But that was it. That night shift was the fulcrum of my stay in the E.W. The fun was over. The abuse had begun.
It started when I walked through the waiting rooms and saw Abe rocking in his corner, alone, a pair of silk women's panties on his head. He was abusing those waiting, and they were beginning to abuse him back: When he saw me he stopped, looked at me as if he didn't know me, and demanded:
"Are you a Jew?"
"Yes, I am."
"You know the problem with you Jews is you're circumcised."
The nurses were upset at Abe's regression, and we were trying to convince Cohen to do something to prevent the inevitable, Abe's rehospitalization at the State F cility. Cohen seemed on edge. The policemen weren't expected until midnight. Flash had taken his vacation hitchhiking out to some godforsaken hole in the belly of the country to be ravaged by his retardate agrarian kin.
I went to see an abusive drunk who said, "I was by a pushcart in the garment district and I've got a problem with my legs."
"When were you hit?"
"Six years ago:"
"It's not an emergency. Come back to the clinic Monday."
He wouldn't leave, and I called Gath, and together we tried to convince him to leave, but instead he began to unwrap his right leg, saying, "Here, just look at this, eh?" As the yellow bloodstained rags began to unwind, my stomach turned, and Gath screamed, "DON'T TAKE THAT OFF!"
"Why not?" asked the drunk gleefully. "You're doctors. Look."
The pus?yellow rags slipped away, and we were faced with the most foul?smelling, ugly, oozing ulcers down to bone that either of us had ever seen. I felt sick. Gath went red and livid, sticking his face smack up against the drunk's and yelling, "YOU HAD TO DO THAT, DIDN'T YOU, YOU BASTARD!"
From there things went downhill. All joined in the chorale of abuse. Underdoses, overdoses, drunks, psychopaths, whores, V.D., and vagitch, providing me with the pleasure of sitting between the gynecology stirrups, looking down the diseased barrel of the Holiday world. My attempts at sleep were constantly interrupted. At three A.M. I saw a suburban housewife brought in by her husband.
"I can't stand up straight," she said, leaning.
"How long have you had this problem?" I asked, sleepy?eyed.
"Then why did you come in tonight?"
"It's worse tonight. See, I can stand like this," she said, leaning, "but I can't stand like this," she said, standing up straight.
"You are standing like that," I pointed out.
"I know, but I prefer to stand like this."
I TURFED her out and she abused me some, and left. At four?thirty I was awakened by a refrain of OIY OIY OIY and I knew that a medical admission had arrived. The nurse handed me the clipboard, saying, "Don't worry, it's hopeless: end?stage breast cancer, metastatic throughout pelvis, abdomen, and spine."
"It was awful. A scoliotic wreck of a woman, bent into an ungodly shape, demented from the spread of the cancer to her brain, fighting like an animal in pain against my doing anything for her. Two sisters hovered, demanding I do everything. The disease was disgusting and painful. These sisters were irritating in their absurd hope. This was no live thing, no hope. This was death. This was despair, that rare look into the mirror at first twinkle, at first graying, at gray. This was the bottomless panic at the lost smooth cheek of childhood, at no longer being young. I was angry at this woman because this, the beginning of her end, meant work for me. Sick at heart, I admitted her. The sun rose on this pivotal night shift of mine; and to me the sun seemed defective, a second, a lightweight and tired speck at the edge of a vast unseen interstellar, black. On the way out of the E.W. I was the recipient, of Abe's abuse, heaped like shit on my head. Suspicious and angry, I felt the world too depleted to wash away my bitterness. A child's rocking horse was rotting in the snow. For all I knew, the first cells of a cancer were budding in my bladder. My own crab, lost on a winter?dusk shore, scuttling among the lifeless debris, asearch with timeless confidence in my ultimate ebb, for food.
"Stand up, Roy," someone said harshly, shaking me "Roy?oy . . ."
It was Berry. All around me were well?dressed peon ple, standing up, and Berry said, "Come on, Roy, it's the Hallelujah Chorus, stand up."
