Living in the Virtual World

¡Hola! ¿Que pasa?

Things are pretty chill down here in Mexico. The rainy season is still in progress, though it hasn’t rained for the last three days. My lovely supermodel wife and I are still in love with being retired. We’re still mostly happily adjusting to our new lives and the new culture in which we’re living.

The most significant change we’ve encountered at Casa del Selva has been the hummingbird population. We used to have seventy thousand hummingbirds at our feeders, and we’d have to refill them eight times a day. Lea was worried we’d burn through our pension funds buying sugar.

I wondered if we could claim them as dependents…

It turns out Mexican hummingbirds are migratory, and they go somewhere else to raise their young, probably Texas. I wonder if President Don Jon Un knows about the illegally immigrating Mexican hummingbirds, and how he’s planning on stopping them…

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We’re down to about seven hummingbirds. One feeder will last for eight days or more. Lea is really bummed out. I kind of miss the ravenous horde, too. They were fun to watch, and they kept me on my toes whenever I wandered out on the patio. But I’m sure they’ll be back this fall, and we’ll be happy to see them again.

* * * *

I’ve been working on my golf game by going to the driving range when the weather permits, and playing the occasional round or two. I spent a month working on my drives on the range, and I made a startling discovery the last time I played golf. You only hit a ball off of a tee once per hole.

Some of my drives were so pretty it almost brings a tear to my eye, but the rest of my shots were so abysmal it practically makes me cry to think about it. It took me five strokes to reach the green of the par four first hole. And then I three putted. After that, my composure was pretty much gone, and the next seventeen holes were mostly a nightmare with flashes of brilliance.

The other thing I discovered was I’m not as young as I once was. A shot I could easily make with a five iron ten years ago no longer has the distance it used to. I’ve had to come up with a completely new strategy to play the game I love that doesn’t love me in return.

So this week I’ve been practicing on the range with fairway woods and irons, and I’ve come to the conclusion I’m going to need a whole lots more practice.

My lovely supermodel wife has been coming to the driving range with me this week, and she’s been a voice of encouragement to me. It’s been very sweet, and I appreciate my adorable wife even more because of it.

And then there’s putting. I’d probably be a pretty decent golfer if I didn’t have to putt. I’ve been doing some putting on the practice green. I sank a forty foot putt yesterday, and the best part was Lea saw it. I’m not sure who was happier, me or her.

* * * *

As for the rest of our life, we’re very slowly learning the language of our new country. Our landlord and Spanish teacher is Planet Janet. Back when she worked for a living, Janet taught English as a Second Language and Spanish as Another Language at university in Canadia before she retired in Mexico, so she graciously agreed to teach us when we moved into one of her houses. She charges us $200 pesos for a two hour session, once a week, and donates the money to buy wheelchairs for children whose families wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford them.

It’s a win/win/win situation. Janet gets to do something she loves, teach. We get to do something we need, learn. And we all get to help out someone in need.

And seeing how Janet’s been here for a quarter of a century, she’s been showing us some of the ropes and helping us find our way through some of the tricksier aspects of living in Mexico.

Legal things, like Wills, Advanced Directives, health insurance and residency visas. She has recommendations for doctors, dentists, mechanics and veterinarians. And reviews of the latest awesome restaurant she’s eaten at.

And then there are the unexpected things that happen out of the blue.

We ran out of water last weekend. Our main water supply line sprang a monster leak a couple of weeks ago, so we turned the main off and called Planet Janet and El Don Padrino. We have two huge water reservoirs under our carport, so we had plenty of water to tide us over until the leak could be repaired

Don and Janet sent their plumber, Mani, over the next day to fix the leak, then he called SAMAPA, the local water authority. SAMAPA said they had to send a guy over to turn the water back on–Mani was forbidden to open the valve–and the SAMAPA guy would come over ahorita.

Ahora is the Spanish word for now, but now isn’t a highly regarded reality based concept in most of Mexico. Even the Mexicans think it’s funny that there’s generally no such thing as now, especially when it concerns the government and some of the utility companies.

There’s another Spanish word, ahorita. It can mean really soon, however, in Mexico, ahorita can also mean something a whole lots closer to never than it does to now.

Well, the SAMAPA guy never showed up, and no one told us our water main hadn’t been turned back on. So, two weeks later we ran out of water, at 9:00 PM on a Saturday night. I turned the water back on, probably illegally, and that solved the problem.

These kind of things happen, and not just in Mexico. When they happen here, we laugh and shrug and say, This is Mexico/Esto es Mexico, and move on. If you don’t like it, leave.

Mexico is not like the United States. Spanish isn’t the same as English. The language of Mexico is an amalgamation of Greek, Latin, Spanish, French, English and Arabic, as well as some words from the fifty-four indigenous languages of the native people who lived here before the Spaniards arrived and fucked up everything.

