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.

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 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.

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.

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.

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:

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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:

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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:

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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 Pebble in the Pond

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What? Wait! I’m not ready!”

“Okay, now.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m Too Sexy For My Clothes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AMRTC

The Anoka Metro Regional Treatment Center. It was a fancy name for the Minnesota State Hospital. It would be my first position as a psych nurse.

I sent my resume, they called me to schedule an interview with the Program Director and the Head Nurse. I was escorted to a room with a huge table and lots of chairs arranged around the table. I took a seat at the nearest end of the table, and waited a few minutes.

The director walked in the room. He looked like he had just gotten out of bed after sleeping in his clothes for a week. He sat down at the far end of the table, looked up from a pile of papers he had dumped on the table as he sat down and asked, “Why did you apply for this position?” I’m not sure he even looked at me. He might have been staring at the ceiling.

“I saw an ad in the newspaper.” I replied.

“Okay! Works for me!” he said, scooped up his paperwork, and walked out.

Easiest. Interview. Ever.