It’s two-thirty in the afternoon and I’m drinking coffee in a nurse’s lounge at the hospital where I work a couple of days a week. Like any nurse’s lounge, the place is awash with cake, cookies, half eaten cartons of Chinese food, and boxes of candy. As I listen to the nurses commiserating, I chew unenthusiastically on a carrot stick. I’m on a diet. All the cake and cookies around me are an unwelcome temptation.
So why am I working a part time job at a hospital you ask? So I don’t go crazy. When I was writing Waiter Rant, I spent large chunks of time isolated in my apartment chained to a laptop. After I discovered I was conversing with the dog too much and shaving once a week, I decided to find a job just to get out of my house. I tried waiting tables at a local restaurant for a while, but the place was poorly run and the restaurant’s manager, like most tiny dicked power mad flunkies, thought he owned me body and soul. Because he couldn’t hang on to his servers, the manager overloaded me with so many shifts that it interfered with writing the book. So I quit. That experience taught me a valuable lesson. I realized that the eremetical writer’s existence is not for me. I need to be out and about with people doing something other than writing.
When I signed on to write my second book I vowed I wouldn’t repeat the mistakes I made while writing the first. It took a while to arrange, but I think my little per diem job in health care will help me maintain my grip on reality. Besides, I get a paycheck and the nurses around here are very cute. Don’t worry, this blog isn’t going to turn into Hospital Rant or anything. I’m a firm believer in patient confidentiality so I won’t be telling stories about the clients under my care. They’re sick and hurting. The last thing they need is some guy from internet writing about them. Nor will I be writing much about my co-workers. A hospital is a very different from a restaurant But old medical war stories? They’re fair game.
“So what’s the weirdest thing you ever saw?” Frieda, one of the nurses, asks me.
“Well,” I say, putting down my gnawed carrot stick. “I once had a morbidly obese man who liked jamming unfolded paper clips into his arm.”
“Ouch,” Letty, another nurse says, wincing. “Why’d he do that?”
“He was a psychiatric patient,” I reply. “He claimed hurting himself made him feel better.”
“So what did you do?” Frieda asks.
“I took him across the street to the medical hospital and waited in the ER for several hours until the attending had time to pull them out.”
“You spent seven hours in the ER?” Letty asks. “Why didn’t someone relieve you?”
“The nurse manager was a sadist,” I reply. “Besides, they had no one to spare. After managed care gutted the hospital’s revenue stream, we were always understaffed.”
“That’s awful,” Letty says.
“And this was before iPod’s, cell phones, or other technological methods of distraction,” I say. “I was forced to leaf through three year old copies of People. It was awful.”
“Don’t you love doing arms-length-eye contact with patients?” Frieda asks. ( Arms-length-eye contact is employed when a patient is at risk for hurting themselves or other people. You literally have to be arm’s length away from the patient to prevent them from doing something dangerous.)
“I don’t mind doing it for an hour or two,” I reply. “But seven hours? That’s not good for me or the patient. Besides, this guy smelled awful.”
“Morbidly obese people often do,” Frieda says. “They can’t wash in all the nooks and crannies.”
“So the doctor finally comes around midnight,” I continue. “Administers a local, and pulls eight paper clips out of the guy’s arm. I return the patient to the psych ward and go home. Of course, I’ve got to be in for the 7-3 shift the next morning. I hadn’t even gotten my coffee when the obese guy comes up to me and says ‘I have a secret.’”
“Oh no,” Letty groans.
“Yep,” I reply. “The guy jammed more paper clips into his arm during the night. The goddamn aide on the night shift didn’t watch the patient closely. So guess who had to go back to the ER for another several stinky hours?”
“You, of course,” Frieda says.
“So we get the same doctor from last night,” I continue. “He must’ve been working a thirty-six hour rotation because he looked more psychotic than my patient. When he goes to take clips out he tells the nurse that he’s not going to use anesthesia.”
“That’s barbaric,” Frieda says.
“So picture this,” I say. “I’m twenty-two years old, just out of college, and I’m yelling ‘You will give my patient anesthesia or I’ll report you!’”
“So what happened?” Letty asks.
“The doc gave the guy anesthesia, took out the clips, and I took the patient back to the unit.”
“You didn’t get in trouble?” Letty asks.
“What a weird story,” Frieda says.
“Yeah,” I say. “But after that, whenever the rec therapist couldn’t find the boom box to do music therapy, we’d say ‘Look in the fat guy’s arm.’”
”Oh,” Letty says, laughing, “You’re bad.”
“Gallows humor I guess.”
“Well,” Frieda says. “The weirdest thing I ever saw was thirty years ago over at St. Ann’s in the inner city.”
“Tell me,” I say. “I love hearing these stories.”
“A middle aged lady came into the ER,” Frieda says. “Obviously off her rocker. She just kept mumbling something about soldiers in her vagina.”
My mind starts filtering through all the reasons why this lady might be saying this. None of them are good.
“So we talk to her for a while,” Frieda continues. She denies being raped and she said she was never in a war zone.”
“So what was going on?” I ask.
“The lady was in obvious discomfort so I sent her to an OB/GYN for a workup.”
“That doctor got the shock of his life,”
My brain goes into overdrive trying to come up with an explanation. Then I remember something the great fictional detective Sherlock Holmes once said. “When you’ve eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.” I come to a conclusion – the patient put toy soldiers into her vaginal canal.
“So when the doc inserts the speculum,” Frieda continues, “He goes, ‘Holy Crap!’ and starts pulling out the little green plastic toy soldiers little boys like to play with.”
“Oh my God!” Letty exclaims.
“You know,” I say. “I was thinking that was what might’ve happened but I didn’t’ want to say it – too bizarre.”
“I know it’ s crazy,” Frieda says. “But that’s what happened.”
Unbidden, the image of the R. Lee Ermey voiced tiny green warrior from the film Toy Story fills my mind’s eye. “Mount up men,” he says. “We’re gonna conduct a spelunking operation!”
“So why did this lady put toy soldiers into her vagina?” Letty asks.
“I don’t know,” Frieda says, shrugging. “Some people are just plain nuts.”
I think that crazy lady from thirty years ago might have found what she was looking for if she had sized up from little green soldiers to a G.I. Joe doll. Maybe the model with the Kung Fu Grip? I decide against sharing this little thought with my coworkers, however. I’m too new.
They’ll need time to get adjusted to how twisted my sense of humor can be.