If you’re wondering how Arabic got thrown into the mix, the Moors invaded Spain in the year 711, and ruled the country for eight hundred years. Spain invaded Mexico in 1519, or roughly about the time the Spaniards finally kicked the Moors out of power in their own country. It took the Spaniards only two years to topple the Aztec empire and steal as much gold and silver from the Mexicans as they could.

Little Known Fact About the Spanish Language: there are probably four thousand Arabic words or phrases that are now part of the modern Spanish vocabulary.

The language barrier is certainly the tricksiest part of living in Mexico, especially since neither Lea nor I spoke any Spanish before we moved here. After almost nine months we can now say hello, how are you, goodbye and thanks, and a few phrases here and there, but we’re hardly fluent, and mostly lost with someone who speaks no English.

It can be kind of comical sometimes.

* * * *

Like unto practically everyone else on this planet, I probably have a form of addiction to my mobile devices and social media. I have a blog that maybe seven people read, including me. For my last installment I posted a picture of one of my former co-workers, and it was seemingly an huge hit. I had a lots of people reacting to the picture on my Facebook page. They loved it! But I don’t know if any of those people actually read the accompanying article.

Oh, look! A picture of Brea! That’s such a cute picture!! What’s this stuff? Eww! Words!! OMG, there’s, like, a thousand of them! Ick!

I have a Facebook page, an Instagram account, and a Twitter account. Unlike our current President, I’ve never figured Twitter out, and I dislike being limited to the number of words I can use. I doubt anyone has ever read even one of my seven Tweets.

My lovely supermodel wife isn’t as addicted to social media as I am. She views Facebook the same way I view Twitter, and I doubt she knows Instagram is even a thing. Or SnapChamp.

Social media has become almost a necessary evil to me, now that I’m a retired guy living in a foreign country. It’s the most convenient way for me to stay up to date with the lives of my friends and family, and it’s the easiest way for them to keep tabs on me.

Before we retired, Lea and I discussed what we’d like to do after we retired. Travel was one of the things we both agreed on, but now that we’ve traveled to Mexico, I’m not sure how much more traveling we’re actually going to do. We’ll see what the future holds. Be that as it may, whether we embark on a tour of the world or not, thanks to the Interweb and social media, the world now comes to me. And so do all of my virtual friends.

I have far more friends now than I did back when I really had friends, people I knew and hung out with and did stuff with. My virtual friends come from all over the world: Canadia, England, Ireland, Spain, France and Italy. Poland, Croatia, Greece, Russia, Africa, Singapore, Hong Kong and Australia. Mexico, Guatemala, Brazil and Ohio. I doubt I’ll ever meet any of them face to face. But because of them and our virtual friendship, I get to see what their part of the world looks like, and what their lives are like.

By the way, Ohio is evidently a whole lots more interesting than I thought it was.

Back when I was a kid, the only way you could accomplish something like unto this without being a world traveler was with a National Geographic subscription. If you don’t know what that is, Google it.

My virtual friends post a lots of pictures of themselves, so I also get to see a lots of pictures of tattoos. Back when I was a kid, the only people who had tattoos were drunken sailors, biker gangs and criminals. Tattoos were the mark of low life scumbags and losers.

Nowadays, almost everyone has at least one tattoo, even my lovely supermodel wife, and she’s probably the most conservative person I know. Tattoos have moved out of the darkened alleyways that only a fool would enter, and have become a legitimate mainstream art form of individual statement, beauty and color. Some of them are really quite stunning.

I don’t have any tattoos. I think tattoos look pretty cool on other people, but I’ve never wanted to get one. I’ll admit I don’t understand what the attraction is. For me, the same thing is true of Disneyland®. I have no idea why anyone would want to go there, unless you really like standing in line for hours.

Having a tattoo isn’t a requirement for me to send a friend request to someone on Facebook. I automatically receive an infinite number of profiles of people that I’ve never met every day with the suggestion from Facebook that I might know some of them. Ironically, Facebook will then ask me if I actually know the person I’m randomly sending a friend request to before I can submit it.

I don’t receive as many friend requests as I submit. If a guy sends me a request, it’s usually because he has a great business proposal and he wants me as an investor. If a woman sends me a request it’s usually one of those Click here to see naked pictures of me things. I have yet to knowingly accept one, but I always wonder, Where the hell were these girls when I was twenty? And the answer is they weren’t even alive.

Some of my newest BFF’s that I’ve never met send me personal messages and ask a few questions about me and my life. This always surprises me because it never occurs to me to do that with any of them. Some of my virtual friends disappear from my profile after they discover how boring I am, or that I don’t want to see any naked pictures of them, or I don’t want to invest in a ground-breaking business opportunity.

