Doesn’t it feel great to have all ten of your fingers attached to your hands? Doesn’t it feel great to have an angel in your life? Could there be a greater comfort than to know your savior sits before you?”
by ed markowski
Ten minutes after my dinner break the charge nurse tells me, “Our patient in the ER is ready for pick up. A Mr. Raymond Welch age 45. No previous psychiatric issues. According to the ER information, Mr. Welch’s wife states he’s become increasingly isolative, and has displayed bizarre and aggressive behavior dating back to August eleventh of 2016. Mr. Welch’s daughter states that she came home from school two days ago and found her father standing in the middle of the street reciting the pledge of allegiance repeatedly while holding and spraying a can of Black Flag wasp killer. When his daughter approached and asked what he was doing, Mr. Welch said, “I’m in the process of saving you and your mother.” He then commanded his daughter to recite the pledge of allegiance. When she refused he sprayed her face with the insecticide. She told him she was worried about him and that she loved him. That earned her another Black Flag facial. She called the police. They pepper sprayed, tazed, cuffed him and brought him to the ER. His daughter said if she hadn’t been wearing her sunglasses she could’ve gone blind. He tried to attack his wife and daughter in the ER. They were escorted out by security. He was put in four point restraints, which required four security guards, and the two policemen. They gave him 10 milligrams of Haldol, and two of Ativan. with good results. The restraints were discontinued two hours ago. He’s been resting comfortably since that time. He’s in room 17. Dr. Aziz filled out the petition and certificate.”
In room 17, I meet a man whose looks betray the ferocity of the information we were given. He’s wearing a red Izod polo shirt and seersucker slacks beneath his hospital gown. A wet washcloth arcs across his forehead creating a stark white horizon between his chin and hairline. Yellow foam earplugs keep the ER’s chaotic drum beat contained and out of his head. When I approach the gurney he shushes me and shouts, “Be quiet! Can’t you see I’m listening to the news?” Mr. Welch squints, inspects me from feet to face and screams, “Are you one of us or one of them?” Then he shouts, “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to yell.” He removes his ear plugs, drops them on the floor, and says, ” I don’t own this park bench my friend. There’s plenty of room for both of us. Come on and sit down, give your tired feet a beauty rest.”
“Mr. Welch my name is Eric. I’m here to take you to the psychiatric unit.”
“I know. I predicted it.”
“I have two questions for you Mr. Welch.”
“Go ahead. I’ll spell it out for you Mr. T h e r a p i s s t.”
“Who are one of us? Who are one of them.”
“Good and evil. God and Devil. They’re interchangable. You know how it goes. If you see yourself as shriveled, eventually you’ll become a prune. If you see yourself as smooth you’ll turn into an apple.”
“I can’t argue with that Mr. Welch. Those are wise words.”
Mr. Welch rolls a pencil off the table and takes a deep breath. ” You’re wrong Doctor Dementia, words can’t be wise. Words are words. Words can’t think or talk. It’s up to wise men like me to choose the right words, polish them and turn them into wisdom. Remember, wisdom is spelled two ways … Wisdom and Wisdumb. And that’s the true essence of one of us and one of them. I have Wisdom. They are Wisdumb, and that’s why we’re going to win this war. Think about the word sand trap. Is it possible to trap sand? Are you stairing at me or staring at me? Do you understand what I’m saying? Do you get it Mr. T as in trash H as in hell E as in evil R as in rotten A as in asshole P as in punk I as in idiot R as in rotten T as in trash?”
Before leaving the ER I tell Mr. Welch that with respect to his confidentiality I’ll speak to him once we reach the unit interview room, and that he shouldn’t take my silence as rudeness. He shrugs his shoulders. He snaps his fingers. He cracks his knuckles. His teeth chatter. He stares at me and asks, “Why are you trying to shut me up? If I want to talk, sing, hum, whisper or whistle in the goddamned hallways I will. It’s important, in fact, it’s critical for people to hear my message. It’s a matter of life and death. Are you my executioner? You have no right to tell me what I can and can’t talk about Doctor Himmler. What kind of reprobate humanist are you? I’ll answer that. You’re the worst kind. You need to be sprayed down. You need to be deloused. You need to have your sleep state eyes pried open.” I ask Mr. Welch to sit in the wheelchair. “I can walk. I’m not a crip you son of a bitch.” I tell him, “All patients admitted from the ER have to be transported by wheelchair. It’s a hospital policy sir.” He takes a blue duffle bag from beneath the gurney and sits in the wheelchair. He looks straight ahead and points his finger. “Ok rickshaw boy, take me to Madame Mandarin’s opium den.” His British accent is impeccable.
