The Sleepless Nightmare: The Third
With each passing day, I’m more and more astounded by the casual and uncaring cruelty of the people who run this place. Last night a man had a seizure in the bunk just across from mine. Fortunately he was on the bottom, and his head bounced off the concrete from a two foot drop instead of a six.
I leap from my bunk and grab him around the chest to keep him from banging into the metal frames of the cots all around, but with a space shorter than my arm between beds, he still manages to hurt his elbow. I try to think back to when I was Operations Manager for the group homes. I used to train people to deal with siezure victims, but that was almost ten years ago… and now here I find myself telling a man who thinks he’s in charge of the dorm because he joined the “Jesus” program that he needs to stop holding this man’s feet down or he could pull one of his legs out of the socket during the gyrations. The man won’t listen to me; he takes my instructions as a challenge to his authority. As I hold Billy (was that his name?) in my arms, trying to reach the pillow I’ve asked three different people to toss me so he doesn’t hit his head anymore, I’m forced to play out this power struggle in my mind. If I push the issue, I could be thrown out of the shelter for “starting a fight.” If B-Something breaks one of his legs, I’ll have to live with that. How much of a hero do I really want to be? I don’t even know this guy’s name. Have I really sunk so far that I’m asking myself these kinds of questions?
I level my eyes with the Jesus patrol on the other end. “Let go of his god-damned feet, RIGHT… NOW!” I know I’m going to regret that later, but at least for my part, B-Something will get through this okay.
The siezure subsides just as the police officer from the front desk gets back there. “Hey buddy, you okay?” he stoically asks the man laying beneath me in the fetal position. Shifting the hand resting on his pistol, and plainly dissatisfied with the grunt of an answer he’s received, he casually, as if inquiring whether there were any potatoes left, asks again, “Do you need a paramedic?”
B-Something’s been poor long enough to know the kind of treatment he should expect from cops and hospitals. He thinks he’ll be better off if he’s left alone, and he’s probably right.
“Officer, ” – I know I’m going to regret this, “he’s just had what appeared to be a grand mall seizure. He was having chest pain before it started, and he hit his head and his arm when he fell off the bed. I really think…”
“Alright, alright. Hey! I was talking to him, okay?” I recognize the warning tone in the cop’s voice; there’s nothing more I can do. In my haste to get B-Something some medical attention, I forgot to dumb down my language so that the he would listen to me. This isn’t to say that he couldn’t understand an articulate dialogue. But to him I’m just another homeless guy, incapable of anything like intelligence or experience in something beyond getting high or engaging in otherwise destructive habits. If you speak too intelligently, they blow you off as regurgitating something you saw on television in order to get attention. It was a rookie mistake on my part, but what’s done is done. I probably should have stayed out of it to begin with.
The cop leaves, B-Something said he was okay, so Officer Coffee Break has done his job. Forunately somebody called 911 while he was still seizing, and an ambulance shows up just as B-Something curls into a ball and loses conciousness again. The ambulance takes him away and, for a moment, I feel a sense of normalcy again. At least I was able to do something positive while I was here. Maybe there is some hope. Maybe I can get through this without being completely consumed by the despair.
An hour later, I see them throwing the contents of his locker into the trash. I hear someone ask what’s going on, and the staff explains that B-Something has been removed from the shelter because he fell down drunk.
Part of me wants to try and explain what happened, that he hadn’t been drinking, he was just lying in bed. But engaging them won’t help anyone. This hero has retired for the evening. I probably should have stayed out of it to begin with.