Many of my virtual friends live what appear to be interesting lives, and their careers run the gamut. I’m still partial to nurses. I have a lots of virtual friends that are nurses. It’s a brotherhood thing, or more probably a sisterhood thing.

A couple of my virtual friends are witches, one of whom does tarot card readings. Another one of my virtual friends sells cars in the GTA. If you’re not an intrepid, sophisticated virtual world traveler like me who watches Canadian television in Mexico, the GTA is the Greater Toronto Area.

Yet another of my virtual friends is an activist, warning the world about every possible conspiracy ever conceived. I used to have two friends like unto this. I could say I unfriended one of them because she was too crazy, but almost everyone on my FB page admits to some level of insanity. And, I used to be a psych nurse, so craziness in and of itself isn’t something that bothers me much.

It was her unstable anger/rage that I found so unsettling. Her rants/raves hit the airwaves every five minutes, and each was more outrageous than the last. I tried joking with her a couple of times to get her to lighten up a little, but she didn’t appreciate my humor. Clearly, we had unreconcilable differences, and something had to give.

I’ve become virtual friends with a whole lots of motivational speakers/health gurus/life coaches. They post videos of their exercise workouts, recipes for healthy meals and daily motivational quotes and videos. Several of them post live feeds of themselves giving motivational talks to break out of your rut and improve your life.

To be honest, I’m not personally interested in most of that stuff. I don’t exercise. I think my diet is healthy enough for me, and I don’t need to make any significant changes to improve my life. If I did, I’d likely already know what it is that I need to do differently. However, I do listen to them and take their advice into consideration.

Mental and emotional health are things that require a certain amount of intentional maintenance. They are perishable commodities. It takes an effort to keep your goddamn mind right. It’s easy to fall asleep at the wheel and end up in the ditch, and before you know it you’re wondering how the hell could this happen to me?!?

So it’s good for me to be reminded of the things I used to preach lest I start backsliding. I’ve worked too hard to get away from that shit to ever want to go back again, even by accident.

* * * *

Before I retired and moved to Mexico, I would occasionally have breakfast with Brian. Brian Leach is the former lead pastor of one of the churches we formerly attended in Surprise. I liked Breakfast with Brian. He’s a pretty smart guy, and he’s the closest thing to a friend/pastor I’ve ever had.

We used to attend a small group/Bible study at Brian’s house. It was Brian who first made me a virtual celebrity by saying something like unto this at one of our group meetings: “I’m not a big fan of social media, but I think everyone should check out Mark Rowen’s Facebook page at least once a day.”

And I didn’t have to pay him to say that.

Just before we departed Arizona, I had one last breakfast with Brian. He spent the last few minutes trying to convince me to do a video blog.

“There’s a kid on YouTube who’s making a six figure income, just by posting videos!”

I replied that the kid was probably smart. And funny.

“Well, you’re smart and funny.”

I replied that the kid probably had a personality. If you’ve never met me in person, once you did, you’d probably wonder if I was ever going to come out of that coma. I don’t have an affect, and my voice lacks inflection. I posted a video on Facebook once. One of my real friends said I sound like Eeyore. Ben Stein sounds like Sam Kinison when compared to me.

I blame my life as a psych nurse for that. When you’ve seen as much strange stuff as I have, it’s hard to be surprised by anything. Also, I’ve been a Minnesota Vikings fan for fifty years. Therefore, I find it almost impossible to get too excited about anything anymore. If the Vikings ever win the Super Bowl, I might get a tattoo…

My virtual friends who post inspirational videos are excited by what they’re doing. They smile. They have a fire in their eyes, and they clearly have a passion about their messages. If you’ve ever read any of my blog posts, most of them don’t have an inspirational message. I’m not sure any of them have even had a point.

In addition, the video blogs I’ve watched are short, or at least, short-ish. My written blogs don’t seem short to me. Even the shortest blog I’ve written has taken me hours to complete. And while I am sometimes spontaneously witty, I’m not a great impromptu speaker. I would probably end up writing a script that I would essentially end up reading, and I’d probably stumble through everything I’d written.

I’m trying to imagine that being entertaining to anyone. I might become the first person YouTube paid to stop posting videos…

It could be argued that if I started making video blogs, I could save myself a ton of time. If I weren’t retired, that argument might carry more weight. But I am retired. If I don’t have anything else, I have plenty of time, and very little of it is scheduled with any recurring activity, except my Spanish lessons.

A real friend of mine occasionally posts The Manitowoc Minute Vlog on his Facebook page. It’s a very funny commentary about life in Wisconsin, which, in retrospect, probably goes without saying. The idea of posting El Minuto Mexicano certainly has its appeal. I could ramble on incomprehensibly in a mixture of Spanglish, Latin and Japanese about life in Mexico.

