"If my father dies, you're going down with him."
The words pierced the air, and suddenly there was silence.
I hadn't noticed Frank’s son at first. He'd been pacing in the back of the family group gathered in our ICU waiting room. Now, up close, I could appreciate how large and intimidating he was. And I'd just had the thankless job of telling him, along with the rest of his family, a shocking, completely unexpected truth: Frank wasn't dying, he was already dead.
"Nursing students needed to work in the University Hospital, good pay, orientation."
As a rising nursing-school senior in the 1970s, I naïvely applied for the job above without getting the full details. No one mentioned that I'd be working in a psychiatric unit housing twenty-five aggressive, catatonic or schizophrenic patients, many of whom had been locked away for years.
The entrance sign, which should have read "Locked Psych/Med/Surg Unit," said simply "5 East."
On my first evening shift, I overheard two nurses discussing how to monitor a new patient, transferred from the federal psych facility across town.
"Can we get the student to do it?" said one.
The first mistake I made
was leaving my ID card home
in the pocket of my fleece--
the one with a zipper that broke
in Namibia and a hole stabbed
by a pencil during finals, worn
deep with worry and time.
Later, I asked someone else
to let me into the lab.
We made small talk in the hall.
Second, it was drizzling and my umbrella
knew not where it was. How poetic!
I mean to say, I forgot it too.
Morning lecture dried my frizzled hair,
and anyway, maybe cadavers like
the smell of rain.