The Three R’s

Greetings from Casa Tara, the Chula Vista Resort and Spa in beautiful San Antonio Tlayacapan, Mexico!

We’ve been busy here of late. Todd has been getting his room organized so it doesn’t look like a warehouse for half of his stuff anymore. And we’ve been going golfing a lots. Todd and I mostly suck at golf at about the same level most of the time. Our games are mildly competitive, but mostly relaxing. It’s been a lots of fun having him here.

I thought there would be more of a differentiation in our lives, you know, a Before Todd/After Todd kind of thing, but that hasn’t been the case. I almost think he found a way to use the top-secret time machine in the basement of the Minneapolis VAMC to alter the TimeSpace continuum so it seems like he’s always been here.

And it’s not just me. Todd and Lea both say the same thing. Right now, Todd is on his way to Minnesota to visit his kids and stuff. He’ll be gone about a week. I might be able to gain a bit more perspective about our new living arrangement by his absence, but probably not. I’m not all that interested in analyzing this. I have plenty of other things to ponder deeply.

My lovely supermodel wife has been working out some of the details for the window treatments for the master bedroom. She’s decided the job is too big for her to handle on her own, so she’s has enlisted the help of my third retirement wife, Susan. She’s an interior decorator, and she has some local contacts who can help complete Lea’s design vision.

I have no idea how long it will take. I don’t really care, either. Our bedroom looks fine to me the way it is, though I’m sure Lea’s design will be beautiful.

As for me, I have litter boxes to keep me busy when I’m not doing anything else. Four kit-tens produce roughly ten times as much waste products as two kit-tens. Yeah, I didn’t know that either.

I think all of our kit-tens are starting to get used to each other, but it’s hard to tell. One day they appear to be peacefully coexisting. The next day it’s something like unto a feline version of WWE Smackdown. They’re all trying to figure out how they all fit into their new world. You know, kind of like high school.

Except Sammy. He’s the king of the house, and he knows it.

Mika and Sadie seem to be the two kit-tens at the center of the remaining confrontations. Mika was the most vocal in her displeasure with the new kit-tens when they moved in. Now that Sadie has adjusted to this being her new home, it’s payback time.

No one has died yet, but one of Lea’s antique red glass vases became a casualty of war the other day…

I find it hard to believe that our new kit-tens have been here for less than a month, so it still seems feasible to me that after they’ve all been together for six months or so, they will actually all get along.

I’ll keep you posted.

* * * *

Way, way back when I was a kid, there were Three R’s: Reading, Writing and ‘Rithmatic. Way back when I was middle aged, there was a new set of Three R’s: Reduce, Recycle and Reuse.

Now that I’m an old guy, there seems to be an even newer set of the Three R’s. They appear to be the platform upon which Donald Trump has based his popularity: Religion, Racism and Ratings.

The Donald didn’t coin these terms, I did. Well, I think I did. They might have been someone else’s ideas and were somehow inserted into my mind. It happens to me all the time.

* * * *

I can’t say that Donald Trump is the most religious President in the history of the United States, though he claims to be a good Christian. He actually seems to be the least religiously grounded man that has ever sat in the Oval Office, but that hasn’t stopped him from using religion as a tool for his own ends.

* * * *

The Donald actually got into a pissing contest with the Pope because of his Great Southern Border Wall. The Pope said something to the effect of …any man who would rather build a wall than a bridge doesn’t seem like much of a Christian. And Donald replied with something to to the effect of Oh yeah? Who asked you? Who do think you are, the fuckin’ Pope?

The Pope kind of apologized, possibly because he thought Trump would invade The Vatican City. And The Donald kind of apologized, saying he thought the Pope was …a great guy.

* * * *

When Citizen Trump was running for President, he brought a Bible to the podium in September of 2015. All he did was show it to his audience to prove he had one. He didn’t read anything out of it. It was merely a prop, displayed with a flourish, then quickly forgotten.

In August of this year, he was asked about his love of the Bible because he said it was his favorite book. When he was asked what his favorite Bible verse was, he refused to answer the question. He said the Bible was too deeply personal for him to talk about, you know, in public.

Let me translate that for you. He doesn’t know even one verse in the Bible. Even atheists know at least one Bible verse!

* * * *

Interviewer: Can you tell me who wrote the Four Gospels?

Donald Trump: I’m not answering that question. You want to know why I’m not answering your question? A sixth grader could answer that question. It’s a no-brainer, so I’m not going to answer that. Ask me a tough question. What? We’re out of time? My people are telling I have to get to my next appointment…  By the way, the answer to your question is John, Paul, George and Ringo!

jesus-facepalm-th

I know a lots of Christians. All of them have a favorite Bible verse. Even the ones who suck at being good Christians. Like me. What’s my favorite Bible verse? Romans 12:2. See? That was easy.

Evangelical Christians are The Donald’s biggest middle class supporters. They are very conservative and fundamental in their beliefs. These are the people who see Donald Trump as their last bastion of hope for the world they want. He is the Chosen One that will protect their God-given rights and freedoms. 

Adamant Amendmentalists. That’s the best term I’ve been able to come up with to describe them, and I’m not sure that last word is even a word. But as far as the Constitutional Amendments go, they’re only interested in two. Maybe three.

The First Amendment: Freedom of Speech, and the Second Amendment: the Right to Bear Arms. That’s it. Those are the only two amendments they care about. If you were ask them if they support the Thirteenth Amendment…

Um, I want to take the fifth.

That’s the Fifth Amendment. And that’s as far as this road goes.

Oddly enough, these ardent defenders of some of the amendments don’t seem to understand that all of the amendments apply to all of the people, not just to them. Nor do they seem to be all that interested in listening to anyone who has an opinion that differs even a fraction from theirs. Much like unto their revered leader, their great and unmatched wisdom brooks no criticism.

* * * *

Little Known Fact About the US Constitution: there are twenty seven amendments. The only reason I’m saying this is because 37% of the people polled couldn’t name any of the rights protected by any of the amendments. The first ten amendments are called the Bill of Rights. And the thirteenth amendment? That abolished slavery.

* * * *

Donald Trump has repeatedly stated that he is not a racist, which I find laughable. Almost everyone in my generation was raised to be a racist because our parents were totally racist.

My dad was Archie Bunker. He didn’t like black people. He had no black friends, and none of his children did either. Roughly forty years ago, one of my sisters almost dated a black guy. I think we had to replace part of the roof when my dad found out about it.

I’ve spent a good part of my life trying not to become the kind of man my father was. I can tell you this: the things you learn when you’re young, they take forever to un-learn.

Donald Trump’s dad was probably a member of the Ku Klux Klan, so, no history of racism there…  Maybe The Donald doesn’t see himself as racist because he has never openly called black people niggers. Be that as it may, his politics are based on racist ideals, and the Walmart Intelligensia that supports him is most definitely populated with racists.

To quote myself, These are the people who see Donald Trump as their last bastion of hope for the world they want. And what they want is a world with good old fashioned 1950’s segregation. Of all the embarrassing things that America has become, this is easily the most embarrassing.

We fought one horrific, bloody civil war in the 1800’s to end slavery. One hundred years later we fought an equally horrific, though much less bloody battle to enforce the constitutional and legal rights for African Americans that white Americans already enjoyed.

civil-rights-march-on-washington-27-0276a

The fact that this still even an issue — I have no words for that.

White privilege. That’s what Trump’s supporters expect him to defend. They are better than these goddamn non-white immigrants who are sneaking into the country to steal their jobs, rape their daughters, and get their sons hooked on drugs. They are better because they’re white. That’s their justification.

The America our forefathers envisioned doesn’t exist. It can probably be argued that it never existed. America, apparently for the most part, is bitter. And cruel. And small-minded.

I didn’t move to Mexico because I disagreed with American politics, but I will never reside in the country of my birth again because I now strongly disagree with American politics.

You can quote me on that.

* * * *

Given the fact that The Donald is the least presidential-acting President that the United States of America has ever had, I’m not sure he understands that he’s actually the President. From my point of view, he acts like the star of reality TV show would act if that was the role he had to play.

That’s what he was, is, and forever shall be. A reality TV star who somehow ended up being arguably the most powerful person on the planet. His words and actions only make sense when viewed in the context of man getting advice from his producers to increase the market share for his failing TV show:

Say outrageous things! No, even more outrageous than that! It’ll boost our ratings!! Go over the top with your Twitter account! People love that kind of stuff!! But maybe you should use Spell Check…

For those of you who don’t follow @realDonaldTrump on the Twitter®, he misspells almost everything. Including the word outrageous. And moat. 

Ratings. That’s where it’s at, man. Ratings make the world go ’round. That’s what The Donald is really all about. He’s constantly posting poll results that show how much people love him. That’s why he’s your favorite President.

Donald Trump Holds Campaign Rally In Dallas

He’s actually called the himself that in a couple of his tweets.

* * * *

Just in cases you haven’t figured this out already, I am beyond sick of Donald Trump. My most fervent hope right now is that the Democrats aren’t as stupid as the Republicans, and if/when they decide to file Articles of Impeachment, they better not fuck this up.

If Donald Trump is as corrupt as I imagine him to be, the Democrats are the last hope America has. Trump has as much as admitted he did all of the things the Democrats want to investigate. That’s his defense. Yeah, I did it. And you know what? I’d do it again! And after he admitted his crimes, he said he wouldn’t do anything to cooperate with any investigation.

Americans expect greatness from their Presidents. And if they can’t get that, the very least they expect is humility. We have gotten neither from Donald Trump. He has done more, in less time, to tarnish an office that once was the most respected and admired office on the planet.

Time to wrap this Thanksgiving turkey up and get him the hell out of the White House by Christmas. It would be the best present America could ask for, and give everyone with a brain and a heart a renewed hope for the next year.

Inglorious Basterd

Perhaps you’ve seen the movie Inglorious Basterds, (2009), Quentin Tarantino. It’s an alternate history story about an assassination plot on Adolf Hitler that succeeded. In actual history, none of the assassination attempts on Hitler’s life succeeded.

According to history, Hitler committed suicide in Berlin while hiding in his underground bunker on April 30, 1945. According to several of my former patients, Adolf Hitler was alive and well living in a compound somewhere in South America run by the US Government with John F. Kennedy.

That was back in the 1990’s. Given the passage of time, I’m thinking both Hitler and JFK have to have gotten dead by now…

My former patients who spoke of this claimed that they had been kidnapped by an unknown agency of the government, probably the CIA, and taken to the top secret South American compound to participate in a double top secret drug test. Once the testing was over, they were returned to the US, and, of course, no one believed their story afterwards.

You’re going to have to decide which of those two versions of history you want to believe. I find the latter credible simply because more than one stark-raving mad lunatic told me the same story. My question to them was this: Was Elvis in the compound, too?

None of my former patients had seen Elvis, but they had heard he was there at one time. He either escaped or was set free after the government was done experimenting on him.

* * * *

I get a chuckle out of the Facebook posts that compare Donald Trump to Adolf Hitler, mostly because there’s nothing to compare.

The Adolf was a puppet master with a twisted agenda whereas The Donald is merely a puppet who has no idea what the hell he’s doing.

You’re probably wondering where the hell I’m going with this. You’re not the only one. This is either going to be an illuminating and entertaining post, or it’ll end up being the worst thing ever written by anyone.