In the interview room I ask Mr. Welch if he would like to sign in voluntarily. I explain that the petition and certificate are legal documents that are binding in regards to his need for inpatient psychiatric treatment. I also tell him, “If you don’t sign in voluntarily you’ll be here for a week to ten days with no treatment. You’ll have a probate court hearing, and a judge will determine your length of stay and course of treatment. If you sign in voluntarily the documents will be voided and your treatment will begin immediately. You and your doctor will craft a treatment plan suited to your therapeutic needs.” Mr. Welch bows his head and cocks it to the right. Cupping his ear as if someone is whispering to him, he grimaces, nods his head, and looks up at the ceiling. After a long tea kettle shriek he says, “Ok, I’ll sign in voluntarily even though there’s nothing wrong with me. I’m signing in because I know I won’t stand a chance with a judge.” I hand him a patient rights booklet. He drops it in the waste basket. “I don’t have any rights. My rights vanished in 1865.” Closing my eyes momentarily I hear the voice of a 19th century Mississippi Squire, “Go ahead and start the inquisition Doctor Quack Quack Quack. I’m signing in Doctor Quack Quack Quack Quack because I am the lesson in truth that will save your life. If it all works out Doc Holliday, you’ll be well before I leave this pit. Ok, next question.”
“Are you suicidal, Mr. Welch?”
“No. They warped one word. I never said die. I said dye. I said I wanted to dye a pair of black pants white. All they heard was ‘I want to dye.’ I have no interest in dying by my own hand. I’m prepared to die in battle. My fate’s been determined.”
“Homicidal?” I asked.
“No, not yet.”
“No not yet? What does that mean?”
“The way my country is going I expect to be homicidal very soon.”
“Are you hearing voices?”
“Just yours Doctor Egg Fool Jung.”
“Did the voices tell you to spray insecticide in your daughter’s face?”
“I’m not hearing voices. Common sense, decency, a strict Christian upbringing, and a healthy respect for authority guided me.”
“Common sense, decency, a strict Christian upbringing, and a healthy respect for authority?”
“You heard me right Doctor Dung. She needed a lesson in the truth, and I taught the class,” he said.
“Truth lessons. Give me an example of a truth lesson Mr. Welch.”
“Delousing my kid in the middle of the street with Black Flag.”
“Why did she need a truth lesson? Why did she need to be deloused?”
“Get the fucking Cadillac wax out of your ears Doctor Rich. She got what she got for refusing to recite the pledge, for refusing to honor my lord and leader, for eating breakfast at a fucking camel stand called Hassan’s, for eating lunch at a greasy chopstick shack called Ho Fat Ho’s, for eating dinner at a fucking spic pit called Zapata’s, for not following in her father’s footsteps, and for the simple fact that she’s a world class prong zombie.”
“World class prong zombie. That’s how you refer to your daughter.” I said.
“She’s my daughter. I’ll call her whatever the fuck I want to call her,” he said.
“You mentioned your lord and leader Mr. Welch. Who are they?”
“My Lord wears bone white robes, and my leader wears a bone white business suit. They instruct me and they’re always with me. They advised me to clean my kid.”
“She could’ve gone blind.”
“You’re wrong Dr. Psycho Shrink. You can’t blind the blind. I’m here to make you see. What’s next on Satan’s agenda Lucifeer? I’m ready for the next question. Let’s get it over with.” His glass shattering laughter mugs my eardrums.
“Mr. Welch, is there anything in particular that upsets you? We ask so we can avoid inadvertently putting you in uncomfortable situations. And we’d also like to know what coping skills you use to calm down when you do get upset.”
He rubs his eyes. His voice becomes that of a five year old girl. He looks up at me. He says, “Daddy, I don’t like reason, when treason’s the season, tragedy, corn dogs, hula hoops, treachery, rats, ants, rants, dacron, rayon, alabaster pizza, friendship, love, compassion, empathy, and I hate the city of San Francisco and the state of California for having spread that disease and pestilence from sewer to shining sewer beginning in November of 1956. I’m a good girl daddy. Can I have a cookie now daddy? Please.” I tell Mr. Welch graham crackers and milk are all that we have. He pulls his chair closer to me. His face and mine become one. “Tell me the truth counselor, do I look like a little fucking girl? I want a goddamned Whopper with everything, two sides of fries, and a woman with big tits. I want a man sandwich, boy. Now let’s move it along. Next question.”
“Why does friendship, love, compassion, and empathy upset you?”
“Because friendship, love, compassion and empathy have brought us to the edge of the cliff. Because friendship, love, compassion, and empathy have turned millions of American men into whining bitches, and you’re exhibit number one Doctor Gay Blade.”
“Fair enough Mr. Welch. When you do get upset what do you do to calm yourself?”
“I kill cats, pigeons, popes and ferrets.” He abruptly stands at attention, salutes me, bends down and whispers in my left ear, “I’ll escape your mind maze Dr. Lab Rat. And I’ll come back to burn it down. Now carry on.”
