially in Texas.

* * * *

There’s one other illustration of evil in the Bible. It concerns the Grigori, or the Seven Watchers. The Grigori were a group of angels that were supposed to keep an eye on God’s human children, and teach. But somewhere along the way, while the Grigori were, you know, watching, they noticed that the daughters of men were totally hot, and they started doing a lots more than watching.

The Grigori weren’t evil, they were good angels. Neither were the cute and adorable farmer’s daughters the Grigori had sex with. The Muffys of the ancient world couldn’t help it if they were irresistible to angels.

But their children were evil in a way that the world had never seen before, nor presumably, since.

And that’s not where Noah and the Ark come in, if you believe this story. God didn’t want to wipe out the human race, he wanted to wipe out the mutant children of the Grigori and the cute and adorable Muffys of ancient times. And behold, there was a great flood.

God apparently chose to feel some sort of remorse afterwards, and promised to never flood the earth like that again, and created the rainbow to remind Himself of His promise, just in cases, God forbid, He forgets.

We should probably all pray that rainbows never go extinct.

And one last word of warning. If you ever encounter an angel, whatever you do, do not have sex with it.

One of the Girls

Nursing is a primarily female dominated profession. There are probably a few others, but I wouldn’t know much about them, except strippers. I dated a few fabric free shoe models, back before I got married. And I probably spent a few hundred bucks or more hanging out in stripper bars, back when I drank.

I have an immense amount of respect for strippers. And nurses. For completely different reasons. Though, there are a few nurses I worked with that I wouldn’t have minded seeing as strippers. And then I would have doubly respected them.

Nurses are a breed apart. Not just anyone can handle being a nurse. It’s a tough job, and even the strongest nurses will have days when all they can do is go home and cry.

As a result, you make strong attachments to anyone that will help you get through your shift in one piece. You develop a level of trust with those people that transcends almost any other relationship you’ll have.

And as a result of that trust, you will sometimes hear the strangest things as a nurse, from other nurses.

“Ooh! I like your shirt! The bra and panties I’m wearing today are the same color!”

“My pee smells like coffee.”

“I’m having an affair.”

“My vagina is hemorrhaging blood!”

“My daughter’s boyfriend beat me up and broke my arm.”

“I just found out my husband has been having sex with our daughter.”

“I have cancer…”

Or, my personal favorite, “I have multiple orgasms.”

I mean, how are you supposed to respond to that? Well, this is how I did: “Um, yeah, me too.”

It wasn’t always pretty, or funny. As a guy, I wasn’t completely comfortable hearing about all the bodily functions of my female co-workers, or what they were doing with their bodies.

“Mark! I was sooo sick last night! I was puking my guts out, and I had diarrhea, at the same time!”

Yeah, it was like that. Especially when Shark Week rolled around. Shark Week was nursing code for when someone was hemorrhaging blood out of their vagina. But many of my female co-workers seemingly couldn’t contain their excitement when they had news to tell me.

I asked one of my vaginally hemorrhaging co-workers why she seemed to take so much delight in telling me about the most personal details of her life.

“I’m a guy. I don’t want to hear about that stuff.”

“Oh. I kind of think of you as one of the girls.”

Yeah, every guy wants to hear those words. But I should note that one of the ward clerks I worked with once described me as ladylike.

I needed a deeper explanation of that, and this is what she said: You’re very polite, and considerate. You have very good manners.

I had a response for her: Yeah, there’s another term for that. It’s called being a gentleman.

I was seemingly the safe sounding board for my female co-workers to tell their problems to. Especially when it came to their relationships. Bad boyfriends. Abusive husbands. Problem children. Problem dogs. I heard about them all. In detail.

Most of my colleagues weren’t seeking advice or counsel. They just wanted someone to talk to, someone to listen. But there are always exceptions.

One of my fellow nurses, Ann, would corner me in the Med Room and tell me all about her toxic relationship with her boyfriend, and then she’d ask me what she should do.

“I’m not giving you anymore advice.”

“Why not? You’re a smart guy.”

“Yes. And you’re a smart girl. You already know what to do.”

“But, your opinion means a lot to me. You’re like the big brother I never had.”

“Look, you’ve asked me for my opinion before, right?”

“Yes…”

“And have you done anything I’ve suggested?”

“No…”

“Okay. There you go. Keep doing what you’re doing.”

And then we would go through the same thing the following day. By the way, my advice to Ann was to dump her loser boyfriend. I don’t know what she ended up doing. She resigned her position, and was replaced by the nurse who had multiple orgasms.

As much as I disliked Ann, I fucking hated her replacement, that little troll.

Nurses, as wonderful and brilliant as they are, tend to make terrible decisions regarding their personal lives. I don’t know why that is. Even the nurses that make the terrible decisions probably couldn’t tell you why they make the ridiculous choices they make. But the answer might be something as simple as desperation.

“I want to meet a nice guy, and get married. I want babies, I want a family! I want a normal life!”

Yes. A normal life. Because the life of a nurse is anything but normal. Nurses work long hours, and then pick up an extra shift. A quiet day at work? What is that? If you could really work your ass off, it’d be easy to pick a nurse out of a crowd.

Nurses answer endless questions, answer call lights, dress wounds, check blood sugars, administer meds, respond to codes, save lives, and shed a tear when a life ends.

Nurses are tough, and smart, and dedicated. You have to love your job to be a nurse, or the job will eat you alive. And that’s why nurses want nothing more than a normal personal life. You can take only so much insanity in one day.

I don’t miss the crazy nurse life. I did that for thirty years. I’m quite content to read about the wild stuff that happened on social media. And I really don’t miss Shark Week.

I do miss the people. I genuinely loved and respected most of the people I worked with at Aurora, my last employer. They were probably the best group of people I worked with in my career, and I’ve worked with some of the best.

There’s been a management change at Aurora, and while I respected the former DON there, I absolutely love the new DON. I wish all of the people at Aurora a blessed and successful 2017.

I’ll try to keep up with you on Facebook. When you come visit, we’ll have a Girls Night Out.

Diagram of a Defense System

Back when I was a psych nurse at the MVAMC, I worked with a lots of Vietnam vets. They were struggling to find their way through the morass of PTSD symptoms they were suffering from, mostly unsuccessfully.

PTSD is a complicated disease. It’s symptoms are legion, and stealthy. They’re like unto an army of ninjas, and just like ninjas, they attack without warning.

In an attempt to help my brother veterans gain some insight into what they were fighting, I came up with this presentation to help them see what they were up against.

Imagine your life as a game of chess. I actually used chess pieces in the group. I arranged them on a table and moved them around as I explained my idea.

Your opponent attacks. You go on the defensive to protect your position, and the pieces you employ are defense mechanisms. These are tools we use every day of our lives. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this. Defense mechanisms help us survive. But, do you have any idea what kind of weapons you’re using. Or why?

What I’m talking about is something I call a defense system. Anytime you have more than one component, you have a system. Think of it like unto an home theater stereo system. Multiple components working together to produce an integrated effect.

That’s what your defense system does. By utilizing a series of connected mechanisms, you create a buffer zone to keep you safe from the world around you. There are hundreds, maybe thousands of defense mechanisms, but let’s start with the basics. There are three fundamental building blocks that every defense system is built upon.

Repression. Suppression. And Denial. After that, the sky is pretty much the limit, but let’s start here.

Repression. If you’re confronted with a traumatic memory, your brain will automatically repress it. This reaction is hardwired into your brain. You don’t even have to think about it, it just happens.

Suppression. When repression doesn’t work, this kicks in. This takes some conscious effort, but these two mechanisms work together, and they’re pretty damn effective. But life can be complicated, and sometimes you need a lots of tools to get a job done, right?

Denial. When repression and suppression don’t work, you have to start bringing in the big guns. With denial, you can make stuff disappear. Denial is a total negation.

It did not happen.

Defense mechanisms are powerful weapons. And they are mobile! They can be deployed wherever they’re needed, and there are ga-zillion of them. You can lock and load and secure the perimeter, and blow shit up with a thousand different kinds of armament.

Minimization. Take a big problem, and make it small.

Maximization. Take a small problem, and make it big.

Rationalization. Logically analyze anything to pieces until it dies of boredom.

Intellectualization. Logically analyze something to pieces until it commits suicide to get away from you.

Shuffle the deck and play them when and where you need them. You can do this shit all day! And there’s a lots more where those came from. Deflection. Projection. Sublimation. Humor. Drug and alcohol use. Do a Google search. There’s a list of defense mechanisms a mile long.

But any effective system needs a fuel supply to keep it up and functioning. And we have that, too.

Anger!

Anger is almost always a secondary response. The precursor might be fear, or shame, or guilt–and it might only be present for the blink of an eye. None of us like feeling that way, but anger. Yeah, were good with that.

