Headbanger in Paradise, Part 2

continued from Headbanger in Paradise, Part 1

 

 

 

“Yes, I’m an RN. My name is Shea. We met next door. I work this unit most of the time.”

He slowly nodded yes. “I hit you, didn’t I?”

“Yep,” I said, smiling. “It’s okay, Frank, I’m fine.”

“This is your bed,” I said. “You’ve got three fairly quiet roommates. You’ll be fine here.”

He looked at his roomie who was lying with his back to us on his own bed six feet away. He checked out his closet, the grimy steel reinforced window, and finally slid his hand across the thin cotton sheet. Sitting on the edge of the bed, he was hunched over, elbows on his legs, looking down. “ECT will help, right?” He looked up at me.

Electroconvulsive therapy. It was a technique we used on severely depressed patients like Frank who presented a danger to themselves and others. It was also as controversial as it was misunderstood.

I nodded. “We hope so. Your first treatment will be next week. Let’s take it easy until then, okay?”

“Does it hurt?”

“No, you’ll be asleep. You won’t feel a thing. It just shocks a bit, relieving the depression and voices in your head. I think it’ll be good for you.”

A week later, after three episodes of head banging and one incident of assault, I woke Frank early to prepare him for his initial ECT therapy.

The surgical suite where ECT takes place was a five-minute walk from the unit. Cardinal rule in the hospital: never escort a patient out of the unit by yourself. So Jerry, my psych tech friend, pushed Frank along in a wheelchair. Frank was more quiet than usual. I attributed it to the sedative we’d given him. Jerry and I carried on, talking about our kids.

“Is your son in the hospital, too?” Frank interrupted, tilting his head up toward me.

“No, my son’s in college.”

“Did he have ECT?”

“Nope. He was never a patient here.”

We moved our way through a maze of bleak corridors into a shiny, brightly lit surgical suite.

Frank’s gaze landed on an old scuffed rectangular black metal box with red and silver knobs jutting from one side. Dr. Afzal, Frank’s psychiatrist who would administer the ECT, was adjusting the equipment.

“Why am I here?” Frank asked.

The anesthesiologist greeted him with an outstretched hand that Frank ignored.

“Morning, Frank. I’m Dr. Umbar. We met on the unit. Good to see you.”

Frank stared at him.

Dr. Umbar continued. “Your first ECT treatment is today. We’re hoping to get you back home soon.”

Frank’s eyes skirted back to the black box.

“Is that the electricity? For my brain?”

“Well, yes,” I answered. “The box helps the doctor calculate just enough energy to help your brain heal itself.”

Frank seemed fixated on the black box.

Jerry helped Frank over to the 1950s chic avocado-green vinyl bed wrapped in a ribbon of stainless steel. Frank’s tongue darted across his lips as he scanned the room.

And then, halfway onto a bed barely wide enough to hold him, Frank began thrashing about with a wildness that surprised even me. His left foot kicked my right flank. His arms whipped about. His clammy hands latched onto me, nearly knocking me off my feet.

“Frank, please, stop,” urged Dr. Umbar.

“Stop.” I heard my own voice echo the doctor’s.

A triplet of stainless steel tables clanged onto the floor.

“Frank, relax,” Jerry yelled.

Dr. Umbar pressed Frank’s shoulders onto the bed while Jerry and Dr. Afzal each grabbed an arm. I moved quickly, tripping over Jerry’s feet while I secured Frank’s body and limbs to the bed with red, white, and blue Velcro straps.

Mute, Frank blinked rapidly.

“Okay, now,” Dr. Umbar said. “You’re fine, Frank. You’ll feel a little poke now—a mild sedative to help you relax.”

Calm again, Frank watched the tip of the needle disappear into his right shoulder.

                                           to be continued…..

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“Headbanger in Paradise” was originally published in its entirety in Untold Stories: From the Deep Part of the Well. 2016 Redwood Writers Anthology, Roger Lubeck, Editor. September 2016.

I’m choosing to publish it here in four parts. Stay tuned for later segments. KT

 

Sunday Morning

I’m sleeping. Sort of. I was tossing and turning all night. Stresses of the day added to a damn head cold.

DING. Cell phone message alert. I think about rolling over to check it. It takes me a minute.

Mom, could you come stay with Micah? He’s still sleeping and the rest of us are leaving to go get Rachel.

I think about saying something smart-ass about the fact that I was still sleeping. But it doesn’t really matter.

Yes. Be right there. I mess around a bit, making the bed, getting dressed until I hear their car rumbling awake.

