Thursday, May 2, 2013

Night shift: toothpaste (part 2 of 2)

(click here to read part 1.)

These are stories from a previous job. For the privacy of those involved, names and details have been changed.

Summer, 2008.

The two police officers walk up to us. Walter is yelling into his hand, laughing.

The officers watch Walter for a moment. One says, "Sir? Could we have a word with you?" Walter doesn't hear them, he's too busy interacting with voices.

"Sir? Can you lower your voice? We just have a few questions."

"Nixon's horse didn't mind," Walter says, "they bribed it with whiskey." He stamps one foot, belly-laughs, continues yelling into his hand.

I speak up. I use a low-voice, try to sound half-bored, half-tired. "Walter means well, he's just having a tough morning. It's my fault...we should have stayed home; I apologize."

The first officer ignores me, continues to ask Walter if he can have a word. The second officers says, "Follow me over here."

We walk to the other side of their car. The officer asks, "So, what's going on.?"

I say, "He's just having a tough morning. He can be like this, and it's loud, but I promise he means well."

"Does he have any history of violent behavior? Any problems with anger?"

I shake my head "no", say, "He's sweet...he can just struggle with the volume sometimes."

The other officer asks Walter if he can look in his grocery bag. Walter doesn't reply. The officer tries to take the bag from him, but Walter won't let go of it. I say, "It's toothpaste. We just came for toothpaste."

The officer grabs his wrist, pulls the bag out of his hand, looks into it. He hands it back to Walter. He says, "I need to search his pockets. He have anything I should know about? Knives? Needles?"

"No, sir. He'll just have a wallet."

He searches Walter. The second officer looks at me, asks, "Does he have a diagnosis?"

I stare at my shoes.

"Are you family?" he asks. "Staff?"

I stare at the back of my hand.

First officer completes his search. Looks at us. Shrugs. Second officer says, "So here's the deal...several people called in, reported that an adult male was acting disruptive, angry. He doesn't strike me as angry...but I have to agree that this is disruptive."


"We're gonna have to take Mr. Walter here and escort him off the premise. But you say he's a nice guy, and I'm not gonna feel right sticking a nice guy in a jail cell. If we were to process him through the emergency room, have him admitted to the hospital's psychiatric ward...would you feel like that's an all right middle ground?"

"Yes, sir."

He nods. First officer takes out handcuffs. I say, "Oh...handcuffs?" Second officer says, "Sorry, that is written-in-stone policy. No way around it. We'll get them off quick as we can, once we're settled at the ER."

The officers take the grocery bag out of Walter's hand, give it to me. They take his arms, slowly move them behind his back, cuff him. I'm relieved to see Walter go along with it, he just continues to talk to himself. I was a little worried that he might react when they took away his communication device, but he seems oblivious to it all.

Once Walter is in their car, the second officer says, "You could meet us there if you wanted, but I'm guessing he'll be unavailable for awhile."


They nod, leave. The other police car drives off in a different direction.

I wave at the dozen or so spectators, then flip them off. I get in my car, drive back to work.

Once there, I pull open a file cabinet drawer. It's filled with color-coded incident reports, each one intended for a different supervisor, committee or department. I stare at them for a moment.

I call Marcy, describe what happened. She says, "Okay. I'll let his case manager know where he's at. I'm sure he'll be there a few days, at least; until his meds are adjusted."

"Which will probably work miracles. Always does."

She says, "Yup. Anything else?"

"Oh, I couldn't figure out the incident reports. The color-coding deal just confuses me. Which ones do I fill out?"

"I thought every department had a little laminated chart that breaks it all down?"

"We used to have one taped to the cabinet. It fell off years ago, disappeared. I guess we forgot to get a new one."

"Okay. So...with this being off-site, and the police need three forms. The gray, all-purpose incident report. That goes to me. Then you need the blue form...that goes to the Safety Committee. Then the purple form...that's for the lawyers, goes to Mike. With the Safety Committee, you want to keep it brief. Say as little as possible, otherwise they'll just make a new policy. With the lawyers, you want to provide as much detail as possible. Otherwise they'll just make a new policy. "

I laugh, say, "Okay."

"Grey, me. Blue, Safety. Purple, Mike."

"Got it. Thanks, Marcy."

"Thanks, M. Get those in. Go sleep."

I grab forms, a clipboard...I lay on the couch, fill shit out. I cram envelopes in the inter-office mail tray.

Finally, before leaving, I place Walter's toothpaste in his bathroom cabinet.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Night shift: toothpaste (part 1 of 2)

These are stories from a previous job. For the privacy of those involved, names and details have been changed.

Summer 2008


I'm standing on the sidewalk, in front of a grocery store. Next to me is Walter, a client from the psychiatric facility. He has been out of toothpaste for days, I finally talked him into a store-run. Before leaving I said, "Walter, I'll need you to speak quietly at the store, okay? If you yell, we might get into trouble."

