“It was a Thursday. I got caught in the exhaust fumes of a bus. ” Some conversations you just replay in your head, over and over again. Why, because those conversations are often between you and an idiot. Now, most of the time they go along blithely with their lives, having wreaked havoc with yours and now as the expression goes, you have allowed them to pay rent in your brain and you cannot evict easily.
More than thirty years ago, I worked in a hospital as a social worker. It was a great job working along a terrific staff and it was an opportunity that solidified my desire to continue my education and do the work I continue to do. It was fast paced and the patients were in need of support. These were the years in which as a mental health patient you could stay on the locked unit for weeks and months. You formed relationships with patients and progress was measured in duration between hospitalizations, as there were no limits on admission. It was the time of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” in terms of the severity and intensity of some of the needs of the patients. It was my exposure to mental illness and all that went with it. Probably sounds crazy, but this was a place I could deep dive into learning.
This was a view of comedy and tragedy in forty beds. The one woman who comes to mind was someone who was in a manic episode who had twice driven back and forth to Florida from Massachusetts in a period of 72 hours until a family member assisted in bringing her for an evaluation and I had the opportunity to assess her and determine whether she needed to be in-patient. She spoke non-stop as she described having a baby with JFK, after his death, and that his family kept her quiet about this by giving her an incredibly huge emerald that she kept securely in her belly-button. She offered to show me it, and I declined the offer, but offered her a bed. At the other end of the spectrum was a lovely middle aged woman who was hospitalized with overwhelming grief, after her son was shot to death. Her regret, among many, was that she had not made him a hot dinner that last night of his life, and only made him a sandwich. And in between, an elderly woman named Audrey, who was found in her apartment, after not being seen by neighbors for a few weeks, only to be there, surrounded by magazine pictures of people placed carefully in chairs and on couches, that she described as her family members. Audrey had no one and nowhere to go. She stayed with us for nearly six months and we became her new family until a place could be found for her that would keep her safe and cared for.
It was not as much work as it was exposure to not only the patients, but some other very crazy people. They were not in the locked unit. One of them was a new boss that came along. This is where the beginning of the story started. I had originally been hired to work temporarily in the Social Service Department. I had been told it was not “Social Services” by the then boss as she sternly told me we only provided ONE social service. I didn’t get it then, nor get it now. This woman went out on medical leave and I was to learn the job and do it in her absence. I worked along side a very wonderful pair of women who taught me the job and it seemed perfect. The boss returned and I left, only to come back weeks later while one of the other women went out on medical leave. Some might think I was doing something to keep a good thing going but in fact these women legitimately had similar medical issues, which at one point I wondered if it was “catchy”. The original boss ended up tendering her resignation as a result of creative statistics on her part. The next supervisor arrived full of power and determination, and an ego the size of Manitoba (which is very big if you study a map). I had been hired again to fill in since the staff was shrinking rapidly. After about a week, the boss lady wanted to meet with me. She started of the conversation stating “I been asking people about you. Did you know that no one has anything negative to say about you? They all like you. I find that very odd”. I remember thinking that I thought that she was very odd. Then, she went in for the kill. ” How did you get fat?” she asked. I immediately responded, without a moment’s hesitation “It was a Thursday. I got caught in the exhaust of a bus”. I then looked at her, curiously as one would look at something from another world and said ” I’m not sure that anyone has told you that that is not appropriate or nice to ask those things”, as I got up and excused myself to to step outside, and into the stairwell and laugh till my sides ached. Just as an aside, I have never been thin, but perhaps zaftig would have been more descriptive.
Life is pretty amazing and stories to tell just happen without much work on my part. It was another day that left a memory to be simmered and prepared just in the right moment to share. I still laugh pretty heartily when I think of the expression on her face as she spoke. I’ve learned the difference between people who have mental illness and people who are just nuts. I’ll let you figure out who’s who. These days it is sometimes pretty clear, and you know what I’m talking about.
Happy Weekend. Go Patriots!