The Discorporation of Rose-As-It-Were
|Rose D, Patient||Verbatim #3||09/13/14; 6:03 a.m.|
|Natalie Hopewell, Chaplain||Mid-October||Bryce 6|
19 y/o Caucasian female & self-identified “agnostic” hospitalized over the weekend for alcohol poisoning. Brought into the ER by three friends at 1:47 a.m. on Saturday night with a BAC of .32. Had stomach pumped and then sent to recovery. While in recovery and seemingly unconscious, patient inflicted subcutaneous lacerations to face, chest, arms and legs. Means of infliction was patient’s own nails or other as yet unidentified means. Patient first admitted to St. John 1 (ER) before being transferred to Bryce 6 (Psych) after wound treatment and observation/diagnosis of psychological irregularities. Patient also exhibits persistent disorientation, some paranoia and selective amnesia, mainly concerning the events following her admission to the hospital on Saturday last. Patient has no prior history of hospitalization at this or any facility. Nor has the patient any significant medical history that might provide insight into her present condition. Patient dosed with Clozapine, a powerful anti-psychotic, to calm her. Patient is slated for 3 doses daily until her condition improves.
Apart from the wildly unorthodox nature of what would emerge as Rose D.’s situation, the reason that I chose this case to share in the context of group is twofold. First, I have always placed physical pain on a loftier altar of sorrow than mental; physical pain is to me quantifiable, mental pain so often not, and when I encounter the latter in others I tend downplay the disaster it wreaks, the insidiousness of its long-term effects. Rose D.’s case has taught me better; Rose D’s case has haunted me. There are mysteries, subtleties, terrors about it that I have been wholly unable to shake and recording it here, columned off, in verbatim, has allowed me to process its murkier aspects. If I offer it up for processing, I feel, then before very long it will start to make sense.
Plans & Preparations
Since I was the Interfaith Chaplain on call and since the referral to Bryce 6 was urgent, I had no other choice but to go right away. And yet had I been better versed in the exigencies of Rose D.’s situation then all that came after, if not circumvented, might at least have been met with a steadier hand.
When I knocked on the door of the room in Bryce 6 it was not Rose who answered me, but rather a male orderly named Jarrell who I knew from my regular rounds on Vaughn 2. Behind Jarrell was someone else, a third person inside the room. He was standing in front of the bed with Rose in it a lantern-jawed and hefty man with the orange work vest of the MBTA. Jarrell asked that I wait in the unit hallway so he could see the man outside. There had been, Jarrell said, a misunderstanding. The man, said Jarrell, was not meant to be there. The man acknowledged this was so by informing Jarrell: “You are fuckin’ A right.” This person’s name was Porterhouse, I would later discover while talking with Rose, but his name for the moment was Peter O’Nan, evidenced by the visitor’s badge on his shirt. Porterhouse appeared irate. He did not know Rose D., he said. He no more knew Rose D., he said, than he knew “any broads who were priests” like myself. All the priests he knew, he said, wore collars and robes, sponsored little league teams. When I tried to explain that I was not a priest but an Interfaith Chaplain on hospital rounds, Porterhouse seemed not to hear, but began to explain how he’d come to be there. His “buddy Roscoe from the old neighborhood” had called him, he told me, around 3 a.m. Porterhouse said that he worked for the city, repairing the tracks on the Green and Red lines. That night he’d had the graveyard shift, from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., “a spooky time to work,” he said, and here Roscoe calls him to talk on his phone from the hospital phone over there by the bed. Roscoe explained that he’d gotten laid up in Memorial Hospital, “Looney Tunes unit.” He’d told Porterhouse it was all a mistake and for Porterhouse, maybe, to come get him out. Would Porterhouse mind, explained Porterhouse now, coming out to the hospital, “bullshitting” with him, convincing the doctors he wasn’t “a nut?” Porterhouse said that he’d come right away. “You do that for pals in a bind,” he explained, “and he sounded to me pretty down in the dumps. But then when I finally got to his room, it wasn’t Roscoe that I found there at all but this little passed-out piece of ass with the hair.”
It may be useful for us here to break with Porterhouse’s version, Porterhouse being who Porterhouse is. Before my receiving the page to Bryce 6, Porterhouse had grown unhinged, Jarrell had recounted to me afterward, demanding to know what they’d done with his friend and what kind of “sick fucking put-on this was,” “blowing up the nurse’s kiosk again and again and again” with demands. What one nurse kept saying: “You made a mistake. That isn’t who you think it is.”
When at last Porterhouse had been cleared from the room, I waited a while before knocking again. Rose D. had been given an anti-psychotic “Clozapine,” her chart explained and for several hours now she had been fast asleep which included the time, I could only assume, that saw Porterhouse looming over her, ranting. Though protocol required of me to let the “dust clear” on the scene, when it had cleared I knocked again, and when Rose D. stirred in her bed, I went in.
