Last week I promised I’d tell you how I met my journalistic guide and counselor, Chuck Q. Farley. I didn’t call him by that name at first, though. We were both a lot younger then, and that night I could identify him only by his Intensive Care Unit armband, “FARLEY, CHARLES QUINLAN, ICU 812.” He was a direct admit from the Emergency Room, having been discovered passed out drunk face-down in mud somewhere and almost frozen to death, and he had more dirt in his eyes than I thought was even possible. (A note here: I got Chuck Q.’s permission to tell this, as well as that of Dr. Skinnerbach, the physician on call that night. Both agreed, Chuck Q. because his wife thought his example might do some good if made public, and Dr. Skinnerbach because he’d completely forgotten the case and was interested.) And of course I was summoned to draw blood. I introduced myself; then and for years after, I addressed Chuck Q. only as Mr. Farley, and he called me—well, never mind what he called all of us, especially the nurse trying to clean him up after Dr. Skinnerbach rinsed the dirt out of his eyes with a squirt bottle of warmed sterile saline.
“Be careful, Mr. Farley,” I whispered as the nurse momentarily left the ICU cubicle. “One time a guy in here kicked her, and she took revenge by cleaning under his toenails with the sharp point of a great big pair of scissors. Went to the quick and brought out stuff that hadn’t seen daylight in years. I watched it happen.”
He paled and curled up his toes tightly. “Thanks, buddy,” he whispered, and abruptly became all honey, pie, and charm to the returning nurse. Then he addressed me again. “You a vampire?” he chuckled.
That joke was funny the first time I heard it. Not so much the million since. “No, sir,” I replied, straight-faced, “I’m a tick, and my wife and kids are mosquitoes.” He laughed, but refused to let me draw any blood.
“Buddy, I got blood tests done just yesterday at the doctor’s, and I don’t think I need no more this soon,” he explained. That was enough for me, so I turned to leave. It was his right to refuse a venipuncture. But then the nurse tried to coax him into it.
“Hold on a minute, John,” she ordered. “Mr. Farley,” she begged, “we need to know how much alcohol you have in your blood.”
“Honey—err, Nurse, Ma’am, I don’t mean you no disrespect, but I can tell you that. They’s a fifth of Early Times in there. Or maybe Seagram’s Seven. I forget. Just leave my toenails alone, okay?” He looked at her worriedly.
“Toenails?” she asked, her eyes darting suspiciously towards me. “What about toenails?” I gave her a scatophagic grin. She glared back at me.
Dr. Skinnerbach entered the cubicle, evidently having overheard our conversation. “Mr. Farley,” he said politely, with the bare hint of German accent that still clings to his excellent English, “Besides caring for your eyes, I must know your blood alcohol level.”
“I done told her, Doc, they’s a FIFTH in there!”
“But…but…,” the good doctor sought for an explanation, “I still need to ascertain the concentration. Otherwise, if we give you anything for pain or anxiety tonight, it might knock you completely out!”
Chuck Q. looked aggrieved. “But that’s what I WANT!” he wailed plaintively. I bit my lip to suppress a smile. You have to admire honesty wherever you find it.
The nurse started to offer a comment. “Dr. Skinnerbach—” she began.
Chuck Q. did a violent double-take and stared at her in abject terror. “No, no, not that!” he howled as he sowbugged himself into a fetal position. “Go ahead, Count Drackler, draw the blood,” he sobbed,holding out one arm, “but PLEASE don’t nobody do that! Nor jam nothin’ up nowhere afterwards! And for God’s sake leave my toenails alone too!”
The nurse scowled at me again, and Dr. Skinnerbach just looked puzzled. I did manage, however, to collect a sample of Chuck Q.’s blood, and he even complimented me on my technique. After he recovered he asked the nurse out on a date, she agreed, and they wound up getting married and moving downriver a few miles. Her name’s Polly Esther, by the way, and although she never could make Chuck Q. work, she did persuade him to quit drinking and to keep his toenails nice and clean for her. Both worthy ideas, if he knows what’s good for him.