Grumpy Old Men

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

Very extremely psychotic.

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

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

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

* * * *

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

We liked Frank, but we loved Eunice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

“HELP!!!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

“What?”

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

“what?”

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

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

“is it time to eat yet?”

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

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

Never.

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

“what?”

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

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

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

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

“what?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To which Max replied:

“what?”

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

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

“what?”

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

“My wife is having an affair!”

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

“She’s the same age as I am.”

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

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

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

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

“There what was?”

“The turnip!”

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

“Sitting right there, on the kitchen counter!”

“And then what happened?”

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

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

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

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

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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…

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.

images-2

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

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

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

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

Sorry about that whole staring thing.

The Planet Zablotny

I’m not sure how to describe Mr Zablotny. I can’t recall his first name. He was a patient at the MVAMC. He was an older guy, maybe. I’m not sure. He didn’t look old.

I’m not sure why he was admitted anymore. Maybe he was depressed, but I would never see that side of him. He wasn’t aggressive or violent. And he wasn’t psychotic. But he was on my unit, so there had to be something wrong with him…

He was a huge man. Hence, my nickname for him. He probably weighed close to four bills. He was large enough to create his own ecosystem. He wasn’t physically fit, and could barely walk five steps–none independently. He needed at least a two person assist to be transferred or toileted, actually, maybe three people. He was an enormous Fall Risk, in more ways than one.

To manage him, we placed him in one of the private rooms near the nursing station, right across from the medication window. To keep him safe during the day, we put him in a gerichair and rolled him into the hallway. The nurse assigned to do Medications for the day essentially ended up doing 1:1 observation on Mr Zablotny.

The VA was the only hospital I worked at that assigned one nurse to pass all the meds to be given that shift. I’m not sure why that was, probably money. Money seems to be the answer to most of those questions. The VA had way more money than the private sector hospitals I worked in.

The first time I met the Planet Zablotny, I was the  med nurse of the day. He had been showered, dressed and rolled into the hallway by the Night shift nurses. I was pulling my meds for the shift, and whistling Moonlight Serenade.

Remember the movie Big? The scene where Josh and Susan are dancing at the amusement park? The band is playing in the background…

unnamed-1

That’s Moonlight Serenade.

“Oh, ho-hoho-ho-hoho!” the Planet Zablotny chortled. “I love that song! What’s the name of that song?”

I’m sure I had a hangover that morning, so I was likely in a lousy mood. And I’m very sure I was initially a jerk to the Planet Zablotny.

“Sweet Home Alabama.”

“Ha-haha-ha-haha! That’s right!!” he giggled like a kid. I stopped what I was doing and took a long hard look at the Planet Zablotny. A look of pure enjoyment radiated from his face. He was thrilled! “Oh God, it was in that movie! Which one was that?”

This, is going to be fun, I thought, and I smiled, like The Grinch.

“Nightmare on Elm Street.”

“Hee-heehee-hee! That’s the one!! Oh, gosh, I love that movie! That guy was in it! Oh, what was his name?”

“Jerry Mathers.”

“Ohhhh, God, yes! Man, I love that guy! He’s so good!! He was in that other movie…  Oh, damn! What was that called?” The Planet Zablotny looked at me, hopefully.

“The Man in the Iron Mask?” I guessed. And I realized what was happening. The Planet Zablotny had CRS! He couldn’t remember shit!!

It’s entirely possible the Planet Zablotny suffered from some type of dementia. We treated a lots of veterans with dementia. Maybe he was admitted for that. He certainly didn’t appear to be depressed, and if he was, I doubt he could remember he was.

It didn’t make any difference what answer I gave to any question, it was always the correct answer. I totally fell in love with the Planet Zablotny.

“Oh, yesyesyes! That’s it!” the Planet Zablotny continued. “That’s my favorite movie! And he sings that song…  Oh, which one was it?”

“All I Want For Christmas is My Two Front Teeth?”

“Oh-hoho-haha-hee! That’s the one!” The Planet Zablotny was grinning from ear to ear. By this time, I was too.

“What the hell are you doing over here?” It was my buddy, Paul Anderson.

“Check this out.”

Paul and I played the endless movie trivia game with the Planet Zablotny all shift. As long as someone was willing to offer an answer–any answer–the Planet Zablotny always had another question. The only times he stopped was during meals and when he fell asleep.

It was one of the best work days I had at the MVAMC. Paul had a blast, too. The Planet Zablotny had the best day, ever. I taught my co-workers the game. Some of them were more motivated than others. Some weren’t interested. Some were annoyed.

The Planet Zablotny was our guest at the MVAMC for a couple of weeks. I played Made Up Movie Trivia with the Planet Zablotny every chance I got. I was incredibly saddened when he was discharged, and actually hoped he’d be readmitted. If it had been up to me, we would’ve kept him until he died.

Alas, it was not to be. The Planet Zablotny wouldn’t return. He most likely died at the nursing home we returned him to.

I hope there was someone on staff that loved to play Made Up Movie Trivia with Mr Zablotny.

He loved that game.

Wild and Crazy Guys

When you’re a psych nurse, you get to meet a lots of crazy people. Even if you’re not a psych nurse, you get to meet a lots of crazy people. But they’re your friends, or your parents, and they don’t count.

I’ve met so many kooky people, I can’t keep them all straight anymore. But these are some that stick out in my mind.

The Tin Man. He was a patient at the MVAMC. I would meet him only once, which was actually quite rare at the VA.  He was an incredibly muscular young man, which probably explained all the people that escorted him to the unit. Almost all of the Outpatient staff had walked him over. You could tell right away he was going to be interesting. For starters, he drew a crowd.  For another, he was wearing a hat made of aluminum foil.

“What’s with the hat?” I asked.

“Aliens.”

“Like, from Outer Space? Those kind of aliens?”

“Yessir.”

“What does the hat do?”

“Mind control.”

“Ah! It…prevents…mind control?”

“Yessir.”

We did skin assessments on all of our patients when they were admitted. We needed to know if they had any open wounds, or lice. Stuff like that. We also wanted to make sure they weren’t concealing any contraband items, like guns. Or knives. Or drugs.

When we did our initial skin assessment on the Tin Man, we discovered he wasn’t wearing just a hat made of aluminum foil, he was wearing a suit made of aluminum foil. Hence, the nickname.

“That has to be incredibly uncomfortable.” I observed.

“Yessir, but you get used to it.”

I was able to convince the Tin Man to surrender his special suit to us with the assistance of my good friend, Paul Anderson. I told the Tin Man he was in a government facility, and all government buildings have a secret layer of lead added when the building is constructed.

“For real?” the Tin Man asked. I am apparently quite a convincing liar. I’ve had many people tell me they couldn’t tell if I was telling the truth or not. Even when I said something ridiculous. And those were people I worked with.

“Oh yeah,” Paul said. “We have a lot of politicians and high powered dignitaries that visit here, and the last thing they want is space aliens taking over their minds.”

“Definitely.” I added. “They might do something unthinkable, like their jobs.”

* * * *

Wally World. He was also a patient at the MVAMC, and he would check in every few years or so. Wally was homeless. Well, he said he lived in a dumpster, so he wasn’t technically homeless in his mind. You wouldn’t believe how awful he smelled when he was admitted. Be that as it may, he was quite kooky, and he collected things.

That’s what he called it. His roommates called it stealing, and threatened to beat the shit out of him. We had two private rooms right by the nursing station, but we generally filled those rooms with old confused guys. I moved Wally into a seclusion room for his safety. Then I ended up locking him in it to keep him from getting killed to death. He couldn’t stop collecting things.

Some of the guys on the unit were combat veterans, guys who had fought in wars, and had killed other human beings in the service of their country. And some of them were the last person you’d want to piss off because they probably would kill you.

Being homeless, well, living in a dumpster, Wally probably didn’t have a lots of stuff. I doubt any of the stuff he had could be classified as nice. I’m sure the temptation to have nice stuff was overpowering to Wally. If he saw anything he liked, he simply took it. Being crazy as a loon probably didn’t make it any easier…

The rules and regulations for seclusion and restraints were the parts of my job that changed the most during my nursing career. When I started in Psychiatry, patients were secluded and restrained for almost any reason. Locking Wally in his room because he couldn’t stop stealing may seem punitive today, but it was acceptable back then. My boss had no problem with my decision, as long as I tried setting Wally free every day.

Nowadays, you need overwhelming evidence of a clear and present danger to self or others before you even think about using S & R. Especially in the private sector.

I worked for the VA. Technically, each VA hospital is supposed to follow the statutes of the state it’s in, but the VA is a Federal institution, and the Federal government doesn’t like the States telling it what to do. We pretty much did whatever we wanted to when it came to controlling the unit and managing the behavior of our patients.

I met with Wally every day that I worked while he was there during that admission. I thoroughly explained my expectations about his behavior to him. Don’t take anything that doesn’t belong to you. If it’s not already in your room, it doesn’t belong to you!

I’m not sure if Wally didn’t listen, or if he couldn’t process what I was saying. I stepped between him and a very pissed off person more than once to prevent bloodshed. I’d return whatever he had taken, and then I’d lead Wally back to his room and lock the door.

“I don’t like you,” Wally told me one day as I was locking him back up again, after I saved his life and returned the item or items he had collected while he was free. “You’re mean, and icky. The only reason you’re doing this is because I can rap better than you!”

See what I mean?

Wally eventually came back to earth. He stopped collecting things, and we discharged him back to his dumpster until the next time.

* * * *

National Security. The Secret Service would bring people to the MVAMC from time to time because they had threatened to kill the President. It was always in conjunction with a Presidential visit to Minnesota.