Rose D. was female, college-age, her dark hair spread out on the pillow around her. She’d styled it in a Cleopatra, an urban sophisticate haircut with bangs, though for now it was pushed to the sides of her face where it had adhered in the sweat at her temples. She was, I would venture to say, quite attractive; pale and sharp-nosed, with an elegant face. A bandage clung to her right cheek, another one beneath her hairline; on each of her forearms two bandages more, her lacerations snugly dressed. I could only assume, somewhere under the covers, there were bandages, too, on the in’s of her thighs. Rose D. was a student at Emerson College, on scholarship there and a Somerville local. When I came to her bed she was coming awake. Her eyes were sleepy, big and green.
Patient: You came.
Chaplain: You called. I will always come find you. Just call, and I’ll come.
P: Remind me again who you are?
C: (siting down) I’m the interfaith chaplain on call in your unit. You know where you are, don’t you, Rose?
P: I’m not sure.
C: New England Memorial Hospital.
C: In a hospital, Rose. You are here being treated.
P: But I’m not even sick. Nothing’s broken. I’m fine.
C: We are taking good care of you here on Bryce 6.
C: Would you rather I left you alone?
P: (thinking) Maybe. Maybe not. I guess I’m not sure if I know why you’re here.
C: A chaplain gives spiritual counsel to patients. But a chaplain can talk about anything, really.
P: Spiritual – like religious?
C: Religious, perhaps.
P: I don’t even believe in God.
C: You don’t have to to talk to me – the type of religion I practice, at least.
P: That elephant thing with the arms?
P: I like the way that sounds.
C: I’m glad.
P: My parents are Catholics.
C: That’s good to know.
P: I feel really awkward right now.
C: That’s okay. Do you not remember requesting me here?
P: (a looks of disgust passes over her face) I’m just so fucking – ugh…
C: Confused. You’re feeling confused and it’s really frustrating.
P: A lot confused. But also scared.
C: Like you’re not in control of yourself.
P: Like I wasn’t.
C: You used the word: wasn’t.
P: I mean, like, before. When they first brought me here and I opened my eyes.
C: What do you remember?
P: This much. (pinches fingers) I sort of remember pre-gaming.
C: So, drinking?
P: Well starting to drink, in my friend Jenna’s room.
C: Before you were due to arrive at the party?
P: We were going there, yeah. No particular time. I mean due to arrive sounds like something – high tea. Just Early Times and PBR before you hit the road, you know? You must’ve gone to college, right?
P: Believe it or not I did go. Graduated.
C: Oh I can believe it. You sound like a smartie. Just look at you, though: not much older than me.
(there’s a silence in which I can feel myself blushing.)
C: So you’re pre-gaming, and…
P: I blackout. Here I am. I’ll bet that you think I am some kind of drunk.
C: You know, I don’t.
P: You don’t?
C: Trust me. Isn’t everyone like that in college?
P: I guess.
C: You don’t remember coming here?
(she shakes her head)
C: You don’t remember being transferred?
(the patient shakes her head again)
C: You don’t remember calling me.
P: That guy in the vest coming in, I remember.
C: You mean Peter O’Nan?
P: Yeah, whoever he was. I called him and told him to come here to see me?
C: He claims someone called him to come to this room. But if you don’t believe him I’m with you, okay?
P: That’s the shittiest part of what happened to me, whatever turns out to have happened, you know? Because now, with you here, in this room: this is me. I’m choosing to lie here. To tell you this stuff. To say… (she seems to search for words) … Skill saw. White bread. Fake tan. Fondue.
C: Scuba diver. Bar mitzvah.
P: Boogie board. (smiling weakly)
C: You’re scared of not knowing what happened to you but all the same you’re scared to know.
P: I’m scared that I did something awful.
C: Like what?
P: Something awful and strange to myself.
C: You mean those? (pointing to her face and chest)
P: Holy shit. (she starts weeping while touching the gauze) Holy shit, holy shit, holy shit, I’m not sure.
C: Does it feel good to say that?
P: It does. Holy shit!
C: Is there some reason, maybe, Rose, why you would hurt yourself like that?
P: What are these? What are they?! (she claws at her face)
C: They’re bandages, Rose, for some pretty deep cuts. I can see that you’re really upset, which I get.
P: How does someone do this to themselves and not know?
C: You don’t need to worry about that right now. I’m sorry that I brought it up.
P: (taking breaths with her hand on her chest) Just a second. I think I’m better now. I’m fine.
C: Maybe we should change the subject.
P: Let’s just sit a moment. I need a reset.
(we sit for a couple of minutes, as needed)
C: Want to tell me about what you’re doing in college?
P: Drama arts.
C: Like directing?
P: Designing costumes.
C: I thought you were maybe artistic.
P: How come?
C: You have an artistic haircut.
P: (smiles a little) Have you seen the movie Pulp Fiction?
C: I have.
P: You know the girlfriend of the drug-dealer guy? The one who does the finger dance?
C: Uma Thurman.
P: That’s her name. My hair’s like this because of her.
C: Her face has an interesting beauty, like yours.
P: I’m not feeling beautiful now.
C: Which makes sense.