I walk the 20 steps over to their place, say goodbye to the wide-awake-gang, grab some coffee and sit down for SNL – smiles and laughter, good. I read through the local paper: American Canyon (Inc. city in Napa County) researches becoming a sanctuary city. Great. I was actually wondering about Napa City/sanctuary sometime during my sleepless laying awake bothered and bewildered hours.

Micah’s up now. He’s 4, walking around looking for the family. He lays on the couch, plays with my phone a brief few minutes. He looks a little funky to me, more laid back than the real Micah. “When will they be home?” he asks. “When will Nana be here?”

“In a while, I’m not sure.”

“Wha what..’s…Daddy’s er, Daddy’s daddy’s name?” he asks, the words stumbling from his lips.

“You mean Lowell? Pop Pop? The guy in the picture there? With the beard?”

“Yeah… he …not coming today?”

“No honey. I’m sorry. He’s not, he died. He’s gone now.”

“No, he not!”

“I know it’s sad. He’s in our hearts now, where he’ll always be.”

“NO! HE! NOT!” He rolls away from me, looking up at the picture of his Pop Pop.

This is our first Thanksgiving without Lowell. We are so happy to have Rachel here with us this week. We all need all the love we can get. We miss him so very much.

Micah watches some TV, and asks for a bowl of cereal. “I want it mixed. Honey Nut Cheerios mixed with Honey Oat Crunch.”

Okay.

I go take a shower and go sit down with Micah again, checking my email and Facebook.

“When they be here?” he asks, his little fingers twirling my hair.

“In just a few minutes, they’re right around the corner.”

Mollie just texted me to say so.

Everyone arrives, excitement in the air. The two grandmas hug and check in with each other. She’s had a long day already, having left Arizona to arrive in Oakland at 8 a.m.

I love Sundays. Mollie brought me a donut.

 

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Veterans Day + 1

I didn’t think about him yesterday.

My Veterans Day was spent in a swirl of activity and a few chats with Facebook friends and veterans.

He and I were best friends in high school. The last time we saw each other was more than 50 years ago. We were the friends who cleaned up the vomit on the floor that our other friends left behind. We were the friends who drove our other friends home after they had partied too much. We spent years walking together in the bright Tahoe sun, sitting beneath the twinkling stars in the dark, or huddled in the cold snow as we focused on the business of growing up and learning about life. We were never in love. We were friends. We shared our secrets, our fears, and our dreams.

He went to Viet Nam right after we graduated.

I got married and moved away from our hometown just after he went to fight halfway around the world. He was on one side of the Pacific and I was on the other. I had a baby boy the following year. My husband was fine with my insisting on naming the little guy Rob — mostly for my best friend — and a little bit for that cute Robbie in My Three Sons. My husband’s nuclear family had a tradition of using two middle names. He chose Allen Nathaniel. We were happy and knew we’d made the right decision.rob-dawson-aycrigg-68-22122016

Rob sent me scribbled letters on pale blue military paper marked APO. One day I received a stiff-backed black and white picture of him in country, signed Rob and ’68.

I sent care packages of photographs, mixed nuts, soap, toothpaste, home-made cookies and fudge. For years, I wrote long letters with news about home and life as I knew it.

 

I received a letter one day telling me he’d be leaving Saigon two days later – coming home. He said he didn’t know what he’d be doing next. For some reason, I remember worrying about that.

I never heard from him again.

That last letter of his is pressed between two sheets of paper, along with his black and white photo. Saved for I don’t know what.

Over the years I searched veterans databases looking for him. I missed him. I suppose I wanted to ease my heart. At one point, I telephoned and chased through several veterans affairs officers until one of them finally took me seriously and did his own search. When he called back a few days later, he told me that my friend didn’t die in service. That was that.

I let it go. Again and again, I let it go.

Several years ago, I had to look again. That time, with the advent of internet databases and Google, I found him. He lived within driving distance of where we went to school and where I was living. I sent an email to him at his workplace listed online. I waited. I sent another email. I waited again. When I could stand it no longer, I stared at that 100 pound telephone, took a deep breath and dialed the phone number staring at me from the computer monitor on my desk.

I don’t remember the exact words he used. He basically told me not to contact him again. He said he didn’t know who I was. He told me his wife thought I was a stalker. I know that was my friend on the phone. There’s not a doubt in my mind I talked to my old friend that sunny winter day.

I don’t know what happened between the time Rob sat down to write that he was coming home and what happened the next day and all the years since. I do know from my online research – stalker type activity – that he has a loving family and he’s been successful in his life.

A former lover of mine once told me my problem — one of many — is that I can’t let go of old love. Guilty. I’m guilty. I’m not sorry for it, either. I’m not sorry that my heart keeps love alive and feeds my spirit, no matter where the flesh and blood has gone.