“Buenas tetas, amigos y amigas! Bienvenidos a mi vlogarito lo que nostrodamos vidas fabulosos en Mexico! Nosotros tiene relocatado de los estados unidos. El gente de Mexico estás las más amable de todos los gente en el universario! Ellos tienen los más paciencia! Ellos dicen, “Poco y poco,” y sonrisa. Beauty, eh. A todo madre, la roma no está hecho en uno dia! Ergo, quid pro quo. Shigata ga ni, es los más awesomosa cosa en el mundo actualmente! No es mentira! Si, es verdad, daddy-o! Entonces, adios y omne datum optimum untiliarmos los hasta luego, y domo arigato por tu atención y de nadamashite.”

Maybe I’ll stick to writing. In English. It’ll greatly decrease the chances of me accidentally starting the next world war…

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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.

And Deliver Us From Evil

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He probably has me beat.

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

We should probably all pray that rainbows never go extinct.

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

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.

The Island of Misfit Toys

I’ve been doing some musing about Christmas lately. Back when I was a nurse, I worked almost every Christmas. In fact, this is only the third Christmas Lea and I have spent together without me working.

We still celebrated the holiday, but my schedule would almost always dictate the timing of anything we did.

I spent twenty-seven of the last twenty-nine Christmases hanging out with people in the hospital who had no place better to be, mostly because they were caught up in a cycle of gloom and doom, generally because of the choices they made. Like Jacob Marley, they were busy making the chains that bound them.

“You are fettered,” said Scrooge, trembling. “Tell me why?”

“I wear the chain I forged in life,” replied the Ghost. “I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it.”

I’m watching Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer this Christmas morning. My favorite part of the show is The Island of Misfit Toys. It was where I worked. I thought it was an appropriate monicker, and certainly nicer than some of the other names given to psych units.

I didn’t look at myself as a misfit, even though I am perhaps the King of the Misfits. I’ve had trouble finding my place in the world most of my life. Feeling comfortable in my own skin was something I had never been able to do, until recently, and even that has been difficult of late given the problems I’ve had with my back and neck.

And I like Yukon Cornelius, too. It’s hard not to like him.

* * * *

My lovely supermodel wife and I have both been doing a lots of thinking about Christmases past this year. It’s our first Christmas in Mexico, the first Christmas of our retired lives. If we were isolated from our families when we lived in Arizona, well, this is taking that to a whole ‘nother level. If Christmas is meant to be spent with the people you love, then this Christmas has been bittersweet for both of us.

My family mostly lives in Minnesota. Both of our girls are up in the Great White North right now, spending Christmas with their Other Dad. Wait. Maybe that’s me. He’s their Real Dad. Either way, they’re about three thousand miles away.

And that’s probably been the toughest part of Christmas for us this year. I scroll through my Facebook page, and see all my friends’ posts with the tree and presents and family. And I am jealous.

You never miss something until its gone. I am relearning the truth of those words this year. And there are so many things, and so many people, that I am missing a lots this year.

When you’re young, you lack the capacity to see just how stupid you are. I took so many things for granted. When you’re young, you think nothing is ever going to change, and then life changes everything.

My mother died in 2007. Christmas was her favorite time of year. She decorated her house with enough lights and garland and trinkets to make Santa feel shamed. I used to look at spending the Christmas holiday with my parents as one of those odious and contemptible things I had to do. Like working for a living, and paying taxes.

I quit drinking the year before my mom died. I remember that first trip to my parents’ house to tell them. My dad offered me a beer when I walked in the house. I can still see the stunned look on his face when I told him I was an alcoholic, and I had quit drinking. Forever.

“I didn’t know you had a drinking problem!” he said.

My mother was sitting at the kitchen table next to my dad. She turned her eyes to the heavens and whispered, “Thank God!” She later told me it was the best Christmas present I could have ever gotten her.

Merry Christmas, Mom. It’s been ten years now. Sorry it took me so long to get my head out of my ass, and I’m really sorry for the shit I put you through.

* * * *

The Christmas holiday is celebrated very differently in Mexico than it is in the States. American Christmas has become a commercialized celebration of material excess. Black Friday. Cyber Monday. Small Business Saturday. None of these things existed in my youth, and they have become monsters.

American Christmas, sadly seems to have become more about the stuff than the substance. When saying, Merry Christmas versus Happy Holidays is an issue, there’s a problem.

No one camps out in front of the Walmart down here. There’s no such thing as Black Friday in the Lakeside area. Mexican Christmas is all about the birth of Jesus. Each neighborhood has a little posada. Two children are dressed up like Joseph and Mary, and they might be riding a burro. They go from house to house looking for a place to spend the night, and they’re turned away.

One house in the neighborhood is preselected as the party house. They welcome the weary travelers in, and it’s fiesta time! The parties last all night. There’s a lots of music, food and drink, and bonfires and fireworks.

Honestly, Lea and I wonder how any work ever gets done down here because there are something like seven hundred holidays in Mexico, and there are varying degrees of celebration that correspond with each of them.