P: Are all chaplains this good at fluffing your ego?
C: We don’t notice things that aren’t already there. Not saying you’re vain but you care how you’re made. Like you care how your costumes are made. Am I right?
P: Honestly, sometimes, I am kind of vain.
C: It’s nice to be upfront about it.
P: Vanity is a sin if you’re Catholic, I think.
C: I think you’re referring to pride.
P: Yeah, I guess.
C: There are no sins in Humanism. The concept itself is anathema to us.
P: The Catholics would say I deserved what I got.
C: What is it exactly you think that that is?
P: (patient appears to grow panicked again, her eyes moving wildly. she fans at her face) My scholarship, shit, they are going to revoke it!
C: Your scholarship at Emerson?
P: I’ve got a full ride. This memorial fund. But they’re going to take it away, I fucked up!
C: I very much doubt that will happen.
P: We’ll see.
C: Whatever it turns out did happen to you – and that is going to take some time – I’m willing to bet that it wasn’t your fault. Bad things happen to people who aren’t every day.
P: My parents will say I deserved it, they will. They’re not going to take my side! (she starts to move into a sitting position) They’re going to say I made those cuts. They’re going to say I’m—
(Rose stops talking.)
(sitting up straight, she hangs forward, face lowered, her hair hanging over the sides of her face)
C: Rose, you were saying?
(she hangs there, not speaking)
C: Rose, are you all right?
(her face where the hair doesn’t cover it darkens, her bone structure taking on shadowed contours)
P: (in a strong Boston accent, a few octaves lower) Her parents would say she’s a little cocktease-ah.
C: Your parents would say that, you mean?
P: Did I stutter?
C: (after a pause) Aren’t I speaking to Rose?
P: Coming and going, and going and coming, little ladies, little lords. Buying beer at the store. Buying smokes at the store. American Spirits, the yellow pack, please. Buying laundry detergent. Buying flats of Top Ramen. Buying Funions and Red Bull and red Solo Cups. Buying jimmies! The ribbed ones, the lubed ones, the thin ones, the ones with the gel so you don’t bust a nut. Porterhouse and me would sit there. Porterhouse and me would watch.
C: When you say Porterhouse you mean Peter O’Nan?
P: I’ll bet you were summa-come-loud in high school. You know Summ-ah? Shy girl. But she screws like a moose.
(Rose is sitting up in bed and she’s talking so fast I can barely catch up.)
(as she talks she gesticulates, wrenching her johnny.)
C: You and Porterhouse sound close.
P: Pete-dog! Petey! Porterhoooouse! Love you, brother! (toasts the air) We had red camper chairs out in front of the store and the campers had cozies that held tallboys in them. Porterhouse would bring the cooler, and whenever it wasn’t too cold or too hot we’d sit out there and watch the girls. The thin ones from Tufts in the slutty outfits with the sharp panty-lines and the hair down their backs. The ponytail-tossers and little rump-shakers. The girls in rush-shirts with the baby-fat cheeks. We’d sit out there and watch them pass with a Bud Ice in one hand and double-wides burning. Christ above, we were happy! The light at that hour! This life can almost be too much.
In spite of the fact that Rose D. is “agnostic” and claims to have never requested a chaplain, I feel our visit did her good, if to Rose on a purely emotional level. Though what Rose believed to be true in the moment does not exclude of deeper workings, the Mind being tended along with the Spirit, that meet in the conscious exertion of Will. My choice to reflect back at Rose her frustrations instead of combatting them made her pain valid. Yet if we accept that Rose may not be Rose in a strictly definitive sense of the word then can it be said I have ministered to her in the way I initially hoped that I had? These vagaries are ones, at last, that I hope to shed light on with further reflection.
New England Memorial Hospital Site
Clinical Pastoral Education Goals and Contract
My name is Natalie Hopewell and I am 24 years old. I am a Religious Humanist CPE student in my first year in the chaplaincy training program at New England Memorial Hospital, my second in seminary at Pankhurst Quimby Theological Seminary. I was born and raised in State College, PA, the child of a high school administrator (my mother) and a warehouse foreman (my father). I obtained my B.A., with honors, in Religious Studies & English at Mount Holyoke College. My senior thesis, “The Quotidian Divine: Tracking Religious Humanism in the Golden Age of American Letters,” was awarded the Antoinette Brown Blackwell Prize for “Excellence in Interdisciplinary Study” upon my matriculation from Mt. Holyoke in 2012. Since graduating, I have served as an intern at Act Now! New England and, more recently, as an administrative assistant at the Cambridge Collective for Religious Humanist Thought. In most every way I can muster, I attempt to live my life by Albert Schweitzer’s oft quoted dictum that: “Humanism, in all its simplicity, is the only genuine spirituality.” I am excited and inspired beyond words to begin my tenure as a CPE student at New England Memorial Hospital, and look forward to making leaps and bounds not only when it comes to my own spiritual discernment, but enabling the same in my patients and peers.
