Patients and Inmates, by Gary Clifton
Cops brought him in handcuffed – all three beat to hell. It was plenty hot outside that night. His nose was busted, but the admitting nurse had patched him up. She wasn’t supposed to intake a new patient to my ward. They had to go through a process, but tonight the rubber rooms were full and I had an empty bed. I was solo on deep nights in an eighty bed lockdown, which the State called a “violent ward.” About half were ill, the other half trying to avoid the penitentiary.
“Gotta restrain him on that bed,” I pointed. Both cops, scratched and bloody, looked at me, who they saw as just a kid, like I had an ear of corn growing out of my forehead. This dude was berserk. The three of us strapped him down only after the fight. But his eyes showed they’d shot him up with thorazine. It was 1959. Tranquilizers were still only a distant theory. He’d come down soon.
I looked at the cops, inquisitive. “Wife caught him screwing his stepdaughter. He got hold of some meth…then Jack Daniels,” one said as they hurried out. A mental ward has that effect on people.
The bad boy had another dose of horses ass to spew. “Screw you, punk. I have a doctorate in theology and you’re some nut-house flunky.”
“Maybe so, but looks like you’re the one strapped to a bed.”
“The fuck you know about anything.”
I sat at a little desk at the far end of the ward, working on College Algebra.
I walked back. “Yeah?”
“Gotta piss,” his tone showed the thorazine had mellowed him to room temperature.
“Bad news, Mr. Doctorate. I’m in here alone and got no authority to take you to the john. SOP is for you to piss yourself.”
“I won’t fight no more.”
“I know, because I’m gonna stomp a mud hole in your ass if you get outta line.” I was a street kid. It was easy to see I had the bulge on this fleshy hump. I followed him into the john then back to his cot.
“You don’t gotta use them straps,” he protested. I double restrained him to the bed-frame.
“Why you workin’ in a hole like this? Smells like shit in here.”
“College student. Got classes…” I looked at the clock, “…in three hours. And what you smell is guys losing their bowels or bladders. Your nose is working.”
“What’s gonna happen to me?” Fear had crept in. A man tied to a bed among eighty strangers in a mental hospital doesn’t take long to see he’s pretty much screwed. He’d been an abusive ass, but something about the guy registered.
“Okay, mister, you see a shrink later this morning… fifteen minutes if you’re lucky. Show your ass and you’ll earn an extended permit to stay in the nuthouse. Some of these poor souls are patients who are genuinely sick. About half are sorry toads acting nuts to avoid the penitentiary. Give the doctor any crap and you’ll become an inmate, not a patient.”
“Inmate… Christ, all I did was screw my stepdaughter. She’s done everybody in the neighborhood.”
“And assault two cops and the head night nurse… And me, but I don’t count. Pop off to the psychiatrist and see how damned quick they warehouse your ass as an inmate. You won’t even believe how hard it is to get outta here. They don’t got a parole board.”
In the dim light he looked as if he might vomit. “Oh dear God,” he said in self pity.
“Look, mister. Wanna know how to get outta here?”
“Yeah… I mean yes… Yessir, for heaven’s sake, please.”
“Don’t act nuts. Act sane and smart. Don’t call the shrink any names. No matter what you think, she’s smarter than you. Make nice and they’ll put you on the street. You gotta be able to see this place is jam-assed full.”
I saw the guy in a grocery store the next month. With a toothy grin, he strolled over and shook my hand. Heavenly music, I’d cured another lunatic. But I still had to pass College Algebra.
Clifton, forty years a cop, once published a murder mystery in national paperback and has short fiction pieces published or pending on twenty or so online sites. He’s been shot at, shot, stabbed, sued, often misunderstood, and currently lives on a dusty north Texas ranch standing guard against senility slipping in the back door.
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Tags: Gary Clifton, hospitals, mental illness, police