* * * *

Have you ever heard of The Trolley Problem? It’s a thought experiment in ethics. The general form of the problem is this:

You see a runaway trolley moving toward five tied-up (or otherwise incapacitated) people lying on the tracks. You are standing next to a lever that controls a switch. If you pull the lever, the trolley will be redirected onto a side track and the five people on the main track will be saved. However, there is a single person lying on the side track. You have two choices:

  1. Do nothing and allow the trolley to kill the five people on the main track.
  2. Pull the lever, diverting the trolley onto the side track where it will kill one person.

Which is the most ethical choice?

* * * *

There’s a similar problem called the Killing Baby Hitler Test. If you had a time machine, would you go back in time and kill infant Adolf Hitler? This was a question I debated with a few of my co-workers one night when we were bored.

I was working with a couple of nurses, Randy Easter and Russ Bacon. Randy was kind of a spacey dude. Now that I think about it, everyone I’ve ever known named Randy has been kind of spacey.

Randy was the guy who initiated the debate. He was taking a course on Ethics. If I remember correctly I told him, “Personally, I don’t have any ethics or morals, but I’ve always admired people who do.”

Little Known Fact About The Killing Baby Hitler Test: it’s a test designed to figure out how much of a psychopath you are. I’m guessing The Trolley Problem serves much the same purpose.

I’ve previously written about the hazards of time travel to change the course of history. One of my former patients, Forrest Gump’s Smarter Brother, needed a time machine to go back and fix some horrendous deed he had committed in his youth.

I finally convinced FGSB that if he went back in time to fix something, he’d end up creating even worse problems in the future. He decided he didn’t want make things even worse, and finally stopped asking to use the time machine he knew the government had installed in the basement of the Minneapolis VAMC.

If my theory about time travel is correct, we can flush this whole thought experiment down the toilet. If you knew killing Baby Hitler would only result in someone worse than Hitler, why bother?

There are other considerations. Killing Baby Hitler might prevent the Holocaust, but it probably wouldn’t have prevented World War II. And there’s this: Hitler wasn’t the only twisted sister governing a nation at that time. And there’s also this: you’re not going back in time to kill grown up, evil men. You’re going back in time to kill babies.

Apparently, that makes a difference.

* * * *

If you don’t know anything about World War II, you might want to brush up on your history before you read this. If you really want to understand the causes of WWII, you should start by reading about the end of World War I, which was without a doubt the most significant event of the Twentieth Century.

You also have to factor in the rise of Fascism in not only Germany, but in Spain and Italy. You have to consider the imperial designs of the military government of Japan. Plus a shitload of other socioeconomic and cultural factors far too numerous to mention in this hopefully short blog.

When you take all of those things into consideration, killing Baby Hitler probably doesn’t accomplish much of anything. From my point of view at the time of this discussion, if you were willing to go back in time to kill Hitler, why stop there? Why not kill all of the crazy motherfuckers who started the war?

Hitler didn’t rise to power in a vacuum, and he had a bunch of equally unbalanced assholes in his Inner Circle. Heinrich Himmler, Hermann Göring, Martin Bormann, Joseph Goebbels, Rudolf Hess. Any one of those guys were equal to Der Führer in terms of political ambitions and mental instability. Clearly, they needed killing as much as their boss. And that was just the tip of the iceberg in Germany. Seriously. Most of the highest ranking Nazis were batshit crazy.

Japan was an equal dilemma of who do you start killing and how deep do you go? Hideki Tojo was the Supreme Military Leader who started his country on the road to ruin, so he clearly needed to got dead, and probably most of his high command, too. The Japanese weren’t just crazy, they were fanatically crazy.

The Japanese army is responsible for the Nanking Massacre, the Bataan Death March, and a thousand other war crimes and petty misdeameanors. What scale do you use to compare atrocities? Are those events lesser than the Holocaust?

But wait, there’s more.

Benito Mussolini was the fascist dictator of Italy during WWII. He was Hitler’s ally during the war, and that might be reason enough to kill his ass. Beyond that, I’m sure he did some hinky shit to secure power. But I’ve always looked at Mussolini as if he were a caricature. And if he had been stupid enough to start the war, it wouldn’t have lasted a year.

The Italian army in WWII was nothing like the Roman legions of old in terms of fighting ability. I’m not sure the Italian army won a single battle, let alone helped win a global war. A troop of determined Girl Scouts could probably have defeated the Italian army. When the Allies invaded Italy, they didn’t battle Italians. They fought against the Germans.

Therefore, I failed to see the need to enact retroactive birth control on Il Duce. He probably would have self destructed if left to his own devices.

Maybe that makes me less of a psychopath, but I’m not done.

Joseph Stalin was the psychotic despotic leader of Communist USSR, and depending on whom you talk to, he might have been worse than Hitler. So killing him to death certainly fell into my criteria for saving humanity. The fact that he was our ally during WWII shows you just how desperate the situation was.

Stalin’s paranoia is legendary. He saw almost everyone who worked for him as a political rival. His solution to this problem was brutally simple. He had pretty much everyone around him executed. More than once.

There’s a story that one of Stalin’s aides handed him a sheet of paper with a long list of names on it. Stalin looked it over, and put a check mark in the corner, then handed it back to his aide without saying a word.

The aide was too afraid to ask what the check mark meant, so he ordered everyone on the list to be executed. You know, just in cases.

So, yes. I would have killed Baby Stalin, too.

And what about the Allied leaders? Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill had to know that they were dealing with the devil in the form of Joseph Stalin. Does that make them also culpable for his crimes? Shouldn’t they also be considered for time traveling justice? Or was the fact that they were fighting the evil Nazis enough to make blind Justice look the other way?

Why stop with WWII? You have a time machine. You could stop any number of assholes all throughout history. The problem with this problem is it never ends. Once you start down this path you have a seemingly never ending list of sanctioned murders you can commit, all for the sake of preventing others from being killed to death.

* * * *

I’m pretty sure I flunked the Are You A Psychopath Test conducted by my spacey co-worker in the middle of the night almost thirty years ago. Or, I passed it in so many flying colors that I’m an off the chart psychopath of unprecedented depth. If the Minneapolis VAMC really had a time machine in the basement, Randy probably would’ve felt compelled to have me locked up for the good of humanity.

And then I would have had to kill him, too. Probably. I’m not sure I would have actually killed anyone back then. It was just a question we debated to stay awake, and I took the most provocative stance I could. Randy and Russ were stunned by my responses. It was worth it just to see the looks on their faces.

And yet…

Part of me thinks that Young Idealist Me really would have killed all of the baby future Nazis, all of the baby Japanese future fanatics, and Baby Stalin if I had been given the means and the opportunity. The Me that argued for doing it didn’t have any qualms about the details. My only question was how I’d get away with it, even with a time machine.

And, would I be paid for my efforts as the savior of some of humanity. Hey, I was on a fair amount of drugs back then. And I liked to drink. A guy’s gotta make a living.

The reverse is also possible. You could conceivably save the lives of people who would have otherwise been lost. Anne Frank. Mahatma Gandhi. I’d add John F. Kennedy, but he might not have been killed after all…

That scenario is also probably some sort of kooky test designed to figure out some aspect of the human personality. Clearly, there are people who have way too much idle time on their hands…

With age comes wisdom. I hope that’s actually true. I’d answer that question much differently now. And I’d probably be willing to go back in time to prevent Young Me from killing a bunch of babies who would grow up to be responsible for the deaths of millions of people.

Everything happens for a reason.

That’s the only reason I need now to let history stand pat. And now you have a better idea of why I want to stay outside of my mind.

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.

Youth-in-Asia

It’s been cold here in the Lakeside area this week. And for those of you who live in Northern climes, I get it. This isn’t really cold. -30°F. That’s cold!

But cold is a relative term, and 57°F with overcast skies and a cool wind down here feels like the onset of the next Ice Age. The Mexican locals dress like Minnesotans in January. Big down-filled parkas. Winter hats and caps. Scarves wrapped around their faces. Gloves. And if you ask them, they will tell you they’re fucking freezing to death.

Ten years in Phoenix has effected the way my body reacts to and adjusts to the weather. I haven’t broken out my winter parka and scarf yet, but my reaction for the last couple of days has been to turn on the gas fireplace, camp out in the living room, and try to stay warm.

That’s not entirely true. I went golfing on Monday with my golf wife. Phyllis and I decided we don’t need wind and cold to impact our game. We’re bad enough on good days. And I went to my golf lesson with Tom yesterday. It was even colder and windier, and even less fun.

It’s supposed to be back up in the 70’s next week, and that will be a welcome change. And everyone can talk about how they survived the Winter from Hell in Ajijic. According to people in the know, this has been the coldest winter in recorded history in the Lakeside area.

* * * *

Euthanasia is one of those words that doesn’t mean anything close to the way it sounds. It sounds like you’re talking about children in China. Or anywhere else in the Oriental East.

Just in cases you don’t know what euthanasia means, here’s the definition: Euthanasia (from Greek: εὐθανασία; “good death”: εὖ, eu; “well” or “good” – θάνατος, thanatos; “death”) is the practice of intentionally ending a life to relieve pain and suffering.

It’s kind of like the Spanish word disfruta. In English, the prefix dis is associated with bad things. Dis-ease. Dis-tress. In English slang, if you diss someone, you’re saying not very good things about them.

In Spanish, the word for fruit is fruta. So if you try to Spanglish the hell out of the word disfruta you come up with bad fruit. And you’d be totally wrong because it means enjoy. 

Yeah, go figure.

You might be wondering where I’m going with this. Given my style, that’s a good question to ask. The central figure in the beginning of this story is our very old kit-ten, Samantha. Sam is going to be twenty years old in April. We’ve had Sam in our house for roughly one-third of our lives. She has survived three moves with us.

Like unto most any creature of advanced age, Sam isn’t doing as good as she did when she was younger. She used to run and frolic and hunt lizards. Now, she mostly sleeps and eats, and goes back to sleep. She had a couple of days when she couldn’t keep food or  water down, and that was very disconcerting. She has arthritis in her hips, and when she moves she does so slowly and deliberately.

I’m not sure, but I think she’s developed a cataract in her right eye, and she’s probably developing some degree of deafness as well. Maybe she can still hear as well as she ever did, but she simply cares less about what people are saying.

Who knows? She’s a cat, and cats are, well, mystical.

I don’t know if it’s her limited mobility, or possible vision problems, or something else entirely; but Sam has developed some issues when she uses the litter box over the last month or so. The biggest problem is she doesn’t appear to be actually using her litter box. I think she’s still trying, but she’s developed some serious accuracy problems.

I have a couple of plastic mats in front of the litter box that generally gather and corral her errant urine, and we have ceramic tile floors, so clean up is a breeze. I used to be a nurse. I’ve cleaned up a lots of urine and other body fluids in my lifetime. Still, it’s not a task I can say I relish doing, no matter how much I love our kit-ten.

As a result, my lovely supermodel wife and I have had several End of Life conversations about her beloved kit-ten. These are not easy conversations. Lea really loves her kit-ten, and she always starts crying. I really hate seeing her cry. We’ve had to say farewell to other kit-tens, and those were painful events.

When the day finally comes that we have to put our kit-ten down, that will be a very sad day in our household. On the bright side, that day will not be today. Sam only vomitated once today. She’s still having trouble in the litter box, and I’ve come to the conclusion that’s probably not going to get any better, not that any of her other problems are likely to improve either…

I think Lea has decided to take Sam to our veterinarian, Dr Betty, tomorrow to get her opinion on Sam. Dr Betty is a cute young Mexican woman. She looks like she’s thirteen years old, and barely stands five feet tall. I like standing near her because even I look like a giant compared to her. I’m going to go to the vet, too. Just in cases…

* * * *

When it comes to End of Life decisions, we have much better options with our pets than we have with ourselves. Lea and I have had this conversation, and several variations on it a few times. We’re not interested in the quantity of our lives, only the quality. Lea has often told me she doesn’t care about living to be one hundred. I’m not sure I’ve told her this, but there are days when I’m not sure I want to live another ten years.