My Personal Growth Goal(s): Acknowledging Hardship as Hardship Alone
Ways I Will Work on This Goal
• Coming to terms with the fact that some things can’t be “fixed”
• Embracing existential uncertainty
• Practicing, soliciting, reflecting on catharsis
• Lack of background in a hospital setting
• The privileging of physical suffering over all other kinds
• Aversion to facing my working-class roots
• Tyranny of Type-A traits
• A wrenching desire to be “useful” to patients
• A dark cosmic fear of remaining the same
How Others Will Know I’ve Made Progress on my Goal
• Keeping my cool in the same room with death
• Mentioning sensitive subjects aloud
• Having the courage to say, “Life is not fair” to someone who knows it too deeply already
My Theological Growth Goal(s): An Ethics of Divinity
Ways I Will Work on This Goal
• Keeping my mind, like a door, propped halfway to the wild mystery of existence
• Working with clergy and hospital staff to forge a multivalent bond
• Not waiting for “God” to act
• Indefatigable footing in reason
• Suspicion of the Catholic Church
• A Promethean blaze of defiance, well-tended
• Unitarian Universalism: leanings
• United Church of Christ: sympathies
• Quakerism: sympathies
How Others Will Know I’ve Made Progress on My Goal
• Being able to answer the question at last of “What does Jerusalem matter to Athens?”
• Officiating Sunday prayer
• To speak in the tongue of the Spirit of Life
|Roscoe M, Patient||Verbatim #4||09/13/14; 8:37 a.m.|
|Natalie Hopewell, Chaplain||Mid-October||Bryce 6|
49 y/o Caucasian male & self-identified “Roman Catholic” patient admitted on 9/13 at 4:31 a.m. with complaints of arm & shoulder numbness, chest pain and shortness of breath. Found by investigating physician to be suffering massive cardiac arrest due to the gradual rupture of a pulmonary embolism. Patient pronounced dead approx. 1 hour subsequent to ER admittance in the company of spouse Jeanne (pronounced “John”), herself an RN at Brigham & Women’s, and adolescent daughter Kayla. Patient is survived by Jeanne, Kayla and second daughter, Destiny, absent at the time of death. According to spouse Jeanne, patient began to show signs of coronary distress the night before during playoff game yet did not seek out medical treatment until just before noon on the following day. Patient was a lifelong smoker and periodic heavy drinker. History of heart problems and tendency to “overwork.” When asked by the receiving staff why he hadn’t come in earlier in the day patient said his prerogative then, anyway, was to “see the Pats get to the Bowl and [he] did.” Patient’s body, after death, given into the care of Falconi & Hobbs Funerary Arrangements for wake and interment.
The reasons I chose to present this verbatim of my subsequent sessions with Rose-as-it-were – a better name, perhaps, than Rose as it more accurately portrays her dilemma – remain, in major part, the same: the toggle of physical pain vs. mental, the lingering stain of the case in my mind; yet only in this second half are the ethical quandaries it poses apparent. It is my sincere hope that discussing them here will nourish the aims of the group going forward.
Plans & Preparations
In the midst of my first talk with Rose-as-it-were I felt the need to flee the room. The transformation of the patient into someone who was not the patient at all had so blindsided me at first I could not think of what to do; in addition to which, I must humbly admit, I have very little history with schizophrenic patients and that is what Rose-as-it-were seemed to be. But who was Porterhouse to Rose? And who was the coarse and inveterate sexist who had taken up residence somewhere inside her? In the chaplaincy break-room in front of the cooler, trembling a bit as I filled up my cup, I felt someone squeezing my arm from behind. Father Payles (pronounced like the shoe-store) stood there, asking me what had “unseated my soul.” I explained to the Father, a mentor of sorts and a positive model of Catholicism in the faith hierarchy of the chaplaincy staff, the bizarreness of witnessing Rose-as-it-were’s transformation from college-age girl to “bar brawler.” This I spewed at Father Payles, hoping that he would absolve me of bias. But he suggested something else. Might the patient not be schizophrenic at all “but how shall I phrase it—well, rather, possessed”? Or not possessed but compromised when it came to the link between body and soul—between body and self, if that sat with me better. “Here,” Payles said, “is a better word for it: dis-corporated. Your patient is that.” That is to say “loosed from her corpus,” he said, “the flesh behind repatriated.” “Repatriated,” I asked him, “by what?” “By a hostile and non-native agent,” he said, though gave no further explanation. This happened in pastoral settings sometimes, to men and to women across many faiths. There are more things in heaven and earth, after all, than are dreamt of in our dissertations, he said. Father Payles had treated such patients himself. “You mean exorcisms?” I asked. Father nodded. “Why don’t we say re-corporations.” Though it wasn’t, he clarified, “like in the movies.” In fact he had done it right here, on the units. “Well what is it like, then?” I asked Father Payles if it was not like what one saw in the movies, which I must admit I had not seen much of. “Exorcism,” Payles said, “is simply good pastoral care.” Surely someone so rooted in reason as I, so awed before the human soul in all its variety, all its transcendence, allowed for possibilities outside the mainstream of accepted belief? Besides, was Rose not compromised, her inner woman held at ransom? And did it not, then, rest on me as Rose’s caretaker to come to her aid? After draining and filling my cup at the cooler an additional 2-3 times, I agreed. But I was not a Catholic, nor supernaturalist the least. My metaphysics wanted something – namely, to be more than physics alone – and shouldn’t someone with the right turn of mind (someone, that is, who was not me) be put in charge of Rose’s pain when the palliative stakes were so bafflingly high? Father Payles thought about it. Then he answered: No.