Anger, is a powerful fuel. And I’ve seen you guys. Anger is where all y’all have been living. Anger can also be a defense mechanism. No one wants to be around an angry person. Anger is like an electric fence. Only an idiot pisses on that, right?  Anger is like one of those multi-tools. It can do a lots of stuffs.

There’s one major downside to anger. It’s exhausting! I can stay angry for a couple weeks about something my wife or daughters do, and then I have to let it go. It wears me out. You guys have been pissed off for what–twenty or thirty years? How’s that going?

And what happens when you run out of fuel? Everything shuts down! The walls come crashing down, and then what?

Your defense is breached. You have to fall back. You bunker up. You run!

Yeah, you do all those things, but then you have to find a way to get your system back up and running, and that’s not easy to do when the enemy is looking over your shoulder watching you. That’s what brings you guys here. This is the place you come to when your defense system crashes, and you can’t do it on your own any more.

I mentioned drug and alcohol use earlier, but it’s such a pervasive problem I want to take a moment and talk about it. Eighty percent of the people that come here for treatment have a secondary diagnosis of drug or alcohol abuse.

Only eighty?

Well, it could be higher, but that’s the statistic the administration here likes to throw around. I know I’ve tried these methods myself, and while they might be effective in the short term, they are completely ineffective in the long term.

Alcohol is a depressant. If you’re not already depressed, you’ll end up that way if you abuse alcohol long enough. Also, mass consumption of alcohol tends to short circuit the wiring of your defense system.

Yeah. That’d be true for me. That’s why I quit drinking.

I had not quit drinking, so it’s more than a little ironic that I was telling someone else to take a look at their drinking habits when that’s what I needed to do myself.

Well, there you have it. I’m not telling you guys to quit drinking. I’m just throwing this out there to give you something to think about. But even if alcohol isn’t an issue, look at all this other stuff. We all have these invisible walls that protect us from stuff we don’t want bombarding us. But it probably works in reverse, too. We’re expending all this energy to keep stuff from getting to us. How easy is it to let our emotions out?

Is it easy for us to let someone know we love them? These walls we have constructed are well built, and they are strong! But in the end, we have essentially created a state of siege mentality–nothing gets in, nothing gets out, and we have stopped living, in exchange for simply…existing. And I know what you’re all thinking, What the fuck am I supposed to do?

I don’t have any answers for your questions. I don’t have any solutions to your problems. Hell, I don’t have any answers or solutions for mine. But we have to start somewhere if we’re ever going to get our lives back.

Awareness is the first step. Once you’re aware of a problem, you can start to do something about it. What you do, well, that’s up to you. You’re gonna have to figure this out for yourself.

I been watching you, Mark. I see you up at the nursing station. Sometimes you just sit there, and stare. You have PTSD, don’t you. You’re one of us, ain’t you.

That was a guy named George. He diagnosed me in that group. I have to admit, I was a little freaked out to hear that. But I couldn’t argue with what he said.

The Nam vets called it the Thousand Yard Stare. Someone could be standing right in front of you, and you’d never see them. You were seeing shit in your head ten thousand miles away.

But however freaked out I might have been, it was nothing compared to what the guys in my group were feeling. They came up and analyzed the chess pieces as if they were going back into combat.

When that guy tried flanking you here–it opened a breach when you redeployed there. Your back is to the river…  You have no drop back position, no place to regroup. You’re about to be overrun.

We all are!

The guys in my group practically ran out of the room.

* * * *

About ten years later, I presented this to concept to my AA group, Squad 46, the bestest squad in all the land. And when I finished, I was met with

Silence.

My group members finally came out from the tables they had been hiding under, and discussed my presentation. I’ve discussed bits and pieces of it with a lots of people over the years, but I’ve only presented it in its entirety twice. This makes three.

Sometimes I think it’s the most significant idea I’ve ever imagined, mostly based on the reactions of the people I presented it to, not because it’s actually been proven to be an effective therapy or educational tool.

Oh, and I do make the World’s Best Chili.

Most of the time I don’t think about my concept of an organized defense system at all. But I did this morning. Maybe someone will find it useful. And that’d be cool.

Horrible Bosses, Part II

I’m struggling to figure out how to start this installment of my blog. Maybe if I acknowledge that, I can get started.

My lovely supermodel wife was in the hospital recovering from her fourth, and most devastating surgery of the five surgeries she would have in that time period.

My mother-in-law had died on the table in the Operating Room. Lea’s dad and her sister, Leslie, were using my house as their headquarters to contact their family to inform everyone about Wanda’s passing, and plan her funeral.

I can’t remember exactly how I ended up being chosen to write her eulogy…  It might have been because of all the things I said about her when we went to see her body the night she died. Dave was touched, and may have asked me to say something at her memorial service. I would spend a few days camped in front of my computer monitor, writing and editing and rewriting what I wanted to say.

My boss and her boss, Marj and Mary, had done the unthinkable. They had questioned whether I really needed to take a week off after the sudden death of my mother-in-law.

And that’s how this story gets started.

* * * *

I wasn’t particularly close to anyone in Lea’s family at that time. Her parents lived almost two thousand miles away. I hadn’t actually seen them in person more than a handful of times. I liked Wanda, she was a sweet gal. Dave was a difficult guy to like. Even the people that knew him best agreed on that.

This was my first time meeting Lea’s sister and her husband. She didn’t come to our wedding, she didn’t approve of Lea marrying a man she had known less than six months. Leslie and Lea were as different as two sisters could be. I didn’t quite know what to think of her the first time we met. But I really liked her husband. Bill was a really sweet guy, and he had a great sense of humor. We became friends almost immediately.

The relatives started arriving. They dropped by the house to see Dave and Leslie and Bill.

Shirley, Dave’s sister. Pat, Wanda’s sister. Gene, Dave’s brother. And Joan, Gene’s wife. I met them all and listened to their stories about Wanda. And that’s how I learned about her life and what kind of woman she was. And those stories would become the eulogy I wrote.

I focused on that, but in the back of my mind I started writing another paper. One that would take my horrible boss and her even more horrible boss out at the knees.

I split time that week between my house and Fairview Medical Center. Lea’s fourth surgery had resulted in the removal of all of her colon, and about ten feet of her small bowel as well. And there was one more thing. She had an ileostomy with an external pouch.

My lovely supermodel wife was devastated.

It was a difficult time for us. Lea was reluctant to tell me the result of her surgery. She was distant and distracted. I attributed her response to the death of her mother. I knew I would’ve been distraught if my mother had died. Her surgeon had informed me about the results of Surgery #4, so I wasn’t completely in the dark about what had got happened.

I spent hours at the hospital, saying nothing, watching my wife sleep. She slept more after that surgery than any of the others. I had many whispered conversations with her nurses and the visitors that dropped in to see her.

It was maybe toward the middle of the week that she told me she had an ileostomy. Tears rolled down her face like rain. I think I asked her what took her so long to tell me.

“I was afraid you wouldn’t think of me as a whole person anymore.”

“Honey, if wanted someone who was all there, I never would’ve married you.”

Sometimes, a guy just has to reassure his wife.

* * * *

Lea’s doctor had to write an order for a pass so Lea could go to her mother’s funeral service on Friday. I brought an outfit she requested to the hospital. It was probably the first time she’d worn something besides an hospital gown in a month.

Wanda’s service was held at a funeral home. Dave wasn’t a big believer in God. He never went to church, and he wasn’t about to start now.

Bill had also been selected to say a few words at Wanda’s service. The gist of his words was knowing when you’ve had enough and when to say when. And that was one of Wanda’s graces. She knew when she’d had enough.

And then I took the podium.

I first met David and Wanda the day before Lea and I got married in 1988. I got the impression on our wedding day that Wanda was quite a character, but it wasn’t until the first Saturday after we were married that I truly realized how much of a character Wanda was. And that was when the telephone rang at 6:00 AM.

Lea says she has been trying unsuccessfully for 22 years to get her mother to call her at a later hour. Lea’s sister, Leslie, had been lobbying for 30 years. It’s a certainty that what the two of them couldn’t achieve in a combined 52 years, I wasn’t going to change in the 6 years that I knew Wanda. Dave and I were talking the other day and he said, “The girls are really going to miss their mother calling them on Saturday morning.” I think I can speak for Leslie and Lea when I say, “Dave, if you want to call us at 6:00 AM on Saturday morning, please pick up the phone and give us a call.”

Speaking only for myself, I’d like to point out that 8:00 AM is a very fine hour. 9:00 AM is a good hour, also. Seriously Dave; anytime, any day, you want to call, call us. Any time.

I remember the trip Lea and I took to Harlingen, TX a couple years ago to see her parents. You can practically spit into Mexico from their mailbox, so of course we took a trip to one of the border towns nearby. Dave and I found we aren’t very good at haggling with the street vendors in Mexico. I’d see something I like and ask how much it cost and the vendor would say, “$50.00.” And I’d say, “Okay.” Wanda came to my rescue. And she was a tough negotiator, so Dave and I did the only sensible thing we could do under the circumstances. We left the shopping to Wanda and Lea, and we went to go have a few beers.