If you’ve never met a Secret Service agent, they’re intimidating. They’re all tall, and their muscles have muscles. They all wear black suits and sunglasses. And they never, ever smile.

“Lock this man up in that room until we tell you to let him go.” a non-smiling agent would say, and point to a seclusion room.

“This is a locked unit. He’s already locked up.” I said, once.

“Locked up, in that room. Or you can join him. It’s a matter of national security.” When the President’s visit was over, the Secret Service would call and give us the green light, and we could discharge the person they had delivered into our custody.

And we would comply. Once we even put a man in four point restraints and locked the door because the Secret Service ordered us to. Several hours later we cut him loose, again, at the direction of the Secret Service. It was the only time I ever released someone that had been restrained and secluded directly to the street.

I have to admit, I’m not sure who was kookier now. The people that hated the President, the Secret Service, or us.

* * * *

The Mad Crapper. He was one of the kooky guys that liked to strip and go naked at the MVAMC. Truly crazy people emit an aroma or pheromone or something. I could tell how psychotic someone was simply from their smell.

That was true with the Mad Crapper, but he had a little something extra in his mix. That guy had a seemingly endless supply of shit inside him. He would crap like a moose. Nay, he would crap like a herd of moose. Yea, verily, he crapped like unto a veritable elephant.

The Mad Crapper crapped like no one you had ever seen. Or smelled. You would think after taking a dump like that, the guy wouldn’t need to poop again for a month.

After he downloaded enough crap to fill the halls of Congress, he would paint himself and the walls of the seclusion room with fecal matter. We would clean him up, and his room. And he would shit all over everything again with the same incredible amount of crap.

There’s something they never showed the nurses having to do on Days of Our Lives.

* * * *

The Piss Guzzler. His name was Patrick. I met him at the Minnesota State Hospital. You can probably guess why I gave him his nickname.

Patrick used to drink water by the gallon, and then he’d go crazier than hell. We’d have to lock him up with a few urinals and empty them as soon as he filled one, or he’d guzzle his piss like it was a bucket of beer.

Patrick was generally a pretty nice guy, unless he was intoxicated on water. He once charged my friend and mentor, Sondra, with deadly intent in his eyes. She had to lock herself in the report room. She later told me she was sure Patrick would have killed her if he had caught her.

Patrick climbed the flagpole one day. I’m not sure if I was there when it happened or not, but I have a vague memory of someone telling me I had to get him down from there. That was a very tall flagpole, and Patrick had climbed all the way to the top.

“The hell I do. Haven’t you heard of gravity?” I think I responded, if I was there.

Patrick eventually came down from the flagpole, all by himself, whether I was there or not.

* * * *

The Stalker. I met this guy at the County Hospital in Arizona. He looked to be a kind of a sweet, benign kooky guy. He mostly sat on the couch in the lounge, staring off into the distance at nothing, smiling to himself. I called him The Stalker because he had convinced himself one of local news anchors, Beverly Kidd, had fallen in love with him. He wrote her love letters, and started hanging around her TV station. He gave her flowers and candy. She filed a restraining order against him, which he ignored. He was arrested, and then he started writing letters to Beverly telling her how he was going to kill her and her children. The next thing he knew, he was locked up in a psych hospital.

He had two warnings taped to his chart. One, we were supposed to notify Beverly Kidd immediately upon his release. And two, we weren’t supposed to let him watch the news on Channel 3. That was Beverly’s network.

I think I left the County before he did, so I don’t know how his story ended.

* * * *

When it comes to my personal wild and crazy guys, this is but the tip of the tip of the iceberg. I’m sure I’ll visit this neighborhood again.

Sometimes the memories are still so real I’m not sure I ever left.

The Jawbone of an Ass

My jaw has been bothering me quite a bit lately. It’s been a little over eight months since I was assaulted, resulting in the nondisplaced mandibular fracture that certainly doesn’t feel all that nondisplaced to me.

My dentist at Surprise Smiles 😆 told me it could take up to a year for my jaw muscles to realign to the new profile of my bite. This wasn’t what I wanted to hear back then, but if it will truly take that long, the good news is I have a mere four months to go.

I have sustained several physical injuries during my career as a psychiatric nurse. I also sustained several more injuries during my career as a drunken moron. These two careers overlapped each other for at least ten years, so it’s hard for me to separate them sometimes. The net result is pain, and for anyone that lives with daily chronic pain, it really doesn’t matter where or how it originated. You simply have to learn to live with it.

I was physically assaulted on three separate occasions during my nursing career. That averages out to one assault roughly every ten years. Somewhat oddly, I was struck in the face each time.

The first time, I never saw the punch coming. I was working at the MVAMC. My back was turned to the guy that hit me. Merrill came up behind me and suckerpunched the right side of my face because he wanted to go smoke, but I had taken away his smoking privileges because he was being an asshole.

It took me a moment to figure out what the hell got happened, and then it hit me, so to speak. That sonuvabitch punched me! My first response was to immediately punch him back. Yeah, guy logic, if there is such a thing.

My co-workers intervened. Merrill was quickly whisked into a seclusion room. I was sent to Employee Health be evaluated. I sustained no serious injury, but the doctor gave me the rest of the day off, just because.

The second assault occurred at Aurora. It was my second year there. I remember it as The Year of the Borderlines. My unit was generally designated as the  Marginally Functional Psychotic Unit, but that year we got hit with a tsunami of patients with Borderline Personality Disorder.

One Borderline can be enough to stand your unit on its head. A gaggle of Borderlines (?) A gossip of Borderlines…  I like that! A lots of Borderlines gathered together is rarely a good thing, particularly if you’re a psych nurse. And especially if the gossip is gaggling on your unit.

It takes an awesome skill set to effectively manage that.

The patient in question was Melissa, maybe. I used to remember everything about every one of my patients, but they eventually melded into one multi-headed mutant patient. Mel was having a difficult day obtaining the level of attention she desired, so she decided to go full on Drama Llama and had a VPM–Very Public Meltdown. Mel was good for usually one of these a day. She would set off a chain reaction with the rest of her Borderline buddies, and chaos would ensue.

On this particular day, I didn’t respond the way she wanted me to (I didn’t call the doctor to get injectable meds), so she stormed off to her room to slam the door and scream.

Karen Rae Goff, social worker extraordinaire, happened to be on the unit at the time. Karen also happened to be Melissa’s social worker, so we went to her room to see what Mel had planned for her next move.

“Get out of here!” Mel screamed at us as I opened the door.

“I need to know that you’re going to be safe.” I said, from the doorway.

“Leave me alone, or I’ll kick your fucking ass!” she screamed. And then I did something stupid:

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Melissa launched herself at me and started swinging. I blocked her first punch or two, but then she caught me with a left jab that knocked my glasses askew on my face.

That stirred something inside Karen, and she let loose on Melissa with her Mom Voice, and Mel was so stunned she stopped acting like a temper tantrum toddler.

“I can’t fucking believe you did that.” I said, and calmly readjusted my glasses.

“You asked for it.” Melissa replied.

“Are you going to press charges?” Karen asked me. It’s a felony to physically assault a healthcare worker in Arizona. Melissa let a momentary look of panic escape, and that’s when I fell in love with Karen. We never had another problem with Melissa. She was a little angel for the remainder of her stay.

And that brings us to Assault #3, which also happened at Aurora.

That day started out like any other day. Dr Sbiliris, the psychiatrist assigned to the Canyon Unit, came onto the unit to meet with his patients. One of them, a young kid named Desean asked to be discharged. Dr Sbiliris kind of laughed and said, “No, probably Friday. Maybe Wednesday.”

Desean seemed to accept that, even if it wasn’t the answer he wanted to hear.

And then something happened that should’ve sent my Spidey senses tingling. A patient on the Canyon Unit started loudly acting out, and when the staff from other units rushed over to aid and assist, Desean bolted out the unit doors and made a break for freedom.

We took care of the Yelling Guy. Desean fell short in his sprint to escape. He returned to the unit with an escort, and went to his room. And there was peace in the Canyon once more. Until 2:00 PM.

That’s when Desean entered the dayroom and started yelling and throwing stuff.

My boss of bosses, Lori Milus, must’ve been having a rare quiet day because she had come down to chat. I went into the day room. One of the BHT’s was trying to verbally redirect Desean, and I provided back up. But Desean wasn’t having any of that shit.

“Come on, man.” I said. “You know how this works. Sbiliris says that to everyone. He wants to see how you’ll respond. You know acting like this isn’t going to get you out of here. If anything, it’ll extend your stay, and you clearly don’t want that. Use your head, think about this!”

Desean and I were standing in the doorway of the dayroom. The nursing station and the unit doors were behind me. The hallway leading to the patient rooms was behind Desean.

He didn’t say anything, as if he were contemplating the veracity of my words. He appeared to me to start turning to his right, and I thought he would keep on going and go back to his room. I also started turning to my right, thinking my work was done. But Desean was merely loading up. He stopped turning to his right and reversed direction. His right fist came flying at me at about the speed of light, catching me squarely on the jaw.

unnamed-1

I was launched into space, much like that. I landed by the unit doors, seven or eight feet away. Desean may have howled in triumph. He ripped off his shirt, daring me to get up and fight him.

Like that was going to happen.

I didn’t lose consciousness. I even kept my head elevated so it wouldn’t hit the floor. But I don’t think I could’ve gotten off the floor just then if my life had depended on it.

One of the darling nurses I worked with, Lindsey Stirling, picked up my glasses and protectively leaned over me as I lay on the floor, trying to out figure out what I should do next. Another nurse, Brea Bils, one of my darlingpreshadorbs work daughters, tried to check my blood pressure. She later told me she no idea what she was doing. She thought I had gotten dead.

