A small disclaimer: This story has a few words that may be offensive. I debated over using the words…but they were true to the characters. Please, if you are offended by harsh language (or barnyard words), feel free to pass on reading this one. I’m not opening up a debate on appropriate language. This story is based on a true experience.
A nurse walked past me with a bedpan full of human waste. It just added to the smell of urine and sweat and rotten teeth. The other smell was the disinfectant that some nurse aide was obsessively squirting on her hands. It seemed that the stink in the hallway made her feel contaminated.
I hated to admit it to myself, but, I understood the feeling.
My hand was on Jane’s foot. A sock, a sheet and two blankets were between my skin and hers. But still, I felt funny touching her foot. I barely knew her. Just once a week for seven months. And most of that time she never came out of her room.
“Sue, I just wanna get outta here,” she said from her bed that was pushed against the wall. The bars were pulled up to keep her from rolling and crashing on the floor. “You think they’d give me a cigarette?”
“No,” I said. “We have to talk to the doctor.”
“I swear, I didn’t mean to say I’d do that. Just take me back.”
“We have to talk to the doctor. Just hold on.”
“I’m gonna get in trouble for this. I just know I am.”
“No one’s going to be mad at you.”
“Do you think they’d let me go outside for a smoke? Just for a minute?”
“No,” I repeated for the twentieth time in an hour. “They won’t let you smoke.”
The nurse aide rubbed her hands rapidly, moving the hand sanitizer across invisible germs. She stopped over, almost close to the bed. “You want a nicotine patch?” she asked.
“It isn’t the same,” Jane said.
“Why don’t you try it?” I asked. “It couldn’t hurt.”
“Yeah. I guess it couldn’t.”
“So, you want one?” the nurse aide asked.
“Yeah. I guess so.” Jane pulled up her sleeve. “Put it on my arm.”
“I have to talk to your nurse.” The nurse aide looked at me. Rolled her eyes. “I can’t give anybody meds.”
She walked away, stopping at the sanitizer pump that hung on the wall next to where the security guard stood. She covered her hands to dripping with the stuff.
“That shit ain’t gonna save ya,” a younger woman in another bed yelled. “It’s just water. Somebody’s been lyin’ to you about that stuff.”
The aide kept walking. I imagined her still rolling her eyes as she flashed thoughts about hating her job.
I couldn’t say I blamed her. Working in the “suicide watch” hallway wouldn’t be my favorite either.
“My dad was a bastard.” The woman in the other bed was talking to herself. “You know something’s messed up when he been married to my mom for 50 years and she’s glad he’s dead. She laughed, man. She smiled like crazy when he died. We were all glad, man. For real.”
I looked around at the nurses. They made faces at each other. Obviously, they were uncomfortable. But they were acting like the snobs at a high school. I wanted to tell them to “grow up” and to “be professional”. But that would have made me one of the less-than-cool kids. So, I kept my mouth closed.
“Come on, Sue,” Jane said. “Let’s get outta here.”
“We have to talk to the doctor.” I stood up. “I have to make a quick phone call, okay? I’ll be right back.”
“Yeah. That’s fine.” Jane grabbed my hand. “Hey, while you’re gone, will you get me a pack of cigarettes? They don’t have any in here.”
“I can’t. Sorry. But I’ll be right back.”
I walked past the other woman. She was murmuring about something, holding her hands above her head, forming symbols with her fingers. A triangle. A heart. A circle. She looked up at me.
“My dad was a good man,” she said to me. “All’s he ever done his whole life was help other people. You know that, right? He never hurt nobody. I miss him like hell, man. I really do. I just want to go be with him. You know? Just can’t live without him no more. I don’t care if I go to hell. I just got to kill myself so I can see him.”
All I could think to do was nod my head and give her a sympathetic look. You know, the kind that’s half smile, half frown.
“Cindy, you need to stop talking to people,” a woman said. She was sitting in a chair. She was all folded up and spoke so quietly that I barely noticed her. She looked at me. “She don’t know what she’s sayin’.”
“Okay,” I said.
“I do too know what I’m saying, Mom,” Cindy said, her voice raised. “I ain’t stupid.”
“I didn’t say you were stupid,” the mother said. “You just don’t always think straight.”
“Whatever!” Cindy punched the wall. “I swear to God, I wish they’d let me punch you in the head. Then maybe you’d shut up.”
“Don’t let the doctor hear you talkin’ like that. He’ll have you put in the institution again.”
“It’s better than bein’ with you.”
I decided to skip my phone call. I went back to Jane.
“Where’s the doctor?” she asked me. “Are you a doctor?”
“Nope. It’s just me. Sue,” I answered. “The doctor should be here in a minute.”