You might think that odd, seeing how I’m retired and living in paradise with a supermodel, but it’s a vast improvement over the days when I did didn’t want to live another ten minutes.

Living Wills and Advanced Directives are legal documents where you can outline what types of medical treatments and interventions you would like in the event that you become incapacitated and can’t tell anyone that you don’t want to be placed on a respirator. Or that you don’t want any heroic measures taken to save your life.

My lovely supermodel wife and I have Living Wills in both the US and in Mexico. All we want is comfort meds to control pain. And that’s it. No CPR. No intubation. Nothing. Nada.

But you can’t request that a lethal combination of drugs be given to you when the quantity of your life exceeds the quality of it. And that’s where our pets have us beat all to hell. Their lives can be ended for humane reasons.

When it comes to our pets, we have the option of essentially putting them out of their misery and ending their suffering, an option that we, as people, do not have.

Pets can be euthanized.

* * * *

My youngest daughter, Abigail, once told me a story about her friend and his hamster. The average lifespan of a hamster is somewhere around two years, give or take six months to a year. So I’m guessing Herbie the hamster was around two years old, roughly, when her friend approached his dad one Sunday morning. And for some context, the kid was probably nine years old.

“Dad, something’s wrong with Herbie! We have to take him to the vet right away!”

Well,  it was only a hamster…  I mean, who takes a hamster to the vet? Hamsters are like unto goldfish, with fur. When they die, you flush the old one down the toilet and you buy a new one. And it was Sunday. The Vikings game was going to start any minute.

So dad did some quick thinking and explained the concept of Life and Death to his son, and the fact that the veterinarian’s office was closed, and emergency veterinarian services are very expensive.

“I think we need to do the humane thing, son.”

The humane thing dad came up with was gassing his son’s hamster. He pulled a kettle out of the cupboard, blew out the pilot light on one side of the stove top, placed Herbie under the kettle on one of the unlit burners, and turned on the gas.

“Are you sure Herbie’s not going to suffer?” the kid asked.

“No, he won’t suffer. In fact, this is how the vet would do it…” And he went into a detailed explanation of oxygen, carbon monoxide, hemoglobin and maybe even Krebs Cycle. That last part is something I vaguely remember from nursing school. It might have something to do with this topic, but don’t quote me on that.

Dad might have had the right idea to humanely terminate Herbie. He might have even been incredibly kind while he carefully described how death in the absence of oxygen occurs. But he was very stupid about one thing.

He forgot to blow out the pilot light on the other side of the stove top.

So, while dad was patiently and compassionately going through his explanation, gas fumes were traveling across the top of the stove to the burning pilot light. When they became concentrated enough…

You know what happens when propane gas fumes hit an open flame, don’t you?

There was a small explosion on the stove top. The kettle flew to the ceiling with a BANG! then clattered across the floor, followed by the shape of a hamster with patches of fur on fire flying through the air. Herbie the Flaming Hamster landed on the floor right in front of dear old dad, and he did what any guy would do when he sees a hamster on fire on his kitchen floor.

He stomped on the hamster.

Well, that reflexive reaction put the flames out. It also killed Herbie, if he hadn’t already died to death from being old, then gassed, kind of exploded, and sort of set on fire.

Okay. This might not be the best example of humane euthanasia for a pet. However, I thought this was one of the funniest true stories I’ve ever heard in my life, and it popped into my mind as I was writing.

I tend to go where my Muse takes me when I write. This is probably the only story I’ve written lately that I’ve given any thought to for more than half an hour, actually giving my Muse an opportunity for input. I should probably be more mindful when I write. A couple of my latest posts are incomplete because I forgot to write half the things I wanted to. Maybe I’ll go back and finish them someday…

I can only speak for myself, but I like the results much better when I listen to my Muse. Or Muses. Seeing how this may turn out to be tragic, Melpomene will be involved. But it’s also kind of funny, so let’s give Thalia a warm round of applause.

* * * *

If you’ve read my previous posts, you know that I have wanted to be a prophet for quite some time. And you also know it’s something I’ve essentially failed to achieve. So I doubt that I could predict the exact circumstances surrounding my death even if I wanted to.

Be that as it may, it doesn’t stop me from speculating about them.

I used to read the obituaries when I was a psych nurse, mostly to see if any of my former patients had died. Especially the ones I didn’t like very much.

There were a lots of people that died from an “unexpected heart attack.” Does anyone ever expect to die from a heart attack on any given day? And if you expected a heart attack, wouldn’t you do something to prevent it?

“Hey! Do you want to go golfing?”

“Okay, but we better go early. I’m planning on having a heart attack around two o’clock today…”

A lots of people died after a “courageous battle with cancer.” You won’t be able to say that about me. Nope. That sonuvabitch pretty much gave up when he found out he had cancer, and just surrendered to his fate. No chemo. No radiation. No surgery. He just wanted morphine.

In the event that the quality of my diminishes greatly before the quantity of it does, I’ve come up with a scenario to effect an humane end for my life. It involves my two darling daughters, Gwendolyn and Abigail, and a dog costume. And it goes something like unto this:

Gwen and Abi will come down here to Mexico, dress me in the dog costume, then take me to the veterinarian’s office.

“Buenos dias, I’m Doctor Ramirez. How can I help you ladies today?”

Abi: “It’s our dad, I mean, dog.”

Gwen: “Yes. Our dog is very old, and he’s in a lot of pain. He needs to be put down.”

Abi: “We thought about doing it ourselves, but I don’t think the stove top is big enough.”

Gwen: “And we don’t have a kettle big enough.”

Abi: “And we might accidentally blow up the house.”

Gwen: “And we really don’t want to do that…”

Abi: “It’s a rental house. The landlord probably wouldn’t appreciate that.”

Dr Ramirez: “I see, I think. How old is your dog?”

Abi: “He’s, like, eighty…”

Gwen: “In dog years.”

Dr Ramirez: “Yes, of course. He is old, then. What sort of symptoms is he having?”

Abi: “Well, he isn’t eating.”

Gwen: “He mostly sleeps a lot. And he’s incontinent. Can dogs be incontinent?”

Abi: “He doesn’t enjoy any of the things he used to do anymore. He doesn’t even watch football.”

Dr Ramirez: “Your dog watches football?”

Abi: “He used to watch it…with our dad…”

Gwen: “Back when he watched football. They did a lot of stuff together.”

Dr Ramirez: “Okay, can I see your dog? This doesn’t look like a dog! This looks like a man in a dog costume!”

Abi and Gwen: “No! He’s really a dog! He’s really old! And sick. He used to look better when he was younger! He really did!”

Abi: “And he spent so much time with our dad, they kind of started looking like each other, maybe.”

Dr Ramirez: “Well, yes. I have seen this before. Dogs and their owners can be very similar sometimes…  What’s your…dog’s…name?

Abi and Gwen: “Mark.”

Dr Ramirez: “This is a very strange name for a dog.”

Abi: “Well, he…has a cleft palate!”

Gwen: “Yes! And that’s the noise he made when he barked!”

Abi: “So that’s what we called him. Back when he used to bark…”

Gwen: “Yeah, he doesn’t even enjoy barking anymore.”

Abi: “He’s really old, and sick.”

Dr Ramirez: “Yes, and he needs to be put down. I get it. What kind of…dog…is he? I’ve been a vet for thirty years, and I have never seen a dog like this before.”

Abi: “Well, he’s Irish, so maybe Irish Setter?”

Dr Ramirez: “That is not an Irish Setter, I can assure you.”

Gwen: “No, he’s more of a mixed breed, right? He isn’t very big, so maybe he’s more of a Cocker Spaniel…”

Abi: “Those weiner dogs are short, too. Maybe he’s part weiner dog…”

Gwen: “Labrador?”

Abi: “Beagle?”

Gwen: “Collie?”

Abi: “Poodle?”

Gwen and Dr Ramirez: “What?!?”

Abi: “Well, everything is part poodle now, right?”

Gwen: “So, he’s an Irishcockerweiner…labra-boodle.”

Abi: “Probably.”

Dr Ramirez: “Okay! Let’s go into the exam room.”

Abi: “Come on, daddy, I mean, doggie. Get up on the table!”

Gwen: “You can do it, dad! I mean, boy. Good boy!”

Abi: “Oh! And he used to be an alcoholic, so you might have to double the meds when you put him down.”

Gwen: “Yes! He might have a greater tolerance! We don’t want to take any chances.”

Dr Ramirez: “Your dog…was an alcoholic?”

Abi: “Well, kind of…”

Gwen: “Um, yeah. He used to drink beer with our dad…”

Abi: “And watch football.”

Gwen: “You know, before he became old.”

Abi: “And sick.”

Gwen: “And stuff.”

Abi: “Okay. Let’s get this over with. Goodbye, da–doggie.”

Gwen: “Goodbye! We love you and we’ll miss you!”

Abi: “You were the best Irishcocker–  Oh, fuck it! You were the best golldarn dog we ever had. Vaya con Dios!

* * * *

And that’s how I’d like to go. As if I were in a skit by Monty Python’s Flying Circus. It would only be fitting.

Harvey

Things are heating up here in the Lakeside area. Believe it or not, May is the hottest month of the year down here. According to everyone we know, it should cool off in June once the rainy season starts.

That’ll be nice. I think it’s rained once since November, and there have been a thousand fires in the last month or so. It’s so smoky/hazy now, there are days when you can’t see the other side of the lake.

* * * *

If you’re a classic movie buff, I don’t need to tell you about Harvey. 1950. Jimmy Stewart as Elwood P. Dodd, an eccentric man whose best friend is a pooka named… what else? Harvey is Elwood’s best friend, and he’s a six foot three and an half inch tall invisible rabbit. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it. It’s a darling movie.

I knew a guy named Harvey. He was maybe five foot four. He had kind of a weather-beaten appearance, and he wasn’t invisible. Harvey was an older guy. He was in his seventies when I first met him. I can’t remember if he was bipolar or schizophrenic. He might have been both. If he was bipolar, he was the quietest manic guy I’ve ever met. And if he was schizophrenic, he kept his psychosis to himself.

Harvey was pretty much an enigma. He was more imp than pooka, and was, at least once, like unto a gremlin that had been fed after midnight. That’s how I remember him. One of our patients at the MVAMC was a guy we called Forrest Gump’s Smarter Brother. Harvey was probably their grandfather.

And I should add this: The female nurses loved him. They thought he was cute.

I probably first met Harvey around the year 2000 or so. He came up the nursing station one day and said, “I want to call my mom. My mom. My mom!”

I took a long look at Harvey and seriously wanted to ask if his mother was still alive, but I asked a different question.

“Do you know her phone number?”

“Yeah. Yeahyeahyeah.”

So I set a phone in front of him, and he dialed a number.

“Hi Mom. It’s me. Harvey.”

I decided to look up Harvey’s contact information in the computer. His mother, Olive, was listed. As near as I could discern from his file, his mother was still alive. She had to be in her nineties.

Harvey had a very nice conversation with someone, and a few hours later, a frail little old lady who smelled of cat urine, walked onto the unit with a man whom, I think, was Harvey’s brother.

They brought in a bag of clothes for Harvey, and his glasses. When Harvey was showered and shaved and wearing his own clothing, he looked like he could’ve been a college professor.