I knew I didn’t got dead, so I think I even said that.

“I’m not dead. I didn’t lose consciousness. My jaw…is really sore, but other than that, I’m okay.”

A group of BHT’s had escorted Desean into one of the Overflow rooms. Aurora was the only psychiatric facility I worked at that didn’t allow the use of seclusion and/or restraints to manage a behavioral crisis. Desean got several injections. And he was kept under close observation by several large men.

Once Desean was medicated and no longer actively assaultive, my boss asked me if I wanted to press charges. I did.

If Desean had been psychotic and responding to internal stimuli, that might’ve changed my decision. But Desean wasn’t psychotic. He didn’t get what he wanted, and he decided to act like a thug. That definitely was a factor in determining my decision.

The police took my statement. They took Desean into custody. Thankfully, Frankie Baby wasn’t there, or the police would’ve had to arrest him for murder. And there was peace in the Canyon once more.

I didn’t find out my jaw was broken until the following day when I had a CT scan. Because my fracture was nondisplaced, there wasn’t much of a treatment. I was on a soft diet for six to eight weeks; nothing but soups, smoothies and ice cream.

I bought the world’s most expensive smoothie. I lost ten pounds. I gained all of them back once I could eat real food again. And now I’m learning to live with my new occlusion pattern. It’s a process. Some days are better than others. Today, it hasn’t been too bad. Yesterday fucking sucked.

And as Forrest Gump said, That’s all I have to say about that.

Get out and vote.

The Worst Week

October, 1994.

Lea was once again hospitalized at Fairview Medical Center. She had taken another turn for the worse. Abdominal Surgery Number Three had been in the summer of 1993. Ninety-five percent of her colon had been removed. Abdominal Surgery Number Four was on deck, and I was beginning to wonder what the endgame was going to be with this.

I mean, how much more of Lea’s gut were they thinking about removing? How much more could they remove?

It was early Monday morning, around mid-October. The phone rang at our house. It was my father-in-law, David Covington. He and his wife, Wanda, were living in San Benito, TX. They had retired down there years ago. Lea and I had visited them a year or two earlier during one of Lea’s periods of relative stability, all the way down at the bottom of Texas.

My father-in-law wasn’t an easy man to be around. He was a combat veteran of World War II and Korea. He had been wounded in each conflict, earning two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star for bravery in battle. He had a short fuse on his temper, and tended to yell a lots of the time. Dave had one bitch of a case of PTSD that he had never sought treatment for.

My mother-in-law was on the fast track to sainthood, in my opinion, for staying with her husband as long as she did.

“Hi Mark. It’s Dave. Say, I just wanted to let you know Wanda’s in the hospital. She’s actually in the same hospital that your wife is in.”

It took me a moment to process that. I was working a stretch of Nights at the MVAMC, and the ringing phone had awakened me.

“Why is she in the hospital. In Minneapolis.” I said. I don’t think it sounded like a question.

“Oh, well, she wanted to see her baby girl, and that’s Lea, you know. So, we drove up here over the weekend. And when we got here, Wanda had a small heart attack. So she’s in Fairview Hospital, on the fourth floor.” Dave may have even chuckled.

Dave was fairly nonchalant about it, but he was like that. When he told me the story about how he earned his Bronze Star, he made it sound as though he had been walking through the park. Except he and his men were being chased by an army of Nazis. Through a minefield. And the Nazis were desperately trying to kill them.

It was no big deal then, and this was likewise no big deal. The doctors wanted to run a couple tests, but Wanda was okay. She was resting comfortably. He thought she’d be well enough to travel back to Texas by the end of the week.

“Let me jump in the shower. I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

I met Dave in Fairview’s main lobby. He had visited both his wife and his daughter; Lea knew her mother was in the hospital, two floors below her. Lea’s room was on the sixth floor. Dave hadn’t had any sleep. He wanted to go to his hotel, take a nap and get cleaned up.

“Go ahead. I got this.” I said.

Lea was excited and very chatty when I got to her room. She had already talked to her mom on the phone, and wanted to go see her mom, of course. She had gotten all dolled up; hair, make up, everything. The sixth floor nurses had dropped everything else to help her. Those nurses had  become part of our family  through the multiple admissions and surgeries Lea had had over the previous couple of years.

Lea looked great. I wheeled her and all of her IV pumps and bags of IV fluids down to the fourth floor and Wanda’s room. Wanda also looked great. The fourth floor nurses, who didn’t know Wanda at all, had also given Lea’s mom every possible assistance to help her get all dolled up. The sixth floor nurses had called the fourth floor nurses and had explained the unique situation to them.

Those sixth floor nurses, they were total rockstars.

Lea and Wanda hugged and kissed and talked and talked. It had been Wanda’s idea to drive to Minneapolis. She felt an intense need to see her baby girl before this upcoming surgery. Her gut told her she needed to be here.

This would be my life for the next few days: Work nights at my hospital. Catch twenty to thirty winks of sleep. Shower. Eat something. Go visit my wife and her parents at the other hospital. Repeat.

I informed my boss of this latest wrinkle in the seemingly neverending saga that was my wife’s healthcare nightmare. Marj was actually supportive, verbally, though not enthusiastically so. I was too tired to give much thought to my boss’ reaction. I was pretty sure my life couldn’t get much worse.

On Day Three of my new routine, Wanda’s heart specialist doctor wanted to talk to Dave about his wife’s prognosis. Dave wanted me to be there when he met with the doctor. It turned out Wanda’s condition was much worse than Dave described.

Wanda’s family suffered from heart disease. In short, my wife comes from a long line of people that died young from heart attacks. Wanda was in her sixties. She had serious coronary artery disease, and already had one coronary bypass surgery about a decade earlier. She saw a team of heart specialists on a regular basis in Houston. Dave wanted to stabilize his wife enough to take her back to Houston for treatment.

“Yeah, you could do that,” Wanda’s Minnesota doctor said. “But she probably won’t survive the trip.” The results of Wanda’s angiogram showed an eighty to ninety percent blockage in three of her major coronary arteries. “She needs another bypass, immediately.”

Fairview Medical Center might not be the Texas Heart Institute, but it wasn’t the worst place to go to be treated for heart disease either. The hospital had an eighty percent success rate with their coronary bypass surgeries. Dave asked me what I thought.

“This is a decision for you and Wanda to make. You could call her team in Houston, and see what they think, if you have any major objections. And this isn’t my specialty area…  I haven’t worked in Cardiac Care for… six years. But if this were me, and this was my best option to save my wife, I’d have the surgery here. This is a good hospital. They’ve kept your daughter alive three times already when she could’ve died.”

And they’d be getting a chance at Number Four very soon.

“I’ve got to talk to Wanda…” Dave said.

It was a no-brainer for Wanda. She consented to the surgery. It was scheduled for Friday.

When Friday came, I slept almost all day, which was unusual for me, even when I worked Nights. I called Lea around 5:00 PM. Wanda had been the last case of the day. She went to the OR around 3:00 PM. There hadn’t been any recent updates, but everything had been going smoothly. The fourth and sixth floor nurses had talked to the OR staff, and they would keep everyone in the loop.

Sleep deprived and feeling foggy, I ate some leftovers and went back to bed. I woke up around 11:00 PM and went to work.

At around midnight, I got a phone call.

“Hi Mark. This is Dave. Say, the surgery went well, but then something happened.”

I felt my heart stop beating.

“The doctors haven’t been able to get Wanda’s heart to start beating on its own again. They’ve had her on life support since the end of the surgery…”

“How long has that been?”

“Oh, I think since about six o’clock.”

“Okay,” I tried to get my brain working. “Now what? Do they have any idea what they’re going to do?”

“Well, yeah.” he stammered. “They want to take her off life support. They’ve done everything they can, but Wanda’s heart just isn’t strong enough…  I think I’ve lost my co-pilot.”

I hung up the phone. I couldn’t believe what I’d just heard. I told my co-workers. And I called my horrible boss, Marj, to let her know I was leaving work and that she needed to come in and take my place.

“I’ll be there as soon as I can.” she said. Marj walked on the unit about an hour later. She didn’t look pleased. I could care less what she thought or felt, but I briefly thanked her for coming in to relieve me, then drove like a bat out of hell to Fairview Medical Center.

I met Dave in the main lobby one more time. Wanda had been taken off of life support right after we had talked on the phone.

“Wanda’s gone…” he said. He was holding back his tears.

“I’m so sorry for your loss.”

We hugged each other for a long time. Dave was saying something, I can’t remember what he said anymore. I wasn’t really listening anyway. I was thinking about my wife.

“Does Lea know?”

“No. No. I was waiting for you. I can’t tell her her mother is dead.”

I have no clear recollection of most of what followed. I think Dave went to call Lea’s ex-husband, so he could tell their daughters about their grandmother. I went to the sixth floor. The nurses came running up to me when I got off the elevator. All of them were crying. I hugged them all, they tearfully expressed their condolences.

“What does Lea know? Did you tell her?” I asked the sobbing nurses.

“No. You have to tell her.” one of the nurses said, drying her tears with a Kleenex. Her name was Mary, and of all the incredible rockstar nurses that took care of us, Pretty Mary was our favorite. We called her Pretty Mary because there was more than one Nurse Mary on the sixth floor, and she was the prettiest.

God, give me strength, I thought. I was sure I’d rather die than be the messenger bearing this news. I talked to Lea’s nurses for a moment, telling them how I heard the news and what my horrible boss had done. They knew all about my toxic relationship with Marj.

