Headbanger in Paradise, Part 4

CONTINUED FROM  Headbanger in Paradise, Part 3

 

It was warm where we sat in the day hall, sunlight streaming through the windows onto my assessment sheet.

            “What’s your name?” I asked.

“Frank.”

“Where are you?”

He looked out the bank of steel-framed windows holding yhe world outside in a giant picture frame.

“Valley State Hospital.”

“What day is it?” I asked.

“Wednesday?”

“Right. What’s my name?”

“Shea.”

I smiled, nodding in agreement. “How are you feeling?”

No answer. His forearms rested atop the wheelchair armrests, fingers dangling. He seemed taken in by the giant tulip tree blooms drifting in the courtyard.

I chatted with Frank, other patients, and staff as they drifted into the day hall. Judge Judy ruled the TV in the far corner.

After awhile, Frank said he was cold and sleepy, a common ECT reaction. I wheeled him to his room. He was a little shaky but able to get himself into bed. I covered him with an extra blanket and watched him roll over to face the wall.

“Thank you,” he muttered.

“You’re welcome, Frank.”

This routine went on for a few weeks, one treatment each week, increasing to two treatments, then to three. After four months, Frank was having far fewer instances of violent behavior with only rare episodes of head banging. He slept better. His attitude was much improved. The treatments seemed to be working, with only minor, temporary, memory loss. Some days he would forget having breakfast. A few times, he didn’t remember the ECT treatment at all.

Frank’s parents, far from the norm, came to visit him often. They were amazed at the positive changes in their son’s demeanor. They’d delivered him to us from their foothills home less than six months earlier, after watching his long decline. They were hopeful. I’d seen life changing results in other patients after ECT. It was looking as if Frank really would have a new start in life.

After returning to the unit one day, we were again sitting in the day hall.

“Shea, can I tell you a secret?”

“Sure. Tell me a secret. I may not be able to keep it, though. What is it?”

“During ECT sometimes, I feel really high, like over-the-top stoned. I try to stay there to keep it, but it runs away. I keep trying to get back to it, but I can’t.”

“I haven’t heard that before,” I chuckled.

“Do you think you can get my doctor to give me more drugs to keep it going?”

“Ha, ha. I don’t think so, Frank. It’s just one way you’re responding to the treatment. Do you think, besides the unusual high, you’re improving?”

“When’s the last time I hit someone?”

“A few weeks now.”

“Good,” he said, his blue eyes glistening.

After several more treatments, Frank was showing great progress. No violent outbreaks and no head banging. His depression lifted, he laughed often, and he enjoyed the company of others. His memory loss, though, was becoming serious. In consultation with his doctors and parents, he decided to discontinue ECT.

Just before Christmas, Frank was discharged home. It was a grand gift for him and for all of us who had been part of his success.

He was happy, and I was happy for him.

On a road trip the following summer, I braked for a stoplight while driving through the tiny foothill town of Paradise. I spotted Frank walking in the crosswalk. He was holding hands and laughing with a nice looking woman about his age. He turned his head my way, squinting into the sun behind me.

He couldn’t see through the glare. I’m quite certain he couldn’t make out the big smile on my face.

 

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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.

If you’d like the entire story in one piece, just ask.

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Mirrors

Denial.

Anger.

Bargaining.

Depression.

Acceptance. Hope.

I’ve been clawing my way over and under these feelings since that November 8 evening.

Long before then, I was frightened, angry, and shocked as I watched little donnie in his made-for-twitter gutters and swamps.

Everything he’s done, everything he is doing, is exactly what I’ve come to expect. Nothing he does surprises me. That’s what scares me the most.

Acceptance.

Hope. In you. In us. In the best we have to give on the other side of the stream.

 

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Headbanger in Paradise, Part 3

CONTINUED FROM  Headbanger in Paradise, Part 2

 

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

I applied electrical leads to the pulse points on Frank’s head, chest, and feet while the docs reorganized the scattered equipment. Dr. Afzal added blood pressure cuffs, one on Frank’s left arm and another on his right lower leg to monitor the immediate ECT effects.

Frank’s chest swelled up and down, slow and steady.

Dr. Umbar methodically cleaned Frank’s right arm around and inside the elbow. “You’ll feel another pinch now.”

           Frank flinched as the anesthesiologist slid the needle tip into his vein. The IV drip assured good fluid intake while providing a line to piggyback Frank’s treatment meds.

“You’ll be getting sleepy now,”Dr. Umbar said, opening the valve to adjust the flow.

Frank eyed the milky white liquid slithering down the thin tube from the tiny valve below the IV bag. A snowy river streamed toward him. His lips stirred, occupied by his inner self-talk.

            Three, six, nine, twelve. One, two, three. Three, six, nine, twelve. One, two, three. Three, six, nine, twelve. One,two, three.

Frank looked at me. I took his hand in mine as his eyes glazed over. His eyelids fluttered in rhythm to his heartbeat until both eyes closed.

Dr. Umbar told us Frank was receiving IV Propofol, the same medication Michael Jackson received shortly before he died. It gave me the chills. I wasn’t concerned Frank would die, merely aware of a brief pall of sorrow paying me a visit from the King of Pop.

Within three minutes, Frank was deep in sleep.

“Dr. Umbar? Are we ready?” the psychiatrist asked.

Dr. Umbar nodded in agreement. “Good to go.”

Dr. Afzal looked to the black metal box. A paper strip spooled out like a receipt at a checkout stand.

He pressed the red button, holding it for a count of three seconds by the machine’s digital readout. Frank’s body twitched, just enough so you couldn’t miss it. His upper body and head spasms lasted six seconds. His fingers and toes continued their tiny dance for another dozen beats on the monitoring strip.

We were all quiet.

Soon enough, Dr. Umbar loaded Frank’s IV with a massive dose of caffeine.

While we waited for the caffeine to kick in, I asked about Frank’s unexpected pre-ECT behavior.

“That was an unforeseen experience,” Dr. Afzal said. “I believe the anti-anxiety medication given on the unit beforehand induced an abnormal response.”

“Surely, that wasn’t all of it?” I asked.

“Frank talked to me last Friday,” said Dr. Afzal, “before my weekend off. He told me about a dream he’d had recently. It involved him rolling in a wagon through a dark cave, eventually landing in a sunny arena filled with children at attention, all outfitted in white playsuits. I think, this morning, our patient confused reality with his dream.”

“So,” Jerry said, “next time he walks here. No rolling.”

            My goodness. It would have been nice to know about the damn dream.

Thirty minutes later, Frank was up, still groggy from the ECT and the assorted meds swirling around in his body.

Jerry helped him to the wheelchair.

The return trip seemed much longer than the previous one. I was still shaken by Frank’s outburst.

Hospital policy dictates one RN accompany patients to and from ECT and continually monitor health status two hours post-treatment. I charted Frank’s vital signs every fifteen minutes, relieved to see no blood pressure spikes, paranoia, fear, or loss of consciousness.

Short-term memory loss is a common side effect of ECT. The extent of memory loss after additional treatments would determine whether or not to continue the therapy. The positive aspects of ECT would be weighed against any detrimental memory loss.

It was warm where we sat in the day hall, sunlight streaming through the windows onto my assessment sheet.

“What’s your name?” I asked.

 

 

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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 the final Part 4. KT

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…..

syringe

 

“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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