Porterhouse, I would learn after quizzing a guard, had been admitted to the room under utterly normal circumstances. He had come to the desk during visiting hours, said the name of the patient he’d come there to see, presented for the guard on duty a photo ID which the guard had then scanned and printed to a sticker-badge to be stuck to his chest as he went through the halls when at last, unremarked, he had entered the room. But who had he come there to visit, I asked, if not Rose-as-it-were, who had not recognized him? The man at the kiosk consulted his logbook. The name, he said, was Roscoe M. I researched this patient, located his chart.
I have culled from this chart for my “data” above.
Rose would’ve been physically weak while in triage, her body still ridding itself of the toxins, an ideal opportunity for Roscoe – whoever he was – to slip in. When I saw fit to question the guard at the kiosk as to how Porterhouse had been granted admittance when Roscoe was not being held on Bryce 6, he told me something that I already knew: that no hospital, up and running, was perfect. Roscoe’s name at the time had still been in the system, his death still unrecorded in the broader infrastructure. Porterhouse couldn’t have known at the time that Roscoe, his bosom companion, had died and the fact of his name in the hospital’s records was more than sufficient to see him inside. It little could remain in doubt that the discorporation had happened before, with Roscoe and Rose in the ER together. The two of them had made contact and gone upon their separate ways – she to the Psych Ward and he the morgue, where he was toe-tagged on a bed of cold metal.
My second time meeting with Rose-as-it-were saw her poised at the edge of the bed, her legs crossed, her hands folded over the top of her knees. Her hospital johnny had been wrenched away from the base of her throat, showing nominal cleavage. The tops of the bandages stuck to her chest were more visible now, like some weird, makeshift bra. Her hair was still faintly obscuring her face, and the face had a shadowed and knuckled look to it. Her manner was – how shall I put it: flamboyant. She was not like a woman of 19-years-old but someone performing a woman that age – drag-queening that woman, zipped into her skin. Her lips were pursed. Her spine was arched. Her wrists were taut above her knees. She sat at the end of her hospital bed like a licensed professional greeting a patient in a fantastically inappropriate manner. Still her voice when she spoke was a few octaves lower, her consonants nasal, her A’s flattened out. When I knocked at the door she called out “Blessed be!” Her smile was vulgar, faint, amused.
Patient: Father, welcome, sit!
(I sit down across from her)
P: What’s with the look?
Chaplain: Excuse me?
P: That pinched pussy look. Like you sat down bare-assed in a tub of crushed lemons.
C: I guess I’m a little bit taken aback.
P: To see me? I get it. The Father thing, probably. You’re – what did you say? Humanist. A bullshit-ah. I like my religion like I like my coffee. Dark and bitter. Jumbo size! But that doesn’t mean that I don’t want you here. It’s boring as hell in this shit-box, I’ll tell you.
C: You’re uncomfortable here?
P: It’s the goddamned AC! I would really appreciate your saying something.
C: (I hit the call button) We’ll do that right now. (talking into the speaker) Excuse me? Yeah, hi. The patient in Room B613 is a little bit cold. Needs the AC turned down… Well I think –
P: – can’t adjust it! The doohickey’s broke.
C: The patient can’t seem to adjust it herself. No, this is the chaplain. Thank you. We’ll be here.
P: So embarrassing. Terrible, terrible.
P: Being dead. Being strange to yourself. To your skin. That other body? Much, much better. Not better looking, but used to the cold. We got us some real fucking cold in New England! But as soon as it peeks above fifty, kapow: with the basketball shorts and the little tank-tops. Exhibit A: this fine young thing.
(runs her hand along her cheek)
Don’t get me wrong, Father, she’s no Golden Eagle. A little bit skinny and pale. But she’ll do.
C: She’ll do for what, exactly?
C: You said she’ll do. What do you mean?
P: (cups her hand to her ear with a startled expression) WHAT’S THAT, FATHER KUMBAYA?! I’m just a little hard on hearing. Got a hard-on for hearing myself with this voice! (raises her arms in the air, giving thanks) Just like I said to Porterhouse: I had me some titties that nice I would suck ’em. I had me some legs like those legs I would strut.
C: I find that interesting.
P: You would.
C: I’ll bet it was nice to see Porterhouse here.
