Fear, “The Persuader”

Lessons In Obedience
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Yesterday I visited a gun show in Phoenix, Ariz. I was on the road and got the chance to take in a morning of possibly buying more stuff I don’t need, so I immediately jumped at the chance. During my walk among the hundreds of booths, I had a pretty important realization which led me to make another entry into my book of Rules For Living — Don’t buy used or expired medical gear.

This wasn’t something unique to the Grand Canyon State, for I’ve seen such things at gun shows across the country. There, among all the cool stuff, there is usually one booth specializing in medical equipment for preparedness needs. In addition to the usual trauma bandages and chest seals scattered about the table, they’ll have all sorts of second-hand and expired products and instruments. I’m willing to admit much of this stuff is probably still usable, but when it comes to things such as do-it-yourself brain surgery, I prefer my “sawbones” to use new, rather than used, gear.

As I was talking to my buddy, chuckling over the prospect of buying a gently used speculum, he brought up another equally important medical concept we both learned as young cops — never, ever, under any circumstances, mess with the Overnight House Supervisor at the Hospital.


Handle With Care

For those who aren’t familiar with the medical profession, most hospitals have a designated “House Supervisor” or “Charge Nurse” who is essentially in charge of everything medical-related when the bosses are home sleeping. Having spent lots of time in emergency rooms during overnight hours at various hospitals, I’ve developed an appreciation for the archetype of the Head Nurse.

One of my favorites of all time — and certainly most frightening — was Nurse Baker. I’ll use her real name because she has since passed on to the big ER in the sky, but her legend lives on among the emergency services and medical folks of our region. In talking to friends across the country, I’m also sure every place has had its own.

While in charge of things overnight, Nurse Baker ruled the hospital with the proverbial iron fist inside a velvet glove. Oh, who am I kidding? Baker ruled the house the with an iron fist inside a leather “sap” glove wrapped around a medical-grade truncheon, while the other hand was pressing the detonator of a cache of weapons-grade sarcasm. She was tough.

As a young baby cop, one of the first things my sergeant told me was, “If you go to the hospital, never, ever, ever mess with Baker. She’ll hurt you.” And he was right. Another time, I heard a paramedic warn a disorderly patient, “She ate her own young, so don’t start any trouble.” Unfortunately, “they” never listen.

Nurse Baker, according to whispered local legend, was formerly an Army nurse who served in-country in Vietnam. She apparently was very good at her job — something I don’t doubt — and had been in charge of several large organizations. It was during her army time she completed a graduate course in assertiveness and developed her trademark flinty exterior. In fact, I was told her knuckles had been tested to a Rockwell Hardness of 62, slightly harder than most straight razors.

I was told Baker did have a warm spot in her heart for kids, puppies and people who weren’t acting like idiots, but those were in short supply whenever I was on-duty. Normally, my role was playing the amused bystander whenever we brought an unruly drunk to the ER at 2 a.m.


They Never Listen

Probably the most-feared treatment for ER rulebreakers was getting “the treatment” from Baker.

Things followed a predictable trajectory, something I eventually began to relish with the tiny bit of sadistic pleasure hiding in my heart. We would drag or carry the aforementioned disobedient drunk into the ER where the staff would, initially anyway, try to use kindness and soft language to de-escalate and calm the person.

Often this would work, but sometimes it didn’t. In those instances, the nurses and techs would shift into the “Okay, we’re gonna play that game”-mode of operation. They’d do a fine job of taking medical care of the person but where normally they’d show loads of compassion and empathy, due to the spitting, cursing and kicking actions of the patient, kindness took an early morning coffee break.

For the worst of the worst, Nurse Baker would enter the room. Like all good leaders, she once mentioned she tried to avoid subjecting any of
“her” nurses to such a problematic patient so she’d tag into the fray as primary “caregiver.”

I often saw the revised scene through my budding writer’s eye — The trauma room door swings open, a mist of smoke swirls and in steps Nurse Baker, casually twirling her stethoscope like a single-action horse pistol. Her steely gaze is fixed on the foaming drunk strapped to the gurney. The camera zooms fast into her eyes, just like in “High Plains Drifter.”

After a second she asks calmly, “Why did you spit on my nurse?” She sounded exactly like Clint Eastwood.

“#*@#&$#%$%!!” responds The Drunk, oblivious to what happened to bad guys in Sergio Leone westerns.

“You shouldn’t say things like that,” she’d remark dryly. “I guess we’ll do things the hard way…”

The music swells in an ominous, minor key….

“The Hard Way” was a well-established procedure. The doctor in residence would have undoubtedly ordered a urine screen to check the patient for drugs and alcohol to effectively prescribe treatment. The manner in which the urine was obtained from the patient typically involved a small plastic cup. However, when the patient was unable or unwilling to provide said sample, a catheter would be inserted.

Guess who got to choose the appropriate size of catheter? The nurse. And, if you had screwed up badly enough Baker was now your nurse….
You can see where this is going.

I’ve seen burly, hard-case grown men spontaneously levitate three feet and immediately curl up in the fetal position, whimpering like a little girl, upon the conclusion of the short-yet-abrupt procedure. Baker, meanwhile connecting a tube, which appeared to be the same diameter as an overfed anaconda, would quietly reassure the patient. “Don’t worry, honey,” she would say, dripping sincerity and patting the patient on the leg, “I’ll be here to take it out, too.”

This procedure also worked for those faking unconsciousness, a rather common set of circumstances when the patient was sure they were eventually going to jail. Many arrestees sincerely believed an unexplained loss of consciousness would keep them confined to the hospital rather than from going to the hoosgow. Nurse Baker would soon show them the error of their ways

Her weapon of choice was a catheter the hospital staff referred to as “The Persuader.” Watching the application of this special medical-grade plumbing, apparently manufactured from discarded transoceanic fuel pipes, was almost like one of those religious television shows. You know, the ones where people jump up from their wheelchair after the extravagantly coiffed TV preacher lays on hands. When the House Supervisor put her healing hands on these “unconscious” people, they soon danced a frantic gyrating jig like there was no tomorrow.

And they were certainly healed of their misconceptions.


Parting thoughts

Walking away from the table at the gun show, I chuckled to myself thinking back on those late-night visits when we were all in awe of the legendary nurse. She had a power in her hands we could only dream of — the power of fear.

Regardless of how tough the men were or how jaded and disabused the women were, they all cowered in fear once they understood there are things in life far, far worse than getting a police baton to the shins. They learned there are truly a few people in life to be feared on a primal, visceral level, something they had otherwise not experienced beforehand. Thus, they discovered the truism that a smart person never gives grief to medical personnel.

Especially those who talk like Clint Eastwood and are carrying what appears to be a length of unlubricated garden hose.

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