Another story I have of Wanda is one that Dave told me recently. When Dave and Wanda lived up here in Minnesota, they had season tickets to the Vikings games. Back then, the Vikings played football outdoors at Metropolitan Stadium. It was out in the elements, and football was football. The players got their uniforms dirty and everything. Also back then, the fans would have tailgate parties out at the Met, set up their barbecues an partied in the parking lot at Met Stadium–did all that stuff that no one can do now that the Metrodome is here. After one of the games Dave and Wanda and their group had their tailgate party going, and there was another group or two not far away. Back then, some of the Viking players would stop in and have a beer and a burger with the fans, and a former Vikings wide receiver named Gene Washington was doing that with a group not far from where Dave and Wanda were at.

A crowd of young boys had gathered around Mr. Washington, hoping to get his autograph, but Mr. Washington wasn’t in an autograph signing mood. He told the kids to leave him alone. When Wanda saw that she went over to Mr. Washington and told him, “Those boys idolize you, you’re their hero. All they want from you is an autograph–You should be ashamed of yourself!” And I can just see Wanda doing that.

I won’t repeat Mr. Washington’s reply to Wanda, but needless to say he wasn’t very polite, nor did he sign any autographs for those boys.

I was probably the same age as some of those boys were when that incident happened. When I was a young boy I worshipped the Vikings, I watched all their games, I idolized the players. They were my heroes. And Gene Washington was one of my heroes. But I have a different hero now.

There’s a saying that goes, “When you’re Irish, you know that sooner or later the world’s going to break your heart.” And it is true. It is so true.

If there’s any consolation for those of us gathered here to remember Wanda, it is this: Heroes, true heroes, never die. Their actions, their deeds and their legacies live forever. 

It would be the first of the four eulogies I’ve done in my life. It was the most difficult public speech I had ever attempted. Only my dad’s eulogy would surpass it terms of personal heartache for me.

Lea returned to the hospital almost immediately after the service. I didn’t take her back–I think Gwen drove her–but I remember walking into her room when I got to the hospital after the meal. There’s always food after a funeral in Minnesota. Lea’s clothes were strewn on the floor. Lea never did that. I knew her suffering vastly surpassed mine. I was afraid this blow might be too much for her to take. She was asleep in bed, again. I folded her clothes and hung them in her closet, then sat down and watched her sleep.

But in my mind, I was writing the paper I would send to my Director of Nursing at the MVAMC. A paper that would more than even the score against the heartless bitches that were making my life miserable at work, and get them off my back.

It would be the greatest thing I ever wrote.

* * * *

There’s only problem I have with my greatest work of prose now. I can’t remember exactly what I wrote anymore, and I didn’t save a copy of it.

I know I outlined the situation regarding my wife’s lengthy illness, and the life and death situation it had become. And I was especially clear about what Marj and Mary had said after my mother-in-law died, and how she had travelled up to Minnesota from the bottom of Texas to see her daughter one last time.

I know I talked about the qualities of caring and compassion that nurses are endowed with, except when regarding our colleagues. That’s really all I wanted. I wanted to be treated with a little compassion, and I wanted my goddamn bosses to stop hitting me with a guilt trip every time I needed to take time off because my wife was in the hospital fighting for her life.

I think my write up was about five pages long. I returned to work to another stretch of nights. I put my paper into an intraoffice mailing envelope, and addressed it to the DON. I would hear from my co-workers about its effect.

The DON at the MVAMC was a gal named Betty Theis. She was a no-nonsense, tough as nails administrator. Steel wished it was made of Betty, and when she got angry, grown men had been known to start crying under her unrelenting gaze.

I really wish I could have been present when Betty summoned Marj and Mary to her office. My co-workers told me Marj looked like she had seen two ghosts when she returned to the unit, and closed the door to her office. Her eyes were red from crying when she left.

Marj called me into her office when I returned to working days.

“I know you’ve gone through a lot lately, and I haven’t been as supportive as I could.” That would be the closest thing to an apology I would receive from Marj. Mary would only speak to me one more time while she worked at the MVAMC, and it would not be an apology.

But it was what Marj said next that truly surprised me.

“I think you’re depressed and suicidal, and I’m sending you see an EAP counselor.” I think I may have started laughing at her, and at the very least, I had to have flashed her a smile of amusement. Of all the things I anticipated she might say, this was one thing I most certainly hadn’t expected.

Nurses might have a lots of duties and responsibilities, but no part of a my job description, or Marj’s for that matter, had anything to do with diagnosing anyone. I probably could have gotten her dumb ass fired for that remark, but that had never been part of my agenda.

So I went to the EAP Office to meet with my counselor. He met me at the door. He was a nice guy that had trouble believing I was the suicidal guy he was supposed to save.

“You drove here yourself? No one accompanied you? I heard you were an imminent suicide risk!”

“Yeah, that’s what I heard, too.”

I told my counselor my story. By the time I finished, I think he wanted to kill Marj.

“I don’t think you’re depressed, or suicidal. I think you’ve been through a lot of stress, for an extended period of time, and I think both you and your wife need some time to just take everything in so you can put your lives back together.”

I was hoping his recommendation would be for me to take a month off.

“Look. You won the battle. Don’t lose the war. Go back to work. Keep your head down, and I’d look for a new position if I were you. Your boss,” he said. “Is nuts!”

That guy gave me some good advice when I needed it most. The more I thought about Marj’s response, the more I started thinking maybe I should make getting her dumb ass fired part of my agenda.

But the last thing I needed at that time was to fight a war on a second front. I took his advice. I went back to work and kept my head down. I tried not to turn my back on my horrible boss, just in cases she had a knife in her hand.

And I took the first opportunity I had to apply for another pysch position at the MVAMC,. A staff nurse position opened up on the other psych unit, and I interviewed with Kevin. It would end up being the smartest career move I made at the VA, and once free of Marj, I would start to become a great psych nurse.

And more importantly, my wife would finally start getting better, and our lives together would finally begin to achieve some measure of balance.

But that would be in the future, and there would be plenty of challenges waiting for us to face. And one in particular that almost destroyed our marriage.

Why Management Tends to Suck and the General Relativity Theory of Guys

Back when I was contemplating getting my Master’s degree, I was going to do my thesis on Guys.

That’s so much crap even I can’t believe I wrote that.

I have never contemplated getting my Master’s. I’m pretty sure I’d rather got dead than go back to school. Hell, I’d probably rather write another book than go back to school. School was one of the reasons I decided to flee BannerHealth. One of the requirements of being a manager was having a degree, and I didn’t have any. Zero. Zip. Nada. None.

I graduated from a Diploma Nursing Program. I don’t even have an Associate’s degree.

And after my darling boss, Jane Stevenson, was eviscerated and terminated, I was pretty sure I was next in line, so that was a strong motivating factor as well. I think one of the reasons BannerHealth wanted me to disappear as a manager was because I was a guy.

Disclaimer: I am not a classic, stereotypical guy. I’m an atypical guy. I might be the only complex guy on the planet. My lovely supermodel wife says I’m way more complicated than she is, and I’m not sure that’s even remotely possible. However, neither am I sure a complex guy can exist outside of an Hollywood movie. For example, probably any movie starring Nicolas Cage.

Guys generally make lousy managers, in my opinion. Men, on the other hand, make much better managers. Believe it or not, there’s a big difference between Guys and Men.

The latest election is a perfect example. Donald Trump is a Guy. Barack Obama, and probably Hillary Clinton, are Men.

Guys tend to be the opposite of circumspect. When it comes to sharing their point of view, guys tend to shoot first and make friends later. Tact isn’t a tool most guys use a lots, if ever. Guys tend to react to any given situation, not respond. And there’s a huge difference between those two actions.

Shortly after I accepted the clinical manager position at Del E Webb, I told Jane that I was a lousy manager. I actually told her that more than once. I clarified my statements by adding I was an effective leader, but that didn’t make me a good manager.

This is how I believe leadership works: Good leaders lead by example, and I spent a lots of time modelling the behavior I wanted my staff to emulate. They knew all the medical stuff far better than I ever would. They didn’t need me to manage those situations, but they weren’t psych nurses. They had no idea how to manage crazy people.

I did.

Another thing a good leader does is support his/her people. Never make them work short, if you can avoid it. Help out where help is needed. I passed meds. I helped old ladies to the bathroom and back to bed. Serve and support, that was my focus. As a very last resort, I told them what to do.

I was a good leader.

Management is all about meetings and reports and paperwork, and I hated each of those things. In my humble opinion, they were an immense waste of time. As near as I could tell, if you ever wanted to make sure nothing ever got done, all you had to do was schedule a committee meeting to discuss changing something.

