Anybody that reads my column knows that I enjoy telling tales from work, though confidentiality issues make me be cautious what I relate. But I have another reason for caution, because to be honest, my job is distasteful. I deal regularly—no pun intended—with several messy, malodorous substances that, though we all share them biologically, nobody really cares to talk about except those of us who have had to work with them so much that we’ve lost our squeamishness. Only the strong of stomach would be brave enough to sit down to a meal with a bunch of Med Techs talking about their professional experiences, and before I learned better I could make everybody around a Sunday dinner table put down their flatware and either leave the table or glare at me,simply because I’d answered the question: “So, John, what did you do this week?”
Anyway, Valentine’s Day always makes me recall an incident on the job that could have been tragic but instead kept itself pretty much within the parameters of comedy. There’s often a fine line between the two extremes, and I just hope the aftermath went as well. Early in a year more than three decades ago I was called to the Emergency Room to draw a blood alcohol level on one combatant in a fight, a female who had tussled with her boyfriend or spouse and was sporting a sizable pump knot on her head. I’m not sure how badly the male had fared, or in fact if he was even conscious, but when I entered the Emergency Room the woman was in the process of giving the doctor on duty some of the most evocative and sincere blue-hot profanity I have ever heard. I was young and intimidated—this was even before I first met Chuck Q. Farley—but I had a job to do and so when the physician emerged from behind the curtain with a disgusted look and a head shake I rode into the breach, ready to be cussed altogether as viciously as the doctor had been.
Long story short, for some reason, perhaps because she was so inebriated, the woman thought I was handsome. She never said one ill word to me when I introduced myself, and seemed perfectly willing to cooperate when I asked to draw a sample of her blood. So far, so good, but as I bent down and began to search for a vein in the bend of her right arm something began to crawl upward through my hair, too big for cooties. It was her free hand. She was running the fingers of her left hand through my hair, and evidently enjoying it greatly. I was disquieted, to say the least, but I kept trying to remind myself: female nurses have to put up with this kind of crap not only from male drunks, but some sober guys as well. If they have to deal with it, I guess I can too since it’s likely this is the only time it’ll ever happen to me. But my patient was by no means done yet. With both of us hidden behind a bed curtain and half a dozen nurses plus the ER doctor outside listening in, she began to moan.
“Oh, baby, baby, baby, PLEASE don’t hurt me, babyyyy,” she cooed over and over again, interspersing the plea with additional little incoherent squeals as I kept trying to find that durned vein under possibly the most difficult circumstances I have ever attempted a venipuncture. The scalp treatment and the moaning were bad enough on their own, and things only got worse as the ER staff began to listen in as well, and laugh in response to the sounds. Finally my nervous hands managed to draw just enough blood for the test. I withdrew the needle, applied a gauze prep, and raised my head—just as she lifted hers off the gurney, aiming for a kiss. I turned my head and she caught me on the left jaw, right in the beard. My eyes must have bucked like a deer in the headlights. “Stop!” I begged. “You tryin’ to lose me my job, or what?” I scooped up my supplies and fled the place like a scalded cat, to the catcalls and applause of my ER coworkers.
Since that freaky little incident I’ve learned that the bizarre and crazy are simply parts of life, especially hospital life. Every February 14, though, I think about it—and wonder what further craziness might occur before the year ends. All things considered, just stay tuned.