“Okay…” I said more to myself than anyone else, and headed down the hallway to Lea’s room.

“Oh my God! What time is it? Why are you here? What happened?” Lea said in a rush, the moment she saw me in her room in the dead of night.

“I don’t know any other way to tell you this. Your mom’s heart wasn’t strong enough…” I didn’t have to say anything else.

“Oh, no!” Lea cried. And I held her for the longest time as she started grieving the loss of her mother. “I want to go see her!”

The nurses were ready. They flowed into the room, and hugged Lea. Through their tears they checked all of Lea’s IV bags, helped her change into a fresh gown and robe, transferred her into a wheelchair and brushed her hair.

Dave and I were waiting in the hallway when the nurses rolled Lea out of her room. She cried with her dad for a time. He told her how much Wanda had wanted to see her, and how much Wanda loved her. And then he told Lea how much he loved her. Lea later said that was the most surprising thing that happened that night.

Lea’s daughters arrived at the hospital swiftly. Dave led the way to where Wanda’s body lay in state. The OR staff had cleaned her up, and left her body in the OR suite. No one was able to speak, so I said something appropriate for the situation– what a wonderful gal Wanda was, how much we loved her and how much we were all going to miss her…

The staff told us to take as much time as we wanted. We stayed with Wanda for at least half an hour, maybe an hour. There’s only so much crying you can do at one time. I don’t think the girls wanted to leave their grandmother alone in that room. But the transport crew was waiting to take Wanda’s body to the funeral home, and the cleaning crew still waiting to scrub the OR suite down.

I don’t know how long I stayed at the hospital. I took Lea back to her room after her dad took her daughters home. We talked about her mom.

“I didn’t go see her before her surgery.” Lea said. We were laying in her hospital bed, her head was on my chest. “You usually come in, and I thought I’d wait until you came in. But you didn’t, and I didn’t want to inconvenience the nurses. They’re always so busy…  So I didn’t go see my mom, and now I’ll never be able to see her again.”

Sometimes it’s the things you don’t do that you end up regretting the most.

I know I eventually went home and slept. I may have actually had the weekend off because I don’t have any memory of going back to work until after Wanda’s funeral.

I called Marj on Monday morning, and view of the tragic circumstances, I requested the week off. Marj told me I’d have to talk to her boss, Mary Erdman. I called Mary and explained my situation to her. She already knew what was going on with my wife, but she didn’t know about my mother-in-law. In view of the circumstances, I thought requesting a week off was very reasonable.

“Do really you think you need the entire week off?” Marj’s boss asked me.

“No, I don’t think I need a week off. I need a month off, but I’ll settle for a week!” I replied, and slammed the telephone receiver down on the base without waiting to hear Mary’s response.

This, I thought, means war.

But first, I had to bury my mother-in-law.

Bon anniversaire

Almost twenty eight years ago I married my lovely supermodel wife, Lea. We actually got married on a Monday, and our anniversary falls on a Monday this year, so it’s kind of a double anniversary–day and date.

I’m not sure when I started to begin to commence to get ready to think about proposing, but I knew I would marry this woman. I was working at AMRTC. It was a Saturday in September in 1988. Lea and I were walking through the Crossroads Mall in St Cloud.  We were strolling along, holding hands, and we walked past DJ Bitzen’s Jewelers. On an impulse, I swerved in and asked the clerk if she had any engagement rings.

“What?!?” Lea exclaimed. I had surprised her.

“Do you see anything you like?”

“Ohh! All of them.” Lea sighed. This was going to be easier than I thought. I pointed to a ring. The clerk took it out of the display case and handed it to Lea to try on. Her hands were shaking.

“I’m so nervous.” she said to the clerk, and something like this happened:

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Yep, slippery little suckers, aren’t they? The clerk retrieved the ring. I shook my head, Not that one.

“What else do you have?” I asked.

“Um, how about this one?” the clerk suggested. She handed it to Lea, whose hands were quite possibly shaking even more. And this happened:

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This ring flew even farther than the first. The clerk retrieved this ring and put it back in the case.

“I’m so sorry!” Lea apologized. “Let’s go–”

“Not yet. You pick a ring this time.” Lea took a couple of deep breaths, composed herself for a minute. She perused the selection of gold and diamonds, and pointed out a ring. The clerk looked like she didn’t know whether to hike the ring to Lea and go deep or what to do. She smiled at Lea, handing her the ring she had selected. I seriously think both of them held their breath. And this happened:

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Lea placed the ring on her finger without throwing it.

“This is the wedding band.” the clerk said. I guess they come in sets… Lea slipped the second ring onto her finger, and admired how it looked for a moment or two.

I thanked the clerk for all her hard work, and we left the store. We probably went to get something to eat. If it has anything to do with shopping, I get hungry. Not sure why that is.

I called DJ Bitzen’s on Monday morning. The store is closed on Sundays. As chance would have it, I ended up talking to the clerk that had waited on us. She had no problem recalling who we were.

“Do you remember which ring my girlfriend didn’t throw?” I asked.

“Yes, I do!” she laughed. I told her to upgrade the diamond, and wrap it up. I’d take it.

* * * *

A few weeks later, Lea’s ring was ready to be picked up. I called my cousin, Danny W. Long, and told him my devious plan to propose to my lovely girlfriend. He agreed. Now all I had to do was convince her.

Lea and I were living in Minneapolis. Her ring was in St Cloud. All I had to do was get Lea to go to St Cloud.

“No, I’m not interested in going to St Cloud…” was Lea’s response when I suggested it. As chance would have it, the day I was going to propose to Lea happened to be her birthday. I told her I needed a tune up and oil change on my car, and Cousin Dan and I were going to do that. Dan’s girlfriend would be there, so she’d have someone to talk to. And then we’d go grab something to eat…for her birthday…

Lea reluctantly agreed. We drove the seventy-five miles or so to St Cloud. I dropped Lea off at Cousin Dan’s. She and Margie were chatting away in the kitchen. Dan and I actually bought a bunch of tune up stuff, my car really did need an oil change. And we went over to DJ Bitzen’s.

Lea and Margie were still in the kitchen when we got back. I couldn’t wait to show Lea all the cool stuff I bought. Spark plugs, condenser, oil, oil filter and…a…ring!

I got down on one knee, and asked Lea to marry me:

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Lea said, “Yes!”

It was the last time I surprised her.

We were married thirty-four days later. I don’t think anyone at our wedding was giving us more than six months. I should’ve taken that bet.

There have been plenty of times when we could’ve gotten divorced. I know thought about a couple times. I have no idea how many times Lea contemplated it, but I know she did.

I think our secret for staying together has been this: we didn’t hate each other at the same time. It might sound weird, but I think that’s it.

I’m taking Lea out in a few minutes. We’re going out with a few of our Ajijic peeps tonight. Lea’s actually going shopping with the girls in Guadalajara on Monday, so we decided to celebrate our anniversary tonight. We’re going to Go. It’s one of the many fine dining establishments down here.

Happy anniversary, honey. Buen provecho.

The Witch Queen of New Orleans

I met the Witch Queen at St Luke’s Behavioral Health. I had just started there after fleeing Banner Del E Webb Medical Center. The Witch Queen had been on my unit–AP 5–for quite some time. She was what we in the business refer to as a ‘placement problem.’

Almost all psychiatric treatment centers are acute care facilities. In places such as these, patients are stabilized as quickly as possible and then discharged back home, or to a halfway house, a group home, a homeless shelter–something/anything like unto that. In essence, all patients have to be discharged to a some where.

Every now and then a patient will be admitted to your facility that finding the where place to send them to is supremely difficult. This is usually the result of said patient being an unimaginable, monstrous pain in the ass, and they have essentially been kicked out of every decent existing placement facility in your area. Even all the roach motel placement dives that will normally accept anyone with a pulse and the money to pay for their care won’t take them either.

What you’re left with is a nightmare because the person no one wants is stuck inside your facility, and you’re trapped inside with them. It’s like being in a horror movie, except it’s not a movie, and no one ever gets to say, “Cut!”

This is where having an amazing social worker comes in handy. In the world of Inpatient psychiatric treatment, the psychiatrist orders medications. The nurse administers the meds and manages any medical issues, as well as as a varied assortment of other duties as required. And the social worker drives the discharge bus. Social workers also perform a thousand and one other miscellaneous duties, much like nurses. Take it from me, a really good social worker is worth twice his or her weight in gold.

My personal favorite social workers based on the fact that I actually worked with them: Tom McClellan, best social worker at the MVAMC. Mike Greeman, second best social worker at the MVAMC. Brian Lockwood, great social worker at the MVAMC. Denise Blackfeet Wagner, really great social worker at the MVAMC. Michelle Zwemke Burns, great social worker at Del E Webb. Amy Bressler, great social worker at Del E Webb. Ray Young, great social worker at Aurora. Karen Rae Goff, my personal favorite greatest social worker at Aurora, ever. For all time.

Oddly, I can’t remember the names of any of the social workers at St Luke’s. I do remember one of the social workers–she dressed like a prostitute, right down to the fishnet stockings and the miniskirts. Maybe social worker was her day job…

Now then, where were we? Oh, yes. The Witch Queen.

Her name was Larue. I think ‘The Diary of a Mad Black Woman’ was written about her. If it wasn’t, it could’ve been. She was from New Orleans, and she ended up in Arizona in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, somehow. This is how I imagined it happened: someone, probably a social worker, bought her a bus ticket as far away from the Big Easy as they could afford, and that’s how she ended up in Phoenix.

