It all came boiling up at me from a dark pit of despair I hadn’t known since I was a kid.
My mind was a black hole, yet a vortex swirling full of writing. I had to calm my head so I could see the words at the edges of my vision. If I shook my head, all the letters jumbled like in a word puzzle.
“Get out,” some letters seemed to be saying.
“Connect the leads to John Doe’s chest,” said some more letters.
They got scrambled into a sort of pick-up sticks jumble. John Doe was having a massive heart attack, yet he was ripping the ECG leads from his chest every time I tried to stick them on.
“I’ll do it, Maddy,” said Winston, a fellow nurse. “You get the IV.”
John Doe wailed louder. “I was just having a good time! I was celebrating with my band! I wasn’t doing anything wrong!” Meanwhile he thrashed like a shark, kicking every doctor or NP who tried to help. His heart rate was an arrhythmic 120, sweat poured down his brow, and his look was about as frantic and wide-eyed as a silent screen bad guy.
I couldn’t get the lidocaine IV into that thrashing arm. How many times had I dealt with this? Ventricular tachycardia starts in the lower chambers of the heart, sometimes brought on by substance abuse. And those people are the most erratic of all to deal with.
“Hold his arm!” I told a subordinate nurse. But even two people holding his arm, pressing their weight to the table, couldn’t stop this ‘roided-out hulk from beating the shit out of us.
“I can’t!” cried Rozelle.
When Doe cracked me in the shoulder with his elbow, I threw up my hands, too. In the cardiac ER, we were supposed to make heroic efforts. But being beaten up by patients was too much for me that day.
I think it all started when someone stole my mother’s ashes from my sister June’s Jeep. Who the fuck would do something like that? We did not throw a lot of green toward her funeral, seeing as how she had no friends, so it wasn’t even a nice urn. June was parked in A Joint Effort’s parking lot, the medical cannabis dispensary where she worked as budtender and irrigation expert. The parking lot was supervised by a rent-a-cop! It had cameras on it! Yet we, the mighty Old Ladies of the supreme Bare Bones MC, had not been able to find the culprit who stole our beloved—well, not so beloved, but a mother all the same—mother’s ashes!
That’s what had started this whole downhill roll for me. Those fucking ashes. My mother was haunting me even from beyond the grave. Boiling tears stung my eyes, and my stomach clenched as though threatening to reject the three bites of melon I’d had for breakfast.
“Maddy, Maddy!” cried Winston, waking me from my stupor.
Win didn’t have to tell me Doe had finally passed out. His pulse rate dropped precipitously, and Win got the IV into his arm. The respiratory therapist began sliding the tube down his throat. Now we could get some shit done. I got the IV in like butter as Winston thudded manly chest compressions to the senseless Doe.
Then it all started to seem pointless to me. That had been happening with increasing frequency lately. I was overcome by the uselessness of everything. This guy had obviously been doing meth, or something equally speedy to cause the sudden tachycardia. How much amphetamine would you have to do to cause this? I’d seen it hundreds of times, both in the ER and out. Living with a motorcycle club, you pretty much have seen it all.
We’d save him, then he’d be back with his band the next week doing the exact same thing. We might even see him again here in the ER for the same reason. What goes around comes around, no?
Winston handed me the defib paddles, and the darkness swirled around me again. Like antimatter, a substance swooped in one ear and out the other, taking my mind with it.
I looked up at the wall, trying to see the words that would tell me what to do. Some synapses just weren’t making the correct connection in my brain. I was running on a kind of overload that was shutting down all the connections one by one. Soon even the swirling cursive words I was clinging to started to fade.
“Maddy!” shouted Winston urgently. “The paddles?”
“Nurse Illuminati,” came a faraway voice I recognized as Dr. Lee. “The paddles!”
It was one of those instances where your body reacts before your brain does. So I can’t explain my motivation for shoving the paddles at my dear Winston, mumbling something like, “you do it,” and clawing my way through the ER personnel toward a bright rectangle that I hoped was the door.
“Get out,” said the letters in my head.
And so I did.
Barging through several sets of swinging doors, I pieced together more helpful letters as they churned by. “Time to do something different,” yes, that’s what they were saying!
The encouragement gave me the guts to keep banging through more sets of doors. But there was something welling up in my chest that didn’t feel right. Despair. Hopelessness. Why the fuck had they stolen Iris’ ashes?