He nodded. And he'd been having a good week. And you can't avoid store-runs forever, they go with the territory.

We loaded up, hit the store. Toothpaste: acquired, then purchased. As we were leaving, Walter stopped, placed his right hand to his mouth and began yelling. He barked, "Hey now, drop it! You fellas stop the bitching!" Hallucinating, interacting with voices. I couldn't get him to lower his volume or follow me to the car. Staring off into space, hand at mouth, he continued, "They found copper wire in Nixon's attic! Check it!"

So that's where we are now. Just standing. Me urging Walter to walk quickly, to follow me. Walter barking odd phrases into his hand, which to him is a communication device. Customers openly staring, give us a wide berth. Through the front door, I see one elderly woman speaking with staff, pointing at Walter.

I say, "Shit." Take my cell phone out, call Marcy, my supervisor.

She answers with, "How bad?"

"I don't know, Marcy. Medium bad. I'm at the store with Walter. He just deteriorated- out of the blue- started yelling into his hand. And I can't get him to move at all, he's just standing there."

"You're in the store?" Marcy asks.

"We're in front of it. And he's just too psychotic right now to hear me. You know, it's the usual stuff, he's not agitated or anything. It's the usual harmless stuff. He's just loud, and I can see people kind of freaking out."

She sighs, says, "Yeah, I can hear him. Jeez. Have you tried pulling him along at all?"

"No. You know, we tend to be hands-off, policy-wise, I didn't want to risk it."

"I'm giving you permission. Just lightly tug his elbow, see if he'll follow."

I try it. Walter gently pulls his arm back, continues yelling.

"Nah, he's not moving," I say. "And I see more than one person on their cell phone now."

"Well, M...shoot. I would send staff out to assist, but to be honest, I think this'll be resolved one way or another by then."

"I agree."

"Basically, continue to ask him to leave. If he hasn't moved on in the next few minutes, it'll be out of your hands."

"Yep. Okay. I'm sorry about this, I thought we could be in and out."

"No worries. Like I said, this is out of your hands now. All I can do at this point is reinforce privacy law: no disclosure of a client's personal information. Of any kind. Police get there, you're not to provide information about Walter...and you're not permitted to identify yourself as staff."


"Just say what you can, observe, then document afterward."

I nod to no one in particular, reply, "Okay." Walter begins laughing, stamping a foot. Into his hand, he says, "He fired that one up! It shot plum through the chimney!" He laughs more, till he's red in the face.

I see two police cars pull into the parking lot. I say to Marcy, "Yeah, they're here. I'll call back."

"This happens; don't worry. It's out of your hands at this point." I put the phone away.

Customers now begin to stop, spectate. They keep their distance, but slowly form a semi-circle around us. Walter yells and laughs and stamps his feet.

The police cars stop about 20 feet away. Two officers stay in their car and watch as two officers from the other car get out, approach.

Walter laughs, yells, "They found a copper wire in his asshole!"

I fake smile and say, "Morning, officers."

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Incipient Turvy cameo appearance

As part of their Autism Awareness Month series, the Thinking Person's Guide to Autism is featuring one of my posts today. Nice of them to do that, you can click here to see the post.

Be sure to leave a comment and check out the other articles that are up, and that will be running all month. The site is a great resource; it's terrific that they are featuring works by writers on the spectrum. Bonus points: awarded.

Thx, more soon...

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

unaware, unmade

autism awareness day.

i hear that phrase and experience a mix of emotions. i wish i could feel relieved. part of me does: my mind's analytical bits think about the change this day represents, the fact that awareness is, in fact growing...that it's creating a little more breathing room for people lost on the periphery.

then the selfish part of my mind falls into resentment. pure, ugly resentment. i think a day like this could have made such a huge difference in my life, had it been around sooner. had it been around in time.

today: it's like a phantom pain. a sense of loss. which, again, is selfish. i don't know what to do about that.

usually what sparks the anger is that fact that, as a little one, my behaviors were so...i don't even know what. identifiable.

i would spend hours arranging my toys in a specific pattern...a pattern i could not articulate, relate to others...but that i knew had to be just right. hours anxiously shifting the toys, moving them back and forth, on guard against deviations from the pattern. then, finally, this space of enormous relief when everything just felt right...every toy was in it's place...and i could just watch, stare at it, live in that moment of internal silence. the anguish when i had to put the toys away, the enormous sense of loss. the pattern falling.

the preoccupations...the years-long marx brothers obsession; the so-many viewing of duck soup that the dialog carved ruts in my mind. the endless mimicry of this or that gesture from one of the films. all replaced in later years by the years-long playtime phase, the jaques tati film. itself replaced, later, by something else. then something else.

the mindblindness, the loneliness; depression, school anxiety. topics well-worn in previous posts.

a day for awareness just highlights the many days and years of  no awareness at all. of time lost. it also brings to mind the day i recieved a diagnosis. at age 30, it felt like a real sucker punch. to this day, i'm still not sure why i reacted so poorly, but it's been a slow climb out of that anger.

so many positive changes happening, it's frustrating to see my mind turn selfishly inward. none of this is necessary.

still. i wish i could have those years back. i wish i could hold on to them, freeze them; set them in motion at a later time.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

nihil novi

(for the doctor)

not long after this recording, she lost use of her arms; prodigy, then fading, then early death.

faith is white noise for loss.

metronome...time goes by...

it raises more questions than it answers...

and the answer is always the same: a poacher

coded language, cold-storage

a crypto-tradition

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Nightshift (part 10)

(for the privacy of those involved, names and details have been changed.)