I stood up where was I Symphony Hall. I was listening to that penultimate grenade, The Messiah, performed by the lonely and ratchet?voiced members of the Handel Society. Another matinee. As usual with any activity?outside the House of God, The Messiah had put me right to sleep. FOR THE LORD GOD OMNIPOTENT REIGNETH! HALLELUJAH! Sing it, boys. How could you know that He doesn't seem to reigneth much in the House of God E.W. AND HE SHALL REIGN FOREVER AND EVER. FOREVER! AND EVER! HALLELUJAH! HALLELUJAH! It wasn't a bad grenade, this Messiah, really. I looked around at the audience, stretching from the giant double organ onstage, back in row on row of creaky benches. Many gomers and gomeres, especially toward the front. Tufts of gray, hyperemic flesh over sallow cheek. GOMERES DON'T DIE! HALLELUJAH! HALLELUJAH! FOREVER! THEY LIVE FOREVER! The price of the seats had the rich gomers in front, the kids in the rear. Berry and I were halfway to being rich gomers.
"Roy, sit down. Now you sit, see?"
Some sharp?toothed woman let out with a menstrual I KNOW THAT MY REDEEMER LIVETH and Berry and I left. Our feet got soaked in the slushy snow, and I said, "I feel sick. I can't seem to get this heaviness out of my chest, and I don't know what to do."
"It sounds congested," said Berry.
"Yeah, what do you think I should do? I don't even cough."
"That's your trouble. You're not coughing. You need something to break it up. A tussive."
"You think so? I never thought of that. What do you suggest?"
"Roy, what is this? You're the doctor, not me."
"You're right. I never thought of that."
"Dissociation. You're dissociating yourself from everything. You must be really depressed."
"Didn't I tell you? The policemen say I've become paranoid. They've seen it happen to interns before. It comes from working in the E.W."
"I thought you liked the E.W."
"I used to. It had been fun. It wasn't all gomers. There were people whose lives I saved, I actually
"I got competent to handle the big stuff, and the other stuff is just one abusive person after another. It shits. Addicts trying to dupe you for dope, drunks, the poor, the clap, the lonelier?I hate 'em all. I don't trust anyone. It comes from being vomited on and spit at and yelled at and conned. Everyone's out to get me to do something for them, for their fake disease. The first thing I look for now is how they're trying to take me for a ride. It's paranoia, see?"
"Paranoia's OK," said Berry, "it's just a more primitive defense. If you think someone's watching you, you think you're not alone. It keeps the desperation of loneliness out of your mind. And the rage. You're so depressed, Roy, you've been so far down lately, it's horrible to see. You've changed."
At that I got tears in my eyes. The gap between what was human, with this smart, caring woman, an dwhat was inhuman, with the gomers and the abuse became too much. Choked up, I hung my head, found myself blurting out that I had something to tell her and that I was screwing around with a nurse. I awaited the explosion.
"You don't think I knew that?" asked Berry.
"You did?" I said, surprised.
"Sure. Floozies and oysters and all the rest, remember? I know you pretty well. It's all right with
Roy. As long as it goes both ways.'"
"It is? You mean that?"
"Yeah," she said, and then, looking me square in the eye she went on, "with the internship wrecking you, we can't keep on just as we were. That's been obvious for months. We'll keep this love going, Roy, I'm going to fight for it. Just remember, though your freedom means my freedom too. OK, buddy?"
Crunching down the jealousy, I said, "Sure, buddy . . . sure, love," and I hugged her and kiss and with tears in my eyes I said, "There's only a week to go in the E.W, and I'm really worried what's going to happen. I might not make it. I'm scared that of these nights, with nobody else around, when someone starts to abuse me, I'm going to lose control and beat the shit out of some poor bastard"
"Let me warn you, Roy: in psychiatry, this week coming up, the one between Christmas and New Year's, is the worst. It's a week of death. Be careful, get ready. It's going to be terrible."
"How am I going to survive?"
"How? Maybe like in the camps: survive to bear, witness, to record the ones who didn't survive."
Later, after the fury of sex had given way to the tenderness of a caress, I began to talk about Gilheeny, Quick, and Cohen. I started to laugh, Berry started to laugh, and soon the bed, the room, the world itself was one gigantic mouth and tongue and tooth engaged in one ellipsoid laugh, and Berry said, "They sound incredibly bizarre. I mean, they really talk like that? Like textbooks? How did they get that way?"
"They say it's from hanging around the House E.W. for twenty years and talking to smart guys like me. They've absorbed every tern's liberal?arts education for the last twenty years:"
"You love them; don't you?"
"Yeah, they're great. They're keeping me going."
"And you're puzzled and interested by Cohen."
"Yeah. You know what he told me?he never touches bodies. If I didn't have to touch 'em, I'd like listening too, what the hell."
"You mean he doesn't blow into his stethoscope at the gomers?"
