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Frustration

And he was the reason I threw away my career in the field of mental health care. The day started off just as any other. I relieved the overnight nurse assistant and listened to her shift report. Nothing extraordinary stood out to me. The new patient in room 12 had been up all night pacing and singing to herself, but she finally tired out around 4 a.m. and fell fast asleep. The patient in room 15 had a scheduled family visit over the lunch hour. And the patient in 6 was to be discharged later in the day.

Two weeks had passed since he broke my heart when I heard him brought in later that morning, kicking and screaming. Mostly, it was nonsense he was spouting – sometimes not even real words. But the one thing he kept repeating that I could make out from my vantage point was “bee eff twen tee six.” Those five syllables came through clearly.

I knew it was him by the timbre of his voice, which not too long ago supported and praised me – then denounced and berated me. Now in this frantic delusional state, he seemed a stranger. I wondered if it was like that for my own family and friends when I would get deep into a depression or spiked mania.

Thankfully, he was placed in the “high-risk elopement” side of the ward – which was not my responsibility. But as fate would have it, the nurse aid for that side called in sick and a replacement for the day could not be found. So those tasks were put to me, my workload essentially doubled for the day.

I put off visiting his room as long as I could. Because he was placed in restraints, he had a sitter with him and I managed to avoid Room 26 until later in the afternoon once the restraints were removed. Why they put him in Room 26, I cannot fathom. In all his ravings, that number was one thing he stated quite clearly and firmly. I suppose it was the only room available the moment he was admitted, but still – they could have held him elsewhere for another room to open. Couldn’t they?

By the time I came to check on him, he had been heavily sedated and appeared to be resting peacefully. After making that note in his file, I was about to turn to leave when his eyes opened.

“Who are you,” he asked me.

“I am Nursing Assistant Reese,” I replied calmly.

“That’s a pretty name,” he said. “Like the candy.”

I smiled without reply and he didn’t move or even deign to look at me.

“Why are you here,” he asked sounding exasperated.

“It is my job to check on every patient on the hour every hour,” I explained. “I am simply making my rounds.”

“Bee Eff,” he replied.

“Excuse me?”

“Bee Eff,” he repeated.

“What do you mean?”

“It means Blind Faith,” he said matter-of-factly. “You have blind faith in the system.”

“I’m sorry, but I don’t understand.”

“This system,” he began. “It failed me. And it failed you too.”

“We are not here to talk about me Mr. James,” I stated firmly. “But we can talk about yourself if you like.”

I was relieved as it seemed he did not recognize me by my voice. He had yet to look at me and I was dreading that moment of recognition. I could have recused myself from his care due to our prior relationship, but that would require me explaining to my charge nurse the nature of our relationship. And I most certainly wanted to avoid that conversation at all costs – including my sense of safety and his quality of care.

My statement hung dryly in the silence as he breathed in deeply and sat up in his bed, rubbing his wrists where the restraints had been. His brow furrowed as he sighed heavily.

“Too many people have Blind Faith,” he said plainly. “It’s like a disease. It’s contagious like a disease. We learn it almost as a habit from our parents who probably got it from theirs. And it maims, disables, and can kill the weakest among us – just like a disease.”

“What do you mean, exactly,” I inquired.

“YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN,” he shouted with his eyes closed tightly.

I could hear my cohorts running towards Room 26, so I stepped back into the hallway so they could see I was unharmed as they approached. Making eye contact with them, I simply shook my head to indicate that I had the situation handled. Their run turned to a canter, and then a full stop as they prepared to standby. I stepped back into the room with Mr. James.

“I am sorry if my question upset you,” I said tenderly. “But I simply want to be sure I am understanding you correctly.”

“You don’t have to apologize,” he said with his head hung in shame. “I should apologize for yelling at you. It’s just so frustrating.”

And just there his voice returned to the tone with which I had become so familiar. Anyone could have heard he was on the brink of tears. But I also heard rage supressed along with those tear. I heard it because I had learned to recognize rage within men in general – not because I was familiar with Christopher’s rage. In our time together recently and historically, that was one emotion I never saw expressed in him. I had seen his anger – justified and controlled. I saw a sadness and despair expressed in ways some might mistake as rage. But I knew this man across an expanse of time in all manner of emotional colors – yet, here was something new.

“What exactly is frustrating you,” I asked gently.

“That people don’t understand,” he replied. “And I don’t know how to explain it so they can understand. I’m not as good with words as you are.”

So he did recognize me. I was taken aback.

“I – I am sorry you are frustrated and misunderstood,” I stuttered. “Perhaps I can help you find the right words.”

His head still hung low, he began to rock gently back and forth mumbling to himself.

“You can’t help me,” he said lowly but clearly.

“I can if you let me,” I said.

“As long as you are part of the system – as long as you continue to have Blind Faith in the system, you cannot help me,” he said firmly. His eyes finally met with mine. “You don’t even know who you are.”

The way he looked at me was unsettling. It was almost as if he was looking right through my edifice into my very soul. I felt a chill run its way through my body, lingering in the bones of my toes. He stood up from his bed and approached me. As I tried to leave, I felt my feet frozen to the floor. Time seemed to slow to a crawl as the space between Christopher and myself condensed on itself.

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