Friday, May 20, 2011
By Adam Lohse
Harrison Burnes stared at the E.R. doors. A lit cigarette burned between two fingers on a his left hand. Bringing the hand to his mouth he sucked the last cloud of poison from his nearly scorched fingers. Dropping the butt he smashed it with the toe of an ancient and defaced jungle boot. Breathing out into the cold wind, he let the smoke percolate into the equally faded green army jacket. With that he trudged across the parking lot and entered the familiar doors.
Linda Staverson looked up from her computer to see the familiar and unwelcome face. The black face, gray whiskers, tangled hair and invertible stench had become a personal nightmare. Over the last six months he’d appeared in the ER on weekly basis, demanding admittance for treatment of HIV, herpes, pneumonia and whatever else he caught on the street. Hospital policy said they had to admit him and treat the most urgent issues which usually involved everything. They would get things as fixed as they could and then the man would leave against medical advice. Since she’d first seen his face, he’d racked up over a million dollars in bills that she knew he had no intention of ever paying. Worse than that was the way he messed around with the staff, disobeying orders, sneaking out the building to smoke, pulling out I.V.s and shouting at anyone who even suggested that hospital wasn’t his own private residence to do with what he pleased.
“Hey now darlin, you don’t have to get your witch face out yet. I ain even gonna make you fire up that ole computer and tell you that I don’t got no insurance.”
“Mr. Burnes, if you are not here for medical treatment I’m going to have to ask you to leave.” Linda watched as the man before her began to puff himself into what she’d come to call his huffing and puffing state. He stopped slouching coming to his full height of six-five, pulled his arms out and let his presence be felt throughout the waiting room. She was ready for his booming diatribe, the familiar process of calling security and eventually having to admit him when he calmed down.
“Honey, we can go through all the ruckus of you me getting loud, you calling security, me calming down and you admitting me to waste some more of your precious money or we can just skip the whole thing and you can go find Eddie for me.” Harris smiled as he finished, almost whispering. Linda was more shocked by Harris’ control than she’d ever been by his booming harangues. Her first instinct was to reach for the phone and call security. That was her default method of dealing with him. However, he always made her pay a price. As soon as or before security arrived he would turn calm and contrite as a lamb and she would look foolish for calling them. Still, she couldn’t let him start ordering her around.
“Why don’t you take a seat over there and if Eddie comes bye I’ll tell him you’re here.” For a moment it looked like the man was going to explode. His face tightened in rage and his teeth flashed in a grimace and then the look was gone and he wore the same calm and reasonable face he wore for security.
“Well that’s mighty considerate of you. I need to catch up on my reading and that should take about an hour. If I haven’t seen Eddie by the time my reading is done I can start working on my theatrics.” His parting smile left Linda with no doubt that he would enjoy causing chaos in the waiting room and go out of his way to embarrass her. She watched uneasily as he retreated to chair, pulled a Bible from his tattered bag and started mumbling as he attempted to read. For Linda there was little doubt that the man was headed to hell, but it bothered her that he was trying to read the Bible. To her, he was profaning the pages just by touching them. She did, however, worry about what she was going to do. It would be relatively easy to find Eddie and she had no doubt that Eddie would make the time to see her nightmare. It was just that was a little hesitant to give this homeless man so much power. If he could get his way on this, how many other things would he demand? If she waited until the hour was nearly over, he would know that he was afraid of his tantrums. After waiting long enough to at least preserve the plausibility of her not acceding to Haris’ demands she stepped away from her computer and entered into the E.R. After carefully avoiding some patients on gurneys, she rounded the corner and caught site of Eddie.
She caught Eddie coming out of a room fast, he was so wrapped up in what he had to do next, that he didn’t even notice her. His green scrubs sported splotches of blood and eyes looked like they were staring at something a million miles away.
“Eddie!” He walked a couple steps and the then turned back toward her.
“Linda?” He was definitely distracted. She wondered what was going on.
“Our favorite drug addict is out in the waiting room, asking to talk to you.” Eddie blinked and nodded. Sweat was pouring down his face.
“Ok, tell him I’ll be out in a little.” With that he proceeded down the hall. Linda hoped he would find a bathroom and pour some water on his face. She’d never seen him this distressed before. She gave him one more glance, picked up some forms from the monitoring station and returned to the waiting room. Haris was still sitting in his chair stuttering over the Bible. Normally, Linda would have sat back down at her station and waited for Harris to come to her for information, but Eddie had asked her to convey a message and she had no idea when Eddie would be able to come out. She really didn’t want Harris to go ballistic because he thought she hadn’t talked to Eddie. That left the burden on her to communicate Eddie’s message. With great discomfort and anxiety she stepped out from behind her desk and walked across the room to stand beside the chair of the tall man dressed in the flimsy armor of boots, fatigues and an army coat.