I was probably the worst manager in the hospital.

Case in point, the Falls Committee. As a manager, I was required to attend these things at least once a month. I had to explain to the Big Administration Bosses and Directors why any of the patients on the SAGE Units fell, and what I was going to do to prevent future falls. It was a torturous experience.

One disastrous month, we had twelve falls. Even I had to admit that was a lots of falls for one month. However…

“That’s an anomaly. We’ll go three or four months now without a fall and it’ll all balance out by the end of the year.” I said. Hard to believe as that might be, that’s a true statement.

“How do you account for this anomaly?”

“All of our patients are elderly. They’re sometimes confused. They think they can make it to the bathroom by themselves, and they slip on the floor and fall.”

“Your staff needs to be more attentive to the the needs of their patients.”

“My staff is incredibly attentive to the needs of our patients. That’s not the problem.”

“Then what is the problem?”

“The problem? My staff hasn’t figured out how to be in three places at once. Look, these are old people, with small bladders. If one of them says they have to go to the bathroom, all of them magically have to go to the bathroom at the same time.”

Seriously. When an old person tells you they have to pee, urine is already running down their legs. They’re like toddlers, only worse. A toddler doesn’t know any better.

“Maybe they could wait and take turns.”

“Yeah, that’d be nice, but it doesn’t work that way in reality. When they want to do something, they want to do it now. They’re old, and depressed, and cranky. And when they have to go to the bathroom, it’s a damn emergency. That’s another part of the problem, they all think they’re going to pee their pants, so they move too fast on those slippery floors. And they don’t want anyone telling them what to do. They’re seventy, going on three. And if you try to do that, they’ll barbecue you on the Satisfaction Survey. Look, SAGE was one of the pilot units for the latest fall prevention protocols. We’re already following the most current interventions in the hospital! My staff is doing everything they possibly can to keep all of our patients safe. This stuff just happens from time to time, trust me, it’ll all balance out.”

“Well, what would you suggest to ensure these falls don’t continue?”

“Beyond what we’re already doing?”

“Yes.”

“You could give me more CNA’s, and we could put everyone on 1:1 observation.”

Are you… serious?”

“Do you see me laughing?”

“Do you have any other ideas?”

“I suppose we could close the unit down for a couple months. We wouldn’t have any falls then…”

“Do you have anything…else…you’d like to add?”

Did I ever, but I doubted telling them what a bunch of stupid bitches I thought they were would accomplish anything.

“No. I think that’s sufficient.”

“Well, I think you’re being rude and sarcastic.”

* * * *

My first ex-work wife, Deb Goral, would’ve appreciated my candor, and she would’ve understood my rationale. That’s why she was such a great supervisor to work for. She looked out for her people.

Now that I ponder this deeper, Deb would’ve made a great guy.

As sad a truth as this is going to sound, Big Administrative Bosses and Directors in healthcare could care less about the well-being of their employees most of the time. They don’t exist to make anyone’s life easier. They’re far more interested in their next promotion and making money for themselves and their facilities.

It was after that committee meeting that I finally realized I needed to find another job.

* * * *

Back to my theory…  Bikers are guys. Mechanics are guys. The more blue collar the job, the greater likelihood of it being filled by a guy. Your plumber, the guy that exposes the crack of his ass every time he squats or bends over, is definitely a guy.

Guys are good with their hands. They’re not really deep thinkers, in fact, most guy brains aren’t properly wired for deep thought. There are always exceptions to this rule. I’m a guy, and I have gone deeper into the abyss of thought than I should have. I should’ve remembered my own rule about diving too deep.

After all, I don’t know how to swim.

Ever see a person of the masculine gender appear to be deep in thought, and then you asked what he was thinking about?

“Oh, nothing.”

That, is a guy response.

Guys, and men for that matter, have a Nothing Box inside their heads, and can spend seemingly vast amounts of time thinking about absolutely nothing.

And to clarify that a bit. We’re not thinking about nothing, exactly. Just nothing important.

Man, those ribs I ate last night were really good! I wish I had a truck like that…  Am I going bald? Whoa! Nice tits. Yep, I am totally going bald…

Seriously. We can think about tits for hours on end and nothing else. Unless those ribs were really, really good.

Guys are simple creatures; amoebas are probably more complex than the average guy. For example, most guys can’t correctly spell amoeba.

Men are a bit more complex than guys, if there’s such a thing as a complex man. I’m still not sure about this. I think men are far more confused than complex, but they say they’re complex because they think it makes them appear mysterious.

Men tend to become professors, doctors, layers and politicians. You know what? Men appear to be the root of all evil…  Bastards!

Men have aspirations, and plans, and they don’t let much of anything stand in their way. Guys have dreams, and they’re by and large content to dream. However, do not, under any circumstances try to destroy a guy’s dream. He will fuckin’ kill you.

That’s pretty much it. If you made it this far, I commend you. Thanks for hanging in there.

Okay, Mr Noble. I’m ready for my prize.

Work Related Polygamy

Trepaliare is a Latin word that the Spanish word for work, trabajo, is derived from. It means to torture, or inflict suffering or agony.

Ironic that I’m writing about my many work wives, isn’t it?

I had never had a work wife until I moved to Arizona, and then I had so many of them if I had to pay them alimony, I couldn’t quit working until twenty years after I got dead.

Debra Goral was my first work wife. It was her idea to be my work wife. I was incredibly flattered. No one had ever wanted to be my work wife before. I’m not sure my lovely real wife wants to be my wife most of the time.

Deb is in my Top Five Greatest Nurses, ever. She knows her stuff and she gets stuff done. She’s better at following rules than I am, but Hannibal Lector is probably better at following the rules than I am.

We worked together on AP 5 at St Luke’s, or as we liked to think of it, Hell on Earth. When Deb and I started working the evening shift together, it was the worst shift–in terms of personnel–in the entire building.

We had one objective, fix that. And we did. We fashioned together a team of awesomeness. I told all the BHT’s they had been chosen to work with us because they were the best BHT’s in the building, and they performed like they were. I started calling them the A Team, and that’s what they became. I loved them all. I eventually left St Luke’s because that team dissolved.

Here’s how totally fucking awesome those guys were. We had eleven open beds at the beginning of our shift one evening. When the shift ended, there was one. We did ten admissions on top of all the other stuff we always did, in eight hours. When the night shift came in, the eleventh admit was searched and his belongings were inventoried.

Those guys were really good.

I’m from Minnesota. Deb is from Wisconsin. I’m a Vikings fan. Deb loves the Packers. So, it was a mixed marriage. Despite our inherent differences, we made a strong team.

There are a lots of things I love about Deb, but what I loved most about her was her candor. She has no deceit in her. She doesn’t beat around the bush. She just tells you how it is, and you better be grown up enough to handle it. It was so refreshing!

All good things must end. Deb decided to transfer to the day shift.

Enter Rhonda Dolatshahi.

I’m not sure Rhonda ever formally became my work wife, but she brought me coffee every time we worked together, and if that doesn’t say work wife, I don’t know what does.

Rhonda is also in my Top Five Greatest Nurses, ever. She’s the Original Rockstar Nurse. Rhonda’s from Pennsylvania, and she’s a Steelers fan, so another mixed marriage.

Rhonda and I had worked together at Del Webb. I was one of her managers. I loved Rhonda because she was so easy to work with. She showed up when she was scheduled. She picked up extra shifts all the time, and she didn’t bitch about stupid stuff. Working the floor with her was a breeze. She also knew her stuff and knew how to get ‘er done.

And then she left. And then I did. It’s the people you work with that make the suffering and agony of employment bearable, and I could not work with the crazy bitches that replaced my first two work wives.

On to Aurora. Enter Tara Grant Molden.

Tara was my one and only Wonder Twin, ever. She was also my first work wife at Aurora, so technically, I married my twin sister. See? I told you my relationships were complicated. Well, if it was good enough for Mausolus and Artemisia, who am I to disagree?

Tara was a Broncos fan, so, yet another mixed marriage. She once confessed to me that she would totally suck Peyton Manning’s cock. I spent the rest of the day saying, “Omaha! Omaha!” But I couldn’t convince her I was Peyton Manning.

Tara was a relatively new nurse. She hadn’t reached the plateau of greatness my previous work wives had, but you could tell she was going to be great someday, and she was easily the most fun to work with–not that Deb and Rhonda weren’t. They were. Maybe it was because it wasn’t AP 5, which was not a fun place…

My buddy at the MVAMC, Paul Anderson, made me laugh a lots, but I know he wouldn’t want to be considered as one of my work wives. Tara was a blast.

She also had a totally hot bod. I called her Tits McGee. You talk about cups running over…

My time with Tara was brief, maybe a couple months. She transferred to the second floor, then transferred one of the Banner hospitals to hone her Med/Surg skills. Now she’s a Travel Nurse, no doubt breaking hearts all across the country.