All the female nurses wanted to talk to Olive–they might have seventy year old sons to raise someday, and they wanted all the information they could get about Harvey. I can’t remember what he did for a living anymore–if he ever had a job, or if he was on some sort of disability, or if he had a place to live, or much of anything else about him.

There was a lesson for me to be learned. Just because I didn’t think something could be possible, didn’t mean it wasn’t true.

For example, The Guy Who Knew Milton Berle. His name was Steve. He was a local radio personality/comedian who had relapsed on alcohol. His detox was uneventful, and we were getting him set up with follow up care.

For those of you who don’t know who Uncle Miltie was, he was a comedian, and one of the pioneers of early television. He might have been a pooka, but he stood only five feet ten inches tall, and he wasn’t invisible.

Steve was talking on the phone at the nursing station one Saturday morning, and when he hung up, one of the nurses I was working with asked who he was talking to.

“Milton Berle.” he replied, and all of the nurses started laughing. So Steve went to his room and returned with a photo album that contained dozens of pictures of him with none other than Milton Berle.

Yeah, who’s laughing now, nurses?

The sad fact is most psych patients lie about almost everything, so as a psych nurse, you tend not to believe practically anything they say.

“I’m the hair dresser to the stars.”

“No kidding! If you don’t mind me asking, who are some of your clients?”

“Stevie Nicks. Victoria Principal. Morgan Fairchild.”

“Wow. When was the last time you were in Southern California?”

“I’ve never been there.”

“So, they fly here, to Minnesota, so you can do their hair?”

“Yeah. Pretty much.”

“By the way, I love what you do with Stevie’s hair.”

“Yeah, she’s beautiful. Thanks!”

I met at least two guys who were the hair dresser to the stars, and neither of them had ever been to California. And then there were the guys who were mysteriously drugged at their local watering hole.

“Well, I was at the bar, and then I can’t remember anything. I think they ​slipped me a mickey!”

“Yeah, that’s why I quit going to bars. I got tired of getting drugged, too.”

“See? This guy knows what I’m talking about!”

I always got a kick out of that story. Fictional private detectives from the 1940’s, like Sam Spade and Mike Hammer, were always getting slipped a mickey, but I don’t think it ever consistently happened to anyone in real life. Until Ruffies became popular, and correct me if I’m wrong, but it was mostly girls who were the target of Rohypnol. Even the girls had their tales of misfortune.

“We just discharged you two days ago. Why are you coming back today?”

“Someone on the bus stole all of my meds!”

“Even your Xanax?”

“No, that’s the only thing they didn’t steal!”

“What happened to that?”

“Oh, I accidentally dropped the bottle in the toilet!”

Well, there are a lots of fun filled activities to do on the bus, so it’s easy to see how that could happen…  And toilets clearly can’t be trusted anywhere near controlled substances. But every now and then, you meet someone who actually tells the truth. So, try to remember that.

* * * *

Unfortunately, I don’t have a whole lots of Harvey stories. He was a mostly benign, very quiet guy, who sometimes looked quite professorial.

He did have his Harvey moments. He would randomly bolt down the hallway as fast as could, for no apparent reason. I think that was Harvey. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t me.

He was one of those guys that randomly uttered words of inestimable profundity, most of which I can’t remember, but he did say this:

“Ooh, shiny!”

It became our catchphrase whenever someone went off on a tangent, or for someone with a short attention span who was easily distracted. Like me.

And then there was Harvey’s hallmark admission. And like so many hallmark moments, it happened in the dark of night.

It was probably around 2005. Harvey had been a patient on my unit a couple of times. None of his admissions had been especially remarkable. We stabilized him and sent him home, or somewhere, until the next time.

On this particular night, it just after midnight. Harvey was admitted once more. We got him changed into VA pajamas and settled into his room by the nursing station. There wasn’t much point in trying to do a thorough admission assessment because Harvey wouldn’t answer any questions, so we got all our information from his old charts and our previous knowledge about Harvey.

Most people admitted in the middle of the night just want to go to bed, but that night, for no apparent reason, Harvey decided to demo his room.

I think he started with the baseboard molding, and ripped it all off of the walls. One of the nurses I was working with asked me what we should do. He wasn’t harming anyone, but he was systematically tearing his room apart.

We tried medicating him with Haldol and Ativan. The meds didn’t touch him.

After he removed all of the baseboards, anything that Harvey could disassemble with his bare hands was fair game. We would check on his progress periodically, and remove all the debris from his room from time to time.

When he started to take his bed apart, we rolled the frame out of his room, leaving the mattress and bedding on the floor. By 5:00 AM, the only thing Harvey hadn’t demolished was the light fixture on the wall where the head of his bed had once been.

Around 5:30 AM, we heard a loud crash. Harvey had somehow ripped the monster light fixture out of the wall, leaving behind a few live electrical wires. We were forced to move him across the hall into one of the seclusion rooms. I can’t remember if we locked him in or not, but we probably gave him another cupful of meds, that would have no more effect than an handful of Tic-tacs. Then I entered a whole lots of work orders into the computer so the maintenance guys would start putting the room back together again.

* * * *

It took the VA Corps of Engineers at least five days to repair what Harvey had done in roughly five hours.

I had at least one day off between getting off of Nights and transitioning to Days. I asked the night nurses how Harvey was doing when I returned to work. He hadn’t demolished anything else, but he hadn’t slept since he was admitted.

I have a couple of clear memories of that day. One, I was assigned to do Meds. Two, it was the first time I met Darrell. He was an LPN, and a new hire. He had never worked in a Psych setting before, and my boss asked me to show him the ropes.

“I’ve been doing this job for a long time. I can play this song in any key. I can tell you how you’re supposed to do this job, or I can tell you how I do it. If you do it my way, you’ll work smarter, not harder.”

“I was hoping I’d meet a nurse like you.” Darrell replied. I was going to like working with this guy.

I spent the first couple of hours explaining my unorthodox philosophy to Darrell, and then I decided to show off a little to the new guy. I pulled Haldol and Ativan from the Pyxis, and told Darrell to follow me. And we went hunting for Harvey. He was standing in the hallway by the dayroom.

“Harvey hasn’t slept since he got here. I’m going to send him to the Land of Nod.” I told Darrell.

“Yeah, the nurses tried like hell to put him down for the count yesterday, but nothing touched him.”

“Hey, little buddy. I’ve got a couple meds for you.” I said, and handed Harvey a med cup with a couple pills, which he readily took. Then we escorted Harvey back ​to his room, and laid him down on his bed.

And I started singing, softly.

“Lullaby, and good night. Go to sleep lit-tle Harvey. Close your eyes, count some sheep, a-and go to fucking sleep…”

I didn’t know many of the actual lyrics, so I kind of made them up on the fly. I sang a few more verses of my impromptu lullaby, and when we tiptoed out of Harvey’s room, he was snoring.

“I don’t know what you just did, but I can’t believe what I just saw.”

“Smarter, not harder.”

“Well, I hope you don’t expect me to sing a lullaby to every one of these guys, because there’s no goddamn way I’m doing that!”

“Nope. It’s probably the only lullaby I’ve ever sung.”

“If you don’t mind me asking, how did you know that would work?”

“I didn’t. It was a gut feeling. Always follow your gut. It’s never wrong.”

* * * *

I know some of the stuff I write is hard to believe, but that actually happened. And as weird as it might sound, I had no doubt my intervention would work. I probably didn’t even need the meds.

However, I didn’t have any qualms about giving them to Harvey. I figured if my lullaby worked, the meds would help him stay asleep, and that’s probably what my little buddy needed more than anything.

Almost every field of Nursing is a science, except Psychiatry. At best, it’s an imprecise science, but it’s mostly an art. Only the really good psych nurses understand this.

The essence of psych nursing is guiding people out of the maze of darkness or whatever else they’ve created inside their minds, and teaching them a few new coping strategies, so they can try to avoid having to repeat it again in the future.

It sounds good in theory, but the reality is the majority of the patients we took care of weren’t all that interested in doing anything different.

You can lead a horse to water…

That part of the job was frustrating, but every now and then, someone would come along, and all they wanted was a second chance. And every now and then, you could sing someone a lullaby.

It was those moments that made the whole thing worthwhile.

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.

Radar and The Cosmic Kid

I’ve mentioned the names of some of the guys I shared the Dental barracks with, way back when I was in the Army. It would seem my Muse, or Muses, have decided it’s time to elaborate on at least some of them.

Today’s Muse is probably Urania, but Thalia will certainly be whispering in my other ear.

* * * *

I arrived at Fort Sill in January of 1975. It was my permanent duty station according to the contract I’d signed with my recruiter, Sergeant First Class Robin Hood.

I’m not making that up.

When I arrived at Fort Sill, I had to be processed in because I was new to Army life, and the half a ton of paperwork the Army had already generated on me just wasn’t enough. I was delivered to the Main Processing Station. It was a huge building about the size of a football field with an huge office filled with desks and clerks and stuff. The rest of the building was bunks and latrines and stuff.

It was essentially a way station, like unto the Army’s version of Purgatory. Once all your paperwork was processed, a clerk from the MPS would contact your company, and someone would come pick you up so you could begin your Army career. It usually took two or three days.

I was at the MPS for a week. The clerk handling my paperwork was new to his position, and he forgot to call my company.

I didn’t mind hanging out at the MPS. I didn’t have much of anything to do except get cleaned up and dressed in the morning, and march to the nearest mess hall to eat with the rest of the guys being processed in. The rest of my day was free time, which I spent reading, or writing to Maureen.

I would’ve been happy to do that for the next two and an half years, but someone in the MPS finally asked what the hell I was still doing there and my company was notified that I had been processed, and someone came to pick me up.

That person was PFC Randall J. Paul.

Randy was from Los Angeles, CA. If there’s such a thing as a Valley Guy, Randy would’ve been one. Totally, man. He was a tall, pudgy guy with a huge honker of a nose. He looked like an older kid that had never lost his baby fat. Or a really tall cartoon penguin…

“Hey, are you PFC Rowen?” he asked. I was lounging on my bunk, reading. I looked up at him and nodded. “Well, c’mon, let’s go! I’m here to take you to Dental Headquarters. My name’s Randy. You can be my roommate.

“Well, okay, we won’t be roommate roommates, but we’ll be kinda roommates. There’s a shared bathroom between our rooms at the barracks. You’ll see what I mean when we get there. The room next to mine is empty, so you can bunk there.

“I’m so fuckin’ glad you’re here, man! Now you can take over my job and I can become a dental lab technician! I’ve been waiting to do that for a year…”

* * * *

I’m pretty sure Randy talked nonstop for the next six hours, like he was a manic bipolar trying to tell me his life story and everything I’d need to know about the Army without taking a breath in between. Randy’s monologue was punctuated with a whole lots of “…you’ll see what I mean–You’ll figure it out–It’ll all fall into place.” And, “Fuck the Army!!”

Well, it’s not like he was trying to do that. That’s exactly what he did. And years later, when I was a psych nurse, I’d discover Randy really was bipolar…

Our first stop was Dental Headquarters, where I would learn I wouldn’t be a dental assistant, I would become the new supply driver, and Randy would train me to replace him. James Toney, the clerk who would possibly save my ass with his testimony during my court-martial, couldn’t stop shaking my hand.

“Thank God you’re here.” he kept saying.

That first day was a blur to me. We stopped off at the barracks to drop off my gear, and Randy showed me my room, and I got to see what he meant when he said we’d be kinda roommates.

