On Call Again – Vam
The last time I had had a weekend off was over 3 weeks ago, so the thought of having three days off was like a dream come true. I was only three weeks away from my discharge and home. Two goddamned years of my life in the desert that even God forgot, I thought to myself, as I pushed the first aid cart through the doors to the Emergency Ward. My buddy, Jon, who came out here from Boston three weeks before, was leaving for civilization this weekend. Lucky son of a bitch! Jon was finishing his last shift this afternoon and I saw him sitting in the corridor staring at the clock.
“Hey man, what are you trying to be, invisible? Do you want to celebrate your liberation after my shift tonight?”
“Sounds cool,” Jon replied. “Let me get out of sight, the Moose is looking for me. Hey, can you cover for me so I can get out here? I’ll meet you at the Pussy Cat after your shift about 9, O.K.?”
“Sure, sounds cool to me,” and Jon slipped out of the corridor and into the locker room, knowing that Moose was on the prowl. Moose was the nurse who was in charge of the secure ward, 4 East. She looked like a Marine drill sergeant in a white uniform. The only thing she hated more than hippies were blacks and Mexicans.
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Well, speak of the devil herself, I heard the PA. “Orderly report to 4 East STAT.” The charge nurse on the floor motioned to me from the counter.
“O.K., you there, take this cart to 4 East and wait for your orders.”
“You got it,” I replied and got the covered cart from the counter, headed down the corridor to the elevator. When I reached the elevator I pushed the 4th floor button. I thought about the last time I had been to 4 East, Moose.
I walked up to the charge desk. Nurse McIntosh, the head nurse, was busy with a handful of charts. As she looked up she said, “Oh, damn, you’re here already, I haven’t gotten the charts ready for the neurosurgeons.” I could see that she was going to be a while.
“I’m in no hurry to go down there,” I said and I pointed down the hall to 4 East.
“Well, we’re just not ready, I’ll call the nurse now that they’ll have to wait.”
I sat down in the patient’s waiting area, which was usually forbidden, while McIntosh shuffled charts. Then out of nowhere I heard the roar of the Moose, bellowing down the hall, “Damn it – bring her down to prep!” and she bellowed at me, “What the hell are we paying you to do, sit on your ass?”
McIntosh called the Moose and whispered something to her, then she handed her a chart and pointed to a buxom teenage girl in a wheelchair. The girl was hooked up to two IV units, so McIntosh had to help me with the wheelchair. Moose said as she strolled down the corridor, “Bring Miss Motely to Prep, I’m all ready for her.”
McIntosh said to me under her breath, “Her mother wanted to be with her, but I guess it’s too late.” Then she said, looking at the IV, “The thorazine hasn’t kicked in yet either.” She looked at me and said, “We might have a problem here, don’t you know who this is?”
I looked at the girl in the wheelchair, she was a very pretty girl, who looked like she was on a bad acid trip. “No who is she?” I replied.
“Well you must not have a T.V. or anything, that’s Miss Arizona 1966, she had a breakdown and the surgeons are going to operate tomorrow.” That’s what this was all about, Moose was in her glory.
When we rounded the corner to the prep clinic Moose had already set up all of her equipment. The girl gazed off into space, completely unaware of her surroundings. McIntosh said, “You should wait until the sedatives have taken effect, for her sake.”
Moose said, “That’s why I called for an orderly, in case she gives me a hard time. You do your job and let me do mine.”
McIntosh turned and left the room. She said as she was walking out, “Remember that’s Miss Arizona. I had better go out and wait for her mother.”
Moose said to me, “Now move the chair over here,” and she pointed to a spot facing the windowless wall. Then she moved the barber cart over to the wheelchair, the girl was staring at the floor. Moose said, “Well Miss Arizona, you’re going to be bald as a coot in 20 minutes,” and she picked up the clippers and attacked her shoulder-length hair, letting a two foot lock drop to her lap.
Then, like a bolt of lightening hit her, the girl started screaming. “No, what are you doing? No, no, no!”
Moose said, “You’re in the hospital and you’re going to have surgery, and this has to be done.” Then she said to me, “Hold her still!”
Moose began running the clippers from the nape of her neck to her forehead. Each pass dropped more and more hair into her lap. Moose made sure to hold the clipper head firmly against her scalp, to ensure that each pass removed as much hair as possible. Miss Arizona was writhing like a wild animal. I held her head down as Moose clipped away the last strains of long hair leaving a soft brown pelt on her scalp. She kept screaming, “No, no, no!” Moose was enjoying every second of her job. I held her tight as Moose rubbed soapy warm lather on her scalp. Then Moose turned to the wall and hung up a mirror on a hook just at eye level. Moose turned to me and said, “I want you to hold her still. She can’t have surgery with a head full of nicks, hold her head still.” I obliged and grasped her tiny head and held it tight. I could feel every muscle in her body tensing as Moose approached her with the straight razor, her eyes were as wide as saucers. Then Moose said, “Hold her steady,” and she slowly shaved a swath down the center of her head from the nape to the forehead, then from the forehead to the nape around her ears until all the lather was gone revealing a shining scalp.
“Miss Arizona, have a look at the new you,” Moose said as she held up the mirror for her “patient” to see. “Take her to the ward and wait for Dr. Watson.”
And I took the brake off the wheelchair and started out the door to the elevator. Miss Arizona was screaming as she rubbed her hands on her bald scalp. “Neurosurgery, 3rd floor, let’s go.” I got onto the elevator with the wheelchair. As I came into the ward, Dr. Watson came running down the corridor waving his hands in the air.
“What happened?” he demanded.
“We prepared the patient for surgery.”
“Damn it – the X-rays were mixed up, she doesn’t need surgery, see.”
Then I looked at the X-rays and the name at the top clearly said, Walter Motley.
“Miss Motely we are terribly sorry, but mistakes happen!”