Enter Adina Boros.

Adina was from Romania. She was my Melania Trump. She could care less about football. I once asked her which she would rather have: brains, or big tits?

“Brains. Then I could make enough money to buy big tits.”

Smart, and pretty. That was Adina. I think she’s an NP now. And I know what she’s buying herself for Christmas.

My time with Adina was also short. You know what? I must’ve been hell to work with!

Enter Alison Aveson.

Ali looked like Dora the Explorer–if Dora were pregnant–because Alison was totally knocked up when we started working together. I don’t think Alison cared much about football either. Another really good nurse. Another heart wrenching break up for me, although that whole taking time off to be with Baby Nimrod was a pretty compelling excuse.

I was reunited with my first work wife, Deb Goral, after Alison. Deb came to Aurora as a House Supervisor. We didn’t technically work together, but it was great to have her back, my first ex-work wife.

Enter Michelle Warren.

Two L Michelle would be the last of my work wives. Yet another really awesome nurse to work with; knew her stuff, got it done, didn’t put up with any bullshit.

Michelle was also a lots of fun to work with. I have been blessed beyond anything I ever deserved to work with those women, those incredibly talented rockstar nurses/work wives.

Thank you Deb and Rhonda. Thank you Tara and Adina. Thank you Alison and Michelle. It was mostly sweet, and y’all were really sweet to work with. I miss you all, and hope all is well.

The guest room is ready whenever you are.

A Rose By Any Other Name

I first met Rose when I started working at MIHS, Maricopa Integrated Healthcare Services, otherwise known as the County. Maricopa Medical Center was the ancient hospital that was its primary treatment facility. And by ancient I mean it was built in the 1970’s. There’s not a lots of historical places in Phoenix.

MIHS also provided psychiatric care, and they had two facilities for that. The first was the Psych Annex. That’s where I worked. It was a nondescript two story building behind the medical center. The second was Desert Vista, a much newer, incredibly secure building in Mesa. It’s the place you’ll end up at if there’s ever a petition for court ordered examination/treatment filed against you.

I’m sure I’ve suppressed some of the memories I have of working there, mostly because I hated the management there so much. I really liked the people I worked with, and the patients I cared for weren’t terribly different than the patients I’d taken care of at the MVAMC.

I left the MVAMC in October of 2007, and started working for MIHS in November. And that’s when I met Rose.

What do you think of when you think of a rose? A beautiful, fragrant flower, right?

Yeah, that wasn’t Rose.

She was loud, intrusive, disruptive and did I mention loud? She was rude and undisciplined. Her hygiene was crude, her manners were random and unpredictable. And watching her eat could ruin your appetite for a few days. On top of that, she was also one of the most profoundly psychotic persons I’ve ever met. I can’t imagine what happened to her to transform her into the person she became.

Rose was possibly cute at one time, but those days were long gone by the time we crossed paths. She always looked disheveled, even after she had just showered. She had no fashion taste. Her outfits could cause seizures. Even if you were blind.

But the most distinctive thing about Rose was her voice. It was harsh, discordant and gravelly. Clint Eastwood sounded almost gay compared to Rose. And after listening to Rose for eight hours, even someone speaking into a megaphone sounded like they were whispering.

Rose could easily be described as a problem patient. She needed a lots of redirection. And there was no such thing as telling Rose something once. It was constant. And exhausting.

“Hey, Rose! Turn down the volume over there, okay!”

“YES, SIR!” I have no idea why, but Rose always called me Sir. She called other staff members by name, but not me. “I’M GONNA TURN DOWN THE VOLUME, ISN’T THAT RIGHT, JEFFREY?” Rose was constantly talking to Jeffrey MacDonald. You might remember him. He was the guy accused of murdering his pregnant wife and two daughters. He was apparently Rose’s imaginary best friend. “YOU HEARD WHAT MISTER SIR SAID! TURN DOWN THE VOLUME OVER THERE, ROSE. WHAT ABOUT YOU, JOHANNES? He was one of the BHT’s at the Psych Annex. DO YOU THINK ROSE NEEDS TO TURN THE VOLUME DOWN? I KNOW JEFFREY THINKS I NEED TO TURN IT DOWN, RIGHT JEFFREY? THATS FUCKING RIGHT!”

And she swore more better gooder than two Portuguese sailors. I purposely deleted about seventeen swear words from Rose’s dialogue. Anyone that knows me knows I don’t have any problem swearing, but even I was shocked by the amount of profanity Rose unleashed in casual conversation. And when she got upset, it was like getting hit by a fucking tsunami.

Rose was rarely violent, but she tended to provoke it in others. I think she wore on the nerves of everyone around her until they just couldn’t take it anymore. And most of the people on the same unit as Rose weren’t all that tightly wrapped either. She made more than one person lose it, and half of them were people I worked with.

I spent a lots of time with Rose. I may have even begged her to quiet down, I’m not sure anymore, but it’s not out of the question.

Rose was at the Psych Annex when I started working there. I’m pretty sure she was still there when I quit six months later. Rose was one of those people no one wanted within fifty feet of their facility, let alone inside it.

I worked Gero/Psych and did a stint in management at Banner Del E Webb for a few years, then moved on to St Luke’s Behavioral Health–straight psych–I was back in familiar territory. I hadn’t been there long, maybe a couple months, when I did something stupid. I started wondering what had happened to Rose.

There’s a rule when you work in Psychiatry: you never, ever mention the name of a discharged patient. You know, I wonder how So and so is doing? If you do, the person you invoked will invariably get admitted. The only way you’re safe doing this is if the person got dead, except if they had gotten dead, you wouldn’t have to wonder how they were doing…  For chronically frequent flying psych patients, the only way you can totally get rid of them is death. I know that sounds terribly callous, but it’s also true. You can ask around, if you so desire.

I never said Rose’s name aloud, not even to myself or any of my imaginary friends, nor to any of my co-workers–none of the people I worked with at St Luke’s knew Rose.

But they would.

Never underestimate the craftiness of a psych patient, especially the really crazy ones. They are spooky beyond belief. And like any other organism, they evolve. When I first started working as a psych nurse, a name had to be spoken out loud. By the time I was getting ready to retire, a simple thought would suffice.

I was walking into work at St Luke’s from the parking lot one day, and I ran into someone from the day shift.

“How was your day?” I asked. What happened on the day shift rarely had anything to do with how the evening shift would go, but it was always nice to ask.

“Oh. My. God. Turn around and leave now! We got a new admit today, wait until you meet Rose!”

I stopped in my tracks, and slowly turned toward my co-worker. I briefly described the Rose I knew, knowing there could be only one Rose that could effect that kind of reaction.

“Oh. I see you already know her.”

Yep. That was my Rose.

AP 5 was my home unit at St Luke’s. It was the court ordered unit. You didn’t have to be court ordered to be admitted to my unit, but if you were court ordered, it was the only unit you could be admitted to.

Rose was permanently court ordered. She was usually admitted to the Psych Annex, or Desert Vista. But the staff at those facilities were burned out by Rose. She was sent to St Luke’s purely out of desperation.

AP 5 was a chaotic place. It was two large dayrooms with the nursing station in-between. The patient rooms were dotted around the perimeter of the dayrooms. The unit was a giant echo chamber, it was concrete and linoleum. The other units had artwork. Some of them had carpeting. AP 5 was like the basement where your family locked up your crazy aunt, and no one ever talked about it. There was no no artwork, nothing for noise abatement. It was almost as loud as the artillery firing range at Fort Sill, way back when I was in the Army.

Added to the abnormally normal pandemonium, was Rose.

“WELL, HELLO, SIR! HOW ARE YOU! I HAVEN’T SEEN YOU IN THREE AND A HALF YEARS!”

I had to stop and think about it, but she was correct, almost to the day.

“Hi Rose. Say, could you do me a favor, and turn down the volume a few hundred decibels.”

“TURN DOWN THE VOLUME! YES, SIR! WHAT DID I TELL YOU, JEFFREY! MISTER SIR STILL WANTS ME TO TURN DOWN THE MOTHERFUCKIN’ VOLUME! YES, SIR! I’LL TURN THE MOTHERFUCKIN’ VOLUME DOWN!!”

I hadn’t even started my shift, and I already had a motherfuckin’ headache.

I filled my fellow evening shift staff members in on Rose. This was perhaps the best crew I would work with in my career. Deb Goral. Luis Hinojosa. Anthony Tafoya. Rachelle Carson. I loved those guys. We were a well oiled machine. And Rose had all of them pulling their hair out within the first hour.

I started herding Rose to her room to remove her from the mileau. She started peeing on the floor. I think Rachelle was ready to kill her.