I accompanied Randy as he picked supplies up at the warehouse, linens from the laundry, and he introduced me to everyone at the four dental clinics on base. And when the work day ended, he introduced me to everyone in the barracks. They actually threw a little impromptu Welcome to the Barracks party for me in the dayroom.

Don One and Don Two. Mike. There were two Mikes, but Mike Two was called The Horne. If you fuck with the bull, you get The Horne. Tommy. Johnny. Virg. Brother Al. Lightning Bob. Jesse. Roger. And, Randy.

We drank beer and I tried to remember everyone’s names. They told me where they were from, and stuff. I told them where I was from, and stuff. And Randy rambled on philosophically about anything and everything.

“So, what do you think about your new kinda roommate?” The Horne asked me, when Randy finally did stop talking long enough to take a breath.

“Yeah, well, I don’t know. He’s too…cosmic…for me.”

A stunned silence filled the room, and you could actually see it, the lightbulbs coming on over their heads.

“Yeah, cosmic!” Roger said softly, followed by an equally soft chuckle.

“W-w-wow!” Don One said. “W-w-we’ve been trying to figure him out for a year, and you fuckin’ nail it in five minutes!”

“It’s like he has radar or something.” Don Two said.

“He fuckin’ looks like Radar!” Johnny added.

So two nicknames were born that day. Randy and I became Radar and the Cosmic Kid.

* * * *

What can I say? Even a blind squirrel finds an acorn every now and then. You might think I’m overly critical of myself, and I probably am. I tend to see clearly now the things I couldn’t see at all back then, but I’ve skipped ahead, and I know how this chapter turned out.

And the things I was able to see, well, they were so obvious that probably anyone could’ve seen them.

My early adult life appears to be the perfect example of what can happen if you don’t have a plan. How I ended up faring as well as I did is probably one of the great mysteries of the modern world, but only if you don’t believe in God.

What I see looking back is a really smart guy who was seemingly addicted to doing stupid stuff. Add in loss, heartbreak, rue and regret. Gently mix in drug and alcohol abuse. Rinse. Repeat.

That’s the part that kind of chaps my ass now. I really wish I had chosen to do something differently sooner.

* * * *

So, I moved into the barracks and essentially disappeared for about a month while I painted and decorated my room. I hated the pale puke green color the interior of the barracks had been painted back in World War II. I picked up some cheap ass carpeting and folded it to fit the two parts of my room.

Then I went for a cross country night march in the rain and broke my ankle. Randy and I started spending a fair amount of time with each other while my ankle healed, and we talked a lots.

“Wow. You might have a lotta book smarts, but you really don’t know much about life, do you.” was the Cosmic Kid’s assessment of me. I couldn’t really argue much with that.

We hung out with Roger and I unknowingly became his student.

Maureen and I broke up, and my free fall into Hell began. I started smoking pot, and because it’s a gateway drug, the Doorway to Oblivion opened, and I walked through.

Hashish. Amphetamines. PCP. LSD. Cocaine. Psilocybin mushrooms. Codeine. Oxycodone. Peyote. Mescaline. Heroin.  I eventually added all of them to my resume.

I stopped learning things out of books.

* * * *

Some of my cousins did a family history, tracing back our ancestry to the 1700’s. I discovered that I come from a long line of suicidal alcoholics. The successful people in my family tree were the ones who kept drinking.

So, the question is, would I have wandered down the path I chose even if Maureen and I had stayed together? The answer is yes. I wasn’t a leader back then, I was a follower. And seeing how all the cool kids in the barracks were doing drugs, and I wanted to be cool, there’s no doubt in my mind that I would have ended up where I did.

The only other question is, would I have embraced the drug culture as fully as I did if I hadn’t gone completely rudderless in the prevailing currents of the time?

I don’t know the answer to that question. Maybe. Probably.

Yeah. That’s probably it.

* * * *

As exhausting as being around Randy could be, given his manic energy and cosmic consciousness, we ended up becoming good friends. We played Frisbee. We became storm chasers during tornado season. We played pool and fooseball in the dayroom. I helped Randy paint his room.

We drank and smoked and snorted and popped pills while we did all of the above.

Randy bought me a set of Mickey Mouse ears when he went home on vacation, and I wore them one day when I made my deliveries.

I went to dinner with Roger one evening and became a superstar the next day. I was found innocent of all charges when I was court-martialed, and became an even more legendary superstar.

“You have done well, my son.” Randy said. “Maybe you should go back to reading books…”

* * * *

“Dope will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no dope.” – Freewheelin’ Franklin

* * * *

The life of a marijuana aficionado revolves around weed. When it’s abundant, life is good. When it isn’t, there are no words to describe the indescribable hell that life becomes.

Back then, pot wasn’t legal anywhere, and you had to know a guy or twenty to make sure you could almost always get it. Thanks to Roger, I knew a lots of guys, and after he left, I became the guy everyone came to see when they couldn’t get what they needed.

I never became a dealer, but I became a great middle man.

There came a time when no one had any pot, and there was a great drought of weed, and a terrible famine lay all upon the land, and all the people languished.

“Man, you gotta do something!” Randy said to me. “I’m fucking dying here!”

“Let me make some calls.”

From Roger, I knew I had to be smarter than the cops, and you never knew who might be listening in on your conversations. So I invented a code word for weed with the guys I dealt with most. I would say I was looking for Bob, and had had they seen him lately?

It was perfect.

But the cupboard was bare at the home of every dealer I knew, and none of them had seen Bob in awhile. One of them said he didn’t know who Bob was anymore, and even I started panicking.

I decided to call a guy I had met once. I tended not to deal with guys I didn’t know very well, but desperate times require desperate actions.

This guy wasn’t in on my code.

“Bob? Who the fuck is Bob?”

“You know, weed.” I whispered into the phone.

“Oh! That Bob! I’ve got one ounce. Forty bucks. You get here first, you get it” Click.

I have no idea what an ounce of pot sells for now, but back then the going rate was twenty bucks, so what this guy was asking was ridiculous.

“I’ll split it with you.” Randy said, handing me a twenty.

I had a little trouble finding the guy’s place. I had only been there once, but he still had the bag when I got there. He was a Mexican guy named Felix or something. There was only one problem. The weed he wanted to sell me didn’t look like any bag of weed I’d ever seen before. It looked like dried beans sprouts or something. And the baggie wasn’t half full, it was totally full, and was as fat as a proverbial singing lady.

“Is this even weed?” I asked.

“If that shit doesn’t knock you on your ass, man, I’ll give you your fuckin’ money back.”

Drugs never come with a money back guarantee, so I gave the guy forty bucks and drove back to the barracks.

“What the fuck is this shit? This isn’t even dope! What is that? Bean sprouts?!? Give me my money back! Let’s go back to that beaner’s house and beat the shit out of him!!!”

“I have a better idea. Why don’t we try it first.”

“Well, it doesn’t taste bad…” Randy said as we smoked a bowl. “Actually, that tastes pretty good!” he decided. “Holy shit! What is this stuff? My head feels like it just floated away…” Randy said, and his voice sounded like it was floating away with his head. “Jesus, man! I think you better take me to the Emergency Room…”

I turned to look at Randy. He was pale as a winter morning, and drenched with enough sweat that he looked like he’d been standing outside during a monsoon. Swarms of beads of perspiration were literally running down his face in waves.

“I’m serious, Mark. I think I’m going to die. You gotta do something, man.”

“Where would you like to be buried?” I asked, then started laughing as if that was the funniest line ever spoken.

“Goddamn! That’s cold, man! I can’t believe you’re gonna just sit there and let me die! You’ve become a real bastard, man!”

“Hey, Cosmo, take a couple of deep breaths and get a grip. I smoked the same stuff you did, and I’m not dying. Suppose I take you to the ER. What am I gonna tell them? Well, doc, we were just sitting around the barracks, and we weren’t smoking pot or anything, when all of a sudden my buddy decided he was fuckin’ dying? I’m not taking you to the ER, try taking a cold shower or something. Maybe that’ll help.”

And, it did. Fifteen minutes later Randy returned, and he no longer looked like the world’s worst weather system.

“What’s that?” Randy asked, as I handed him a twenty dollar bill.

“You said you wanted your money back.”

“I changed my mind. Give me my half of the bean sprouts, bitch.”

I have no idea what the fuck was in that bag, but I know it wasn’t pot. And even if it was bag of baby pot plants, those suckers had to have been laced with something, but again, I have no idea what.

Whatever it was we smoked, it was enough to get to get us through the drought, and there was much rejoicing.

* * * *

Life can be unpredictable when you’re in the military, but one thing that you can count on is the people you’re stationed with are only temporary. The Old Timers started leaving. Roger left, then Don One, and Don Two, and Mike. The Horne, Virg and Lightning Bob were gone. The FNG’s came in to replace them.

Tommy, who had never been part of our group–he’d hung out with the Dons and Mike–started hanging out with me and Randy.

“I at least know what to expect from you two. Nothing but trouble. But it’s better than getting to know someone that just got here.”

Tommy was a good old boy from Texas, and that was his given name. Not Thomas or Tom. He was a big man, and he didn’t look anything like a Tommy.

Tommy and Randy actually became real good friends, I wasn’t at the barracks a whole lots by that time in my life. I had become a legendary party animal, and I had rounds to make in my community.

Randy was next up to depart, so Tommy decided we should take him out for dinner, seeing how we were the only three Old Timers left. We decided to take Randy to a place somewhere out in the middle of nowhere. And seeing how it was the last time we’d ever be together, Randy decided to pull a nothing but trouble prank on Tommy Boy.

I know it wasn’t in Lawton, it was an out of the way place that you had to know about to find, but just where it was I have no idea. It was a big place, one of those family style country restaurants that serve Mom’s Home Cooking kind of meals.

The huge restaurant was packed. The tables were filled with families, Mom and Dad, a lots of bunches of kids of every age. Gramps and Granny were sporadically dotted around the tables in the restaurant.

We had drinks. We had appetizers. We had a down home meal with all the fixin’s, and dessert, then Randy unleashed his surprise attack.

For those of you who didn’t grow up in the 70’s when drugs were cool and paraphernalia was even cooler, you could buy strawberry flavored rolling papers that were an electric pink color.

The only thing anyone ever smoked in a paper that color was pot, but Randy rolled a tobacco cigarette in an electric pink paper, a good old big one, and put it in his pocket.

“Man, that was a damn fine meal. Good food, good friends, cold beer, man, I can’t think of anything else that I need right now. Actually, there is one thing. The only thing that could make this better is a joint. Oh! I have one right here in my pocket, and I’m going to fire this bad boy up!”

He reached into his shirt pocket, and pulled out the electric pink cigarette. You could smoke cigarettes in restaurants back then. Tommy’s eyes just about jumped out of his skull.

“Randy! Jesus! What the fuck are doing, man!” Tommy whispered furiously at Randy. “What are trying to do, get us arrested?!?” as Randy put the monster pink cigarette to his lips. “Randy! Have you lost your fucking mind!! If you light that–”

And Randy lit it.

I wish you could have been there to see it, the range of emotions that raced across Tommy’s face as Randy lit that cigarette. Surprise. Shock. Stunned shock. Fear. Anger, rage and then relief, followed by,

“Oh, you sonuvabitch! I’m gonna fuckin’ kill you for that. Did you know about this, Radar? I’m gonna fuckin’ kill you, too!”

* * * *

Randy left in early October of 1976. Only Tommy and I, and Raoul remained of the original barracks bums.