"He doesn't own a stethoscope. He wears jeans to work."
"Well, how does he communicate with the gomers?"
"He doesn't?" Berry asked in a tantalizing tone.
"Damn! He doesn't. Maybe I should be a shrink!"
Well, at that, peals of laughter rang out again. A resident in psychiatry, a psychiatrist? No gomers, no rotting twats, no vagitch, no itchy blotchy penises, no leg ulcers, no rectals, not much on?call. Just the old chit?fuckin'?chat. That's what most of them needed anyway, these ones sucking on doctors for what doctors couldn't give. I could throw away my stethoscope and wear a pair of jeans to work.
Berry and I got dressed to go to the Leggo's Christmas party. She put on slinky black, and I, since I had to report to the E.W. at midnight, House white. Berry excited at meeting the Fish and the Leggo, said, "I'm anxious to see how much of what you've told me is transference."
"The distortion of the real relationship by unconscious forces. Maybe you hate the Fish and the Le because they remind you of your father:"
"I love my father"
"How about your mother?"
"The Fish and the Leggo remind me of a woman who keeps kosher?"
The party was at the Leggo's house, on the edge the suburbs. A grand circular drive led up to a regal mansion. There was money in urine. We were greeted in the foyer by the Leggo, whose eyes went immediately to my House name tag and to Berry's boobs. When I said Hello, sir, the horny little guy looked puzzled, and I knew he was trying to remember whether or not I'd ever been in the military. In the hour before I went to the E.W. I decided I'd try to drink as many champagnes as I could, and soon I was bubbly and high, and stood there when Chuck arrived. He was dressed in his dirty whites, having come directly from ward 6?South, and was covered in the usual ward excretia. The Leggo gave Chuck a big Oh, hello there, uh . . . and then, searching out the name tag, he said . . . uh . . . Charles: Er, have you been at work? and Chuck said, Naw, I always look like this, Chief, you know how it is.
The party went on. The Leggo's wife was about as sexy as a catheter. The talk was, on the part of the doctors, all medicine; and on the part of the spouses, mostly women, all about how hard medicine was on them. Chuck and I fell in love with a woman and couldn't figure out why. As I got more loaded, it seemed that Berry's face was getting more and more incredulous. She met the Leggo, she met the Fish. After forty minutes she came up to us and said she was leaving. I'd never seen her so ripped, and Chuck and I asked her why.
"You two are drunk," she said, "and I can see why. I'd get drunk too if I had to deal with these schmucks. It's not transference, it's obsessive?compulsive neurosis. You spill something, they have an attack of diarrhea. No wonder doctors have the highest rate of suicide, divorce, addiction, alcoholism, and premature death. And probably premature ejaculation too. In two hours here, nobody asked me anything about me. It's as if I were only an appendix to you."
A keeper, I thought to myself.
"Roy, I've never had a more degrading time. You know what these people are? Cocksuckers. So long."
Kissing each of us on the cheek, she got her coat and left. After as many bubblies as we could get down, Chuck and I drove back to the House.
"Damn, that Berry's sumthin' else."
"Yeah, she's great. Hey, try and stay on the road, huh? You know, she's worried about you."
"Well, man, what all is she worried about?"
I was drunk enough to tell him. I told him how she'd noticed he'd gotten so much fatter, so out of shape. How he'd wolfed down his food, how he'd stopped caring about his body, and how he was beginning to drink.
"No foolin'. I used to be in great shape, and look at the mess I'm in now. Pitiful, man, pitiful."
"She says it's anger, that all of us are so pissed off we're beginning to do strange things. With you, she says it's all oral. She's worried that you're turning into an alcoholic."
He parked the car like an alcoholic, orthogonally to the House white lines. We got out and in unspoken defiance peed on the House lot. The two clouds of steam were a comfort.
"So Berry's a little worried about me, huh?" asked Chuck.
"Yup. More than a little. Hey, I'm worried about you too."
"Well, Roy, tell you a little secret: so am I, man, so am I."
The alarm went off. I separated myself from the hothouse under the covers with Berry. I groaned. Potts's father had died and Potts had left for the funeral in Charleston and Eat My Dust Eddie was covering the ward for Potts and I had to cover for Eddie in the E.W., a twenty?four?hour shift. The morning was so cold that despite my bundling, when my ass hit the seat of the car the chill made me shake and chatter, and as I shivered my way down to the House I thought about Wayne Potts.