P: (the patient looks misty. her brows angle down) I own my own business. I make my own schedule. Open, close, I’m off the clock. Porterhouse, he fixes tracks. I told him point blank: he’s a bitch for Menino. Blow-up doll for City Hall! Gave him all kinds of grief for that vest that he wore. Bright as a clementine. That, or a sunrise. When he’d come to the store with it on, I’d do voices. (mimics the sound of a crackling speaker) Next stop is Hernia Circle, Low Pension! Sad Asshole Square is the end of the line! He was wearing the vest when he came here, I noticed? That old Porterhouse. What a good old soft-belly. He must’ve come out here in such a bad rush that he forgot to take it off.
C: Your wife and your daughter (I look at my notes) Jeanne and Kayla, they were here. They were here when you died, it says here on your chart. Out of all of the people that you could’ve called, Destiny, Kayla or Jeanne, you called him.
P: Especially after I got eighty-sixed.
C: Eighty-sixed in what sense?
P: From my mortal compartment.
C: Can you tell me what that was like?
P: Believe it or not, it was totally doofy. I floated away like a birthday balloon. Where you stay on the scene while your family mourns you? Christmas Carol shit, I guess. As soon as I flat-lined, as soon as I died, I was off like a birthday balloon, leaking air. They must’ve been back there, my daughter, my wife, but I didn’t see them. Frooom, frooom, through the halls. And I got, just, this bone-tired feeling. Like I sometimes would get when I got home from work. Always with the label-gun. Sorting, shelving, pricing—shit. Like the only damn reason you’re moving around is to find somewhere, anywhere, quick, to sit down in.
C: So you’re floating.
P: Well, really, I’m sputtering forward.
C: You’re sputtering forward…
P: For somewhere to rest. And I see her. Just lying there. These tube-things and what not plugged into her face. Hair spread on the pillow. All sexy and sleeping. Even so, I could tell she had beautiful eyes. And under the covers a beautiful body. Curves and lumps and chubby spots. Girls get to that age, forget it. They’re helpless. Parts pop up and say: Hello! Butts and nipples. Hips and lips. Hell, Porterhouse would watch them too. Dirtier fucker than I was, I’ll tell you. He would say to me: think of it. All those wet pussies. A pussy parade, right in front of your face. The only thing standing between you and them is a couple cheap layers of cotton. A thong. We called to them. He touched one once. Not the pussy, of course, but the girl, on her back. She was paying for something, a candy bar, something, I can’t even remember what, and he came up behind her, all casual-like, and he touched her (she shows me) – a side-palming thing. He rested his hand on the small of her back.
C: Did she react?
P: Not really, no. She only sort of glanced behind her. Like he’d done it by accident. Whoops! Pardon me! But I knew what the old dog was up to. I knew!
(the patient grins at me.)
(she points at me, grinning.)
C: I find that profoundly disturbing.
P: You would. Father Take Back the Night, Father Personal Space.
C: I’m not going to sanction behavior like that.
P: You want me to finish my story already? And so I see her. Lying there. She reminds me of them, of the warm-weather girls, but she strikes me as different. More tender. More classy. She reminds me like all of them did, all the girls, that in one point in time I was young just like them and the longer I watched them, the closer I got, the longer that I’d have to live.
C: But you aren’t alive anymore.
(a long pause)
P: But I don’t think I knew that then. I think I thought: that body, there. That body there is owed to me.
C: Have you assaulted other girls?
P: That’s a terrible burden to put on a dead man.
C: I think you turn it off and on, whatever control you have over her body. I think you let her talk sometimes and other times you hold her tongue.
P: Oh Fadd-ah in Heaven, forgive me for breathing. Forgive me for dying to be born –
(I acknowledge the knock and the patient’s door opens.)
(a technician, Wesley, comes into the room.)
Technician: Still need me to fix the AC?
(a moment of awkwardness)
C: Thanks. That’d be great.
Technician: Temperature controlled in here. The summertime, especially. They have it for maternity in case the babies overheat.
C: There you go. Makes perfect sense.
(patient follows technician closely with her eyes.)
(a wide-eyed and comical zip-your-lips look begins to show on patient’s face as he opens the dial-box and tinkers inside it.)
Technician: You want it, what, at 75?
(I look at the patient, raise brows.)
Technician: All right then.
(adjusts the AC and walks out.)
P: Crafty motherfucker there.
P: See how he couldn’t meet my eyes?
C: I’m not sure I know what it is you’re implying.
P: You saw him come in.
C: He was perfectly nice. Are you saying he tried something, maybe, before?
P: Tried something. (her mouth goes pinched). Let’s say that you, Father, had daughters yourself. And let’s say you lived your whole life, wanting women. Not your daughters – holy Christ! – but all of the rest of the ass on this earth. If you still had the starch. That’s right! I couldn’t do that anymore. Flagpole had a rusty screw. Pipe had a kink in it. Tree trunk was rotten. But I never – I never – in all my life tried. Do you know why that was?
C: Tell me.
P: Do you know why that was?
P: Because of my daughters. My angels of light! (raises arms in the same wild expression of prayer) Kayla with her mock UN. Destiny off at the lesbian college. I don’t understand them. God bless them for that! I had to be that man for them. I knew I could never afford to end up like that SON OF A BITCH (patient yells at the door) who fondles poor vulnerable girls in their sleep.