We sent Randy off in the evening, he got off to a late start for a guy that was getting out of the fucking Army! But then, he wasn’t the most organized guy I’ve ever known.

“I’m gonna miss that cosmic motherfucker.” Tommy said.

* * * *

I wouldn’t have to. Randy and I stayed in contact for years. He called me all the time when I was still in the Army. He even came to visit me once, driving from California in an old pick up truck. He couldn’t believe Raoul and I were best friends.

He’d call me at work when I was a psych nurse at the MVAMC. He called me at home. My lovely supermodel wife would shake her head and leave the room when he called. Randy moved to Wichita, KS, got married, had a daughter.

He called me at home early one morning after I gotten off of a stretch of nights. This was probably in the mid-ninties. He said he was depressed. He had a loaded gun, and he was going to kill himself.

“Where’s your family?”

His daughter was in school. His wife was at work, but she’d be home at noon. I kept him on the phone for four hours until his wife came home and convinced him to go to the VA for help. He was assessed, and sent home.

I called to see how he was doing the next day.

“Oh, they told me I was bipolar or some bullshit like that, and they wanted me to start taking a bunch of fuckin’ meds, man. I told them to go fuck themselves, and they told me to go home.”

* * * *

He called several months later at work again to tell me he had six months to live. He had cancer. It was a Friday in April. I told my horrible boss what my Army buddy had just told me on the phone, and  I was driving to Wichita as soon as my shift ended, but I’d probably be at work on Monday.

“Go! Let me know if you need anything!”

Maybe she wasn’t all horrible…

,* * * *

Lea and I arrived in Wichita at 4:00 AM. We checked into a no-tell motel, got a couple hours of sleep, took a shower, then went to see my dying buddy. His wife answered the door.

“Hi. I’m Mark. I’m Randy’s Army buddy–”

“Mark!! Oh my God! I’m so glad to finally meet you! I’ve heard so much about you! I feel like I’ve known you all my life!” she said, giving me a bone crushing hug. She was a big woman. “What’re y’all doing in Wichita?” She saw my wife, so she stepped outside to hug her, too.

“I’m so sorry,” Lea said. “This must be so terrible for you. Randy called yesterday and told Mark he had six months to live. We jumped in the car and drove all night, but we’re here!”

“What? Six months?? There’s nothing wrong with Randy! He’s not going to die!”

“The hell he isn’t!” my wife said. “I’m going to fucking kill him myself!”

“He doesn’t have cancer?”

“Oh God no! The doctor told him he needed to quit smoking, or he’d die from cancer…  I can’t tell you how glad I am to see you. Thank God you’re here. Thank God!”

I explained to Lea that Randy was bipolar, and she decided not to kill Randy. She finally calmed down, but I don’t think she’s ever forgiven Randy for that.

We spent the day with Randy and his family. As evening fell, Randy and I went for a walk so I could explain Bipolar Disorder to my friend, and the treatments available. Randy actually listened to me without interrupting every five seconds, and he appeared to be thinking about what I’d said.

“Do you have any questions?” I asked. We were sitting on a picnic table in a park near his house.

“Yeah. What was it like fucking Raoul’s wife? Man, she was hot! Jesus, Rowen, you should see your face! You look just like Tommy did when I lit up that fake joint in the restaurant!” Randy said, laughing as if he’d just uttered the funniest line ever spoken.

I have no doubt that my face perfectly mimicked Tommy’s face that night. And for a moment, I thought I might kill Randy myself.

My affair with Nadina had happened just before Randy left. I know I didn’t tell him I was tapping Nadina while her husband was out of town. Did I?

“How did you know?” I decided to ask.

“Because you went over to her house every day after work that week Raoul was at Fort Sam, and you didn’t come back to the barracks until the sun was coming up! What else could you have been doing? Playing cards? You should have seen yourself, man, you looked like you were going to die, man! And every day you looked worse! By the end of the week, you could barely walk!”

“Who else knew?” I asked, when I could finally speak.

“Only me. I was kinda your roommate, remember? I knew when you were home and when you weren’t. I didn’t tell anyone, I promise! Not even The Horne, or Tommy. And I sure as hell didn’t tell Raoul!”

I was able to breathe again, and that was good, but I couldn’t stop shaking. I stared at the ground for the longest time, unable to even think.

“Hey, are you okay? Jesus, maybe I should take you to the ER. Or maybe you should take a cold shower…”

Yeah, maybe…

I eventually looked up, and found that I could smile.

“I gotta tell you something, you’ve got the biggest balls of anyone I’ve ever known. And the most guts. Remember when we met? You were that naive kid from Montana who didn’t know the difference between pot and acid.

“You were the FNG who walked halfway across Fort Sill on a broken ankle, man! We went tornado chasing in the dark because you said you’d never seen one in person! We goddamn near died at least twice, but you never let a little thing like almost dying to death stop you!

“You were a heartbroken trainwreck that tried to kill himself and couldn’t smile for a month, and next thing anyone knows, you’re dating strippers, smoking weed, dropping acid, snorting drugs and popping pills like candy, and getting drunker than everyone else in the barracks, combined!

“You were the ultimate party animal, man! No one could keep up with you! You beat the fucking Army at its own fucking game! You took those fuckin’ fucks in Headquarters on, and you won! Remember that!

“You didn’t have a clue who you were, but you became the leader of the barracks. You fucked with The Horne, and you put that fuckin’ loudmouth in his place! Man, I still can’t believe you did that!

“And to top it off, you make love to the most beautiful woman on the planet, and then become best friends with the guy whose marriage you destroyed, and you didn’t even blink! If that doesn’t take balls, I don’t know what does!

“And look at you now, all straightened out, registered nurse, married to a fucking supermodel! You aren’t human, man. You have to be some kind of a god!”

“Oh, I’m not all that straight.” I finally replied. That was a lots for me to take in. “I still drink, and smoke pot. I’m human, man. Just like you. Just like everybody else. I don’t see myself in the same light you do. It seems pretty dark to me now, looking back. I have no idea how I survived.”

“Dude, no one else does either! I’ll tell you something, I never knew if you’d be dead or alive when the morning came. None of us did! We were going to have a pool on how long you were going to live, but Roger wouldn’t let us.”

“I miss him. I loved that guy.”

“We all did, he was the best. But you became even better than him.”

* * * *

I never saw Randy again. We talked on the phone frequently. His daughter grew up and went to college. His wife left him, she told him she couldn’t take it anymore and had to get off the roller coaster.

After that, I don’t know…

A friend of mine who reads my posts once commented that I have lived a crazy life. Well, I did hang out with a lots of crazy people.

If you ever want to know what’s happening on a psych unit, ask a patient. Randy was never one of my patients, but he had a psychiatric disorder or two. He never missed a trick, and he never forgot anything. Randy’s assessment of me was spot on.

I’ve been blessed with a lots of really tremendous friends, even when I probably didn’t deserve the kind of friendship they offered.

Thank you Randy, for your honesty and candor, and your cosmic viewpoint. I credit Roger the most for helping me become the person I’ve become. His humility and common sense were qualities I’ve tried to incorporate into the man that I am.

Okay, I haven’t done so good with the humility part…

But there’s a part of Randy in me, too. That’s the part that looks at almost everything from a different point of view. The part that looks for other solutions than the accepted ones. The part that seeks the Truth. The part that keeps searching in the dark, even if it’s dangerous.

Hey, you can’t let a little thing like the threat of death stop you. You only live once, and we all have to die from something.

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…

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.

The Kingdom of Heaven

It would appear God has my Muse by the short hairs. Maybe that means something. That would be nice. It’s not the most comfortable position for my Muse to be in, for sure. But, as in all things, it could be far worse, she could have a bad back…  On the bright side, once I get this out of my system, I’ll be freed to write about other things, unless God starts speaking to me.

Now that I think about that prospect, I’m not sure if I’m excited or terrified. I guess it would depend on what He has to say.

* * * *

Back when I was a psych nurse, I would occasionally engage my co-workers in religious discussions. As I said, I spent a lots of time thinking about the subject, and it was probably safer than talking about their tits.

Except with my ex-work wife, former Wonder Twin, Tara Grant Molden. She could talk about either subject with the same amount of ease. What a gal!

But one of my colleagues said something like unto this one day, “I go to church, but it’s a bunch of Biblical stuff, and who can understand that?” I know, right! And she was smart! Nice tits too, by the way. And one of the most confusing Biblical things was the Kingdom of Heaven.

When Jesus started his ministry, he did so by announcing, “The Kingdom of Heaven is upon you.” That’s what the Good News was. I guess it’s still the Good News.

Okay, class. What do you need to have a kingdom?

A king!

Yes. And what else?

A queen?

Maybe. What else?

A castle, with a throne?

Sure, why not. What else?

Um, subjects?

And that’s pretty much it. A kingdom is a group of people united under, and ruled by, a king. And that, was the purpose of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus was sent by God to create a divine government.

Somehow, that message has been diluted down over the years, and I think we can thank the Romans for that. The early Christians certainly had to be careful not to step on the toes of the Romans, or Rome would have stomped back, with both feet.

The Roman emperors were, well, jealous of anyone trying to usurp their status and power. Some of them were actually paranoid about it. The last thing the emperor wanted was a rival to his throne, even if that rival was a dead guy who became a god.

So, Jesus the King, was replaced by Jesus the Savior, and only a few-ish early Christians became martyrs, instead of all of them. And even though Christianity no longer has to worry about getting exterminated the Roman Empire, that message persists to this day. Jesus is mostly viewed as a savior first, and a king second, if at all.

But let’s review God’s purpose–what does God want? As near as I’ve been able to tell, what God wants, He tends to get.

“I have sworn by my own name; I have spoken the truth, and I will never go back on my word: Every knee will bend to me, and every tongue will confess allegiance to me.”

That is the Book of Isaiah. This phrase is repeated and reaffirmed in the New Testament in Romans 14: 11. It is repeated again in Philippians, Chapter 2. 9, but this time, the focus is on Jesus. “Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Think of any novel or movie that has a king in it. Whenever any of his subjects are brought before the king, they drop to one knee in respect/allegiance and say, “My Lord.”  

Let’s go back to the vision of John in the Book of Revelation. Jesus Christ is about to return. He rides a white horse. On his head are many crowns. On his robe is written King of all kings and Lord of all Lords. It doesn’t say Savior of all saviors or Redeemer of all redeemers or Deliverer of all deliverers.

King of all kings. Lord of all lords.

When he returns, he comes to reclaim his kingdom.

This, I think, is the message the Holy Spirit will deliver. This is why you must listen to him. The King is coming. Everyone knee shall bow, every tongue proclaim; Jesus Christ is my sovereign lord.

There’s a word for failure to obey a king. It’s called treason. And treason is punishable by death.

* * * *

Most of the pastors I knew back in Arizona loved to talk about God, and Jesus, and faith, and stuff. After all, it was their job. But there was one topic none of them were wild about discussing, and that was the End of Times.

The end of the world has been predicted countless times down through the centuries, and there’s one thing that all of the predictions have in common.

They’ve all been wrong.

So, my questions to the pastors about the end were mostly deflected or ignored, and that was probably a pretty smart thing for them to do. I sent several pastors copies of my theory about the Holy Spirit and his role at the End of Times. The most complementary thing I heard back from them was my ideas appeared to have a strong Biblical and Scriptural foundation, but none of them had ever seen or heard anything like my idea before.

“Yes, I know. I’ve looked. I can’t find anything like it either.” was my response. And because it was something not seen or heard before, it was impossible for them to accept it as something that could be true.

