I like to sit in back next to the window during report so I can space out when I need to. There’s usually a lot of chatter about regular meetings, new regulations, and patients I don’t have any responsibility for. That day I was looking down into the courtyard where three threadbare alkies were having one last cigarette together before going inside for a meeting.
Martinelli was the highlight of Laura’s report. “Patient count down to twenty-one, Mr. Martinelli is now over in seven lower,” said the head nurse. She means well, a willowy blonde as nice and vacant as they come. She comes and goes, from meetings to conferences, from report to report, fulfilling the administrative basics, but I don’t think she has the foggiest notion of what happens on this ward when she is not around. Even when she is around, but in the office doing the paperwork. No idea who was doing their share, who was sloughing off, and what a certain good friend of hers was getting away with.
Martinelli’s bed had been stripped and made up new, his name tag was already off the roster, and there was nothing to remember of him but his back as he lay on that bed day in and day out. It bothered me that I never said boo to him the whole week he was here, even though he was my patient for three days straight. It didn’t make me happy. It bothers me when I can see my life in the macro lens and see that I’m nothing but a bit actor in this big absurdist play. You aren’t Jesus Christ ministering to the masses, you’re an aide, you act like aides do; you’re busy, occasionally brusque. You’re a face and a voice to guys like Martinelli, you wake them up in the middle of a nap to take their temperature, you want to know whether they’ve taken a shower that day, you bug them about tests and whatnot.
And OK, you try to be decent, hang out, fake data, turn the other way when you catch the diabetics buying candy bars in the hospital store, but a hospital is a hospital and the lights are always going off and on and no one is ever explaining why. The pills and orders are coming from everywhere and nobody, not Dick Callahan, not the head nurse, and certainly not the doctor cares about you. We all ignored him when he was here. He was a diabetic, I think, and he was here to have some tests done. He could have spent three years lying there in that bed and as long as he got up for meals, took a daily shower, and gave us an urine specimen at five, nine and eleven, we would have let him rot.
But the poor guy knew that the only way you get attention in this world is to become a problem. Charge at the wall, jump out a window, slash your wrists, sing loudly in the ward after midnight. Get transferred over to seven lower where they deal with the suicide attempts.
“Do you want your dinner by your bed, Mr. Martinelli?” Said Bonnie that previous afternoon. He was lying in his bed in his pajamas, face down.
”Mr. Martinelli?” She said, “Dinner is here. Would you rather have it here or down in the day room?”
So Martinelli turned on his side and looked at her with this terrifyingly intense and blank look, got up and rushed past her, knocking the tray from her hands, going off at a dead run down the hall. The head nurse said it looked like he was on his way down to the front desk when he suddenly swerved and charged, head down, at the corner where the ward meets the corridor. There was a terrific thud and a yell when he hit, and he went down as if he’d been hit with a sledgehammer.
Well, now you’ll get attention. Oh the psychologist will be in today or tomorrow or the next day to see you and ask you who the President of the United States is and where you are and if you aren’t too far gone out into the ether you’ll have to fill out a seven page MMPI inventory and look at a lot of ink blots and meanwhile you’ll be sitting in the day room with two aides assigned to do nothing but watch you and the other self-destructive people on special ob. If you’re good and the Doctor likes you and you don’t dramatize too much, you’ll get off special observation day after tomorrow and you might even get 9:30 to 3:30 grounds privileges next week.
Martinelli. if you knew what all the aides know you might have spared yourself all the trouble. Pretty soon you’ll have a psych diagnosis and your file folder will be a little thicker, consults will be out all over the place, and the secretary will be working overtime typing up your history. Better you could have got up off the bed and tell me what was going on with you. I just ran my hand over the corner where you hit, and there’s not a mark.