The strange thing about Potts was that he wasn't acting strange. Perhaps he'd grown more quiet, more withdrawn. One night I'd found him sitting in nursing station with a dazed look on his face, like that of a child at a funeral. "Oh, hi, Roy," he'd said. "You know, I just went to see the Yellow Man I could have sworn he looked right at me and knew me, but then, when I looked again, he was the same as ever, eyes closed, comatose."
Potts plodded along. With his wife having multiple orgasms of power as an MBH surgical intern, Potts spent a lot of time alone. We'd get together, and I'd grown to like him. His Southern roots resonated with my love of the rootedness of England, of Oxford with its cameo pieces of strawberries and cream and champagne served on the smooth lawns in the fifteenth-century courtyards. We became friends partly through a shared contempt for the competitive Slurpers of the North, and a shared longing for permanence, for a solid past. We'd sit at his house talking and listening to blues and gospel, Potts's favorite ballad being Mississippi John Hurt, on dying:
When my earthly trials are over, cast my body down in the sea;
save all the undertaker's bills, let the mermaids flirt with me.
One day we'd talked about how we'd gotten into medicine.
"Well, I remember one summer at Pawley's Island, I was about twelve. Mother had kicked Daddy out, and that summer my brother and my mother and me went to the shore. One day I spilled hot oil all over my hand, burned it real bad, and Mother rushed me back into Charleston to our family doc. His office was just these two big old rooms all mahogany?paneled with brass knobs and fixtures, apothecary drawers, urns, you know? He dressed my burn and said, 'Boy, you like fishin', don't you? 'Yessir.' 'What do you like to cetch, boy?' 'Sea bass and bluefish, sir.' 'Are the bluefish runnin' yet?' 'No, sir.' 'Well, you see if we don't have you back fishin' by the time those bluefish are rennin', eh?' So I went to him every couple of days for him to change the dressing. He used some special ointment on it, and I remember once, after a week or so, he said to me, 'Well, I've run outta that ointment, and I called up the company that makes it, New Jersey, but they say that some government bureau has banned its use in human beings, 'cause it harmed some white mice. Now, there ain't nothing wrong with that ointment, boy, and I know, 'cause I've been using it for almost twenty years. So what I did was go out to my farm and get some I've been using on my horses. Works on them, reckon it's gonna keep right on workin' on you. Well, of course it did, and I healed up fine. I was catching bluefish that summer, just like he said. I drifted into hanging around with him, doing things on his rounds with him. The things I saw! Wherever he went, people opened their doors to him. He'd be up all night in a Negro shack delivering twins, and, then his next call'd be at the grandest house on the East Battery, washing himself with their scented soap and served chickory coffee by the butler on the Bahamas porch, the sea breeze from Fort Sumter mixin with the honeysuckle from the garden in back. I did a lot with him, saw a lot, and wanted more than any thing to be like him."
"What happened to him?"
"Oh, he's still there. He's waiting for me to finish up here and come on down and join him for a whit till he retires and I take over. I suppose it could as soon as next year."
"Sounds great. Is that what you want to do?" '
"Yeah, but I guess it's just a dream."
"Why just a dream?"
"It's not the kind of medicine I'm learning here, it? I wouldn't know one end of a twin delivery from another. And my wife doesn't want to move from the surgery program at the MBH. She do want to move to the South at all."
At the Leggo's party, Berry had asked me which one was Potts, and I'd pointed him out. He was only one without a name tag, and Berry asked me why that was.
"He lost it."
"He didn't get another?"
"Doesn't sound too healthy.. Unless he's being flamboyant "
"Potts flamboyant? No way."
"It doesn't sound like he cares too much about himself."
"You're much too analytic," I said, getting irritated.
"Maybe, but I'd worry about him, Roy"
"Thank you for your expert diagnosis. I'm not losing any sleep over Potts."
I had been wrong. One night I'd found myself lying awake thinking about him. I thought of his disappointments: his wife, his too?academic internship, his withering dream of going home to Charleston to be a doe there, his sad dog. I began to feel nervous. A few days before, Potts and I had been watching the Crimson Tide of Alabama roll over Georgia Tech on his TV in his bedroom. Next to his bed was a revolver, an unholstered loaded forty?four.
I parked in the House lot and hurried toward the E.W. When I'd told Potts over the phone that I was sorry about his father's death, he'd said, "I'm not. He died in the gutter after a fight with some other drunk. I figured it would end this way. I feel kinda relieved."