“What time is it?”
“I think it’s around 9:00.”
“In the morning?”
“No. At night.”
I looked over at Cindy. She was using her fingernails to cut into the flesh on her arm. As she carved into herself, she kept her eyes on her mother. She formed words with her mouth. All I could hear were faint whispers of words I didn’t understand.
“Let’s just get outta here, Sue,” Jane said again.
“No. We have to wait for the doctor.”
“My name is Doctor John,” the man in a white jacket said. He pulled over a stool and sat near Jane’s head. “Can you tell me your name?”
“Jane.” She didn’t look at him. “Do you smoke?”
“I don’t,” he answered. “Why do you ask?”
“I’m dyin’ for a smoke.”
“Well, you know that smoking can kill you. Right?”
“I don’t care.”
“Would you like a nicotine patch?”
“They already put one on me.”
“Then you don’t really need to smoke.” Doctor John smiled.
“I can smoke with the patch on.”
“Can you tell me why you’re here today?”
“I don’t know.”
“Did you tell someone that you were going to hurt yourself?”
“I think so.”
“Did you have a plan in place? For how you were going to do that?”
“Yeah.” Jane rolled over, her back toward him. “But I don’t want to talk to you about it. I just want to smoke.”
“Okay.” Doctor John pulled a piece of paper from his pocket and made a few notes. He looked up at me. “Are you the daughter?”
“No,” I answered. Part of me was horrified that he thought that I was related to her. It made me feel guilty. “Just a friend, I guess.”
“Okay. How well do you know Jane?”
“I don’t know. Not too well.”
“Has she made these threats before?”
“I think so.”
“Sue, you gotta get me outta here,” Jane said, rolling back over. “I’m gonna get in trouble.”
“Jane, we’ll have you talk to the social worker.” Doctor John put his hand on her forehead. “Then you can get out of here.”
“Do you smoke?” she asked him again.
“No. I don’t.”
“I wish my dad would just die,” Cindy yelled. “All he does is hurt me, man. He touches me, you know. Been doin’ that since I was little. I told him that he shouldn’t create incest, I beg him all the time to leave me alone. But he won’t.”
“She’s lyin’,” her mother said to me, looking over the back of her chair. “She don’t know what she’s talkin’ about.”
Jane looked up at the ceiling and sighed.
“I ain’t lyin’, Mom. You know it’s the truth.” Cindy started making the symbols over her head again. Triangle. Heart. Circle. Over and over.
“Let’s just get outta here, Sue,” Jane said. “I just need to get home. I don’t belong here.”
Cindy got herself out of the bed. She was stomping her feet on the floor. Her hands still over her head. She was humming and mumbling. It seemed to be some kind of ceremonial dance.
“Damn it, Cindy,” her mother said. “Sit your ass down. People’re lookin’ at you.”
She wrapped her arms around Cindy’s waist and tried to pull her back to the bed. Cindy lowered her hands, still in the triangle shape, and shoved her mother away, knocking her to the floor.
“You keep your hands off me,” Cindy said, seething. “Don’t you never touch me.”
I looked over at the nurses. They gathered in a corner, whispering. One of them mimicked the symbols that Cindy made and laughed. One of them told the nurse aide something. She shook her head no. They gave her a stern look. She walked over to Cindy.
“I need you to sit on your bed,” the aide said. “Please.”
Cindy ignored her, continuing her ceremony. She glared down at her mother.
“Cindy, you need to sit on your bed.” The aide put a hand on her back. “We don’t want to have to call security.”
Cindy looked at her. She laughed. Her whole face was full of laughter.
“Okay now. Let’s get you back into your bed.” The aide tried to push Cindy, just slightly, at the bottom of her back.
The laughter turned into a scream. Her face changed to rage. So quickly. The aide stepped back. Cindy lunged at her. Laughing as the other woman flinched. A security guard grabbed her from behind. Cindy spit, the wet hitting the nurse aide in the face.
Cindy was carried away. She kicked and laughed.
When she was gone, the hall was quiet. The mother stood, adjusting her clothes, grabbing her purse.
“She lies a lot, you know,” she said to me. “Her daddy wouldn’t never touch her.”
Her eyes were seeking. Looking for my sympathy. I nodded my head, not knowing what else to do. She walked away, toward the waiting room. I wondered if she was just going to leave her daughter there.
The nurses went back to their work. The aide stood in the middle of the hallway, wiping at her face with a tissue. She was crying.
“Sue, can we just get outta here?” Jane asked.
“No. We have to wait,” I answered.
“I need a cigarette.”
“I know.” I put my hand back on her foot. “I’ll buy you a pack on the way home.”