I read a list of items that are prohibited. The list includes clothing with drawstrings, shoe strings, string cheese incidents, string beans, puppet strings, food and beverages from outside of the hospital, medication from home, medicated goo, medicine men, crochet needles, knitting needles, sewing needles, needle nosed side show freaks, post cards from Needles California, hair picks, ice picks, pick nicks, plastic bags, grocery bags, bag pipes, and bag ladies. “In addition to those items,” I tell Mr. Welch, “To insure our patient’s safety, and to maintain an environment of healing, books, magazines, tracts, and graphic t shirts that are racist, sexist, or offensive to people of faith regardless of faith, will not be tolerated.” In my assessment of his attention span, comprehension, and overall cognitive abilities, I note that Mr. Welch never questioned the presence of string cheese incidents, ice picks, bag ladies, needle nosed side show freaks, medicated goo etc. on the contraband list.
I tell Mr. Welch that I have to inventory his personal items, valuables, and clothing. He smiles. He laughs. He winks. He delivers a short monologue that’s pure gobbledygook. He looks to his right and says in a perfect Rhett Butler drawl to a lady only he can see, “Ok now, feed me, free me, fuck me, and fly me to the moon Miss Jezebel” He slides his blue duffle bag toward me. He says, “Watch out Doc Holliday, I’ve got three cocked and loaded Victory mouse traps under the magazines at the bottom of my bag. You can keep or throw away everything the bitches packed except my magazines.”
Mr. Welch has two pair of camouflage cargo pants, three pair of camouflage socks, a pair of camouflage shorts, a Waylon Jennings t shirt, a plastic crucifix, a bronze crucifix, five copies of Time Magazine’s November 21st 2016 issue, five copies of Newsweek’s November 18th, 2016 issue, three cocked and loaded Victory mouse traps, and a red box of Rats Begone rat poison. A smile seeps across Mr. Welch’s bleached face. “Now tell me Doctor Kevorkian, doesn’t it feel great to have all ten of your fingers attached to your hands? Doesn’t it feel great to have an angel in your life? Could there be a greater comfort than to know your savior sits before you?”
I thank Mr. Welch for his kindness. I tell Mr. Welch I’m grateful for his concern. Just as I’m about to give him the bad news, he places the palm of his right hand on my forehead. Warmth emanates and penetrates. He smiles, and with a voice as soft as chamois he says, “My son, the greatest gift of all is to know one’s full range of capabilities. That knowledge is my gift to you.”
I tell Mr. Welch he’ll be staying in room 622. I also tell him, “Your clothes are appropriate. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to keep the magazines.”
His face turns blood blister red. He goose-steps around the interview room. “What the fuck. Why can’t I have my magazines? What’s wrong with them? Nobody’s naked on the cover. Nobody’s fucking on page five. There aren’t any men-seeking-boys personals. Why can’t I have them? Every one has a picture of our President on the cover. You’re fucking crazy Dr. Himmler.”
“Sir, the list of contraband items includes books and magazines that are racist, sexist, and offensive to people of faith regardless of faith. The man on the magazine covers is racist, sexist, and intolerant of everyone who doesn’t worship him. We have a diverse group of patients. I’ll say it again Mr. Welch, we have to provide and maintain an environment that nurtures and promotes healing for everyone.”
He shakes his head and pushes an ink pen off of the table. “I can’t fucking believe it. I’m a political prisoner.”
“Mr. Welch, you’re not here because you believe a heartless, narcissistic, pathologically lying, racist sexual predator who doesn’t have the smarts of the Scarecrow, the good looks of Mortimer Snerd, or the grace of a rodeo bull is the president of a nation that became critically ill in 1963 and passed out of existence in 1968. You’re here because you assaulted and nearly blinded your daughter with insecticide.”
Standing at attention he shouts, “Fuck you Doctor Pepper. She received a lesson in the truth. The lesson she received was born of a father’s love for his daughter and his country. She doesn’t know who’s running the country. She’s the one Doctor Benjamin Shylock who needs her brains rearranged.” He sits, bends, and unties his shoes. He laughs. He points his finger pistols at me and squeezes both triggers. “Bang Bang Bang Bang Bang Bang.” His voice drifts from Wyatt Earp to Harvard professor, “Guess what, Doctor Fraud, you’re much crazier than me. I know you’re Rod Serling and you know your Rod Serling. Denial Is The Truth and that’s your truth lesson for today.”
“Mr. Welch, I wish this was a TV show because all of this confusion, pain, suffering, and ill will would end after thirty minutes. Sir my reality is no more or less valid than yours. We’re both victims of a political and social psychosis that took hold of this land long before we were born. You and I are orphans, and because we’re orphans we’re brothers.”
One by one I feed the shredder with his magazines. The machine whines, rumbles, and shudders. After magazine #10 silence returns to the small office. I tell Mr. Welch, “The only difference between you and I is that my narrative and interpretation of events in our country hasn’t pushed me into assaulting anyone. Then, with a voice I don’t recognize as mine I say “…. yet. With the way my country is going, though, I’m certain I’ll be assaulting someone very soon.”
(illustration: kurt eisenlohr)
Ed Markowski lives and writes in Auburn Hills, Michigan. Many, many more of Ed’s fine stories can be found in the Vault of Smoke