I spent a lots of time talking to Rose once more. It didn’t happen right away, nor did it happen overnight. I didn’t even notice it at first, probably because it was always so noisy on AP 5, but Rose actually did turn down the motherfuckin’ volume of her voice. She didn’t swear anywhere near as much as she normally did, and she stopped peeing on the floor altogether. I think she actually became one of the better patients on the unit.

I have no reasonable explanation for it.

And then something really weird happened. Rose came up to the nursing station one evening and actually whispered something.

My name.

“Maaaaaaark!”

It was, like, the spookiest thing I’ve ever heard.

Deb could do a perfect imitation of it, and she did it often. But only because she loved me. She became my first work wife, ever. And then she became my first ex-work wife.

I’m in a lots of relationships, and they’re all complicated.

Unlike my first encounter with Rose at the County, her stay on AP 5 was relatively short. Maybe three weeks, maybe a month. She came back again almost immediately, but was discharged later that same week. We had to have set a record for her shortest hospitalization, ever.

I never saw her again, not that that’s a bad thing. There are people you meet in your life that you’ll never forget, but you don’t miss them when they’re gone.

I know a lots of people like that.

I like to think Rose was able to gain a measure of control of her insanity, and she’s doing better.

But that’s doubtful at best. More likely she’s standing on a sidewalk somewhere in Phoenix, saying, “Maaaaaaark!” Very softly.

Glenda K

Glenda was one of our patients at the Banner Del E Webb Medical Center. Prior to being acquired by BannerHealth, Del Webb and its sister facility, Boswell Hospital, were managed by SunHealth. SunHealth was a very small fish in the large healthcare pond in the Phoenix area. When Banner offered to purchase their facilities, SunHealth quickly agreed.

The employees weren’t thrilled with the acquisition. SunHealth was a very good employer. The mostly elderly population that used and staunchly supported the SunHealth facilities were extremely upset. Del Webb and Boswell hospitals were their hospitals. They didn’t want a bunch of strangers roaming the hallways of their getaway retreat hospital spas.

That’s exactly how they thought of them.

Those little old ladies even had bake sales to raise money for a new MRI machine! Do you have any idea how many cookies that is? That’s, like, a trillion fucking cookies!! Maybe they should’ve put on some cute outfits and stood on the corners in Sun City and Sun City West…

Gero/Psych nursing is a sub-specialty area of Psych nursing. Elderly psych patients generally come pre-equipped with a whole slew of medical issues, and all of those issues have to be effectively managed, as well as the psychiatric disorders they are admitted for.

Glenda was an older gal, all of our patients had to be at least fifty-fifty years old. Most of our patients were closer to one hundred seventy-fifty years old. Glenda was married, and she was a hot mess. Her husband was a sweet, supportive, long suffering man.

Glenda had asthma, emphysema and COPD. As a result of her respiratory disorders and diseases, she suffered from chronic anxiety and depression. She was a very frequent flyer on the SAGE Unit, the Gero/Psych Unit at Del Webb. I would get to know her and her husband very well in a relatively short amount of time.

In all honesty, I was extremely uncomfortable in Gero/Psych. I was not a Real Nurse. I was a psych nurse. I had worked in a strictly psychiatric setting for twenty years. When we had patients that were that physically sick at the VA, we transferred them to a Med/Surg Unit. I had to learn how to start an IV, how to draw blood all over again–even do blood transfusions. 😓 In order to transfer one of our SAGE patients to a Med/Surg Unit, they essentially had to be dead.

If you don’t use those skills, you lose those skills. I had to be retrained in almost everything. It was good to be able to master all those skills again, but I had the same underlying fear that I’d had way back in nursing school. I was sure I was going to kill one of my patients, or in a worst case scenario, all of them.

When my senior manager offered me a clinical management position, I took it out of self-preservation.

Glenda was probably what you would consider a difficult patient. We certainly did. She was anxious and depressed at home, so she desperately wanted to be hospitalized. She was depressed and anxious once she was admitted to the SAGE Unit, and she’d demand to be discharged. That’s where I came in. The staff nurses would call me and ask me to come try to reason with Glenda.

As a clinical manager, I didn’t have anything to do with her patient care, but I had a lots to do with patient and family education and satisfaction. One of my managerial duties was to round on a random sample of the patients on the SAGE Unit to assess their rating of the service being provided to them. In the world of BannerHealth, everything revolved around Patient Satisfaction Surveys. And do you know what I discovered? Old people suck!

Man, they hated everything!! That’s when I started calling them Raisins, the sunbaked asshole/bitches that they were. It was almost impossible to get them to give us high satisfaction ratings on any service we provided on those goddamn surveys, and we needed at least an eighty percent satisfaction rating or there was hell to pay! 😭😭😭

I had worked in healthcare for twenty years by this time. I knew when we were doing a great job. I knew when we were doing a bad job. The SAGE staff was extremely talented, and they did an amazing job. They should’ve gotten elevens on a scale from one to ten.

My Filipino Posse, that’s what I called them–a lots of the RN’s were from the Philippines–Al, Julius, Liligene, Wei, Jing. Julie and Ethel. I loved them all. Well, most of them. Almost all of them were great nurses. Except two. And everyone knows who they were. And they weren’t Julie and Ethel. Those two were so darlingpreshadorbs!!

I worked with another rockstar nurse there, Rhonda Dolatshahi. Rhonda told me she wanted to be listed in one of my Reflections posts someday. Well, Rhonda, today’s your lucky day.

I told she’d have to be naked in the story I wrote. So I want to thank Rhonda for coming into my office, closing the door, and taking off all her clothes and saying, “You’re a nurse. What do you think this is?”

Yeah, that never happened. Unfortunately.

Where was I? Oh, yes. Glenda.

Glenda was unhappy about everything. The nurses were rude. They weren’t doing anything to help her. They never answered her call light when she turned it on. And so on, and so forth. Blah, blah, blah.

I did a lots of redirection and refocusing with Glenda. I doubt I did much of anything to actually change Glenda’s mind, but I did spend a lots of time with her, and that’s probably all she really wanted.

But there was that one thing about Glenda. And that one thing was her tooth.

images-2

Glenda had one tooth. And it seriously looked like that picture. She had dentures, but she rarely wore them. So when I went to listen to her litany of complaints, her tooth jumped into my field of vision, and it was the only thing I could see. It was like her tooth was talking to me. It was like watching a train wreck. I wanted to look away, but I couldn’t.

I stared at her tooth as if it were the only thing that existed in the world. I knew I was staring at her tooth. And so did Glenda. She eventually started putting a finger to her mouth when she talked to me, obscuring her mutant tooth. I actually laughed the first time she did it. So did she, come to think of it.

Glenda’s respiratory problems eventually got the best of her. She died at home, thank God. You wouldn’t believe the amount of paperwork involved when someone dies on a psych unit. And there’s always a follow up investigation, even if the person dies from natural causes.

Vaya con Dios, Glenda. I have to believe you went to a better place, and you’re at peace now. And you have all your teeth once more.

Sorry about that whole staring thing.

The Planet Zablotny

I’m not sure how to describe Mr Zablotny. I can’t recall his first name. He was a patient at the MVAMC. He was an older guy, maybe. I’m not sure. He didn’t look old.

I’m not sure why he was admitted anymore. Maybe he was depressed, but I would never see that side of him. He wasn’t aggressive or violent. And he wasn’t psychotic. But he was on my unit, so there had to be something wrong with him…

He was a huge man. Hence, my nickname for him. He probably weighed close to four bills. He was large enough to create his own ecosystem. He wasn’t physically fit, and could barely walk five steps–none independently. He needed at least a two person assist to be transferred or toileted, actually, maybe three people. He was an enormous Fall Risk, in more ways than one.

To manage him, we placed him in one of the private rooms near the nursing station, right across from the medication window. To keep him safe during the day, we put him in a gerichair and rolled him into the hallway. The nurse assigned to do Medications for the day essentially ended up doing 1:1 observation on Mr Zablotny.

The VA was the only hospital I worked at that assigned one nurse to pass all the meds to be given that shift. I’m not sure why that was, probably money. Money seems to be the answer to most of those questions. The VA had way more money than the private sector hospitals I worked in.

The first time I met the Planet Zablotny, I was the  med nurse of the day. He had been showered, dressed and rolled into the hallway by the Night shift nurses. I was pulling my meds for the shift, and whistling Moonlight Serenade.

Remember the movie Big? The scene where Josh and Susan are dancing at the amusement park? The band is playing in the background…

unnamed-1

That’s Moonlight Serenade.

“Oh, ho-hoho-ho-hoho!” the Planet Zablotny chortled. “I love that song! What’s the name of that song?”

I’m sure I had a hangover that morning, so I was likely in a lousy mood. And I’m very sure I was initially a jerk to the Planet Zablotny.

“Sweet Home Alabama.”

“Ha-haha-ha-haha! That’s right!!” he giggled like a kid. I stopped what I was doing and took a long hard look at the Planet Zablotny. A look of pure enjoyment radiated from his face. He was thrilled! “Oh God, it was in that movie! Which one was that?”

