Saturday, July 16, 2011

Drunk Tank Therapy

"Eww, he's here again," a tech near me wrinkled her nose. I sniffed the air- yup, Mr. Reen is back. (FYI Gross Little Fact: most of us can recognize our regular drunk folk by odor.) Soonafter, the familiar middle-aged man rounded the corner on his 200-something-th visit to our facility, curled up on a stretcher.

During my ordeal with Mr. Sunglasses, Mr. Reen was being medically cleared for the drunk tank. He was soon wheeled in and left in the corner spot, where he watched me from behind the see-through panel. I had seen him many times but never had direct contact with him until today.

"Hey Nurse." He peered at me, "hey Nurse!"
"What can I do for you, Mr. Reen?"
"I'm so hungry, can you get me a sandwich? But I can't eat turkey."
"Why can't you eat turkey?"
"It makes me sick and I throw up. Don't you have something else?"
"Oh, all I have is this turkey sandwich and some saltine crackers..."
"Not egg salad or tuna or ham and cheese?" This guy knows what's up. These usually come in the dinner trays that come at about 1800 in the back hallway.
"I don't think the dinner cart is here yet."
"Could you check for me?"
"In a bit, ok?"
He looked at me, "ok."

I returned to my seat. He watched me carefully.

"Nurse, hey Nurse," he called, "I'm gonna leave now."
"You know you can't leave. You just breathalyzed .273 about 5 minutes ago. You need to get down quite a bit more, near the legal limit."
"Hah, it won't any lower. I'm always drunk. If I get that low, I will have a seizure."
"Well, that's why you're here, so they can prevent that from happening."
"I have a seizure every other day. I drink non-stop."
"Ok, well you know the rules, you can't leave yet."
"Well, can I have a sandwich now?"
"I've got turkey."
"Never mind. Can I walk to the bathroom?"
"Sorry Mr. Reen, you're drunk and shouldn't be walking. You're going to have to use a urinal."
"You think this is drunk? This is how I always am. Usually I would still be drinking. But I guess I'll wait on that. But please, can you check to see if the dinner cart is here?"
"I'll have someone else fetch you a sandwich."
"Thanks, Nurse."

I barely sat down when I heard...
"Nurse, hey Nurse!" I ignored him this time.
"Nurse! Hey!"
"Nurse! I'm going to put my ******* fist through that glass."
I looked up at him.
"Don't do that"
"Can't you get me a sandwich? I swear I won't be a problem. I'm just really hungry."
I looked at him. Bedraggled, eyes half-closed, I couldn't help but wonder if the hospital system has been the only thing keeping him alive for a long time.
The security guard stuck his head in and asked if I needed anything. Sure, can you watch him for a minute while I grab him a sandwich?

When I returned, he looked so surprised that I really got him that sandwich. He thanked me profusely and scarfed it down, smearing the egg salad all over his face in his haste.
"Can you get me another one?"
"Not right now, there's nobody here to watch you when I'm gone."
"I won't run away, promise."
"You're going to have to wait, I'm sorry."
"I really appreciate it though, it was the first time I ate anything in weeks."
"Why is that, Mr. Reen?"
"I just drink. I use all my money for drinking. You can call me Lister."
"What is your drink of choice? Dubra?"
"Yeah, and mouthwash. I hid a bottle of it outside so when I get out of here, I can start drinking again."

"You hid a bottle of Listerine outside the Emergency Room?? Doesn't it burn going down??"
"Doesn't it make you sick or throw up?"
"Where did you hide it?"
"In the construction site. With my gun."
"Why do you have a gun?"
"I have lots of guns. I used to be a marine so I know my way 'round guns. I hated that ****. But today, I put the gun to my head, just like this, and it misfired. Twice."
"What do you mean by misfired?"
"I missed. I was drinking and decided it wasn't worth living and held it up to my head. It fired the first time, but the second time it didn't go off normal."
"So what happened, how did you get here?"
"My daughter was there. She started crying and called the cops. That's all I remember."
"How old is your daughter? Aren't you worried you scared her?"
"(shrug) She's 12. She screamed and started crying."
"How does your daughter feel about your drinking?"
"We hang out and drink together. Vodka."
"Has she ever come here?"
"No, she usually goes to (other hospital in the city)."
"Oh. She's pretty little to be drinking, no?"
"I started when I was 9 years old with my father. (shrug) I mean, she's 12, so she's not old enough for me to let anybody have sex with her or anything, but she's old enough to take care of herself."
"Does she live with you?"
"Yeah. I mean she's my daughter, you know?"
"Yeah... I guess... but whatever."
"Why whatever??"
"I don't like the way she treats her mother. I get mad at her when she tells her mother to **** off. (shrug)"
"So how did you get the gun back from her?"
"I pulled her by the hair. She screamed real loud. When I get out of here, I'm not gonna miss this time."

