On Saturday, I had either a real intellectual breakthrough, or a catastrophic mental collapse, depending on you look at it. I became conversationally proficient in the native tongue of the brain damaged retard. I began to understand Donnie’s mumblings and started interpreting his complaints and directives to the nurses. This was particularly entertaining in the afternoon when Shaunte’, the 3:00 PM to 11:00 PM nurse, started her shift.
Shaunte’ was a black woman of considerable size, in her mid thirties, who for lack of a better description had no internal governor. Although she was very pleasant and personable, she lacked either the tact or non-confrontational nature of the other nurses that had been charged with Donnie’s care. When other nurses were in the room and Donnie started in on them with his stuttering bullshit, they all smiled and politely acknowledged him, then got away as quickly as they could. But not Shaunte’…
Donnie started in on her with a barrage of, “T-t-t-tha doctuer s-s-sed I’m gunna git tew go h-h-h-h-home Sh-Sh-Shundey.” Shaunte’s head swiveled around on her neck in alarm like a hood sista’ getting ready to fire off a “No you didint!”, took a look at me and said, “What in the hell is this mans talkin’ about?” She looked back at Donnie and, in a slow, deliberate, louder voice as if Donnie were hard of hearing and said, “Sir, I can’t understand a word you’s sayin. What you need?” Donnie fired of another round of thick-tongued broken English and got the same response from the dumbfounded nurse.
After three or four failed attempts at communication between the two, I stepped in to act as an interpreter. “He says the doctor told him that he might get to go home on Sunday.” She cocked her head to the side, looked at me with squinted eyes and said, “How you get that from what he said?” I told her I’d been rooming with Big Don since Thursday and I had heard him talk enough to know what he was trying to say. Shaunte’ looked back at Donnie, and again in a loud, slow voice said, “That’s real good Sir. I hope you get to go home real soon.”
She finished up what she was doing, turned to leave the room, then stopped and looked at me as she passed my bed. She smiled, put her hand up to the side of her face blocking her mouth from Donnie’s view, and whispered, “If you can understand that mans, you been up in here with him w-a-y too long…”
Donnie and Shaunte’ had quite a number of dust-ups throughout the afternoon, but the mother of all confrontations occurred shortly after dinner. As usual, Donnie ate… And then Donnie puked. The curtain between our beds was extended about half-way so I couldn’t see how bad it was, but it sounded like he projectile vomited all over his side of the room.
When the eruption subsided and he caught his breath, Donnie hit the call button and exclaimed, “I-I-I-Ayeee juss thew up.”
Within minutes Shaunte’ showed up to see what the problem was. I could see the look of defeat and disgust on her face as she stood at the foot of his bed and assessed the situation. I heard Donnie’s nurse call button go off again, but this time it was Shaunte’ calling the desk for back-up. I guess when faced with the gastrointestinal carnage of a grown man lying in a bed full of his own vomit, no one nurse could hope to rescue her patient alone. Another nurse arrived with a cart full of bed sheets, blankets, pillows and cleaning supplies. The two nurses dawned their personal protective equipment, discussed the mission objective and then attacked Donnie’s vomit-covered bed and body with the deliberate, swift precision of a Green Beret team clearing a mud hut full of Iraqi insurgents.
Since the curtain was half-way drawn I could not see the tactics that they employed, but it was amazing how quickly the soiled linens were removed and Donnie’s personal hygiene was restored. All the while, Donnie was letting them know that he “thew up” and that he was feeling better now. I took the opportunity to brief Shaunte’ on the fact that Donnie was a chronic vomiteer and that he puked four or five times a day on average. In hindsight, I should have kept my mouth shut, because I had no idea that the little bit of intel I passed along would lead to such a full-scale firefight.
