I revisted some old drafts tonight, and stumbled across this one. It's way past Nurse's Week, but I guarantee somewhere in the Metro Detroit area, my subject is well into his second or third pint of the day. Here's to you, Donald.
In my constant attempt to lighten people up on Facebook, I posted a request to send me a smile, a memory or a joyful thought. What I received was exactly that. My friends reminded me of some of the funniest moments I witnessed as a nurse, as well as some thoughts that allowed me to reflect on seventeen years in a profession that is NOT for the faint of heart.
With National Nurse's Week approaching, I want to share with you the glue that holds us together; mentally, physically, and emotionally; as we practice the World's Second Oldest Profession.
I have written in the past about Stump Thumper, Groping Dead Man, and a few other memorable clients, but I have never shared with you my all time favorite patient: The Donald. The Donald is a professional, much like The Donald that you already have etched in your mind. He has bad hair, a booming voice, his own sense of style and often holds audiences rapt as he works a room. My Donald, however is not a wealthy financier. My Donald's home is the street and his prized possessions include empty Mohawk liquor bottles, a collection of hospital slippers, and numerous cast offs from my husband's "I can't wear these anymore" pile. On any given day, The Donald identifies himself as a Doctor, The President, or Jack Nicholson's Brother. He has braved the elements for many years now, and as anyone who lives in Michigan knows, being homeless here is no picnic. He lives daily at an alcohol level that most of us would die from, the kind that college boys lie to their frat brothers about. The Donald - forever etched in my heart.
It could be the busiest night in the universe at Hospital Z - a nuts to butts night as I used to call it. People lined up from hell to breakfast in hallways, triage bays, and waiting rooms. As the Triage Coordinator Nurse I was responsible for all of them. The ambulances were told "traumas, pediatrics and criticals only" but they pretended they never got that dispatch and would whoosh through the ambulance bay with a smug smile, knowing we had no choice but to take their patient, space or no space. Family members would approach me as I held my head in my hands, frantically trying to see if one of my colleagues could take "just one more" and stay within range of keeping their nursing license. "Oh nurse," they would say,"My father (mother, brother, lesbian lover, baby daddy...) has been here two (three, four, eighty) hours... just when are you going to do something about that?" Then they would try to stare me down as I struggled not to make a fist and punch them in the throat. It always seemed that just when I was at breaking point - ready to throw down my pen, yank off my badge and walk out the door, I would hear him - or more accurately, smell him as he blew through the ambulance bay on his stretcher-throne. Waving to his public and insisting "I used to be a doctor here." EMS deposits his three garbage bags of crap and uncerimoniously dumps him onto a gurney. "He's all yours, Kimi." they would say with a smile. No report necessary. It was probably less than a day or two since he had been there last. I knew more about The Donald's whereabouts than I did my own kids. This is what happens to homeless alcoholics, people. They are like a pinball getting bounced from ER to ER to alley to city limit. Never, ever, winning. No one wants them in their backyard.
The Donald was, in a way, the perfect patient. Stench aside, he was grateful, happy to be somewhere warm and more than willing to entertain the audience of waiting triage patients. He was easily pacified by my response of "maybe someday" when he asked when he would get a bed. He didn't threaten to tell his neighbor "the CEO of the hospital" about the shoddy care he felt was receiving as the true emergencies trumped him. (Don't even bother with that one, people. The more name dropping you do, the less we care.) I loved The Donald because he was happy to just be. He reminded me of a hyper little preschooler, asking a million questions and parroting everyone around him. Sometimes, to keep him occupied, we would give him a cell phone, dial up former nurses and let Donald leave messages on their voicemail. "Hello, Ellie? It's me Don! Hello? Ellie? Where did she go?" as we laughed hysterically in the background. Just a little voice from nightmare jobs past.