But fireworks are seemingly mandatory for all of them.

Mexican fireworks aren’t the same as American fireworks, which are kind of pretty and spectacular. Mexicans are particularly fond of a kind of rocket called a cohetone. It’s essentially an half of stick of dynamite that shoots into the sky and explodes.

Loudly.

These incredibly loud fireworks are fired off almost every day of the year down here for seemingly any and every reason imaginable.

My first week in Mexico made me think I was back in Vietnam during the Tet Offensive, and I have never been in Vietnam. I have kind of a bitch of a case of PTSD, and I am particularly sensitive to loud, unexpected noises. One of my neighbors is very fond of fireworks. I’ve been thinking about becoming an hitman again…

It was a very long night for the Mexican locals. The parties lasted all night. A veritable artillery explosion greeted the rising sun, and now it’s quiet. Christmas Day in Mexico is essentially a day of rest–all the Mexicans in this area have been celebrating their asses off for about the last two months–and eating leftovers. Small gifts are exchanged. It’s actually rather sweet and beautiful.

* * * *

As much as I miss my family, and especially my girls, I don’t want to give the impression Lea and I are sitting around the house contemplating suicide. Because we’re not.

We’ve made a few friends down here, thanks to Phyllis. Lea and Phyllis are best friends, and we retired in Ajijic because of her. I tell everyone we moved here to become Phyllistines, and it seems to be the truth.

Phyllis has been here several years. Actually, there’s a whole lots of Americans and Canadians living down here, and we’re getting to know some of them.

We went to Jim and Veronica’s house last night. They have an absolutely gorgeous home that should be declared a national treasure and an historical work of art. I almost feel like making the Sign of the Cross and genuflecting when I’m at their place.

They actually have an antique confessional in their living room. I thought about going in it once, but I haven’t been to confession in over forty years. I’m going to be in there for a long time. And it might burst into flames…

Today, we’re going to Casa del Castleman, the home of Al and Jane. They’re one of the couples we’ve met as Phyllistines. Jane and Lea seem to be cut from the same cloth, so Jane is an easy person for me to like.

Al seems to be kind of a character, so I’m sure I’ll like him a lots once we get to know each other better. Last night, Al probably had the quote of the evening.

“Grunge rock is the greatest music of all time.”

What do you expect? We’re old. And we mostly hate young people. I think the only grunge rock song I like is Come as You Are by Nivana.

I invited him to come over and listen to the Icelandic rap music my crazy neighbor plays. Al didn’t know that was a musical genre either.

“I think rap music is a bunch of people bitching about stuff.” Al said.

“Yeah, but when they do it in Icelandic, you’re not sure what they’re bitching about.” But it sounds kind of cool.

Well, it’s about time to go to today’s get-together. And I’ve been working on keeping my blogs short since I finished my Dallas series. More than anything else, I attribute that series to messing up my spine.

Have a Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year.

XOXO,

Mark

Horrible Bosses, Part II

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

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

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

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

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

And that’s how this story gets started.

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

My lovely supermodel wife was devastated.

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

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

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

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

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

Sometimes, a guy just has to reassure his wife.

* * * *

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

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

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

And then I took the podium.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It would be the greatest thing I ever wrote.

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeah, that’s what I heard, too.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I did.

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

I was a good leader.

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

I was probably the worst manager in the hospital.

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

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

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

“How do you account for this anomaly?”

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

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

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

“Then what is the problem?”

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

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

“Maybe they could wait and take turns.”

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

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

“Beyond what we’re already doing?”

“Yes.”

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

Are you… serious?”

“Do you see me laughing?”

“Do you have any other ideas?”

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

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

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

“No. I think that’s sufficient.”

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

After all, I don’t know how to swim.

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

“Oh, nothing.”

That, is a guy response.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Work Related Polygamy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Those guys were really good.

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

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

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

Enter Rhonda Dolatshahi.

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

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

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

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

On to Aurora. Enter Tara Grant Molden.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enter Adina Boros.

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

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

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

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

Enter Alison Aveson.

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

I was reunited with my first work wife, Deb Goral, after Alison. Deb came to Aurora as a House Supervisor. We didn’t technically work together, but it was great to have her back, my first ex-work wife.

Enter Michelle Warren.

Two L Michelle would be the last of my work wives. Yet another really awesome nurse to work with; knew her stuff, got it done, didn’t put up with any bullshit.

Michelle was also a lots of fun to work with. I have been blessed beyond anything I ever deserved to work with those women, those incredibly talented rockstar nurses/work wives.

Thank you Deb and Rhonda. Thank you Tara and Adina. Thank you Alison and Michelle. It was mostly sweet, and y’all were really sweet to work with. I miss you all, and hope all is well.

The guest room is ready whenever you are.