I don’t choose to feel disappointed in them. I don’t know if my idea is correct. If I knew I was right about this, my reaction would probably be different.

So, I pray, and I think, and pray some more. And all I hear is a ringing noise in my left ear. Not exactly a ringing endorsement from God in my mind. And even if God did speak to me, that would hardly make my idea more acceptable to anyone else, even a pastor. Actually, especially a pastor.

They think they know more God than anyone.

* * * *

Jesus said, “Work hard to enter the narrow door to God’s Kingdom, for many will try to enter but will fail.”

So, how does one get into the Kingdom of Heaven? How else? You have to work for it. Jesus explained it like this: “Suppose you went to a friend’s house at midnight, wanting to borrow three loaves of bread. You say to him,  ‘A friend of mine has just arrived for a visit, and I have nothing for him to eat.’

“And suppose he calls out from his bedroom, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is locked for the night, and my family and I are all in bed. I can’t help you.’

“But I tell you this—though he won’t do it for friendship’s sake, if you keep knocking long enough, he will get up and give you whatever you need because of your shameless persistence. 

“And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.”

If I am nothing else, I am persistent. I’m not sure where it’s gotten me…

The most obvious question is, What am I supposed to ask for? Ask to be shown the Way. What am I supposed to seek? Seek the Truth. Well, why do I have to look? Because the Way and the Truth are hidden.

Jesus explained it this way: “O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, thank you for hiding these things from those who think themselves wise and clever, and for revealing them to the childlike. Yes, Father, it pleased you to do it this way.”

I’m not sure about the childlike part, but I have been described as ladylike. Maybe that will suffice.

“For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open.”

“Blessed are the eyes that see what you have seen. I tell you, many prophets and kings longed to see what you see, but they didn’t see it. And they longed to hear what you hear, but they didn’t hear it.”

And what did they hear? They heard his voice.

“I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep. I have other sheep, too, that are not in this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They will listen to my voice, and there will be one flock with one shepherd.”

The most beautiful illustration of this comes from the Gospel of John, of course.

Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.

They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”

“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.

He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”

Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”

Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

And that was the precise moment she realized who he was. It was the way he said her name. I love that story.

* * * *

Jesus knows his sheep, and his sheep know him. And sometime prior to the end, Jesus will send the Holy Spirit to gather the sheep that can hear his call. This idea came to me back in 2010. I was convinced at the time that the Holy Spirit would appear any minute! And, then he didn’t.

See? Not a prophet.

Nonetheless, I’m convinced he’ll show up someday. I hope I’ll be around to see it. And when he comes, he will gather together all of the sheep that hear the voice of the Good Shepherd, and they will come to him when he calls. And those people will be the first subjects in the Kingdom of Heaven.

So, how does one get into the Kingdom of Heaven? For that, I think you have to be able to hear the invitation.

Jesus used the parable of the Great Feast to explain: “The Kingdom of Heaven can be illustrated by the story of a king who prepared a great wedding feast for his son. When the banquet was ready, he sent his servants to notify those who were invited.

“But they all refused to come. So he sent other servants to tell them, ‘The feast has been prepared. The bulls and fattened cattle have been killed, and everything is ready. Come to the banquet!’ But the guests he had invited ignored them and went their own way, one to his farm, another to his business.”

When the Holy Spirit comes, I think he will invite those with ears to hear to the mother of all wedding feasts—the marriage of Jesus Christ to his Church. You may be invited to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Clearly, you can choose not to attend. But not only will you be invited to the great feast that has been so long in preparing, you will have a seat of honor at the groom’s table.

You will be seated right next to the King. From where he sits, Jesus Christ can lean over, take you by the hand, look you in the eye and say, “Thank you for coming. It means a lot to me that you are here.”

Pretty cool, huh?

* * * *

Jesus warned us repeatedly, “I will come as unexpectedly as a thief.” I’ve talked to many people about this passage, including several pastors. Most people assume Jesus means he will come when we least expect it. That is true, but Jesus almost always has multiple meanings whenever he speaks. So let’s break this down.

What does a thief do?

Well, thieves steal stuff, is that it?

If everything on earth already belongs to God, why would he need to steal his own possessions? What do we own, what quality do we possess that God does not already have in abundance? Jesus probably didn’t mean this.

So, what does a thief look like?

Who knows? Don’t they wear a disguise?

Now you’re on to something.

Keep your eyes, and your mind, open. Listen. And try to be ready.

Another Brief Treatise on God

I’m trying to figure out what to write about today. I’ve had a few ideas floating around, but none of them have crystallized into much of anything.

I think God may win. Big surprise there, right?

One of the ideas I heard about God when I decided I needed to get to know more about Him was that God was in the Creation Business. And that might have been true. Once.

It’s called the Big Bang, not the Big Bangs.

And I don’t know if God actually had anything to do with the Big Bang, or if He just happened to be in the neighborhood when all the fireworks went off and He decided to take credit for it. After all, He does call Himself the Creator.

I see God working in the Recycling Business. He invented the most successful energy recycling program, ever. None of us would be here now if God hadn’t started recycling the energy of dying stars roughly fourteen billion years ago.

You talk about a long term plan…

The fact that God works s-l-o-w-l-y tells me that God is not a proponent of the Theory of Evolution. He’s a proponent of the Law of Evolution. And if it’s a Law, there’s a mathematical formula for it.

Take, for example, humans. If it weren’t for a few tweaks in our DNA profile, we’d all be a bunch of talking bananas.

If God did in fact set off the Big Bang, He is the greatest mathematician, ever. And if that is true, then mathematics is the true language of God. You were right, Frank Herbert!

One of my patients at Del E Webb Medical Center was a semi-famous math genius guy who had helped figure out some vague formula about something or other. I looked him up on the Interweb. He really was semi-famous.

One of the things he told me was the word mathematics was a Greek word that meant knowable things. I’ve never been very good at math. I was actually kicked out of one my math classes in high school.

“Yeah. I would’ve chosen a different word for it.” was my response.

It would appear that mathematics, not love, is what really makes the world go round. And God probably didn’t even need a slide ruler to figure that out.

* * * *

Philosophers and theologians and whole lots of really smart people have spent an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out just who and what God is. One of the worship leaders at the church I used to attend was fond of saying that God was incomprehensible. And that is simply unacceptable to me.

Hey, if math is knowable…

I’ll tell you what’s incomprehensible about God. The Trinity. No one can understand it, though there have been plenty of attempts to try to explain it. The whole Holy Trinity thing is a human construct. Some guy named Tertullian came up with the idea, way back in the 3rd Century. Eighteen centuries later, it doesn’t make anymore sense now than it did then.

One goofy explanation I read went something like this: I am a man. But I am a father, and an uncle and a brother. So in that sense, I can be viewed as a trinity of some sort.

However, all of those aspects of me clearly inhabit the same body, but in God’s Trinity–Father, Son and Holy Spirit– are three very distinct and separate entities. Jesus said he was sent by the Father. He never claimed to be the Father. Nor did he claim to be the Holy Spirit. He said he would send the Holy Spirit.

I’ll have more to say about that, but not today. Today, I would like to take a moment to try to blow this whole Trinity thing up, once and for all.

When questioned about the Last Day, Jesus said this: “However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows.”

If Jesus and the Father were truly one, they would both know the same things.

Boom! Mic drop.

The flip side of this is if Jesus and the Father are one, and they both know the same things, then Jesus lied when he said he didn’t know the day or the hour that the world would end.

That’s how I see that.

There is another telling thing about God. “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.”

God clearly isn’t much impressed with us. That’s like when someone breaks up you, and they say, It’s not you, it’s me.

It’s you. It is all you.

This is the statement that made me think God just might be a little crazy. After all, who do you know that doesn’t think like you do? Besides your husband. Or your wife. Or your parents. Or your kids.

Crazy people, right?

I mean, we’re both totally sane, right?

You know what? Forget that.

* * * *

Moving right along.

The first recorded name of God in the Bible is Elohim. It’s an Hebrew word, which makes a lots of sense because they were God’s Chosen People. But Elohim is a plural, and a plural is more than one, no matter which language you speak.

The Trinity isn’t mentioned anywhere in the Bible. You can look it up if you like. But the Seven Spirits of God are mentioned in a couple of places in the Bible, and I think that’s beyond significant. Seven is God’s perfect number. What if God isn’t one, or even three, distinct personalities, but seven?

That’s just something for you to think about. Like almost everything about God, I can’t offer much proof of anything about Him. And you should remember that I don’t claim to be a prophet. That, is something I can prove.

* * * *

When Lea and I moved to Arizona, we encountered more than a few obstacles in our path, and we struggled to find our way. My lovely supermodel wife suggested we start going to church. At the time, if she had suggested we start robbing banks, I probably would’ve agreed with her. So going to church? Yeah, I could do that. If nothing else, it’s a whole lots easier than robbing a bank.

As a result of Lea’s decision, I got to know a few of our pastors, and that gave me an opportunity to bounce some of my questions about God off of these knowledgeable men of God.

Can God ever be surprised?

No. That was their response. Because God is all-knowing. But, He can be disappointed.

No, He can’t. That was my response. And here’s why.

The pastors I talked to were quick to point out the human tendency to, for lack of a better term, fuck things up. And when we choose to do stuff like that, we disappoint God every time. And no one really wants to disappoint God, do they?

Okay. Suppose you have a roommate. And your roommate has been stealing money from you, and you already know this. So you decide to test your roommate, and you leave $100 on the kitchen counter, right out there in plain view. And then you go to work. Or the gym. Or something.

You know that money is going to be gone when you get back, and when you return, the $100 is gone. And you think, Oh, I’m so disappointed!

Disappointment, at its most fundamental level is an emotional response. And that makes it a choice.

In the situation above, you have prior knowledge of the end result, so you cannot be surprised that your money disappeared, nor can you be disappointed. The outcome can’t make you disappointed.

It makes you a goddamn idiotface moronhead for thinking you could trust a thief, but you have to choose to be disappointed.

I rather doubt that God makes many decisions based on emotions. If He did, we humans, all of us, would’ve been killed to death by God a long, long time ago.

If God truly is All-knowing, the last thing He could ever say is, I didn’t see that coming! Nothing could ever surprise him. Nothing could really be all that disappointing to Him. After all, He already knew that Han Solo was going to die before Episode VII: The Force Awakens was even made.

There’s a part of me that hopes God isn’t All-knowing. I would think that that kind of knowledge would make life very boring.

And boring, well, there’s nothing worse than a totally boring life.

This Song Has No Title

It’s the first day of the new year. Our party went off without a hitch, thanks to the planning of my two wives, and the goodies our guests brought to the party.

I can’t remember the last time I stayed up until midnight to ring in the new year, but I was awake at midnight last night, thanks to the pyrotechnic barrage provided by the Mexican locals.

I’m getting used to the local customs. I barely notice the explosions most of the time now, and I was able to fall back asleep, even though the fireworks continued throughout the night.

¡Feliz año nuevo!

* * * *

Writing is a strange preoccupation. I can’t speak for any other writers, but I have to have a certain amount of inspiration in order to write successfully. Thankfully, not everything I do in life requires inspiration.

“Honey! The toilet is overflowing!!”

There’s no waiting for inspiration to strike in that situation. And if you have to wait to be inspired to act in that case, I don’t think there’s much help for you.

I’ve started writing three or four posts in last couple days, and I’ve scrapped them all. The thing I’ve been inspired to write about is pretty much the last thing I’d choose, but I’m going to be stuck here forever unless I heed the urging of my Muse. So let’s do this.