I cannot tell you the number of times I sifted through The Donald's belongings wearing a Hazmat suit, finding citations for public intoxication, napkins from Starbucks, Watchtower magazines, (apparently the Jehovahs will even hit up a cardboard box house) and discharge instructions from the six area hospitals he rotated through. The discharge instructions would always make me laugh: YOU ARE BEING TREATED TODAY FOR ALCOHOL INTOXICATION. YOU MUST STOP DRINKING IMMEDIATELY!!!
After the securing of Donald's "valuables", I would bribe a couple friends to help me strip him. On one memorable occasion, layer number nine came off to reveal a slinky purple nightie against his otherwise naked skin. "Please!" cried Donald, "Don't take the nightie, it's my favorite." "Donald," I asked, "Where did you get this beautiful nightie?" Looking at me with a beaming toothless smile, he replied "The Dumpster at Lover's Lane." And as you may have guessed, I let Donald go back to area C in his purple nightie, fresh slippers over his blackened frostbit toes and Elmer Fudd hunting cap on his head. It was a beautiful thing.
One night, The Donald came in at 2am on a night that was eerily quiet. It was a couple days before Christmas, and apparently the public was saving their "emergencies" for later, when they were done with their festivities. It was well below freezing, and Donald was lacking in clothes. Someone had robbed him and he had been turned away at the Salvation Army because, well, they don't take drunks. He was a mess.
Maybe it was because it was the holidays, maybe we were bored, but I like to think it's because we ER nurses are like The Grinch - possessing a big heart that is hidden under protective scar tissue. Whatever the reason, we decided that The Donald was going to have a spa day. We sprang into action, grabbing toiletries, towels, and basins. We put Donald in the Decontamination Shower, soaped him up, had him brush his six teeth and wash his dirty hair. We gave him lotion from our stash and in a short time, had him smelling like Midnight Pomegranate, Sensual Amber or some other restricted hospital fragrance. Shirley took one for the team and gave him a pedicure while I found some trauma shears and gave him a haircut, "the first he had gotten in years", he said. Donald smiled and cried and closed his eyes while we fussed over him like a bride, telling him how handsome he looked and that he should shape up and find himself a sugar mama. When we were done we covered him up with warm blankets and put him in the Psychiatric Seclusion room so he could sleep in peace until he was somewhere close to sober, until we kicked him back to the street again.
But that wasn't all.
While we had been playing Steel Magnolias, other staff had been passing the hat and hitting up the doctors for a shopping spree. Taking advantage of a 24 hour Meijer, Lizz purchased boots, hunting socks, long underwear, gloves and a new hat for The Donald. We fished a coat out of the clothing closet (a.k.a. the Bum Bin), and set to work making a Christmas for The Donald. We wrapped our gifts in Christmas paper and made a card. The night progressed, and before day shift came in, we woke The Donald and told him that Santa had came.
I will someday be decrepit and demented in my own little world, but I hope I never forget the reaction that Donald had. The joy on his face when he realized that there were presents and they were for him! was one of the most beautiful moments I have ever experienced as a nurse. He unwrapped his gifts carefully with shaking hands, ooohing and ahhhhing as he put everything on. We gave him his discharge papers, crossing out "YOU ARE INTOXICATED" and replacing it with "MERRY CHRISTMAS DONALD!" We loaded him up with Christmas cookies and we sent him on his way, feeling quite full of ourselves and our grand gestures.
I would like to tell you that The Donald went into rehab, became sober and is now an investment banker.
But I won't.
Because the ER isn't Disney World, no matter what administration is trying to sell us. The ER is real, mean, ungrateful and really ugly at times. You probably aren't going to get a "WOW" experience when you hit our doors, and for that you can thank your fellow man; who stretches us thin with non-emergencies and abuse of the system. We have been beaten down quite well, thank you very much. But still we try. And we never stop laughing. Especially when The Donald came back two days later, without his new boots and socks. His response when we asked him where they went? "I traded the boots for some good vodka and boy those socks, they wipe your butt right clean after a good dump".
God bless The Donald, and God Bless ER nurses everywhere.