"Yeah. You've got to understand, Roy: for years he used to walk into my bedroom when he thought I was asleep, and stand there in the dark staring at me. And every once in a while I'd see a glint of light off the barrel of the revolver he carried in his hand. I'm just going to the funeral to see Mother. Sorry, you've got to cover for me. I'll make it up to you."
And so it was a bone?chilling Sunday in the middle of the dead week between Christmas and New Year's, and I expected, in my twenty?four?hour shift, few major traumas and more the small stuff trying to get into God's House for the warmth. How shortsighted, to think that on that Sunday I'd see only the products of that Sunday. Two thousand years previously Christ had bit the dust, hundreds of years ago some Renaissance red hot had thought up hospitals, fifty years ago some Jewish red hot had thought up the House, two months ago God had reincarnated winter, a few days ago some TV programmer had switched off a spine-tingling pro?football game to put on a rerun of that Teutonic grenade Heidi, elevating male blood pressures across the land, and one night ago, two crucial events had taken place: first, in the interest of "educating the public," there'd been a TV show on "the signs of heart attack"; second, it had been a Saturday night in a city gone sour. They were gonna get me. The question was how, and how bad.
Even at eight A.M. the waiting room was full, mostly female, mostly black. Crazy Abe, jumping up and down amidst these women, screamed at me YOUR PROBLEM IS YOUR CIRCUMCISED YOUR PROH . . At the nursing station, things were out of whack? Howard Greenspoon, looking pale, was sitting with Gath, Elihu, Cohen, and the two policemen, and Howie was drinking a cup of coffee, something I'd never before seen him do, since his IBM cards showed a positive correlation between cups of coffee and cancer of the bladder. Howie was telling , the crowd what happened:
"I went into the bathroom on the second floor an hour ago, and I was in the toilet, and a guy opened the door, poked a shotgun in, and demanded money. I gave him three bucks, and then I did a really stupid thing?I gave him my college ring. How could I? I loved that class ring, I really did. He didn't ask me for it, and I offered it to him. Why?
"Remarkable," said Gilheeny, "but better it gone and you here than vice versa."
Howie left, but the policemen stayed on, and Quick, explaining, said, "It is a season of terror, and we have been been asked to serve another eight hours until four P.M. Sixteen hundred in the military convention, is it not, Naval Officer Gath?"
"Aye aye, mutha," said Gath. "I shore wish we'd get some of that big stuff in heap, instead of all this vagitch. I feel so mean I could go bear hunting with a whip."
"A remarkable statement, and no less so than the night just past," said Gilheeny, "when Quick and I were summoned on police radio to a naked bar for an alleged shooting. We entered, the music stopped, all heads turned to us. The Law. Silence. 'Too calm,' I whispered to Quick as we watched the barkeep slowly mop the floor and deny any shooting in his establishment. Then Quick supplied the clue."
"The slop the barman mopped was red. Beer is not red, and yet red blood is," said Quick.
"I then spotted three men sitting too close together against the wall, and commanded them to move. They did, and the man in the middle fell over, dead. Such was their surprise that we refrained from having to 'stick them' with our lead nightsticks, thus avoiding many months of work with Cohen around the gnawing question of guilt. A dangerous time."
"The raw red time when words give way to acts," said Quick.
"We must all take care," said the redhead. "With luck we shall see you again at sixteen hundred in the fine post meridian. Good?bye."
They were gone, and fear and gloom coated my mind. The charts were already piling up, the main themes being anxious men who'd seen the TV special on "How to Have a Heart Attack" and women with Sunday?morning belly pain. Picking up a chart, I ventured into the crotch of the day, my head ringing with the words COMPASSION and HATRED. There was no "big stuff," there was no humor, there was only the clear translation of black rage into, as Cohen put it, "the body ego." The main translation was into the abdomino?genito region. and I heard the chief complaint of "pain in my stomach" over and over again, until there were quarts of urine to be looked at, tens of pelvic exams to do, and do carefully, for every once in a while there could be a "keeper."
With one particular woman came disaster. Having done the total work?up, and finding nothing, I'd gone back into the room to tell her I could find nothing wrong with her that I could treat. She accepted that, and began to put on her clothes, but her boyfriend did not, and said, "Hey, wait a minute, man. You mean to tell me you're not going to do anything for her? Nothing?"