It didn’t take long for Larue to develop a reputation once she arrived in Phoenix. She was quickly banned from all the nice placement facilities. The placement dumps followed suit quickly. She probably set a record for how quickly no place in Phoenix wanted her at their facility.

Larue was truly psychotic. Even when she was as stabilized as much as modern psychiatric treatment could possibly accomplish, she was still crazier than two Mad Hatters. She would sit quietly in the day room, absorbed by whatever it was that was playing inside her head. And then she’d get up and stroll toward the nursing station…

There are times when a narrative is just not sufficient to portray the quality of something, like Roya’s darlingpreshadorbs Persian accent. Or Larue’s psychotic Witch Queen motormouth, blackmagicmojo ramblings. It’s been probably five years or more since I’ve heard one, and I had to go make sure she wasn’t standing outside my front door before I started writing this.

There were three points of patient access at the AP 5 nursing station. There were Dutch doors on either end, and a window in the middle of the station. Larue would randomly pick one of those three spots, and for lack of a better descriptive term, go off like a motherfucker on the unfortunate nurse sitting at that spot in the nursing station.

Larue didn’t appear to have any preference. She didn’t single out any particular nurse. She just let whomever have it with both barrels at point blank range, and there was no such thing as verbally redirecting Larue once she got started. She was a laser guided, heat seeking missile of psychosis that delivered a payload of unintelligible insanity. Her speech was a combination of English, Creole, spittle and craziness delivered in an extremely loud shriek.

Larue would let her victim have it, and when she had completed her rambling voodoo curse, or whatever it was she was doing, she would take a deep breath, nod her head and walk away. And there was peace once more. Until the next time…

It was inevitable that Larue would pick me for one of her rants. In fact, I can remember a few. The first time, I wanted to die, maybe. I should’ve pretended to have a seizure, that might’ve distracted her–but if you’re going to fake a seizure, you really need to pee your pants or no one will ever take you seriously.

The second time I was better prepared and smiled every now and then, but mostly nodded in agreement a lots of times.

The third time, I actually don’t remember the third time, but my first ex-work wife, Deb Goral does. Larue went all batshit crazy on me, as usual. She’s shrieking at me in Chinese Creole English or something, and spitting all over the plexiglass window separating us. I think she wanted me to discharge her, “…or all your hair will fall out! Great googly-moogly, prolly nolly dictum!!”

I ran my hand over my head and said, “Oh my God, it worked!”

All things must pass. Nothing in this world is permanent. Larue was eventually discharged to a facility near Tucson. The Witch Queen was gone, the memory of her presence would fade. She would be replaced by other nightmare patients, some of whom would make the Witch Queen look like a fairy princess.

Psych nursing is a lots like working in a pawn shop. You never know what’s going to walk through that door. So be careful what you ask for. You just might get it.

Fabulous Roya

One of the most pleasant surprises I would experience working at Aurora was Roya, or as I came to think of her, Fabulous Roya. The photo above was taken at Christmas. Roya might be Iran’s Christmas present to America.

Roya was an RN. She worked full time at an Eye Surgery Clinic in Scottsdale when I first met her. She picked up extra shifts at Aurora on the weekends because, well, you never know what’s going to happen, and you shouldn’t put all your camels in the barn before the peacocks have their pajamas on.

I’ll tell you what. I used to spend a lots of time in Texas, and when it comes to turning a phrase, can’t nobody beat a Texan. They have a way with words, Texans do.

Now I’m gonna tell you damn what–Texans got nothing on Persians when it comes to turning a phrase. And not even a Texan can hold a candle to a Persian when they start waxing philosophic about life, or love, or food, or anything. And maybe it’s not all Persians. Maybe it was Roya. After all, she is fabulous.

I will never forget my first time working with Roya. My wife took one look at me when I got home and started dialing 911. I had to convince her I hadn’t been assaulted and ended up with a traumatic brain injury. I had a dazed look in my eyes.

“I’m fine. I just worked with Roya today.”

“What does that mean? What’s a ‘roya’?”

Roya’s family fled Iran after Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi was ousted from the Peacock Throne in 1979. She was the youngest of something like fifty children; the Prophet David would’ve been proud. This was perhaps the only subject Roya wouldn’t expansively talk about, but I think Roya was an honest to Allah, 100% genuinely real princess in Iran.

She came to this country, learned to speak English and got her nursing license. She got a job, divorced her husband, bought a house, and renovated everything inside and outside of it. (Spoiler alert! It was fabulous!) She built a life of her choosing, and continued her education, getting her Master’s degree in Nursing and she’ll be nurse practitioner by the end of the year.

Roya told me she became a nurse because the nurses in Iran wore the cutest outfits back before the overthrow of the Shah. I did a Google search. Iranian fashion was very Western before the Ayatollah took charge and burned all the miniskirts and go-go boots, and I think that’s what Iranian nurses once wore. I encouraged Roya to dress like her nursing idols, but she declined. That doesn’t mean she donned a chador–I didn’t call her Fabulous Roya for nothing.

Roya was one of the best nurses I’ve ever worked with. If there was a code of any color, Roya was always one of the first responders. There was one time I know of that she was the only responder. I used to be a first responder. The longer I worked in Psych, the less likely I was to actually respond to a code, unless it was on my unit. Also, the longer I worked in Psych, the less likely it was that there would be a behavioral code on my unit.

On the second day I worked with Roya, one of her patients started escalating. He probably wanted more meds, or different meds. And by different I mean Ativan, or maybe Subutex. Roya told the guy what she was willing to do for him, and she also told him what she wouldn’t do. She’d check his MAR, talk to his doctor; he was going to have to be patient and wait, but she was going to take care of him. And she called him Sweetheart. I can’t recall if the guy got what he wanted or if he was so stunned he simply walked away, but Roya was impressive.

“When I first saw you, I figured you were just another pretty face, but you’re a damn good nurse.”

“Seriously, you think I am just pretty, and nothing else? Markie! I can’t believe you would think that about me!” See? Fabulous.

Part of Roya’s charm was her voice and her accent. Replicating the sound of someone’s voice isn’t easy to do in a narrative. And in terms of Persians, what do most Americans think of when they hear that term? The Shahs of Sunset? I Dream of Jeannie?

Roya’s voice is what Jeannie’s voice should’ve sounded like. It was lilting, it was lyrical and musical. And it was non-stop.

In an earlier essay, I talked about my friend and mentor, Sondra, and I mentioned that she liked to talk. Sondra was a catatonic mute compared to Roya. Sondra was talkative. Roya was hyperverbal, on steroids. Seriously, I have never met anyone that wasn’t hypermanic, or on methamphetamine that talked as much as Roya. I doubt Roya had much self awareness about this aspect of her personality, and I know she had even less awareness about her volume. She even processed her thoughts out loud.

That part wasn’t so charming. In fact, for myself and almost everyone that ever worked with her, it was exhausting. I have described certain people I know as a force of nature, like, for instance, my wife. After working with Roya, I think Forces of Nature need to be measured on something like unto the Fujita scale for tornadoes. And based on that scale, Roya was an F-5. Maybe an F-6.

We all have our issues, right? Well, you do. As I sometimes tell my daughters, can’t everyone be perfect like me and you. And when it comes to fabulous, well, there’s only one Roya. The rest of us look like the Three Stooges trying to get a cat out of a tree compared to Roya.

I’ve been retired for a little over a month. Do I miss working for a living? I might, if I weren’t living in heaven on earth. Do I miss the people I worked with? Yes. And some of them I miss a lots.

Dooset daram, Fabulous Roya. I miss your koon.

Who’s Who

I don’t know if this has ever occurred to you or not, but sanity is kind of a one trick pony. I mean, all you get is rational thought and linear thinking. Insanity, on the other runs the gamut from abstract to zany.

This has nothing to do with this story, though it might be a topic for later discussion, but I have probably been certifiably crazy more than once in my life. I know my wife thinks so. I told her my life’s ambition was to become a prophet. She still doesn’t know what to think about that, and I divulged that factoid to her about fifteen years ago.

As much as I’d like this installment to be all about me, it’s not. It’s about the incredibly famous people I’ve met as a psych nurse. So let’s take a stroll down the Hall of Fame, shall we?

Jesus Christ. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve met Jesus. A dozen times or more, easily, and I ran into him at every hospital I’ve ever worked or trained at. The most interesting thing about Jesus–he never looked the same twice. Jesus was a young fat long haired white guy. A young tall skinny long haired white guy at least three times, if not more. A young skinny gay guy with a crewcut. An older, much heavier gay guy with an Elvis kind of hairstyle, except he had red hair. A fat Hispanic guy. A couple of different fat black guys. An old, generally crabby, white guy–one, two, three times.

Jesus–in the Bible–is my favorite guy, all time, hands down. Jesus–as a psych patient–was nothing like he was portrayed in the Bible. First, and foremost, he could no longer heal. Jesus, in his many manifestations as a psych patient, couldn’t fix a hangnail–forget about doing anything useful, like casting out demons or raising people from the dead. Secondly, Jesus the psych patient had nothing new to say about God, or the Kingdom of Heaven, or whom the blessed really were, or what we could expect when The End finally came.

One of the psycho Jesuses I met during my career was a guy named Ed. He was one of our frequent flyers at the MVAMC. One day Ed said this,”You know, I think I’m getting better. I used to think I was Jesus Christ, but now I know I’m John the Baptist.”

“You remember how John died, don’t you? I asked, after I stopped laughing.

“Yeah, and I think I’d rather have my head chopped off than get nailed to a cross.” It’s hard to argue with that kind of logic.