“What do you care?” I mumbled, striding past the cafeteria. People moved away for a nurse in her squeaky white shoes and crisp patterned scrubs striding down a hall. But this time, I think they cringed away because I was talking to myself. “Why do I care if her damned ashes were stolen?”
I knew it wasn’t all about the fucking urn.
My fast-paced, action-packed life was just getting to me.
Turning me into a zombie. I had a few holes in my screen door. My mind was in neutral, but my body was in gear. I was more vegetable than protein. I was one Gilligan short of an island.
Funny thing was, I didn’t feel that. It’s only in retrospect I see I was having some sort of breakdown. No, I just kept striding away importantly, stethoscope swinging around my neck professionally, bowling people out of my way. Imagining I was onto something hugely vital, something that would turn my life around, a religious zealot in pursuit of the truth.
It was the cafeteria smell that got to me. My mouth usually watered at that smell. The company contracting there was quite good with burritos and tortas made on the spot, fresh beef stew, even matzo ball soup. Because I was always dieting, I usually only allowed myself a tiny portion, but it was delicious. Today, though, it hit me like a two by four upside the head. My sure steps stumbled. I reeled toward the flu clinic, a place I usually avoided like a pile of radium.
Winston caught my arm. “Maddy, Maddy. Do you need some fresh air?”
“Fresh air,” I mumbled. “That’s it. Air.”
Out front, he led me to the right to avoid the comings and goings of patients. We sat on a bench where I breathed deeply, eyes closed.
The words still floated against the electric backdrop of my inner eyelids. Usually, I felt faith in life lifting me up like feathers. Other times, no. This was one of those times. I was utterly lost, at the mercy of the winds, just being buffeted by events. Going with the flow. Never taking action myself. Had I enjoyed a wild ride with the Bare Bones MC? Was it coming to an end? I had thought it was my entire life.
“What happened in there?” asked Winston quietly. He patted my hand. “Suddenly you didn’t want to be there. Did something scare you?”
I whipped my head to face him. “Nothing scares me,” I reminded him.
More hand patting. “I know, I know,” he said warmly. “But why’d you run out?”
“I didn’t run.”
“Walk. Why’d you walk?”
Then it all gushed from me. One second I was in deep denial. The next, I was clinging to Winston’s pastel shirtfront and sobbing like a snotty kid.
It was one of those horrifying sorts of breakdowns, the likes of which you haven’t felt since you were two. The kind that wrenches every organ in your torso. You sob until you can’t breathe anymore. Your lungs clench so tightly it’s like they’re two decompressed balloons.
In between silent sobs, there’d be those frightening inhalations. Ripping through every layer of cells, torturing you with each tiny uh-uh-uh-uh. The shoulders shaking like an unstable washing machine.
And you know it. You’re leading up to the biggest wail that was ever ripped from the heart of man.
Winston knew it, too. He gathered my face closer to his warm shirt. Wrapping his arms around me, he was trying to prevent any patients from viewing this unsettling sight.
I don’t remember if he succeeded. The all-encompassing wail was tearing apart my trachea. It was ripping the bronchioles from the muscle of my lungs. My diaphragm was a hard bowling ball.
I shook uncontrollably, silently, until the big build-up. Who knows how far my wail could be heard? It was like a rotating siren, whaa, whaa, whaa echoing down into the parking structure, bouncing back off vehicles.
And the repetition of Winston murmuring, “Ssh. Ssh. Ssh.”
I didn’t know if he was trying to soothe me or shut me up. This went on for God knew how long until I could take a gulping, shuddering breath and form words.
“I—can’t—do this—anymore!”
Softly he said, “You mean the sick people?”
Like I was some fucking kid! Which, at that point, I guess I was. “No! Well, yes! Sick people, well people, okay people, fucked-up people, just people-people!”
“When’s the last time you had a vacation?”
I couldn’t remember. Bare Boners didn’t take vacations. We went to rallies, which was sort of like work sometimes. Seeing the same people you normally saw at fish fries, babies’ birthdays, the Bum Steer for adult birthdays. Toys for Tots runs, swap meets, poker runs. At first, it had seemed like my family had expanded tenfold when I joined the brotherhood. Lately, it had just seemed like my world was shrinking. Even with our other chapters in Flagstaff, Prescott, Phoenix, and our brother clubs in Arizona and Nevada—well, after ten years, those people started looking as old as Jericho, as old as heartache.