Lister was the only one in the drunk tank with me. He was happy to open up to me and stopped asking to leave (as if he had a choice). I took an interest in him and asked little leading questions as he told me about his life. A successful athlete and a naturally gifted mechanic, he won a lot of prizes boxing, regularly taking steroids and drinking. Showing me the large tattoos on his arm, he proudly proclaimed that he did them himself- drunk as a skunk, of course. He also had a pet project building and souping up his car. Drag-racing through the quiet suburban streets in a nearby town at 180mph a few years ago, he hit a pedestrian, killing him on impact, and ricocheted into another car pulling out of a driveway, T-boning and killing the driver in his own driveway. Mr. Reen, himself, was ejected through his windshield, breaking his spine and injuring several internal organs. Since then, he has broken numerous bones from falling or tripping in his inebriation. Both his parents were alcoholics; they and three of his siblings have already succumbed to death by drinking.

"My liver is already done. They told me. Last time, I turned yellow, then it stopped, and now, I'm starting to turn yellow again. I hope it kills me soon."
"How much do you drink?"
"Well, I can buy 4 gallons of Dubra for like 15 bucks, and I can finish that in 4 hours."
"(wide eyes) so, how do you end up here?"
"I don't know. I don't want to come here. I guess I just pass out on the ground and somebody calls. Once I woke up with 4 ******* IV's in my arms. They said I blew .780. I just want to end it all. It's not worth going on for."
"Have you seen our psychiatrists?"
"Yeah, but they don't do nothin'. I get sent here or there and get pills, then they let me go. I take the pills all at once when I leave and that's that. 18 vicodins, 20 dilantins. Whatever."
"Lister, why do you take them all at once??"
"I don't care. I just take them. Makes no difference anyway. Hey, can I go to the bathroom?"
"You can use a urinal."
"Look, my numbers might be higher than other people, but do I look drunk to you?" Not really, I decided.
"Can you walk?"
I took a chance on him.
He walked fine to the bathroom and back. A nurse looked at me, horrified, "I can't believe you're letting him walk." I ignored her and watched him dutifully go back to his bed.

"Listen, you're a real special girl. Just beautiful. If I had a nice girl like you, I'd quit drinking."
"I mean it. I'm not a bad guy. I just have a drinking problem. I just want somebody, somebody like you, to hold hands and walk down the street with, ya know?"
"You've been through a lot in this life, Mr. Reen."
The tech to relieve me from drunk tank duty came in.
"Will you come visit me?"
"Sure, Mr. Reen."
"Can you get me another sandwich, please?"
"Ok. Good luck, Mr. Reen."
"Ok, honey. Thanks for listening."

I visited him again half an hour later. He opened his eyes wide and said, "you actually came!"
"Yup- I looked in the cart, the sandwiches are gone. We only have turkey."
"That's ok, honey, I usually don't eat anything for weeks. Just alcohol. Thanks for the one earlier today."
"You're welcome. Hope the psychiatrists come for you soon."
"Ok, you have a good night, honey."

Walking home that night, I felt very uncomfortable; it's not the first time one of our regular drunks was released from the drunk tank one day, and blasted his brains out that afternoon. I was working in trauma when Mr. Crackers did just that. He left a mess of saltine crackers in the drunk tank that morning and was released. When he rolled in a few hours later, he had put a gun in his mouth and fired, brains spilling out when we moved him from the EMT stretcher to ours. I felt so sick- not because of the gore. We fed him! We were the ones keeping him alive all this time. Our sandwiches and saltine crackers was what was coming out of his stomach as we inserted a breathing tube. All the nurses who snubbed and kicked him around, the same ones that laughed when they sent him many times to the drunk tank were all of a sudden gung-ho about making sure this guy was kept alive, pushing me aside and rushing him upstairs... because he was an organ donor. My stomach turned.

Something just didn't sit right with me as I left Mr. Reen that night. I hope he's the type not to keep any promises.

EDIT: At work last night, I saw Mr. Reen. He had tried to kill himself by injecting himself with morphine, showing me the burst veins from where he missed. He was tied down in 4pt restraints, but smiled at me and asked me to come visit him again.

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