I’ve met God the Father twice, both times at the MVAMC. He was really tall, both times. Once he was middle aged. Once he was in his seventies. He was mostly calm, with moments of explosiveness in both of his incarnations. Papa God was mostly an entertaining psychiatric deity. And, if I remember correctly, he kinda liked his women with a little meat on their bones, if you know what I mean.

I met the Holy Spirit but once. He was the last of the Holy Trinity I’d meet, and I had almost given up hope of ever meeting him. El Espíritu Santo was an Hispanic guy who was hurriedly admitted to my unit at Aurora one Saturday morning. The Admissions staff was afraid he was going to kill them, so they rushed him to my unit first, and left all that pesky paperwork to be figured out later.

The Holy Spirit was a hot mess at first, but he settled down and became quite cooperative after a double dose of Zyprexa Zydis and a couple hours of answering my questions, and I had a lot of them. I asked every divine avatar I met these questions. How did that whole Triune God thing work anyway? How, exactly, were we created in the image of God. Did God have a physical body? What did He look like? How many angels, exactly, could dance on the head of a pin? Where was Heaven, and did Elijah have anything he wanted to say to his friends or family? I’m pretty sure those guys regretted being admitted to my unit, and most of them stopped saying anything about being any kind of god whenever I was around.

The only other deity I’ve met was Mars, the Roman God of War. He was a patient at the Minnesota State Hospital. He only identified himself to me as Mars once, and he couldn’t speak Latin. However, I took him seriously enough that I had to think myself invisible in order to survive.

That’s a scene from a cop movie that I can’t remember the name of, but this cop survives a mass shooting by a psychopathic maniac by thinking himself invisible in front of said psychopath–so nothing emanating from him was threatening or even challenging to anyone around him. And that’s what I did when I was cornered in the day room by the God of War in the dead of night. I’ve only had to resort to that defense a couple of times in my career, but it worked every time I employed it. You have to be able to think fast when you’re a psych nurse.

Moving right along down the Hall of Fame. Next stop, heads of state. Napoleon Bonaparte. Contrary to historical fact, the Little Corporal stood about six feet tall. The Czar of All the Russias was also quite tall. They were both my patients at the MVAMC. Napoleon spoke even less French than I did, but he did walk around with one hand inside his shirt, like people did when they posed for pictures during the Napoleonic era. The Czar of All the Russias called his mom frequently and asked her for permission to have people he didn’t like killed, like, for instance, his doctor.

“Mom, I don’t like this guy! He wants me to take meds, and–and I want to have him killed! Oh…o-okay, Mom. I’ll take the meds. Yes, Mom. And I’ll say I’m sorry. Yes, mom. O-okay. I love you too, Mom. Bye.”

I liked that guy. He probably would’ve made a great Czar. His mother certainly would’ve made a great Grand Duchess.

The King. Elvis’ real name was David Johnson. He was another patient at the MVAMC. This might be a HIPAA violation, but good luck tracking down which David Johnson I’m referring to. In Minnesota. Land of 10,000,000 Johnsons. DJ wasn’t just another Elvis impersonator, though it wouldn’t be inconceivable to think of him like that. DJ really thought he was Elvis. I’ll tell you what, karaoke was never the same after Elvis performed.

The Lizard King. Oddly, the guy that claimed he was Jim Morrison didn’t know that was one of his nicknames. How he ever pulled that identity out of his ass I’ll never know. He was a chubby black guy at St Luke’s that couldn’t tell you one single song The Doors sang, but he did know the lyrics to a lots of rap and hip hop songs. His real name was Morgan, and he was, without a doubt, one of the craziest motherfuckers I’ve ever known. Along with being the front man for rock band from the 1960’s, and Jesus Christ, he was also another one of the richest men on the planet guys. I’ve met that guy a lots of times too, now that I think about it.

Morgan liked me, so he gave me $300 million. Computer transfer. It should be on my next bank statement. Morgan was always asking me to bring him in a pack of cigarettes. After all, he had given me $300 mil. So, one day I bought him a pack of smokes and gave them to him at work.

“Wow, thanks, man. How much does a pack of cigarettes cost now?”

“Three hundred million dollars. We’re even now, okay.”

You have to be able to think fast when you’re a psych nurse. It could save your life. Or possibly your bank account.

The St Cloud VA

I spent more time at the St Cloud VAMC than I can probably remember. I worked there during the year I studied beer drinking and gas station attendant as a student at St Cloud State University. I had just gotten out of the Army and I still didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life.  However, I had a vague premonition that whatever it was I was going to do, I’d need a college education to achieve it. So I took a few General Education classes to get some of the basics out of the way, and I enrolled in a work/study program. Because I was a veteran, I got a job at the St Cloud VAMC.  I mopped floors, mostly. There are something like ten miles of hallways at the SCVAMC, and I probably mopped all of them at least once.

I spent three months there (from early October to just before Christmas) as a patient in the Chemical Dependency Recovery Program after I got a DWI in 1979(?) I have a memory problem. I think half of all the things that happened in my life before I became a nurse occurred in either 1979 or 1980. At any rate, the three months I spent there resulted in the only lengthy period of sobriety I had in my life until I was almost fifty.

Part of my Psychiatric rotation in nursing school was at the SCVAMC. I met some interesting guys out there. There was Leander. He was an older guy, a Norwegian bachelor farmer, perhaps. I asked why he was in the hospital.

“Oh, I hear voices, yah.”

“Oh, yah? Well, what do your voices say, then?”

“Yah, well.” he hesitated, then moved in closer. “They say, Kill, kill, kill.” he whispered.

“Oh, you don’t say! Well, I sure hope you’re not planning on committing any murders!” I tried to act shocked.

“Oh, God no!” Leander said, then looked around before he spoke. “I’m not really hearing voices. I just tell everyone that because I want to stay here until May.” It was maybe late October or early November. Leander just wanted a warm place to stay during the Minnesota winter. That, I would come to discover once I started working at the Minneapolis VAMC, was a pretty common goal for VA patients. Yeah, go figure on that one.

Henry was an older African American man. He didn’t understand how he suddenly became a black man because Henry was a white man. He had been a white man all of his life. And that’s why he was in the hospital. Henry would spend hours of time standing in front of the mirror in his bathroom, staring at the image he saw staring back at him, trying to figure out how THAT got happened.

And then there was David Smith, the Prophet of the Living God. David was perhaps the most interesting guy I’d ever met up to that point in my life, and certainly during my time as a nursing student. The Prophet David was bipolar, and he spent most of his life at the SCVAMC, according to him.

“I am the anointed Prophet of the Presbyterian Morman Church.” David informed me.

“I’ve never heard of that religion,” I replied.

“Of course you haven’t! It’s been a little difficult for me to spread the word because I’ve been locked up in this goddamn hellhole!”

For a guy that was locked up so much, David had been a remarkably busy guy. For starters, he had fifty wives. And each of his fifty wives had fifty kids. That’s one hundred, no, five hundred…  That’s a lots of fucking kids. Clearly, David’s mother hadn’t cursed him!

He lived in a big ass mansion on the Mississippi River with Errol Flynn.

“Isn’t he…dead?” I asked.

“That’s what everyone thinks!” David whispered in my ear. He lived in the mansion with his wife and kids and Errol, and one of his Army buddies. “He’s the only black man in America. I sent all the rest of them back to Africa!” No wonder Henry was so dismayed to discover he was black. Maybe he didn’t want to go back to Africa…  David could do that because he was also the richest man in the world. He had amassed his great fortune by finding and raising the greatest sunken ships in world and repurposing them. In fact, the Titanic was his personal yacht, and it was berthed in his backyard on the Mississippi River. “Do you know how I did it?” I did not. “I filled them with ping pong balls, and they floated right to the surface!”

I had to admit, it sounded like a stroke of genius. It also sounded like something only a crazy man would think up. So, I had to ask this question, “Say, Dave. Do you ever drink?” The Prophet David gave me a long, hard look. His response was the response of a man who had suffered immeasurable trials, tribulations and woe during his life.

“Let me tell you something, kid. When you sit at the left hand of God, and you have fifty wives, you are going to have a drink every now and then.”

And there you have it. If hanging out with a harem of women doesn’t make you lose your grip on sanity, hanging out with God will. This totally supported my theory that King Solomon was a complete idiot, and now I knew why.

I’ve often wondered what it takes to become a Presbyterian Morman. I’ve never seen so much as one temple, and I’ve looked. This might be hard to believe, but I’ve always wanted to be a prophet. I’m not sure what the criteria for being a prophet is. I’m not sure anyone does anymore, but then again, I’m not sure why everyone thinks Solomon is so goddamn smart either. His story doesn’t illuminate a lots of brilliance on Solomon’s part, and by the time you get to the end, Solomon is a moron.

But if I ever figure the prophetic criteria out, that’s what my next career is going to be. If I don’t, I’ll settle for being the Guy with Lea, a FB photojournalist and an obscure blogger guy. I’ve had worse options before.

Frankie Baby

One of my favorite patients at Aurora was Frank. He was my patient so many times I kind of adopted him after awhile. He was an Hispanic guy in his fifties. He was about my size, so he was essentially a Latino hobbit junkie.

Frankie Baby was a heroin addict. I detoxed him at least five times in three and a half years, but it was probably more like seven. And that’s not counting all the times he was admitted to other units. On the odd occasion that happened, Frank always dropped by the Canyon Unit nursing station to say hi.

Now that I think about it, I had a lots of guys like Frankie Baby during my time at Aurora. There was Kevin. And Justin. And Thomas. And Robert. And Bob. And other Robert. We’d detox them all, give them a little sober time, then DC them. And, they’d be back in a week or two. It’s a testament to the nefariousness of the disease, the tenacious grip of the addiction and the high probability of an addict making yet one more really bad decision.