“I spoke to the Eddie. He was having a really rough time. I don’t know when he’ll be out.” For the first time in 6 months Haris looked up and smiled at her.
“Thank you, If you see him again, tell him I’ll wait.” Linda went back to her desk expecting a long period of tension over when Eddie would be out. She’d just settled into her routine of registering patients when Eddie emerged and walked over to Haris.
“Hey man, you sick again? It don’t look so good to have someone come in here so much and never get better.” Eddie’s eyes and voice were warm. Haris looked up from the Bible with a quizzical look on his face.
“I don’t have any pneumonia and the other bugs are mostly under control, but I got a problem. You see this is the Bible that I borrowed last time I got admitted. I did what you said and started with The Gospel of Mark. It talks about how people we receiving a baptism of repentance and then it tells me that I need to repent and believe in the good news.”
“Yeah, so what’s the problem?” Harris looked up again at Eddie’s cheerful face, wondering how Eddie could be so dense.
“I don’t even know what repentance is, let alone how to repent.” Harris expected his awful admission to solicit laughter, horror or astonishment on Eddie’s part. He was surprised at how lightly Eddie took the news.
“That’s OK. Most people who call themselves Christians don’t know about repentance either. Come on, it’s easier to show you than to tell you.”
Linda watched as the two men walked across the lobby and disappeared into the treatment rooms. What was happening was so far outside the rules and guidelines that she didn’t even know who to call. If it had been anyone other than Eddie she might have made it her business to inform him of the rules he was breaking. Since it was Eddie and she loved Eddie, she just sat at her desk pretending that it wasn’t happening.
Harris followed Eddie past the familiar rooms. He’d been in a lot of them. Turning a corner and going past a couple patients on gurneys, he followed Eddie into a room that clearly had not been cleaned up. There was blood on the bed and floor. All sorts of equipment was strewn across the room.
“This girl was 19. She got caught in the crossfire between two drug dealers. They put her in the bus, knowing she isn’t going to make it, bring her down here and try to have us do more CPR. You want to know what repentance is, you clean this up.” Harris looked around, stunned and unsure of what he would do.
“Start with these knives.” Eddie held rectangular bucket of surgical knives that clearly had blood and tissue on them.
“That’s right, put on some gloves and wash them in the sink. Get them as clean as you can possibly get them. Some other patient is going to need them.” On some level, Harris knew that the situation was absurd, but he stood at the sink cleaning the knives, watching the blood flow down the drain. The couple instances when he worried that he’d cut himself, but each time he looked he saw the his gloves were intact. Twenty minutes later he had the knives clean and drying on the paper towels next to the sink. Eddie had been busy, getting rid of the blood and disposing of all the other equipment and garbage.
“Are those knives clean? Are they ready to be used on another patient?” Harris just nodded. How was he supposed to know if they were clean enough?
“Good, now take off your clothes, get into this gown and lie down on the bed.” At this point Harris’ eyes began to get big and his heart started to beat faster.
“Why I got to do that for?” Harris didn’t want to take off his clothes. He didn’t want to get onto the table where someone had died so recently.
“Go on, get to it. If you can’t get this taken care now, you’re going to end up like that girl, an overdose, a beating, exposer, uncontrolled HIV, bad junk, an accident. You’re not running toward one grim reaper, you’re sprinting toward half a dozen and sooner or later you’re going to catch one. When that happens, I’m going to be the one stuck cleaning up after your waste of life, so get into the damm gown!” Harris felt fuzzy. Things hadn’t been the same, since he stepped into the room. All his defenses seemed to be crumbling and he was too tired to run. Slowly he began to shed his armor, boots, followed by coat, and then the multiple layers of stinking fatigues. When he was ready for the gown it seemed infinitely cleaner than anything else he’d worn.
In the bed, he looked up as Eddie seemed to be readying some IVs. “Ok Mr. Burnes, in a few minutes a doctor is going to come in and use the knives you cleaned to remove the thing that’s killing you.” Haris knew he should be alarmed, but his energy seemed to be slipping away. He closed his eyes and dozed. With his eyes still closed, he heard Eddie talking to the doctor.
“This is Mr. Burnes. He’s dying of heroine, but that’s only a symptom of a deeper cancer inside of him.”
“I don’t like the look of those knives. Are you sure they’re sterilized?”
“They’re as clean as he can get them.”
“We’ll have to use the laser.”“Ok Doctor, I’ve got power in three.” The last thing Harris remembered was the blazing warm light and the feeling of the being cut-released inside of him.