March, 2007

I wake up at 10p.m., get dressed. I sit around for a bit, listen to music, then head to work. I start my shift at 11. The evening staff fills me in on her night, tells me about the clients, about a few med changes. I don't say much, I just listen and nod. She gets her things together and leaves.

I make coffee, hang out in the common area. I turn on a television, watch news with the sound off. Saul walks through the room, on his way to the kitchen. He says, "I need a snack." He makes a sandwich...asks, "Can I have some of that coffee?" I say, "Probably not, Saul. You'll have trouble sleeping if you drink coffee this late." He doesn't say anything. He just sits across from me, in a recliner, eats the sandwich.

I watch news. Saul eats and quietly hallucinates. He looks off to the side...points his finger at something, goes back to eating. He laughs a little and asks, "How do they keep getting out like that?" I just smile a shrug. Saul looks off to the side...stares...gets up to throw his paper plate away.

He returns, sits in the recliner again. He says, "They get wound up sometimes. Do you see them, when they get like that?"

I say, "No, sir."

He laughs, continues; "Boy, they get wound up. They start squabbling and fighting. But they're so small, it doesn't do any harm, you know? They're like kids. I mean, they're old...they're ancient...but they're like kids, in the way they think."

I drink coffee, watch the news. Saul hallucinates, then says, "I wish they'd go away. They don't mean any harm, but I wish they'd just leave. They get rowdy, you know?"

I ask, "How was your snack?"

"Oh, it was good," he replies. "I just needed something. I tried to sleep but got hungry."

I rub my face and say, "Ugh, I'm sleepy, Saul. Having trouble waking up."

He says, "Well, you get more of that coffee. Anyway. I'm going to bed, see if I can sleep."

"Okay, Saul. Goodnight."

As he walks away, Saul says, "If you see one, just give it a good talking to. They don't mean any harm, but they're like kids. They need discipline."

I don't say anything. I just watch the silent television. It shows images of firemen, of storefronts, of weather maps.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

last known photo

September, 2007

I look around, try to remember where I am. I'm sitting on a bench...facing a parking lot. Dark clouds overhead, it's beginning to rain. A guy passes by, wearing a green smock, pushing a shopping cart...employee. I look back: I'm in front of a grocery store. The cart guy pauses, says, "Sir, is everything okay?" I don't say anything, I just nod. He moves on.

I stand, check my pockets. I don't find a grocery list...not sure what I'm here for. The rain intensifies; I walk into the store. In front of each aisle there's a sign listing which items can be found there...I stare at each sign, try to recall what I might need...but I'm too tired, my mind won't offer impressions. I just rub my face...think...make no progress.

I roam around. I walk slowly, drifting up and down each aisle. Sometimes I pause, stare at packaging...I pick up soup cans, squeeze them, put them back; I pick up a cereal box, place it back on the shelf upside-down. I pinch a bag of powdered sugar, then poke it. I pick up a carton of eggs, carry it with me for a bit, place it on top of an apple bin, walk away. I'm lost, fatigued.

I go to the bakery, buy a donut, coffee. I sit at a little table. Gently, I press small bites into the pastry, not chewing, just leaving teeth marks. I hold the paper cup with both hands; I squeeze it and watch coffee rise up to the edge...when it trickles over, I set the cup down. I look back, into the bakery...see a clock that reads 8:23. It doesn't indicate morning or night. I try to think about that...try to recall when I was at work last, when I slept last. I can't remember. That means it is either a weekend or I've taken time off from work again.

I stay at the table for a bit. Eat the pastry, sip coffee. I watch customers. It amazes me that they all seem to know why they are here...they head directly for specific aisles...they consult grocery lists...they talk on cell phones, clearly have lives outside of the store.  They have agendas, reasons. I try to imagine what it would be like to know what I need...I place my self in a different life, follow around this imagined automaton as it checks off destinations, goals. I concentrate, try to imagine what it would feel like to have a grocery list.

I laugh a little bit. A baker stares...then looks away, resumes baking. I discard a napkin and empty cup. I go to the meat counter...stare at pink lumps. Further down, I see dead, glass-eyed fish displayed in a glass case. I pretend their eyes are shirt buttons.

I breathe in...look around...I give up trying to remember what I'm here for.

I walk out of the store, into the parking lot, into the rain. I drift past cars, up one row, down another...eventually I find my vehicle. I leave.