This, is going to be fun, I thought, and I smiled, like The Grinch.

“Nightmare on Elm Street.”

“Hee-heehee-hee! That’s the one!! Oh, gosh, I love that movie! That guy was in it! Oh, what was his name?”

“Jerry Mathers.”

“Ohhhh, God, yes! Man, I love that guy! He’s so good!! He was in that other movie…  Oh, damn! What was that called?” The Planet Zablotny looked at me, hopefully.

“The Man in the Iron Mask?” I guessed. And I realized what was happening. The Planet Zablotny had CRS! He couldn’t remember shit!!

It’s entirely possible the Planet Zablotny suffered from some type of dementia. We treated a lots of veterans with dementia. Maybe he was admitted for that. He certainly didn’t appear to be depressed, and if he was, I doubt he could remember he was.

It didn’t make any difference what answer I gave to any question, it was always the correct answer. I totally fell in love with the Planet Zablotny.

“Oh, yesyesyes! That’s it!” the Planet Zablotny continued. “That’s my favorite movie! And he sings that song…  Oh, which one was it?”

“All I Want For Christmas is My Two Front Teeth?”

“Oh-hoho-haha-hee! That’s the one!” The Planet Zablotny was grinning from ear to ear. By this time, I was too.

“What the hell are you doing over here?” It was my buddy, Paul Anderson.

“Check this out.”

Paul and I played the endless movie trivia game with the Planet Zablotny all shift. As long as someone was willing to offer an answer–any answer–the Planet Zablotny always had another question. The only times he stopped was during meals and when he fell asleep.

It was one of the best work days I had at the MVAMC. Paul had a blast, too. The Planet Zablotny had the best day, ever. I taught my co-workers the game. Some of them were more motivated than others. Some weren’t interested. Some were annoyed.

The Planet Zablotny was our guest at the MVAMC for a couple of weeks. I played Made Up Movie Trivia with the Planet Zablotny every chance I got. I was incredibly saddened when he was discharged, and actually hoped he’d be readmitted. If it had been up to me, we would’ve kept him until he died.

Alas, it was not to be. The Planet Zablotny wouldn’t return. He most likely died at the nursing home we returned him to.

I hope there was someone on staff that loved to play Made Up Movie Trivia with Mr Zablotny.

He loved that game.

Wild and Crazy Guys

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.

“Aliens.”

“Like, from Outer Space? Those kind of aliens?”

“Yessir.”

“What does the hat do?”

“Mind control.”

“Ah! It…prevents…mind control?”

“Yessir.”

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.

The Worst Week

October, 1994.

Lea was once again hospitalized at Fairview Medical Center. She had taken another turn for the worse. Abdominal Surgery Number Three had been in the summer of 1993. Ninety-five percent of her colon had been removed. Abdominal Surgery Number Four was on deck, and I was beginning to wonder what the endgame was going to be with this.

I mean, how much more of Lea’s gut were they thinking about removing? How much more could they remove?

It was early Monday morning, around mid-October. The phone rang at our house. It was my father-in-law, David Covington. He and his wife, Wanda, were living in San Benito, TX. They had retired down there years ago. Lea and I had visited them a year or two earlier during one of Lea’s periods of relative stability, all the way down at the bottom of Texas.

My father-in-law wasn’t an easy man to be around. He was a combat veteran of World War II and Korea. He had been wounded in each conflict, earning two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star for bravery in battle. He had a short fuse on his temper, and tended to yell a lots of the time. Dave had one bitch of a case of PTSD that he had never sought treatment for.

My mother-in-law was on the fast track to sainthood, in my opinion, for staying with her husband as long as she did.

“Hi Mark. It’s Dave. Say, I just wanted to let you know Wanda’s in the hospital. She’s actually in the same hospital that your wife is in.”

It took me a moment to process that. I was working a stretch of Nights at the MVAMC, and the ringing phone had awakened me.

“Why is she in the hospital. In Minneapolis.” I said. I don’t think it sounded like a question.

“Oh, well, she wanted to see her baby girl, and that’s Lea, you know. So, we drove up here over the weekend. And when we got here, Wanda had a small heart attack. So she’s in Fairview Hospital, on the fourth floor.” Dave may have even chuckled.

Dave was fairly nonchalant about it, but he was like that. When he told me the story about how he earned his Bronze Star, he made it sound as though he had been walking through the park. Except he and his men were being chased by an army of Nazis. Through a minefield. And the Nazis were desperately trying to kill them.

It was no big deal then, and this was likewise no big deal. The doctors wanted to run a couple tests, but Wanda was okay. She was resting comfortably. He thought she’d be well enough to travel back to Texas by the end of the week.

“Let me jump in the shower. I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

I met Dave in Fairview’s main lobby. He had visited both his wife and his daughter; Lea knew her mother was in the hospital, two floors below her. Lea’s room was on the sixth floor. Dave hadn’t had any sleep. He wanted to go to his hotel, take a nap and get cleaned up.

“Go ahead. I got this.” I said.

Lea was excited and very chatty when I got to her room. She had already talked to her mom on the phone, and wanted to go see her mom, of course. She had gotten all dolled up; hair, make up, everything. The sixth floor nurses had dropped everything else to help her. Those nurses had  become part of our family  through the multiple admissions and surgeries Lea had had over the previous couple of years.

Lea looked great. I wheeled her and all of her IV pumps and bags of IV fluids down to the fourth floor and Wanda’s room. Wanda also looked great. The fourth floor nurses, who didn’t know Wanda at all, had also given Lea’s mom every possible assistance to help her get all dolled up. The sixth floor nurses had called the fourth floor nurses and had explained the unique situation to them.

Those sixth floor nurses, they were total rockstars.

Lea and Wanda hugged and kissed and talked and talked. It had been Wanda’s idea to drive to Minneapolis. She felt an intense need to see her baby girl before this upcoming surgery. Her gut told her she needed to be here.

This would be my life for the next few days: Work nights at my hospital. Catch twenty to thirty winks of sleep. Shower. Eat something. Go visit my wife and her parents at the other hospital. Repeat.

I informed my boss of this latest wrinkle in the seemingly neverending saga that was my wife’s healthcare nightmare. Marj was actually supportive, verbally, though not enthusiastically so. I was too tired to give much thought to my boss’ reaction. I was pretty sure my life couldn’t get much worse.

On Day Three of my new routine, Wanda’s heart specialist doctor wanted to talk to Dave about his wife’s prognosis. Dave wanted me to be there when he met with the doctor. It turned out Wanda’s condition was much worse than Dave described.

Wanda’s family suffered from heart disease. In short, my wife comes from a long line of people that died young from heart attacks. Wanda was in her sixties. She had serious coronary artery disease, and already had one coronary bypass surgery about a decade earlier. She saw a team of heart specialists on a regular basis in Houston. Dave wanted to stabilize his wife enough to take her back to Houston for treatment.

“Yeah, you could do that,” Wanda’s Minnesota doctor said. “But she probably won’t survive the trip.” The results of Wanda’s angiogram showed an eighty to ninety percent blockage in three of her major coronary arteries. “She needs another bypass, immediately.”

Fairview Medical Center might not be the Texas Heart Institute, but it wasn’t the worst place to go to be treated for heart disease either. The hospital had an eighty percent success rate with their coronary bypass surgeries. Dave asked me what I thought.

“This is a decision for you and Wanda to make. You could call her team in Houston, and see what they think, if you have any major objections. And this isn’t my specialty area…  I haven’t worked in Cardiac Care for… six years. But if this were me, and this was my best option to save my wife, I’d have the surgery here. This is a good hospital. They’ve kept your daughter alive three times already when she could’ve died.”

And they’d be getting a chance at Number Four very soon.

“I’ve got to talk to Wanda…” Dave said.

It was a no-brainer for Wanda. She consented to the surgery. It was scheduled for Friday.

When Friday came, I slept almost all day, which was unusual for me, even when I worked Nights. I called Lea around 5:00 PM. Wanda had been the last case of the day. She went to the OR around 3:00 PM. There hadn’t been any recent updates, but everything had been going smoothly. The fourth and sixth floor nurses had talked to the OR staff, and they would keep everyone in the loop.

Sleep deprived and feeling foggy, I ate some leftovers and went back to bed. I woke up around 11:00 PM and went to work.

At around midnight, I got a phone call.

“Hi Mark. This is Dave. Say, the surgery went well, but then something happened.”

I felt my heart stop beating.

“The doctors haven’t been able to get Wanda’s heart to start beating on its own again. They’ve had her on life support since the end of the surgery…”

“How long has that been?”

“Oh, I think since about six o’clock.”

“Okay,” I tried to get my brain working. “Now what? Do they have any idea what they’re going to do?”