(a silence in which I consider her words)
C: That man who came in here to fix the AC?
P: We always recognize our own.
C: If he is the one who made those (points to scratches), then you should be able to tell me his name.
P: Why would I be privy to that information?
C: Have you seen anybody patrolling this floor who doesn’t have a name-tag on?
P: He must’ve had his taken off.
C: You know, what seems more interesting – whether or not what you said is a lie – is why you would lower yourself to say that. I really find that sad. I do. I suppose it is something to do with your daughters, wherever they happen to be at the moment. I must say I can understand –
P: – okay, Father Righteous Avenger. The truth?
C: If for no other reason, I sit here for that.
P: (theatrically peers from side to side as though someone else might be listening to us)
I lied about the AC guy.
C: As your interfaith chaplain I’m bound not to judge you.
P: I told him, I told him, the randy goat fucker. Came in here, all hyped from work. You know that feeling? Excess nerves. You need to cool them off somehow.
C: (I frown, which patient notes.)
P: Add to that: I called him here. Just a few hours before he had gotten the news. His old dead buddy needs his help. Poor darling, he probably didn’t believe it.
C: You’re saying it was Porterhouse.
P: I must confess it, hand to heart.
C: Why wait till now to tell me this?
P: Um, because Porterhouse was still here in the building? Some towering friend would I be to him then.
C: So why would you betray him now?
P: Conscience is a funny thing.
C: What you’re doing right now isn’t helping.
P: How’s that?
C: Putting the stigma on somebody else.
P: He wanted to give her the stigma, all right! I wanted to leave her with some sense of pride. Sometimes you wake up with no cash in your wallet. No phone in your pocket. No food in your gut. All that can be replaced. Not pride.
C: And that is why you fought him off?
P: Okay, Okay. I lied again. It wasn’t the genius who fixed the AC or Porterhouse either, okay?
C: Then who was it?
P: The doctor on call, with the cold stethoscope.
C: I need a straight answer. We’re running in circles.
P: The pervert guard who mans the desk.
|Roscoe M, Rose D, Patients||CIR #1||09/13/14; 9:32 a.m.|
|Natalie Hopewell, Chaplain||Mid-October||Bryce 6|
The incident began like this: Rose-as-it-were is progressively weary. Her face darkens further, a clutch of small muscles. She draws up her feet from the floor, gets in bed. Her words are now fewer and further between and when she does talk she sounds more like a girl; her A’s have an incline, her voice is pitched higher. Her green eyes float up and they rest on the ceiling, the appearance of calm stealing over her face. Meanwhile the shift-nurse makes order around her, checking her monitors, seeing she breathes.
In Roscoe M:
• Restorative (hopefully) blankness
At the re-corporation of Rose-as-it-were – the incident herein described – I had expected, at the least, to bask in a sense of professional worth. And yet as the re-corporation took place and in the hours and days that followed, I felt only a perturbation that turned, by and by, to a deep melancholy which, as it settled down in me, broadened into a vast and unknowable dread. Whatever had happened to Rose-as-it-were it could not signal good for me – no more, anyway, than it signaled for her – that she had never really been, or by her volition, returned to herself; that she was still wandering, dis-corporated, her inner-woman held at ransom.
Nor since has this moment presented itself as a high or low point in my work on the units. It was a profoundly ambiguous moment – of joy, melancholy and dread in admixture – and continues to haunt me in various guises, the formless familiars of Rose-as-it-were. I still sometimes lie wide-awake while these legion uncertainties circle my headboard: Rose in a straight jacket woven from skin with never-ending funhouse sleeves; Rose beneath a frozen lake; Rose a nesting Russian doll, a Roscoe inside her, a Rose inside him and a Roscoe inside of that Rose and so on.
The principle remains the same: Roscoe embedded in Rose, or vice-versa.
Patient: (eyes rolling, looks sidelong at me) Well anyway. It’s time to go.
C: Don’t you want to be absolved?
P: (purses lips, raises brows, opens hands in her lap)
C: You requested a chaplain. I only assumed.
P: Just wanted to bullshit with someone, I guess.
C: So that was just passing the time to you then?
P: I called up everyone I know!
C: (my face must betray the futility of it.)
(patient folds hands and leans forward in bed.)
P: Let’s get on a level here: she will be fine. She’s, what, 19, 20? They always are fine. Always get off the wheel with their parts still stuck on. But man was I lucky! This wonderful world.
(I wait for the patient to finish her thought.)
C: Life is amazing because it will end.
P: You’re telling me, Fadd-ah. (puts hand to her chest)
C: Which is why when you leave it – and everyone does – it’s good to go on honest terms.
P: You want me to be? Really honest, I mean.
C: I’m getting the feeling you’d like to be honest.
P: The real reason I’m still around with my talons dug into this mega-babe here? No Brazilian aerobics instructor, okay, but a decently fuckable New England girl? It was Roscoe and Porterhouse watching the coeds. Kayla and Destiny’s screams being born. Jeanne and me fucking or trying to fuck at the La Quinta Inn in Northampton last year where we took Destiny for her first year in college. Friendship, children, marriage, life! I couldn’t bear to see it go.