Shaunte’ went to the cart and grabbed a plastic bucket. Again, as if she were talking to someone who was half-way deaf, she began to tell Donnie to puke in the bucket rather than to just let if fly on his chest. Donnie started mumbling and stammering in his own native tongue, then I heard him rummaging around in his bed-side table. Well, this time I didn’t have to interpret for Shaunte’; she heard everything he said loud and clear.
Donnie said, “That’s too big. I use this.”, then he apparently produced a plastic urinal bottle half full of partially digested hospital food, fresh from his latest episode. I thought Shaunte’ was going to have an aneurism right there on the spot.
“Goooooood lord in heaven! You not s’possed to be up-chuckin in that! That a urinal! That for urine!” Shaunte’ took a step back from behind the curtain and with her hand on her hip,cocked her head, looked at me and held up the urinal bottle full of vomit. Then, in a stern and accusatory tone, asked me if I had known that he had been trying to hurl in urinal. I wanted no part of Shaunte’s wrath, so I denied all knowledge of anything that had ever occurred on the other side of the curtain. She turned her attention back to Donnie and began brow beating him with specific instructions on what receptacle was to be used for piss and what receptacle was for puke. For some reason, Donnie must have felt that it was his constitutional right to puke in a piss bottle, so he vehemently stuttered and argued in an increasingly hostile voice. Donnie continued barking some angry, unintelligible shit as Shaunte’ was leaving the room. About the time she was half-way out the door, the stars and moon must have been in perfect alignment because Donnie’s voice and diction became perfectly clear and understandable. For one brief and fleeting instant, Donnie was as articulate as anyone I’d ever heard. One, single word echoed throughout the room in slow motion…
N-*-*-*-* r. (the dreaded "N" word)
Complete, utter silence… Dead, deafening silence filled Room 313; in fact, the entire hospital went silent. The earth must have stopped spinning and time stood still. I swear I could hear my heart beating. I sat paralyzed by shock and fear wondering if she had heard him, praying that she hadn’t. I quickly got the answer to my question. I swear that someone in the hallway began softly whistling the theme music from “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” as the door slowly swung open. There, silhouetted by the bright light of the hallway behind her, stood the dark, menacing form of Shaunte’. No longer was she the pleasant, personable nurse who I had known only moments before. Fueled by the fire of racism and bigotry, she had morphed into nothing short of a pissed off Ving Rhames in drag. She moved through the doorway as if she were in slow motion. Every footstep she took on the cold tile floor echoed throughout the vast emptiness of the room. As she slowly exited the darkness, the fluorescent light of the room illuminated her face, revealing a fear-inspiring scowl the likes of which I had never before seen. With anger and hatred burning inside her like a volcano on the verge of eruption, she stepped into the room and toward the side of my bed. Her fists were clenched and her jaw flared as her bloodshot eyes stared into mine. Then, with veins popping out on her forehead and her teeth clenched tightly, she spoke to me.
“Did that mans say what I think he said?”
I sat motionless, paralyzed by fear, afraid to lie but also afraid to tell the truth. What would be my response? If I told her what I thought I had heard, Donnie would surely never see the light of day again. If I lied, she might twist off and go all Black Panther on me. I quickly determined that my only option was plausible deniability.
“Huh… I was watching the news… What did he say?”
Again silence…There were several awkward moments of nothingness where I held my breath as she stared at me before responding. It was like she was testing me or trying to see if I would crack under the pressure. The silence was pure torture… Finally, she un-clenched her fists, relaxed her jaw and blinked.
“Oh nothing… Nevermind. I thought I heard him say… something… Nevermind.”
I capped off my evening of racial tension and potential violence with another pain shot and a nap. I dared not summon Shaunte’ to the room and warned Donnie that he was liable to get us both killed if he even thought about dropping another “N-bomb”. I guess God watches out for retards too, because Big Don didn’t have any issues requiring nursing care until well after shift change, and thankfully, the new nurse was a middle-aged white woman. Our new keeper must have had the Lord on her side as well because Donnie slept the entire night. Not one single nurse call. Thank God…