“Well, yeah.” he stammered. “They want to take her off life support. They’ve done everything they can, but Wanda’s heart just isn’t strong enough…  I think I’ve lost my co-pilot.”

I hung up the phone. I couldn’t believe what I’d just heard. I told my co-workers. And I called my horrible boss, Marj, to let her know I was leaving work and that she needed to come in and take my place.

“I’ll be there as soon as I can.” she said. Marj walked on the unit about an hour later. She didn’t look pleased. I could care less what she thought or felt, but I briefly thanked her for coming in to relieve me, then drove like a bat out of hell to Fairview Medical Center.

I met Dave in the main lobby one more time. Wanda had been taken off of life support right after we had talked on the phone.

“Wanda’s gone…” he said. He was holding back his tears.

“I’m so sorry for your loss.”

We hugged each other for a long time. Dave was saying something, I can’t remember what he said anymore. I wasn’t really listening anyway. I was thinking about my wife.

“Does Lea know?”

“No. No. I was waiting for you. I can’t tell her her mother is dead.”

I have no clear recollection of most of what followed. I think Dave went to call Lea’s ex-husband, so he could tell their daughters about their grandmother. I went to the sixth floor. The nurses came running up to me when I got off the elevator. All of them were crying. I hugged them all, they tearfully expressed their condolences.

“What does Lea know? Did you tell her?” I asked the sobbing nurses.

“No. You have to tell her.” one of the nurses said, drying her tears with a Kleenex. Her name was Mary, and of all the incredible rockstar nurses that took care of us, Pretty Mary was our favorite. We called her Pretty Mary because there was more than one Nurse Mary on the sixth floor, and she was the prettiest.

God, give me strength, I thought. I was sure I’d rather die than be the messenger bearing this news. I talked to Lea’s nurses for a moment, telling them how I heard the news and what my horrible boss had done. They knew all about my toxic relationship with Marj.

“Okay…” I said more to myself than anyone else, and headed down the hallway to Lea’s room.

“Oh my God! What time is it? Why are you here? What happened?” Lea said in a rush, the moment she saw me in her room in the dead of night.

“I don’t know any other way to tell you this. Your mom’s heart wasn’t strong enough…” I didn’t have to say anything else.

“Oh, no!” Lea cried. And I held her for the longest time as she started grieving the loss of her mother. “I want to go see her!”

The nurses were ready. They flowed into the room, and hugged Lea. Through their tears they checked all of Lea’s IV bags, helped her change into a fresh gown and robe, transferred her into a wheelchair and brushed her hair.

Dave and I were waiting in the hallway when the nurses rolled Lea out of her room. She cried with her dad for a time. He told her how much Wanda had wanted to see her, and how much Wanda loved her. And then he told Lea how much he loved her. Lea later said that was the most surprising thing that happened that night.

Lea’s daughters arrived at the hospital swiftly. Dave led the way to where Wanda’s body lay in state. The OR staff had cleaned her up, and left her body in the OR suite. No one was able to speak, so I said something appropriate for the situation– what a wonderful gal Wanda was, how much we loved her and how much we were all going to miss her…

The staff told us to take as much time as we wanted. We stayed with Wanda for at least half an hour, maybe an hour. There’s only so much crying you can do at one time. I don’t think the girls wanted to leave their grandmother alone in that room. But the transport crew was waiting to take Wanda’s body to the funeral home, and the cleaning crew still waiting to scrub the OR suite down.

I don’t know how long I stayed at the hospital. I took Lea back to her room after her dad took her daughters home. We talked about her mom.

“I didn’t go see her before her surgery.” Lea said. We were laying in her hospital bed, her head was on my chest. “You usually come in, and I thought I’d wait until you came in. But you didn’t, and I didn’t want to inconvenience the nurses. They’re always so busy…  So I didn’t go see my mom, and now I’ll never be able to see her again.”

Sometimes it’s the things you don’t do that you end up regretting the most.

I know I eventually went home and slept. I may have actually had the weekend off because I don’t have any memory of going back to work until after Wanda’s funeral.

I called Marj on Monday morning, and view of the tragic circumstances, I requested the week off. Marj told me I’d have to talk to her boss, Mary Erdman. I called Mary and explained my situation to her. She already knew what was going on with my wife, but she didn’t know about my mother-in-law. In view of the circumstances, I thought requesting a week off was very reasonable.

“Do really you think you need the entire week off?” Marj’s boss asked me.

“No, I don’t think I need a week off. I need a month off, but I’ll settle for a week!” I replied, and slammed the telephone receiver down on the base without waiting to hear Mary’s response.

This, I thought, means war.

But first, I had to bury my mother-in-law.

Bon anniversaire

Almost twenty eight years ago I married my lovely supermodel wife, Lea. We actually got married on a Monday, and our anniversary falls on a Monday this year, so it’s kind of a double anniversary–day and date.

I’m not sure when I started to begin to commence to get ready to think about proposing, but I knew I would marry this woman. I was working at AMRTC. It was a Saturday in September in 1988. Lea and I were walking through the Crossroads Mall in St Cloud.  We were strolling along, holding hands, and we walked past DJ Bitzen’s Jewelers. On an impulse, I swerved in and asked the clerk if she had any engagement rings.

“What?!?” Lea exclaimed. I had surprised her.

“Do you see anything you like?”

“Ohh! All of them.” Lea sighed. This was going to be easier than I thought. I pointed to a ring. The clerk took it out of the display case and handed it to Lea to try on. Her hands were shaking.

“I’m so nervous.” she said to the clerk, and something like this happened:

unnamed-2

Yep, slippery little suckers, aren’t they? The clerk retrieved the ring. I shook my head, Not that one.

“What else do you have?” I asked.

“Um, how about this one?” the clerk suggested. She handed it to Lea, whose hands were quite possibly shaking even more. And this happened:

unnamed (3).gif

This ring flew even farther than the first. The clerk retrieved this ring and put it back in the case.

“I’m so sorry!” Lea apologized. “Let’s go–”

“Not yet. You pick a ring this time.” Lea took a couple of deep breaths, composed herself for a minute. She perused the selection of gold and diamonds, and pointed out a ring. The clerk looked like she didn’t know whether to hike the ring to Lea and go deep or what to do. She smiled at Lea, handing her the ring she had selected. I seriously think both of them held their breath. And this happened:

images-2

Lea placed the ring on her finger without throwing it.

“This is the wedding band.” the clerk said. I guess they come in sets… Lea slipped the second ring onto her finger, and admired how it looked for a moment or two.

I thanked the clerk for all her hard work, and we left the store. We probably went to get something to eat. If it has anything to do with shopping, I get hungry. Not sure why that is.

I called DJ Bitzen’s on Monday morning. The store is closed on Sundays. As chance would have it, I ended up talking to the clerk that had waited on us. She had no problem recalling who we were.

“Do you remember which ring my girlfriend didn’t throw?” I asked.

“Yes, I do!” she laughed. I told her to upgrade the diamond, and wrap it up. I’d take it.

* * * *

A few weeks later, Lea’s ring was ready to be picked up. I called my cousin, Danny W. Long, and told him my devious plan to propose to my lovely girlfriend. He agreed. Now all I had to do was convince her.

Lea and I were living in Minneapolis. Her ring was in St Cloud. All I had to do was get Lea to go to St Cloud.

“No, I’m not interested in going to St Cloud…” was Lea’s response when I suggested it. As chance would have it, the day I was going to propose to Lea happened to be her birthday. I told her I needed a tune up and oil change on my car, and Cousin Dan and I were going to do that. Dan’s girlfriend would be there, so she’d have someone to talk to. And then we’d go grab something to eat…for her birthday…

Lea reluctantly agreed. We drove the seventy-five miles or so to St Cloud. I dropped Lea off at Cousin Dan’s. She and Margie were chatting away in the kitchen. Dan and I actually bought a bunch of tune up stuff, my car really did need an oil change. And we went over to DJ Bitzen’s.

Lea and Margie were still in the kitchen when we got back. I couldn’t wait to show Lea all the cool stuff I bought. Spark plugs, condenser, oil, oil filter and…a…ring!

I got down on one knee, and asked Lea to marry me:

images-3

Lea said, “Yes!”

It was the last time I surprised her.

We were married thirty-four days later. I don’t think anyone at our wedding was giving us more than six months. I should’ve taken that bet.

There have been plenty of times when we could’ve gotten divorced. I know thought about a couple times. I have no idea how many times Lea contemplated it, but I know she did.

I think our secret for staying together has been this: we didn’t hate each other at the same time. It might sound weird, but I think that’s it.

I’m taking Lea out in a few minutes. We’re going out with a few of our Ajijic peeps tonight. Lea’s actually going shopping with the girls in Guadalajara on Monday, so we decided to celebrate our anniversary tonight. We’re going to Go. It’s one of the many fine dining establishments down here.

Happy anniversary, honey. Buen provecho.

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.

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.