A Rose By Any Other Name

I first met Rose when I started working at MIHS, Maricopa Integrated Healthcare Services, otherwise known as the County. Maricopa Medical Center was the ancient hospital that was its primary treatment facility. And by ancient I mean it was built in the 1970’s. There’s not a lots of historical places in Phoenix.

MIHS also provided psychiatric care, and they had two facilities for that. The first was the Psych Annex. That’s where I worked. It was a nondescript two story building behind the medical center. The second was Desert Vista, a much newer, incredibly secure building in Mesa. It’s the place you’ll end up at if there’s ever a petition for court ordered examination/treatment filed against you.

I’m sure I’ve suppressed some of the memories I have of working there, mostly because I hated the management there so much. I really liked the people I worked with, and the patients I cared for weren’t terribly different than the patients I’d taken care of at the MVAMC.

I left the MVAMC in October of 2007, and started working for MIHS in November. And that’s when I met Rose.

What do you think of when you think of a rose? A beautiful, fragrant flower, right?

Yeah, that wasn’t Rose.

She was loud, intrusive, disruptive and did I mention loud? She was rude and undisciplined. Her hygiene was crude, her manners were random and unpredictable. And watching her eat could ruin your appetite for a few days. On top of that, she was also one of the most profoundly psychotic persons I’ve ever met. I can’t imagine what happened to her to transform her into the person she became.

Rose was possibly cute at one time, but those days were long gone by the time we crossed paths. She always looked disheveled, even after she had just showered. She had no fashion taste. Her outfits could cause seizures. Even if you were blind.

But the most distinctive thing about Rose was her voice. It was harsh, discordant and gravelly. Clint Eastwood sounded almost gay compared to Rose. And after listening to Rose for eight hours, even someone speaking into a megaphone sounded like they were whispering.

Rose could easily be described as a problem patient. She needed a lots of redirection. And there was no such thing as telling Rose something once. It was constant. And exhausting.

“Hey, Rose! Turn down the volume over there, okay!”

“YES, SIR!” I have no idea why, but Rose always called me Sir. She called other staff members by name, but not me. “I’M GONNA TURN DOWN THE VOLUME, ISN’T THAT RIGHT, JEFFREY?” Rose was constantly talking to Jeffrey MacDonald. You might remember him. He was the guy accused of murdering his pregnant wife and two daughters. He was apparently Rose’s imaginary best friend. “YOU HEARD WHAT MISTER SIR SAID! TURN DOWN THE VOLUME OVER THERE, ROSE. WHAT ABOUT YOU, JOHANNES? He was one of the BHT’s at the Psych Annex. DO YOU THINK ROSE NEEDS TO TURN THE VOLUME DOWN? I KNOW JEFFREY THINKS I NEED TO TURN IT DOWN, RIGHT JEFFREY? THATS FUCKING RIGHT!”

And she swore more better gooder than two Portuguese sailors. I purposely deleted about seventeen swear words from Rose’s dialogue. Anyone that knows me knows I don’t have any problem swearing, but even I was shocked by the amount of profanity Rose unleashed in casual conversation. And when she got upset, it was like getting hit by a fucking tsunami.

Rose was rarely violent, but she tended to provoke it in others. I think she wore on the nerves of everyone around her until they just couldn’t take it anymore. And most of the people on the same unit as Rose weren’t all that tightly wrapped either. She made more than one person lose it, and half of them were people I worked with.

I spent a lots of time with Rose. I may have even begged her to quiet down, I’m not sure anymore, but it’s not out of the question.

Rose was at the Psych Annex when I started working there. I’m pretty sure she was still there when I quit six months later. Rose was one of those people no one wanted within fifty feet of their facility, let alone inside it.

I worked Gero/Psych and did a stint in management at Banner Del E Webb for a few years, then moved on to St Luke’s Behavioral Health–straight psych–I was back in familiar territory. I hadn’t been there long, maybe a couple months, when I did something stupid. I started wondering what had happened to Rose.

There’s a rule when you work in Psychiatry: you never, ever mention the name of a discharged patient. You know, I wonder how So and so is doing? If you do, the person you invoked will invariably get admitted. The only way you’re safe doing this is if the person got dead, except if they had gotten dead, you wouldn’t have to wonder how they were doing…  For chronically frequent flying psych patients, the only way you can totally get rid of them is death. I know that sounds terribly callous, but it’s also true. You can ask around, if you so desire.

I never said Rose’s name aloud, not even to myself or any of my imaginary friends, nor to any of my co-workers–none of the people I worked with at St Luke’s knew Rose.

But they would.

Never underestimate the craftiness of a psych patient, especially the really crazy ones. They are spooky beyond belief. And like any other organism, they evolve. When I first started working as a psych nurse, a name had to be spoken out loud. By the time I was getting ready to retire, a simple thought would suffice.