After years of struggling with this myself, I’ve come to believe that addicts are more addicted to making bad decisions than they are to their actual drug of choice. I’m sure there are plenty of people that would disagree with this, but, yeah well, you know, that’s just, like, your opinion, man.

I’ve had many discussions with my unrepentant drug buddies over the years. None of them had any major objections to my theory. In fact, most of them supported it. It didn’t make them any less susceptible to their foibles, but it did give them something new to think about. Sometimes you look at a thing from the same perspective for so long you don’t think there’s any other way to see it…

Opiate addiction has become something of an epidemic in the United States of late, kind of like the obesity epidemic, only not as tasty.  Like obese people, opiate addicts leave a distinct carbon footprint in their wake. Frankie Baby used to come to the nursing station and verbalize multiple multitudinous somatic complaints in the hopes that I would transfer him to the nearest ED. The only symptom Frank didn’t endorse was already being dead, otherwise he had everything. Twice. And a bag of chips.

When I refused to give in, Frank would request any and all PRN comfort meds that were available. Opiate addicts were some of the most med seeking people I ever cared for. One of my opiate detox guys received thirty PRN’s in eight hours. Thats an average of five pills an hour. They can be exhausting people to manage, physically, because you’re in and out of the med room a hundred times a shift. And they’re emotionally exhausting, too. You give them everything you’ve got, and they’ll still want more.

“Hey, I just want to thank you.” Frank told me after a particularly exhausting day for both of us. “I just wanted to get high, and you knew that. That’s why you didn’t listen to any of my bullshit. I know I’m a pain in the ass sometimes, but I just wanted to thank you. You really care, man. And that’s not an easy thing to do with me.”

I had a hard time seeing when I drove home after that shift.

I was assaulted in February of this year, and my jaw was fractured as a result. Frankie Baby wasn’t in the hospital when it happened, but he was admitted shortly afterwards.

“Hey brother, I heard what happened to you.” Frank said when he swung by my unit to visit. He had been admitted to one of the units on the second floor. “I just want you to know, if I had been here, I would’ve fuckin’ killed that guy.”

I have to admit, I have always been in awe of the way psych patients know everything that happens in the hospital. Seriously, if you want to know what’s really going on in a psychiatric facility, don’t ask the staff. Ask one of the patients.

I don’t know if Frank would’ve actually killed the guy that broke my jaw, but I do know this: he very likely would have died trying if he ever made the attempt.

Hey, Frankie Baby. I want to publicly thank you for that. That came from your heart, brother. I love you for that, amigo. And caring for me hasn’t always been an easy thing to do.

ER, Part II

I lived in a cute little apartment building that was right on the Mississippi River when I was in nursing school. It was the perfect location for me, maybe four blocks from the school, maybe a quarter mile from downtown St Cloud. It was a three story square, brick building, and each floor was a complete two bedroom apartment. I lived on the top floor apartment. Directly below me lived Judy Nicegirl and Nora the Goon.

Judy was a nice girl. She used to make pizzas for me and my brother, and she asked me out multiple times. Judy was head over heels in love with me. She was physically attractive–she had a pretty hot body–but Judy wasn’t very smart. This will sound like the ultimate irony coming from me because God knows I was plenty capable of infinite stupidity, but I rate intelligence very high on my list of desirable qualities. Unfortunately, Judy had a very low rating in that particular area.

And then there was her roommate. I don’t know how many of you are familiar with Popeye the Sailorman, but there was a character named Alice the Goon in Popeye’s cartoons, and Nora kind of reminded me of Alice…

Judy had a boyfriend, Brian. He lived on the ground floor apartment in our building. Brian’s mom must not have cursed him because he got Judy pregnant and she had Brian’s baby. I don’t think Judy and Brian had that great of a relationship prior to making their baby, and it didn’t get any better afterwards. Judy and Brian had multiple arguments, multiple times. Then Judy would go to her apartment and argue with Nora the Goon. There was a reason for this that has nothing to do with the story, but I’ll add it because it was so great at the time. Nora was a lesbian and she wanted Judy more than Judy wanted me. My brother, Thomas Rowen, thought this was just about the funniest thing he’d ever seen in his life.

It was January, probably my senior year of nursing school. It was the weekend. Yeah, weekends in January were tough on me in nursing school. It was cold, colder than it had been one year earlier when everyone had been sledding on the hill at the end of the street. I was watching TV with my brother Tom, when there was a knock at the door.

“Brian beat me up!” Judy cried, as I answered the door. “I think he broke my arm!” I ushered her into the living room, and had my brother keep an eye on her while I went out to start my car and let it warm up before I drove Judy to the hospital. I had a 1980 Honda Civic CVCC four door wagon. It was the most undependable car I ever owned. It started about half of the time I wanted to drive it. Fortunately, this was one of its good days. My car started right up, and I shivered as I revved the engine periodically to warm it up faster. Neither Judy nor Nora owned a car. Brian did, but I didn’t see his car in the parking lot.

My brother threw me his coat when I returned to my apartment. Judy was already wearing my coat. I fired a quizzical look at my brother. He responded with a look that said, She’s not wearing my coat! I escorted Judy down the stairs and into my car.  She was crying. I tried to distract her, told her a joke or something, and her sobbing abated somewhat. And then we were at the hospital. Yeah, it took about that long.

“Wait here, I’ll go get a wheelchair.”

“I can walk.” Judy replied. She had stopped crying.

“No, wait here. I’ll be right back.” There was an empty wheelchair near the entrance. I wheeled it out to my car, and helped Judy get in it.

“You’re such a sweet guy. That’s why I like you so much. You’re so nice. Thank you for driving me here.”

“Yeah, well, I wasn’t going to let you walk here.” It was pretty damn cold outside. And she had a broken arm… I wheeled her down a short hallway into the ER waiting room. The ER was dead on that day. There might’ve been a couple people waiting, but mostly I saw the ER staff sitting around the nursing station in small groups, shooting the breeze.

“Can I help you?” a guy in blue scrubs said, approaching us as we approached the nursing station. He had a neatly trimmed beard, and he smiled a warm greeting as we came in from the cold.

“I broke my arm!” Judy sang out, catching me by surprise. I had an explanation I wanted to say before anyone got the wrong idea.

“Oh, did you have a skiing accident?” he asked, looking at our outerwear, which could’ve been used as skiing jackets, I suppose. He was still smiling, and now all the other staff members behind the nursing station started taking notice of us and some of them got up and stated heading toward us. I opened my mouth to reply.

“No! My boyfriend beat me up!!”

It became very cold in that Emergency Room, very quickly. The smiling faces approaching us suddenly took on the appearance of every pissed off Mom/Dad/Brother/Sister/Cousin of every victim of every case of domestic violence, ever. And all of those dark and damning eyes were staring at me.

“Um, hey, no way, guys,” the words stumbled out of my mouth. “I’m not her boyfriend. I’m her neighbor. I just brought her here for help.” Looking at the eyes staring back at me I could see not one of them believed anything I said.

“Oh!” Judy cried out as I gave her a nudge in the back with my knee. “No, he’s right! He’s not my boyfriend, he is my neighbor, and he’s the nicest, sweetest guy I know.”

The cold stare in the eyes of the ER staff thawed a little when Judy said that. They rushed toward us, and took the wheelchair from me, in case I suddenly became her boyfriend and decided to break her other arm, maybe, and quickly wheeled Judy off into an exam room. A group of rather large, unfriendly men spread out around me, blocking my access to the door.

“You don’t mind waiting until we check her story out, do you?” the bearded guy said. It wasn’t really a question, the way he said it. The army of men behind him crossed their arms, almost daring me to try to get past them.

Nope. I didn’t mind. I sat down and didn’t make any sudden moves. I prayed this would be resolved quickly. And it was. A female staff member came out of Judy’s exam room and talked softly to the group of men around me. Afterwards, they looked over at me and smiled warmly once more. Some of them nodded in my direction, some came over and clapped me on the back or the shoulder. The bearded guy that hailed me initially came over and apologized.

“Sorry about that, but we have to check everything out. You be surprised how often something like this happens around here.”

Actually, I woudn’t have been that surprised, but I nodded and shook the guy’s hand. I asked what happened next and how long this would take. Setting Judy’s arm and putting it in cast would be relatively quick, but the police report could take a couple hours. I gave the guy my number.

“Call me if she needs a ride when she’s done.”

That’s the story of why the ER staff were as angry with me as they were with the alcoholic mom that let her little girl get knocked up by her boyfriend, and you’d be surprised how often something like that happened in St Cloud. Not so surprising, perhaps, was that Judy actually filed charges against Brian. He packed up all his stuff and slipped off into the darkness. I never saw him again. Nora would have all her dreams come true. Even Judy would have some of her dreams come true before my time in nursing school ended.

I’m not sure there’s a moral to this story. I don’t even have a punchline to end it. But not everything in life is funny, or has a happy ending.

PEDS, ER, ETC.

My darling niece, Danielle Knosalla, just posted a photo of my nursing class on our Graduation Day. We’re FB friends. Some of you have expressed awe and wonder at my seemingly amazing memory. For the record, I’m sure I couldn’t tell you who ninety percent of the people in that picture are. In fact, I’m not sure that’s really me.

Here’s another tidbit for you, I can’t remember anything about my Pediatric rotation. Okay, I can remember a couple things: I had a Pediatric rotation, and I dressed up in a clown costume once. I have a vague memory of this, but that’s all I have. I can’t remember anything about any of the kids I took care of. That’s about all I can pull out of the memory vault. It’s as though someone had redacted most of the actual events, for reasons unknown to me.