I write about him today as much for myself as for him.

Veterans Day +1.

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A New Day

For a while now, I’ve been wanting to put my thoughts on this campaign into words. The emotional turmoil has had me stymied, angry, sad, and now, hopeful.

When my mom was a little girl, she didn’t get to live with her mother for many years. My grandmother had to work and had noone at home to care for my mom. My grandmother placed my mom in the care of close friends in Napa while my grandmother lived and worked in San Francisco. My mom eventually was brought in to work side by side with her mother. That was another day and time in 1918, two years before women in this country won the right to vote. I’d like to think my mother and her mother were involved in that struggle. I can’t think of this historic day without thinking about the women who came before us. Especially the women in my own life.

I learned early that we are here on earth to be the best we can be, to help others be the best they can be. Every day. My mom and grandma taught me to take pride in myself and to love and nurture others as well as myself.

From my grandmother on down, my family is one of giving their service to others — to their family, and to their community. When I was a struggling young single mother, I was fortunate enough to receive government support while I made my way through four years of college with three small children at home, with my two older boys living with their father. I was lucky. The financial help was there for me, as was the emotional support of my friends and family that I sorely needed.

Many of those services available to me then, that enabled me to get the education I needed, to support and teach my kids, and to see them become excellent stewards in this land we call America, many of those services available to women trying to get a step ahead were taken away by the Republican leaders in this country in the last two decades.

We know many of the social supports enacted to help those in need have been wiped out. Do you wonder why so many people are uneducated, broken, and unhappy? The socioeconomic system is cracked. It is not broken, but it is deeply damaged.

This election to me is about the difference between the party platforms of the democrats, the republicans, and the libertarians. Each one of them has points I can support. The true leader for me, where my vote is — is with Hillary Clinton. The party’s platform I support is the democratic one.

Hillary Clinton has proven her mettle with her lifetime of service. She has taken hits that many of us can only imagine, and she has continued to stand tall, gracious, and courageous. I can’t think of a better candidate to become our first female president of these United States. She is the one I’d like to introduce to my little grandchildren. I cant’t think of a better man to be our First Man than Bill Clinton. A power duo if there ever was one.

 

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This is my promise. I will stand behind her, and with you, to lift her up, and support her in providing opportunity to everyone in this country to become the best they can be. I will work where I can to revamp the criminal justice system, to provide free healthcare and education to everyone, to support each other as we do ourselves. To stop the fighting and warring.

Behind our backs, greedy, mean, and selfish people who care only for their piles of money have turned our socioeconomic system upside down. My fervent hope is that the rest of us — now that we’ve seen the divide wide open in this land — will work together to make this country whole.

It’s an historic day. A new day. I’m excited, emotional, and grateful for everything good in my life. I feel great!

Headbanger in Paradise, Part 1

“Headbanger in Paradise” was originally published in its entirety in Untold Stories: From the Deep Part of the Well. 2016 Redwood Writers Anthology, Roger Lubeck, Editor. September 2016.

I’m choosing to publish it here in four parts. Stay tuned for later segments. KT


 

Visitors are rare here. On admittance, our patients generally see that their friends and relatives have a way of moving on.

Three-dozen men, twenty-two to sixty-three years of age, live on my unit, a drop in the bucket of over a thousand patients, hospital-wide. They share bedrooms, bathrooms, and just about everything else. They struggle with schizophrenia, depression, and psychosis. Delusions, hallucinations, fear, and paranoia routinely show up.

Our patients often have little or no self-control. When paired with anxiety and anger issues, they act out on a regular basis, assaulting staff or one another. Often confused, they lack motivation to do much to help themselves.

Behind our backs, patients cut themselves with sharpened plastic utensils, broken CDs, pencils, or worse. It’s a tough place to be a patient. It’s a rough place to work.

Breakfast was over and done with. It was quiet on the unit, and I was glad of it.

I heard keys jangling from the other side of the door. Right on time, here he comes.

He walked into the unit, escorted by one of the psych techs from the admission unit.

Frank’s arms hung like flabby sausages. Thirty-three years old, he shuffled like an old man, a side effect of medication to reduce aggressive behavior.

His man-sweat, accompanied by a robust urine aroma, percolated the air as he approached me. Frank had been next door for thirty days now. He’d refused to shower every one of them.

“Morning, Shea,” the escort said.

“Good morning,” I answered. “How is everyone?”

“Not bad. He was at it again last night. Fine this morning, though.”

I noticed the bruises on Frank’s swollen forehead where he’d smashed his head against the wall.

“How do you feel, Frank?”

Silence.