"I can't find anything I can treat"
"Listen, dude, my woman is in pain, real pain, and I want you to give her something for it"
"I don't know what's causing her pain, and I don't want to give her anything, because if it gets worse, I want to know about it, and have her come back. I don't want to mask what's going on."
"Damn you, look at her, she's suffering. Now, you gotta give her something for her pain."
I said I would not. I went back to the nursing station to write up my findings. The boyfriend pursued me, and although the woman was embarrassed and stood near the door wanting to leave, he would not and began to use the crowded E.M. as a forum: "Gods damn you. I knew we wouldn't get any help here. You just want her to suffer, 'cause you enjoy it. You honkies don't give a shit, as long as we get the hell out."
My temper rose, and I felt that warm limbic flush creeping about my ears, my neck. I wanted to jump the counter and beat the shit out of him, or have him beat the shit out of me. He couldn't have known that I shared his sense of being a victim, his sense of despair about the wrecking of black women by forces of control, his frustration with disease, with life. I even had grown to share his paranoia. I couldn't tell him, and he couldn't hear. Paralyzed by rage, both of us, the same rage that put bullets into the Kennedys and King, I ground my teeth and said, "I told you all I can tell you. That's all." The nurses called House Security, who stood around flashing their fake West Point medallions until the man, tugged by the woman left. I sat there shaking, drained. I couldn't write, up the chart; my hand was trembling too much. I couldn't move.
"You're white as a sheet," said Cohen. "That guy really blasted you."
"I don't know how I can take twenty?three more hours of this."
"The secret is to decathect. Withdraw your libidinal investment in what you're doing. It's like putting on a space helmet, and going around on autopilot. Emotionally, you withdraw, so that you're not really there. Survival, eh?"
"Yeah. I wish I did have a space helmet."
"Not a real space helmet. Decathexis is an inner space helmet. Almost all jobs are decathected, you know why?"
"'Cause all jobs are boring, except this one. Try it"
I donned my imaginary space helmet, put myself on autopilot, and decathected like crazy. I waded through gallons of urine and immersed myself in the steady stream of frightened men from sixteen to eighty?six who'd seen the TV show and whose chief complaint was "chest pain." This TV show had served the primary purpose of confusing the American male about anatomy, since none of the chest pain was chest pain, but stomach pain, arm pain, back pain, groin pain, and one valid pain in a big toe, which turned out to be gout. Wading through these normal EKGs, I felt a deep contempt for "educating the public" about disease. Some TV Evangelist was trying to hock "heart attacks"; terns across the country were being broken. The only MI I did see that day was a man my age, Dead on Arrival. My age. And here I was spending my few remaining pre?MI years trying to deaden myself, to survive.
Midafternoon. Lull. Breathing a little easier inside my space helmet, thinking I might just make it. Suddenly the doors slammed open. I and Gath and Elihu were thrown into that surreal hyperacute time sense brought about by real disaster. Sirens blared, lights carried by a priest on one side and Quick on the other, in came Gilheeny, sheet?white, the right side of his body all blood. We jumped up and in an instant were in the major?trauma room. Gilheeny was alive. In shock. As the nurse cut off his clothing and we put in the big lines and went over his vital parts?head heart lungs?we heard Quick, shaken, tell us what had happened:
"There was a robbery at an ice?cream shop. We chased the thief, and he turned on us and emptied a shotgun into Finton."
"Officer Quick," said Gath, "you bettah leave the room."
I felt hyperalive, and found myself doing five thing at once. Despite my concentrating on Gilheeny, I felt amazed that on a Sunday afternoon of the coldest day of the year, not only should some bastard rob a store, an ice?cream store, but that it should be done armed, and with a shotgun? How much cash could there have been in an ice?cream store on a freezing Sunday afternoon in winter? As I looked at the bloody mess was the right side of the policeman's body, I wanted have the robber in the room, to beat the shit out him.
Gilheeny was lucky. His leg might not work ever again, but it didn't look like he was going to die. Gath, shaky as the rest of us, trying bravely to a joke, told Gilheeny that OPERATIONS ARE GOOD FOR PEOPLE and that the redhead was about to have one. I sat with Gilheeny while he waited to go to OR, making sure that nothing bad could happen. Quick came in, shaken, and sat down, and then in walked the priest and the biggest policeman I'd ever seen, with four stars on each shoulder, braids on his blue coat, a big gold badge, gray hair, and elegant orange tinty glasses.
"Top o' the mornin' to you, brave Sergeant Finton Gilheeny."