I was walking into work at St Luke’s from the parking lot one day, and I ran into someone from the day shift.

“How was your day?” I asked. What happened on the day shift rarely had anything to do with how the evening shift would go, but it was always nice to ask.

“Oh. My. God. Turn around and leave now! We got a new admit today, wait until you meet Rose!”

I stopped in my tracks, and slowly turned toward my co-worker. I briefly described the Rose I knew, knowing there could be only one Rose that could effect that kind of reaction.

“Oh. I see you already know her.”

Yep. That was my Rose.

AP 5 was my home unit at St Luke’s. It was the court ordered unit. You didn’t have to be court ordered to be admitted to my unit, but if you were court ordered, it was the only unit you could be admitted to.

Rose was permanently court ordered. She was usually admitted to the Psych Annex, or Desert Vista. But the staff at those facilities were burned out by Rose. She was sent to St Luke’s purely out of desperation.

AP 5 was a chaotic place. It was two large dayrooms with the nursing station in-between. The patient rooms were dotted around the perimeter of the dayrooms. The unit was a giant echo chamber, it was concrete and linoleum. The other units had artwork. Some of them had carpeting. AP 5 was like the basement where your family locked up your crazy aunt, and no one ever talked about it. There was no no artwork, nothing for noise abatement. It was almost as loud as the artillery firing range at Fort Sill, way back when I was in the Army.

Added to the abnormally normal pandemonium, was Rose.

“WELL, HELLO, SIR! HOW ARE YOU! I HAVEN’T SEEN YOU IN THREE AND A HALF YEARS!”

I had to stop and think about it, but she was correct, almost to the day.

“Hi Rose. Say, could you do me a favor, and turn down the volume a few hundred decibels.”

“TURN DOWN THE VOLUME! YES, SIR! WHAT DID I TELL YOU, JEFFREY! MISTER SIR STILL WANTS ME TO TURN DOWN THE MOTHERFUCKIN’ VOLUME! YES, SIR! I’LL TURN THE MOTHERFUCKIN’ VOLUME DOWN!!”

I hadn’t even started my shift, and I already had a motherfuckin’ headache.

I filled my fellow evening shift staff members in on Rose. This was perhaps the best crew I would work with in my career. Deb Goral. Luis Hinojosa. Anthony Tafoya. Rachelle Carson. I loved those guys. We were a well oiled machine. And Rose had all of them pulling their hair out within the first hour.

I started herding Rose to her room to remove her from the mileau. She started peeing on the floor. I think Rachelle was ready to kill her.

I spent a lots of time talking to Rose once more. It didn’t happen right away, nor did it happen overnight. I didn’t even notice it at first, probably because it was always so noisy on AP 5, but Rose actually did turn down the motherfuckin’ volume of her voice. She didn’t swear anywhere near as much as she normally did, and she stopped peeing on the floor altogether. I think she actually became one of the better patients on the unit.

I have no reasonable explanation for it.

And then something really weird happened. Rose came up to the nursing station one evening and actually whispered something.

My name.

“Maaaaaaark!”

It was, like, the spookiest thing I’ve ever heard.

Deb could do a perfect imitation of it, and she did it often. But only because she loved me. She became my first work wife, ever. And then she became my first ex-work wife.

I’m in a lots of relationships, and they’re all complicated.

Unlike my first encounter with Rose at the County, her stay on AP 5 was relatively short. Maybe three weeks, maybe a month. She came back again almost immediately, but was discharged later that same week. We had to have set a record for her shortest hospitalization, ever.

I never saw her again, not that that’s a bad thing. There are people you meet in your life that you’ll never forget, but you don’t miss them when they’re gone.

I know a lots of people like that.

I like to think Rose was able to gain a measure of control of her insanity, and she’s doing better.

But that’s doubtful at best. More likely she’s standing on a sidewalk somewhere in Phoenix, saying, “Maaaaaaark!” Very softly.

Glenda K

Glenda was one of our patients at the Banner Del E Webb Medical Center. Prior to being acquired by BannerHealth, Del Webb and its sister facility, Boswell Hospital, were managed by SunHealth. SunHealth was a very small fish in the large healthcare pond in the Phoenix area. When Banner offered to purchase their facilities, SunHealth quickly agreed.

The employees weren’t thrilled with the acquisition. SunHealth was a very good employer. The mostly elderly population that used and staunchly supported the SunHealth facilities were extremely upset. Del Webb and Boswell hospitals were their hospitals. They didn’t want a bunch of strangers roaming the hallways of their getaway retreat hospital spas.

That’s exactly how they thought of them.