Head banging was Frank’s unique trademark. One minute, he’d be standing quiet as a doorknob. Next minute, he’d be methodically slamming his forehead against the wall. No wailing, no crying. Just slamming his forehead against the wall.

I started ransacking through the black trash bag, AKA patient’s luggage, which Frank handed to me. I latched onto a pair of hospital-issue sneakers, a denim jacket, a pair of sweat pants, and a San Francisco Giants T-shirt.

“Is this all you’ve got, Frank?”

He didn’t answer.

His escort did.

“That’s it, Shea. Here’s his chart. Have fun now.”

He fist-tapped Frank’s shoulder as he turned back to the admission unit.

I’d met Frank a week earlier on a help call to his unit. One patient had cornered another in a bedroom. They were pounding each other with fists, their obscenities scouring the room. They each weighed close to a couple hundred pounds. It was all we could do to separate them. The hospital police arrived in time to catch a young nurse being thrown to the wall.

Frank watched the action from across the hall. Leaving the room, I didn’t realize he’d quickened his step behind me until I felt him punching the back of my head.

He was sedated then, but my neck was stiff for a week. The real injury was to my psyche; a potent reminder to keep those eyes in the back of my head wide open.

He couldn’t help it, really. The voices crawling in his head screamed danger. It sent him straight into attack mode. A variety of meds helped only sometimes.

“Come on, Frank. Your bedroom is up the hall,” I said. He flinched when I placed my hand behind his elbow.

“Okay,” I said, pulling back. “It’s okay.”

I carried his meager belongings to his room.

“Do I know you?” he asked.

“Yes, I’m an RN. My name is Shea. We met next door. I work this unit most of the time.”

He slowly nodded yes. “I hit you, didn’t I?”

“Yep,” I said, smiling. “It’s okay, Frank, I’m fine.”

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…and the Cubs Win!

I was over at my daughter and son-in-law’s house this morning, keeping an ear out for my 4-year-old grandson playing in the next room. My fingers paused on the laptop keys as I waited for the creative juices to kick in. Please kick in. I wanted something fresh and funny for the upcoming open mic.

Problem was, I wasn’t feeling fresh and funny. I was feeling worn, torn, and battle fatigued with the overwhelming election coverage this year. The Cubs’ World Series win brought me much needed relief and excitement — even if it was drawn out over and over again. That high didn’t last near long enough. I was missing that consummate Cubs fan who killed himself ten years ago. The big win was just one more in a string of life events he’s missed out on.

An hour later, I was still looking at a white screen without one string of words to be seen.

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You know why?

Well. My friend had some studying to do, so I suggested she bring her 4-year-old daughter
over to play. The more, the merrier is my motto. She dropped off her daughter along with the best of offerings — doughnuts, coffee, and hot chocolate. Woo Hoo!

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Twenty minutes later, it was time to wash and dry those cute little hands and faces. Time
to chase the dog back out after she knocked one of them onto the floor. Time to put that laundry in the dryer. I checked my email. Ah hah! A personal note from the Clinton campaign. Please, would you donate just one dollar? Sure, here’s 5. Would you like to double that? Sure, make it ten. Get out the credit card and load up the webpage with all the necessary information. Thanks – want to give more? No. Not today.

Then I checked Facebook. I peeked at a bit of online campaign news. I clicked around youtube and listened to a couple of tunes. First there was Bob Dylan, then John Lennon. I felt better. Kids were playing nicely. They were chattering away and giggling in their own little world.

So, anyway, I got back to business. It was a sunny day outside and I glanced into the living room. My eyes landed on Mollie’s memorial corner. Three framed portraits hang over the aging upright piano.

Lowell: strong and courageous father of three sons, dressed in his lifelong beard and glasses. Mollie’s husband’s father, he died just last year, after a tough battle with aggressive metastatic melanoma. He was such a wonderful man, full of love and passion… a man who would do anything for his family.

Katie, my beautiful grand-daughter, gone from us much too soon. I look at her smiling, in her pensive way; I wonder what she was thinking when that picture was taken. Our hearts broke the day she died, leaving behind her baby boy Jack. Her laughter had filled our world. We miss her so much.

And Matt, my former husband, father of three, baseball fan extraordinaire, former Stratamatic player and political junkie, a voracious reader who died before Mollie even knew she’d be marrying Matt, her new boyfriend.

Each of them gone now from this world for widely different reasons, each one of them leaving a big hole in my heart. There isn’t a day that goes by I don’t imagine Katie or Matt or Lowell standing with us in the sunshine, laughing at a birthday party, playing with the kids, or repairing something or other.

Cheering the Cubs.

Damn. Pass me that doughnut.

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