"Is it the Commissioner?"
"None other. The young doctor says that with the aid of an operation, with the usefulness of the scalpel being demonstrated, you will survive."
So this peculiar speech pattern comes from the very top. I wondered how many years the Commissioner had served in God's House.
"Dr. Basch, I believe that I now have no need of the last rites. If so, could the priest depart? He scares me in the memory of how close to heaven or that hot other place I came."
"And is there a message for the little woman, the wife?" asked the Commissioner as the priest left.
"Ah, yes. Don't call her, for you see, I told her always I would send someone by, and if you call her instead, she will think I am dead, and with the epileptic daughter and the wife continually having the nervous breakdowns, it would be a sorry mistake. So send someone by the house, sir, if you could."
"I will go myself. Oh?the robber has been caught. Yes," said the Commissioner, cracking his knuckles, "and after apprehending him, we asked him to 'step outside for a moment for a private interrogation,' if you catch my drift. A long and careful 'private interrogation,' for you are a dear policeman to us. Sure, and didn't I myself hit him with a few hard interrogations? Ah, well, all the best, boyo and I'm on my way to your wife and will soothe her with my boyish good looks and TV?cop mien. Good?bye, and for the young scholar here who saved your fine red life, SHALOM and God bless."
Savage, all of it, savage. Gilheeny went to his operation, and Quick sat with us the rest of the day, shocked and drained. Abe, who had witnessed most of these events, went apeshit. Despite Cohen's efforts, he kept screaming over and over I'M GONNA KILL THEM I'M GONNA KILL THEM and he was finally put in four?point restraints and carted off to the State Facility.
Day passed, night came. Gilheeny made it through. Quick went home. Abe was gone. I stumbled through the night and finally at about two A.M., just before falling into a deep sleep, I thought that that moment, a kind of ecstasy of escape, would have been the perfect time to die. Not dead, I was awakened at three. I tried to focus on the clipboard: Twenty?three?year?old married woman; chief complaint: I was walking home and I was raped. No. Come on, will you? It's ten below out there. I went and saw her: at eleven that night she'd been walking home from her friend's house, a man jumped out of a driveway, held a gun to her head, and raped her. She was in shock, dazed. She hadn't been able to go home to her husband. She'd sat in an all?night diner and finally had come into the House.
"Have you called your husband yet?"
"No . . . I'm too ashamed," she said, and she lifted her head up for the first time and looked me in the eyes, and first her eyes were dry cold walls and then, to my relief, they broke apart into wet pieces, and she screamed, and screamed out sob after sob. I took her in my arms and let her cry, and I was crying too. After she'd quieted some, I asked for her husband's number and after I did the workup for rape, I called him. He' been worried stiff, and was glad she was not dead. He couldn't know, yet, that part of her had died.
In a few minutes he was there. I sat in the nursing station as he went in to see her, and sat there as they came out to leave. She thanked me, and I watched them walk down the long tiled passage. He went to put an arm around her, but with a gesture that I knew was her disgust at the ruination of her body by a man, she pushed it aside. Separate, they walked out into the savageness. Disgust. Revulsion. That was how I felt-revolted, enraged, pushing the hand away, because the hand can't ever help, because it's a myth that the hand can touch the part that's dead.
The finale that night was an alcoholic homosexual addict with a potentially lethal overdose of something unknown. In white pants, white shoes, a white sailor outfit with a red kerchief and a white sailor hat, his fingernails painted white, he was comatose, near death. I thought of methadone, and gave him, IV, a narcotic antagonist. He came out of his coma and became abusive. He took a knife from his pocket. I thought he was going to come at me, but no. He grabbed the IV tubing and cut it. He stood up and walked to the automatic doors. To be sure I'd be able to save him if he'd started to go down the tubes, I'd put in a largebore needle, and now the blood flowed easily out, dripping in big red globules onto the polished floor, and I said, "Look, at least let me take your IV out before you leave."
"Nope," he said, flashing the knife, "I'm not leaving. I want to bleed to death, right here on your floor. You see, I want to die."
"Oh, well, that's different," I said, and I called the Bouncers from House Security.
We sat there, afraid to jump him, watching as the red dots on the floor coalesced into blobs, small pools. He smeared the blood around with his cute white shoes. When it became a puddle, he splashed it at us, leaving lines of blood reaching out toward us like rays from a Mayan sacrificial sun. I'd ordered four pints of blood, typed and crossed, and Flash was waiting in the blood bank for my call, ready to rush the blood down. As I sat there engorged with despair, I tried to get the arms of my mind around the savageness of the day. I could not. I waited for him to faint.