Those little old ladies even had bake sales to raise money for a new MRI machine! Do you have any idea how many cookies that is? That’s, like, a trillion fucking cookies!! Maybe they should’ve put on some cute outfits and stood on the corners in Sun City and Sun City West…

Gero/Psych nursing is a sub-specialty area of Psych nursing. Elderly psych patients generally come pre-equipped with a whole slew of medical issues, and all of those issues have to be effectively managed, as well as the psychiatric disorders they are admitted for.

Glenda was an older gal, all of our patients had to be at least fifty-fifty years old. Most of our patients were closer to one hundred seventy-fifty years old. Glenda was married, and she was a hot mess. Her husband was a sweet, supportive, long suffering man.

Glenda had asthma, emphysema and COPD. As a result of her respiratory disorders and diseases, she suffered from chronic anxiety and depression. She was a very frequent flyer on the SAGE Unit, the Gero/Psych Unit at Del Webb. I would get to know her and her husband very well in a relatively short amount of time.

In all honesty, I was extremely uncomfortable in Gero/Psych. I was not a Real Nurse. I was a psych nurse. I had worked in a strictly psychiatric setting for twenty years. When we had patients that were that physically sick at the VA, we transferred them to a Med/Surg Unit. I had to learn how to start an IV, how to draw blood all over again–even do blood transfusions. 😓 In order to transfer one of our SAGE patients to a Med/Surg Unit, they essentially had to be dead.

If you don’t use those skills, you lose those skills. I had to be retrained in almost everything. It was good to be able to master all those skills again, but I had the same underlying fear that I’d had way back in nursing school. I was sure I was going to kill one of my patients, or in a worst case scenario, all of them.

When my senior manager offered me a clinical management position, I took it out of self-preservation.

Glenda was probably what you would consider a difficult patient. We certainly did. She was anxious and depressed at home, so she desperately wanted to be hospitalized. She was depressed and anxious once she was admitted to the SAGE Unit, and she’d demand to be discharged. That’s where I came in. The staff nurses would call me and ask me to come try to reason with Glenda.

As a clinical manager, I didn’t have anything to do with her patient care, but I had a lots to do with patient and family education and satisfaction. One of my managerial duties was to round on a random sample of the patients on the SAGE Unit to assess their rating of the service being provided to them. In the world of BannerHealth, everything revolved around Patient Satisfaction Surveys. And do you know what I discovered? Old people suck!

Man, they hated everything!! That’s when I started calling them Raisins, the sunbaked asshole/bitches that they were. It was almost impossible to get them to give us high satisfaction ratings on any service we provided on those goddamn surveys, and we needed at least an eighty percent satisfaction rating or there was hell to pay! 😭😭😭

I had worked in healthcare for twenty years by this time. I knew when we were doing a great job. I knew when we were doing a bad job. The SAGE staff was extremely talented, and they did an amazing job. They should’ve gotten elevens on a scale from one to ten.

My Filipino Posse, that’s what I called them–a lots of the RN’s were from the Philippines–Al, Julius, Liligene, Wei, Jing. Julie and Ethel. I loved them all. Well, most of them. Almost all of them were great nurses. Except two. And everyone knows who they were. And they weren’t Julie and Ethel. Those two were so darlingpreshadorbs!!

I worked with another rockstar nurse there, Rhonda Dolatshahi. Rhonda told me she wanted to be listed in one of my Reflections posts someday. Well, Rhonda, today’s your lucky day.

I told she’d have to be naked in the story I wrote. So I want to thank Rhonda for coming into my office, closing the door, and taking off all her clothes and saying, “You’re a nurse. What do you think this is?”

Yeah, that never happened. Unfortunately.

Where was I? Oh, yes. Glenda.

Glenda was unhappy about everything. The nurses were rude. They weren’t doing anything to help her. They never answered her call light when she turned it on. And so on, and so forth. Blah, blah, blah.

I did a lots of redirection and refocusing with Glenda. I doubt I did much of anything to actually change Glenda’s mind, but I did spend a lots of time with her, and that’s probably all she really wanted.

But there was that one thing about Glenda. And that one thing was her tooth.

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Glenda had one tooth. And it seriously looked like that picture. She had dentures, but she rarely wore them. So when I went to listen to her litany of complaints, her tooth jumped into my field of vision, and it was the only thing I could see. It was like her tooth was talking to me. It was like watching a train wreck. I wanted to look away, but I couldn’t.

I stared at her tooth as if it were the only thing that existed in the world. I knew I was staring at her tooth. And so did Glenda. She eventually started putting a finger to her mouth when she talked to me, obscuring her mutant tooth. I actually laughed the first time she did it. So did she, come to think of it.

Glenda’s respiratory problems eventually got the best of her. She died at home, thank God. You wouldn’t believe the amount of paperwork involved when someone dies on a psych unit. And there’s always a follow up investigation, even if the person dies from natural causes.

Vaya con Dios, Glenda. I have to believe you went to a better place, and you’re at peace now. And you have all your teeth once more.

Sorry about that whole staring thing.