C: But now it’s time. You said yourself.
P: Wait for it, wait for it, wait for it…
Rose-as-it-were climbs into bed and assumes the position described at the outset: legs crossed at the ankles, arms straight at her sides, eyes trained on the white paneled ceiling above her. There is something self-conscious about her demeanor – her pose stylized and her gaze beatific, a martyr in a passion play – and yet the patient’s face is dark, a reef of small muscles enclosing her features. The shift-nurse comes into the room to check on her. But as she leans down over Rose-as-it-were, adjusting the cant of her hospital bed, she is suddenly different, irreparably changed. Her body undergoes a hitch – a buckling and innermost tremor. She straightens. She abandons the work of adjusting the bed and walks, in her rucked uniform, toward the door. Before the knob she turns around and bends to fiddle with her pants, the blue cotton of them entwined with her sock and I see from the side that her face, too, has darkened in the same muscled cloister as Rose-as-it-were’s. And then she’s going through the door. I rise from my chair and I follow her out. She walks down the hall of the Psych Ward like this: left foot, right foot, swaying arms, Waiting for the elevator, she moves her right leg in a serpentine motion; a tempo for idleness – sexual, strange. The elevator comes. She boards. I wait on my own for the next elevator. Both of them are headed down. Somehow mine arrives there first. I busy myself as I wait for the nurse, watching the glassed-in directory blankly. She emerges at length through the sliding black doors amidst a group of seven others. Among them are: a bearded surgeon; a woman and an older man; a little boy between his parents who carries a small pink balloon on a string with ‘It’s a Girl’ imprinted on it. The nurse nods to me. It’s a clear, sober nod and the features contained by it seem to have lifted. She is already lost to me, moving away. I track the others with my eyes. The shift-nurse is peeling away to the right when the little boy stalls, and the parents turn back, and it looks for a moment as though he’s dropped something. His form is turned toward me. He hikes up his pants. His pink balloon trembles and scuds on the ceiling, possessed by the air coming in through the vents, and his earnest, clean face has gone shadowed and tight with the wandering spirit he’s caught like a cold until one of a hundred security guards who patrols through the hospital passes him by and light floods in behind his face. He drags his pink balloon away. I shift my attention to follow the guard, who travels through the bright hallway with his ring of bright keys bouncing off of his waist. He goes past the coffee stand, past the small lobby, past the wall that’s bedecked with the hospital’s founders, past the guard cubicle where his fellow nods to him and he to his fellow and journeys outside, the crash-bar bucking after him, through the staff parking lot to his car. He gets in. I walk a few paces to where I can see him, checking his side-views before he drives off and his face in the glass is a gloamed-over face, shadows enclosing it, writ in the muscle. He coasts the car not toward the pass-reader lane but rather the one where the ticket-booth stands – where the guests of the staff must proffer their stamped cards to the ticket-booth taker before going out. He hands the ticket-taker something, or maybe he offers her nothing at all, and the blocking bar lifts for him, clearing the way. He brakes his car and blinkers left and when the traffic slows he rolls, accelerating on the turn before his car is lost to me. I stand in the pass-reader lane at a loss. The wind off the river suffuses my coat. Beyond the hard plastic enclosing the booth, the ticket-taker stands unmoving, reading something on her phone. And like nothing at all she is leaving the booth, sensibly shutting and latching the door, climbing over the guardrail that splits the pay lane from the pass-reader lane with the sensor machine, ducking the blocking bar, fixing her collar and walking out into the oncoming traffic. One car hits her, sends her flying, before being T-boned mid-flight by another. The windshield spiderwebs with blood as she rolls up on top of it, banks for a moment and then rises up in a posture of sitting, half-dead but alert at the edge of the hood.
That the dis-corporation of Rose-as-it-were is cause for reflection cannot be denied. Yet given that I am a Humanist chaplain, whose precepts of faith are not rooted in dogma, I must approach the incident through the efficacy of my pastoral care: has the patient been ministered to for the better? Has the patient gained solace and spiritual strength? If to banish Roscoe was to benefit Rose, this intervention I have made. But what of Roscoe, lost to me? If Rose-as-it-were had been dis-corporated, her inner woman held at ransom, then who had I been tending to in the hospital bed in the room on Bryce 6? Was Roscoe not, too, in a manner imprisoned, in a manner in pain, in a manner possessed and therefore dependent on me for support, a support I provided with all of myself, a support that, moreover, extends from a faith that confers dignity on the sum of all life, on everybody everywhere, regardless of feelings of like or dislike? Are both patients, at last, not mine? Their suffering equal? Their selfhood imperiled? When Rose-as-it-were finally opens her eyes and asks us to give her the facts of her case, do we tell her the tale of the man that she was or the woman that, try though she might all her life, she may never get back to, may no longer be? Such relative contingencies may not be overlooked.