Several of my posts have been born out of a simple statement I made in a previous post, and I made one of those several days ago when I wrote about spending the summer months at my grandparents’ farm.

I casually mentioned my pedophile uncle.

One of the people that consistently reads my blog is my high school sweetheart, Maureen. She commented that this was something she didn’t know about me, and there’s a reason for that. I’m pretty sure I never told her that I had been sexually abused as a child.

It’s not something I’m proud of, and I can probably count the number of people I’ve talked to it about on one hand, if I don’t count my former patients. I don’t think I even talked about it in group when I was in treatment at the St Cloud VA. I wrote about it for my Fifth Step, and quickly covered that ground when I was talking to my counselor, then tried to bury it again.

It’s unfortunate I didn’t have the courage to face my demons when I was young. It would’ve saved me a whole lots of pain, misery and money in the long run because my main coping skill was drinking myself into a coma.

Since I decided to quit drinking, it’s been somewhat easier for me discuss, though I doubt I’ll ever be completely comfortable with the subject. Many of my former patients had the same issue I did, and I told a few of them my story, mostly to give them hope they could survive their trauma if they were willing to let go of it.

Sexual abuse is a profound psychic trauma, and it’ll flat out fuck with your mind. Two-thirds of people that seek treatment for drug and alcohol abuse report being abused as a child. The sad fact of the matter is this is a much more pervasive problem than most people would care to admit.

I was a dysfunctional mess for most of my life, until I learned to apply a valuable lesson to my life. It’s not what happens to us that’s important. It’s how we respond to it that determines what sort of person we become.

I had to learn to stop reacting, and stupidly fucking up my life, over and over again. Logic and reason are nice tools, but they do not suffice when you’re trying to figure out how you became a victim of something so… indescribable and…horrific.

* * * *

Hey! How’s it going? My name’s Ron.

Nice to meet you. I’m Mark.

Man, I had the best weekend ever! It took me seventeen years, but I got my first blowjob! How about you? Have you ever had a blowjob?

Um, yeah…

Really? How old were you?

Um, six or seven, I think.

Seriously? What were you, some kind of porn star?

No. It was my uncle, and he was drunk, so…

* * * *

Even now, I have to make a joke out of it.

Like many, if not all survivors of sexual abuse, I was beyond ashamed of what happened. It was my darkest secret, and I hid it under a deep layer of defense mechanisms to keep it hidden.

The only mechanism I didn’t utilize was Denial. In retrospect, the only thing I can say is it was something I couldn’t deny, no matter how much I would’ve liked to make it disappear.

Like many things in my life, I have vague memories of events and when they occurred. My uncle started exploiting me when I was six or seven years old. And it happened for three or four years.

I can’t even say I was an unwilling participant in what happened, and that just makes me feel worse. I knew there was something wrong going on because it was a secret, and I couldn’t tell anyone about it. It would be years before I spoke to anyone about it.

When I was a sophomore or junior in high school, I decided to tell my parents what happened when I spent my summers down on the farm, and their response was one reason I decided not to talk about it to anyone else. They didn’t believe me. Even when my brothers backed me up and said they had been abused too, my parents still refused to believe what they already knew was true.

My uncle lived in a small town. There are no secrets in a small town, especially in Minnesota. There had been rumors and whisperings about him for years.

But my uncle was also a very talented and charming guy. He was loved and respected by almost everyone living in and around Browerville. He was my mom’s big brother, and he had been my dad’s best friend when they were in the Army. He introduced my dad to the woman he would marry.

When my uncle died, my mother found his secret stash of photos he had taken over the years. There are no words to describe her visceral reaction to what she saw. She carried those pictures in her purse for years as a reminder to herself of how she had failed to protect her children.

I think I convinced my mom to finally rid herself of that burden, and rip the pictures up. But it’s not the kind of thing you totally recover from. You just learn to move on. I can’t remember if my dad ever said anything about it. Seeing how I can’t recall ever having that conversation with him, I’m going to say it never happened.

It kind of amazes today just how much my uncle’s indiscretions totally fucked up my family.

One of the people I chose to discuss this subject with is my lovely supermodel wife. But when I did so, I wasn’t prepared for the number of questions she’d have.

Oh, look at the time. I forgot to feed my turtle.

You don’t have a turtle.

Then I clearly need to get one.

Where are you going?

The Turtle Store. Don’t wait up. I’ll be back in a couple weeks.

She probably still has a lots of questions. I’m not sure I’ll ever feel comfortable enough to answer her.

* * * *

I generally enjoy working on my blog. Today, not so much. But it’s a new year. A new beginning, a new life. I’ve kept this part of my life locked up in the dark, buried in the deepest recesses of my heart and mind. It’s time to get it out, time to stare it down and tell it how incredibly fucking meaningless it is anymore.

And it can go crawl off into a corner by itself, and die. It doesn’t need me anymore, and I certainly don’t need it. We’ve hung out together long enough.

I’m sure I’ll still be a fucked up human being until the day I die, but I’ll be more insightfully fucked up from now on. I’ll have a better plan of response. And I’ll be far less likely to do something stupid, though you should never discount that possibility when it comes to me.

And while I’m not planning on dying to death any time soon, I’m certainly getting closer to the day when that will happen. I don’t know if God takes things like circumstance into consideration when he judges us, but if He does, maybe I can do a little plea bargaining with Him.

I have a lots of stupid stuff I have to answer for.

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.

What’s in a Name?

When my youngest daughter, Gail, was nineteen years old, she decided she wanted to change her name to Abigail. I’m not sure why she wanted to do it, but she had given it a lots of thought, and it was important to her.

My lovely supermodel wife wasn’t exactly pleased with her daughter’s decision. She had also given a lots of thought to the name she had christened her youngest daughter with, and she didn’t like the idea of this whole name change thing. In fact, Lea took four days to find the perfect name for her second daughter. Lea and Steve had planned on naming her Sara, but…

“She doesn’t look like a Sara…” Lea said. They went through a lots of names before they settled on Gail. And what sold Lea on the name was one simple thing. “Yes, it’s perfect! She looks like a Gail.”

And she thinks I’m crazy…

“At least she’s not changing her name to Unicorn.” I said. “Or Butterfly. Or Queen Elizabeth III. Or Zeke. It could be so much worse.”

“I still don’t have to like it.” was Lea’s response.

Regardless of what anyone thought, Gail had made up her mind. She filed all the appropriate documentation, and made an appointment for Name Change Court. In order to legally change her name, she needed two witnesses to testify on her behalf. She chose Lea and I to represent her. Despite her feelings, Lea agreed to do this for her daughter.

* * * *

Changing your name is a relatively simple process in Minnesota. You have to be at least eighteen years of age, a resident of the State of Minnesota for at least six months, and your application has to be filed in the county in which you reside. You have to appear in front of a judge, answer a few questions, pay the court fees, and you have a new name.

I loved Name Change Court. The referee hearing Gail’s application was a friendly looking guy that reminded me of Fred Rogers from Mr Rogers’ Neighborhood. I imagined he was wearing a sweater under his robe.

There were several other petitioners in court that day. All of them were from Africa. We would hear all of their petitions before Gail took the stand to become Abigail. One attorney represented all of the guys from Africa. Gail didn’t have an attorney.

“Do you need an attorney?” I asked Gail, like I had a lawyer in my back pocket, or something.

“Nope. I’m good.”

Each petitioners’ case was presented separately. A petitioner was sworn in, and took the stand, then endured a grueling interrogation by Mr Rogers.

“Please state your name for the court.”

“My name is Inigo Montoya.” the first petitioner said.

“Okay.” Mr Rogers said, smiling, and checked off a box on the paperwork in front of him.

“According to the visa you entered the country with Mr Montoya, your name is Abdallah Akoya.”

“Yes. Abdallah Akoya was my cousin. He applied for the visa to come to this country.”

“Okay.” another box was checked off. “And how did you end up with your cousin’s visa?”

“He was eaten by a lion.”

“Okay.” Mr Rogers checked off another box. “Are you applying for a name change to avoid paying debts, to avoid being sued, or to avoid being arrested or charged with a crime?” Mr Rogers asked in his singsong voice. He was freaking brutal. No wonder these guys had hired an attorney.

“No. I am an honest man.” Inigo replied. Mr Rogers smiled, and checked off another box.

“Have you ever had sex with a goat?”

“No! I have never had sex with a goat!” Inigo Montoya indignantly replied. He had not been expecting that question. Mr Rogers kept on smiling, and checked off another box.

“Did you bring any witnesses who can verify the truth of your testimony?”

“I am representing Mr Montoya, and I have filed all of the appropriate documentation with the court.” the attorney replied.

“Okay!” Mr Rogers said, and that was it. Inigo Montoya had survived his grueling interrogation, and could become Abdallah Akoya.

I can’t remember how many guys from Africa endured their grueling interrogations under the benignly smiling gaze of Mr Rogers, or how many cousins had been eaten by lions, but all of them would take the stand before Gail did. And when she did, she was ready.

“My name is Gail Marjorie Markes. I want to change my name to Abigail Marjorie Markes-Covington. I’m not applying for a name change to avoid paying debts, to avoid being sued, or to avoid being arrested or charged with a crime. And I’ve never had sex with a goat.” She looked at me, and smiled a contented smile. I was so proud of her!

“Okay!” Mr Rogers smiled, and took a moment to check off all the boxes on Gail’s paperwork. “Did you bring any witnesses to testify on your behalf?”

“Yes. I brought my parents.” soon-to-be Abigail replied, and pointed to us.

“Would you please rise, and state your names?”

“I’m Lea Covington Rowen. I’m Gail’s mother, and I can vouch for her testimony.”

“Okay.” Mr Rogers checked off another box. “And you?”

“I’m Mark Edward Rowen. I’m Gail’s stepfather, and I can also vouch for her testimony.”

“Okay.” Mr Rogers checked off another box.

“And, your Honor,”

“Yes?” Mr Rogers smiled, and looked up from his paperwork.

“I’ve never had sex with a goat, either.”

“Okay!”

* * * *

And that was it. Gail became Abigail. And then she became Abi. And then she got married, and ended up with a new name, again.

I’ve thought about changing my name, but I’ve been putting it off for a couple of reasons. One, I haven’t become a prophet yet, and I think I’d be more believable as a prophet if I had a name that sounded more, I don’t know, prophetic.

And two, the name I’ve been kicking around has already been taken by a prophet.

Elijah.

So? The guy’s been dead been dead for three thousand years!

Not so. Elijah is possibly the only man that ever lived that didn’t got dead. He was taken up to heaven on a chariot of fire. He may return again someday, and how would he feel meeting another prophet who had taken his name?

Elijah is described as being a big, hairy guy. He could probably kick my ass with two hairy fingers, so, I’ve been waiting.

The day may come when my foolish dream is realized. I certainly hope so, even if the life of a prophet is one of scorn and suffering…

My lovely supermodel wife has gotten used to my delusion. And if she hasn’t, she’s at least become less vocal in her opposition. And I, I have become less convinced it will ever become a reality.

Why do you want to be a prophet, Mark?

That’s a fair question, but the answer…

That’s another story.

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.

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.

To Sleep, Perchance to Dream

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Didn’t do a thing.

Next night, get an order for an extra dose.

Didn’t do anything.

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

Didn’t do a thing.

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

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

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

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

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

Anyone want to guess how many days that might be?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Can’t you call the doctor?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Never trust a man that says trust me.”

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.

Horrible Bosses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Muppet Woman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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