Neither can I recall any of the details about the childhood of my daughters. Oh. Lea says we weren’t married when her girls were little, so that explains a lots. I have two stepdaughters, Gwen Markes Henson and Abigail Zorawski. We’re FB friends, too. Gwen was fifteen when Lea and I got married. Abi was twelve. They are, without a doubt, two of the most perfect people on this planet, but that’s only because I’m not their biological father. If I had been, they both would’ve been screwed up beyond all hope because I had been cursed by my Mom.

I was a terrible human being when I was young. And one day my totally exasperated mother looked me in the eyes and said, “You just wait until you grow up and have kids of your own–they’re going to be just…like…you!” Yep, she hit me with the Mother’s Curse, of all parental curses, it’s the most powerful. It scared the hell out of me. I made sure I never had any kids. Birth control. It was the one responsibility I took seriously even when I took nothing else seriously.

Another rotation I have difficulty remembering is the ER. I do have a few memories of my time in the ER. It was the only rotation that we were required to work the night shift. It makes perfect sense. When does all the weird shit happen? At night, of course! So we hung out in the ER during the Witching Hours, when the kooks, the crazies and the zombies come out.

For someone who would spend half a lifetime hanging out with kooks and crazies, I don’t remember running into anyone resembling that description during my ER rotation. I do remember hanging out with the ER staff, shooting the breeze and drinking coffee. And I remember talking to the oh-so-incredibly-cute Diane Hanson, and agonizing over whether to ask her out or not. The nuclear meltdown that had once been my relationship with Cynthia ‘Fatass’ Jamieson would play a significant part in my decision not to ask Diane out. And then there was Rebecca.

When I was in nursing school, I was totally infatuated with the oh-so-beautiful Rebecca Ann Brown. If you look at my nursing class picture, Rebecca is the back row, five girls to the right of me, or she’s the second from the end on the right hand side of the back row. I became a cardiac care nurse because of Rebecca. Even at the time I knew it was a stupid thing to do.

I had asked Rebecca out, more than once. She rejected my advances for a few reasons. One, I was roughly ten years older than she was. Although she didn’t endorse as a reason not to date me, it could’ve played a part. Two, I was a nice guy, but… For the love of God, just kill me! was my response when she uttered this line to me. Three, she already had a boyfriend. Of course she did! She was the eternal goddess of nursing, she could’ve had ten boyfriends if she wanted, and I wanted to be one of them.

Alas, it would not be, and I would suffer from an acute broken heart. I considered going to the ER, then decided against it. I doubted the ER staff would be able to do much to help me.

My ER rotation produced one hallmark memory. An older looking woman brought her thirteen year old daughter in because of the incredible abdominal pain the girl was complaining about. Her mom looked to be a lots older than a woman with a thirteen year old should look, and that was most likely related to her alcohol consumption.

She was clearly inebriated the night she brought her daughter in. Apparently mom didn’t spend much time looking in on her daughter because an ultrasound revealed the cause of the girl’s abdominal pain. The young girl was pregnant, and about to deliver.

Her mom evidently hadn’t cursed her–she was so eager to provide her mother with grandchildren, she had been having sex with her mother’s boyfriend.

The ER staff whispered all kinds of curses at the drunken mom. They were so angry! I had seen this reaction from the ER staff before, but on that occasion they had directed their anger toward…

Yep, you guessed it.

Me.

The Devil Drives a Chevy

Back when I was in Oklahoma, I had a couple of Army buddies that were from the Great State of Texas, which just happened to be conveniently located due south of Oklahoma. Several of us would pile into a car after work on Friday afternoon, fill up the gas tank, load up on beer and munchies–and hit the road. It was party time.

We’d end up at Johnny’s parents’ house. Or Kim’s parents’ house. Or Tommy’s parents’ house. Or Raoul’s parents’ house. The parental units were always happy to see their son and almost always happy to meet his new friends. We were happy to be out of Oklahoma and the Army, if only for a couple of days.

On the weekend that the devil went down to Texas, we ended up at Raoul’s parents’ house, and it was just Raoul and myself, not half the company. He had a blue, two door Chevy Nova. It was a beautiful car.

Raoul’s parents lived somewhat west of the middle of nowhere, if memory serves me right. We got in late Friday night, grabbed a couple hours of sleep, ate breakfast (Raoul’s mom could’ve made one of my boots taste great), and headed out to party down with a couple of Raoul’s cousins.

Raoul was about ten years older than I was. He was divorced, and that, is going to be one fuck of a story if I ever find the courage to write it. Raoul was an Hispanic guy, and the first group of his cousins we partied with were on par with his age. We met up at a little bar in a little town, and started drinking our way toward the geographic center of the middle of nowhere.

Sometime around midnight, maybe, we ran into another group of Raoul’s cousins that were closer to my age, and they knew about this monster party out by the river that was east of the middle of nowhere. So we all decided to go to that.

Raoul’s younger cousins were less into booze, and more into pot and psychedelics. They asked if I wanted to try some acid. I said make mine a double, and smiled. This was going to be an epic night.

I’m sure my memories of what happened next are a bit blurry, but they’re the only ones I have. The Party at the River was huge! It was like Woodstock, only smaller. And there were no live bands. And it didn’t last three days. There was music, and people dancing in the moonlight. Lots of beer, lots of pot. And then the acid kicked in and the world went Technicolor®.

I wandered around the party grounds with Raoul’s electric younger cousins while the Old Guard kicked back by the tables where the audio system was set up, and drank beer.

At around 3:30 AM, the party was still going strong, I was tripping my balls off, but Raoul thought we should head for home and catch a few hours of sleep. We still had to drive back to base, and go back to the Army, and all that buzzkill crap.

I was going to be up all night tripping the Light Fantastique, so to speak, so I told him what I thought he could do with his idea. Raoul got really pissed! He started yelling and swearing. His electric cousins told him to chill out, man. He started yelling at them in Spanish. The Old Guard Cousins formed a line, facing off against their younger Electric Cousins. And then there were a lots of people, all of them yelling.

The Electric Cousins and I decided enough was enough, and started to walk off. And then Sergeant Raoul Killjoy got all up in my grille and said, “Get in the goddamn car! We’re leaving!”

I refused. Raoul shoved me in what I think was the general direction of his car, then he punched me in the jaw. That’s when I lost my glasses. A brawl broke out, and we were all kicked out of the Epic Party at the River, East of the Middle of Nowhere.

Once we got kicked out of the party, Raoul’s cousins started laughing and helping each other up, clapping each other on the back. Raoul and I were not laughing. I was essentially blind without my glasses, and I had somehow broken Raoul’s arm when I retaliated against his unprovoked aggression, though neither of us knew that yet.

We said goodbye to all the cousins, got on the highway and drove off into the night. Raoul was pissed off as two hells at me for being such a goddamn hammerhead, and not listening to him and disobeying a direct order. He did outrank me. He was an E5. I was an E4.

I was tripping on maybe a couple thousand micrograms of LSD, and I wasn’t too happy either. I couldn’t see anything clearly, except the hallucinations I was having, and they were vividly intense. I looked over at Raoul, but he wasn’t there. In his place was the Devil!

Yes. Satan himself was my chauffeur, driving across Texas as the sun was starting to come up. I had been raised Catholic and the stereotypical image of the Devil–horns growing out of his head, red skin, pointed tail, glowing eyes, evil smile–it was all there, just to my left, driving the car down the highway to hell.

I’m not sure if I screamed, but I think it would’ve been appropriate, don’t you? At the very least, I should’ve done the Home Alone face, but I know I didn’t do that. I did what any other hallucinating former Catholic would’ve done in that situation. I opened the door and jumped out of the car. The moving car, that was traveling at least 55 mph.

Whatever you think should have happened to me for doing what I did, probably didn’t happen. I didn’t got dead. I didn’t lose consciousness. I didn’t break any bones. I don’t think I even ended up with road rash after sliding across the highway. What I did end up with was a very small, very superficial cut on the top of my head.

Raoul slammed on the brakes and got out of the car. It was right about this point in time he figured out he had a broken arm because his left arm hurt like hell when he tried to open the door.

“WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING!?!” he screamed at me. I could kind of make out Raoul’s features in the distance, and this was a relief to me. Satan, the real Prince of Darkness, was gone. And at that moment the sun rose over the horizon.

We drove to a military base that was kind of in the general direction of Oklahoma. Raoul had x-rays taken, his bones manipulated back into place, and a cast put on his left arm. He also got a bottle of Percodan for dessert, which we washed down with a twelve pack we bought at a convenience store to get us back to Ft Sill.

I’m not sure anyone believed the story we told them–and the story you just read is the story we told everyone–when they asked us what happened.

If I hadn’t been there, I probably wouldn’t believe it either, but I have had a blessed life and what appears to be ten thousand guardian angels protecting me or I wouldn’t be here now.

You might think Raoul and I would be anything BUT friends after this. Nope, we were buds right up to the day I got out of the Army. He came to see me when I took a trip to Dallas in 1978 with my then almost best bud ever, Gerald ‘Shorty’ Girtz.

And if you think The Devil Went Down to Texas trip is the weirdest thing that ever happened to me, you’d be wrong. It’s in the Top Five, for sure. Maybe the Top Three.

That trip to Dallas though, that might be Number One.

To Sleep, Perchance to Dream

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Didn’t do a thing.

Next night, get an order for an extra dose.

Didn’t do anything.

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

Didn’t do a thing.

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

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

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

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

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

Anyone want to guess how many days that might be?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Can’t you call the doctor?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Never trust a man that says trust me.”