Berry and I were in Our Nation's Capital, visiting Jerry and Phil, who'd been at Oxford with me as Rhodes Scholars. While I'd chosen the fanaticism of American med school, they'd chosen that of law. At present they were each clerking for Supreme Court Justices, an "internship" similar to mine. There were many parallels. The Chief Justices, like the House docs, were a mixed lot, some borderline incompetent, some alcoholic, some dummies, and a few just plain non?folks like the Leggo and the Fish. Jerry and Phil were delegated the task of making the highest law of the land, just as I was the one dealing with the actual bodies and deaths. Their main job was to periodically wind up their particular Justice and "launch" him on a particular side of a decision that would affect millions of great Americans. In fact, they spent much of their time at the de facto "highest court," the basketball court on the top floor, directly above the slightly lower; de jure Supreme Court chambers. One of their mant thrills was throwing elbows at a body beautiful Commie?hunting Nixon Court appointee.
Despite my newfound penchant for viewing all persons as sick and despite their newfound penchant for viewing all persons as defendants, things went well for a while. Walking through the echoing marble Court we laughed at various farces making the gossip columns, the choicest being the rumor that a reporter, using high?powered binoculars from a hidden vantage point on the bluffs over San Clemente, while watching Nixon and Bebe Rebozo walking along the beach in their dark suits, had seen the President stop, turn, and kiss Bebe squarely an the lips.
And yet neither friendship nor a weekend away from the House could contain my rage. Feeling free, like a person, made the contrast even more painful. I carried my suspicion and contempt with me. At one point Jerry and Phil were surprised at my vehemence, and at how far I'd moved, from English Socialist to Alabama Right A la Dwayne Gath. For some reason my friends' cynicism did not extend into the realms of paranoia. The trip turned sour, and on the plane back, Berry said, "You've got to be socialized all over again, Roy. No one can be that angry and be in this world with anyone else. Your friends are really worried about you."
"You're right," I said, thinking how every part of my life had suffered from my experience in the House of God, and how, from all the awful venerealia, even my sex life had curdled and quit.
Things got only worse. At the New Year's Eve party which I had to leave early because I had to report, for the last time, to the House E.W. at midnight, and at which I got pretty drunk, Berry blew up at me: "I hardly know you anymore, Roy. You're not like you were before."
"You were right about this time of year," I said, leaving. "It's sick, and it's crazy, and it sucks. So long."
I walked out the door into the bitter cold, through the frozen snow and over a snowbank turned black from the city dirt, to my car. That terrifying empty space between what was love and what is no more loomed large. I sat there disgusted, alone, the blue mercury arc lamps adding to the surreal night. Berry appeared, trying to pull me back to the human. She leaned in through the window, hugged me, kissed me, and wished me a Happy New Year, and said, "Look at it this way, the New Year means you're halfway through."
Feeling that I'd been cheated, promised a life and then saddled with death, I went into the E.W., drunk, searching for whoever it was who had cheated me. At precisely midnight, as the old year rolled over and showed its white underbelly and the new year starting sucking at its first black morning, a naked drunk celebrated by vomiting something awful into his lap. I sat at the nursing station surrounded by the futile attempts of the nurses to make a party out of the place. As I watched Elihu do a hip?swinging, clog?clacking campy rendition of the horah with Flash, I thought of "The Follies" at Treblinka. And then I thought about the pictures of the camps, taken by the Allies at liberation. The pictures showed emaciated men peering through the barbed wire, all eyes. Those eyes, those eyes. Hard blank disks. My eyes had become hard blank disks. Yet there was something in back of them, and, yes, that was the worst. The worst was that I had to live with what was in back of them, and what I had to live with, the rest of the world must never see, for it separated me from them, as it had just done with my former best friends and with my one long love, Berry. There was rage and rage and rage, coating all like crude oil coating gulls. They had hurt me, bad. For now, I had no faith in the others of the world. And the delivery of medical care? Farce. BUFF 'n TURF. Revolving door. I wasn't sitting at the end of the ambulance ride, no. There was no glamour in this. My first patient of the New Year was a five?year?old found in a clothes dryer, face bloodied. She had been hit by her pregnant mother, hit over and over with a bludgeon of pantyhose stuffed with shards of broken glass.
How could I survive?