I pulled back from his shirtfront, leaving a trail of snot which I wiped on the back of my forearm. “It’s not that, Win! I wouldn’t need a vacation if I was happy!”
We both calmed down a bit at my admission. What had I just said? Wasn’t every Bare Bone old lady happy as a pussy that sees cream? I blubbered, “I don’t mean that. I mean—”
“You do too much, Maddy. That’s it. You’ve got two kids, your club, your demanding job.”
I bawled, “Well how can I eliminate any of those?” Then I started crying again, only not as heart-rending this time.
Winston whispered, “Is it Ford?”
I knew he’d get around to that. I’d said disgruntled things about Ford in the not-so-distant past. “Maybe… Can you get my purse for me? Or have Rozelle or Tanya do it?”
“You going home? That’s a good idea. You good to drive?”
Winston finally went away as an old Chevy truck careened up to the curb. This wasn’t the ER door, but maybe the Navajos didn’t know that. I could tell they were Navajos because no other tribe drove those old clunkers with primer paint and fake tribal seat covers.
A few lithe guys leaped from the bed in fluid movements. The injured guy was in the passenger seat, and he flowed from the door like brake fluid.
As an ER nurse, I should have jumped up to help. But for some reason I was transfixed. We saw a lot of these guys, Navajo, Ute, and Hopi from Four Corners, Apache from Ft. Apache. They had their own craptastic shitholes for clinics, but it was smart of them to bring the injured here. They were always getting in drunken car wrecks, or being hit by drunken drivers. Lately, there had been problems with man-made drugs. Krokodil, meth and supermeth, MDMA, Molly, or fake stuff manufactured by a poor, broken people, dope-sick.
This patient fascinated me as his fellows carried him, dripping trails of blood from what looked like a bullet wound in his shoulder, horrifying lookers-on. He was shirtless and a fine specimen of youth—a guy I’d have been attracted to back in the day.
What wrenched me from my misery was his hand. Two fingers were fused together. I knew this to be caused by uranium poisoning on the Rez. I’d only seen it once before in a rather old lady, a sheepherder. One of our brothers in the Bent Zealots MC out of Lake Havasu had this condition. I thought his mother was a sheepherder.
While a wave of people rolled into the hospital, one lone girl walked out. Dejectedly, Rozelle twirled her mask on her fingers. She reached inside her smock for a cig, walking my way to get out of the no-smoking zone. I waved half-heartedly.
She nodded. “Guy died at ten-thirty-six,” she informed me.
Another swell of despair threatened to rupture my stomach, so I held onto it. Rozelle must’ve thought I was nauseous, so she took my purse off her shoulder. “Here. Win said you wanted it. You sick? Going home?”
I don’t like to ask myself questions. I’m afraid I won’t like the answers. But the answer to Rozelle’s unspoken question was yes. Yes, it bothers me that guy died. I’d become so immune to death over the years, and was that the goal? Shouldn’t I become more sensitive to it? Something was broken inside me. I needed to fix it. It was a good sign the annoying guy’s death had bothered me.
I called Ford’s cell, and Wolf Glaser answered. “Hey, Maddy,” said the good-natured goof. “Ford can’t talk. We’re about to go into church.”
Church. Always going into fucking church.
“Put your phone in the box!” yelled someone in the background—Duji, I think.
“Sorry, Maddy,” said Wolf. “Got to go.”
He put the phone in the box where everyone put their electronics before entering church. Only, he forgot to hit the red END button.
“That was Maddy,” I could hear Wolf explain to someone.
“Oh Jeez,” said Duji—it was definitely Duji. “Not again. How often does she call you, Ford?”
“Too often,” said Ford.
Now I hit the red END button.
Thou shalt not be overcome, was said full clearly and full mightily, for assuredness and comfort against all tribulations that may come. He said not: Thou shalt not be tempested, thou shalt not be travailed, thou shalt not be afflicted; but He said: Thou shalt not be overcome.
I suddenly knew what my friend Bee had been telling me lately.
It meant you should not expect to avoid pain, tragedy, or heartache. But you could reasonably expect to not be overwhelmed, overcome by it all.
I had just been overcome.
And I didn’t know what to do.