Heavy Baggage

I’m going to tell you a story. And I pondered even writing about this for the past week out of respect for this other patient, but I think there’s still an importance to the story itself so I’m going to try to tell it in a way that’s as delicate and respectful as possible.

While in the hospital the patient in the room next to mine was a transgender woman named Kristen* who, from my understanding, had been admitted due to a heroin overdose, and who also suffered from a brain injury. When she initially walked by my room and said hello to me, my first instinct was to ignore her, shut my door and pray that she didn’t come back. I took one look at her and was creeped out. She was high, and frightened me a bit. Shame on me.

She spent the rest of the night roaming the halls yelling at her nurses, wearing a pink leather jacket demanding for a guitar to play. Initially I thought she was being an asshole for keeping everyone awake and being rude to her nurses. Which she kind was. But once I listened to her I realized that she really couldn’t be that bad. Instead of yelling vulgar obscenities at her nurse, she’d say things like “You’re so ANNOYING!” or “Go away you stupid idiot!” ….a little bit like a child.

And when I listened to the nurses, their response was anything but effective. When she asked for a guitar one nurse yelled back, “Don’t tell me what to do!” and at another point I heard one nurse say, “You gotta do something nice for me before I do something for you,”……(mind you Kristen was yelling at her to fix her TV and the nurse was not in any way holding back necessary care). Their approach was to also yell back, and again, like a child, whatever negotiations that went on were unsuccessful. Kristen was calling the shots and it was clear she was getting under their skin.

In the morning she came back to my doorway and I pretended to sleep because I again was nervous around her. But when she came back for a third time I thought, what the hell, I’m going to be her friend. So with her mom by her side, we introduced ourselves and I learned that she was 35 had a love for music. She was a little bit hard to understand partially because she was still high, and partially because she had a brain injury. But her mom was lovely and she’d help explain or translate a bit and I never felt uncomfortable around her.

Throughout the day she’d walk by room anxious to say hello but always respectful if my door was shut or if I had visitors. At one point she came to show me her long brown wig that she was wearing the night she was brought in, but she was embarrassed because her facial hair had started to grow in and she didn’t think it looked good. Instead of her hospital gown she wore a belly top, ballet flats, a pearl necklace with scarves to cover her IV, and she made me look like a chump. She always asked how I was feeling and apologized if she thought she had over stayed her welcome.

Her mother was incredibly grateful to me. She said that most people were afraid of her or just didn’t understand and would ignore her and she was so thankful to have met someone who extended kindness and offered a welcoming hello. So I continued to do so throughout the day.

That night I turned my light off, shut my door and went to sleep. I was just dozing off around 10:30pm when my door swung open and in busted Kristen with 3 nurses yelling behind her. She fell on my floor and just lay there while the nurses apologized to me. I turned on my light and said it’s okay she’d been coming by all day to which a nurse waved her finger at me and yelled, “Yeah and that’s got to stop!” Shocked, I ignored her and asked Kristen if she was okay. I noticed she had shaved and was wearing her brown wig, with a black body suit (picture Single Ladies style)……But she just lied there.

Within seconds the nurses realized she was having a seizure and was coding on my floor. They pressed the code button and started chest compressions trying to revive her. Before I knew it there was what looked like 15 people all in my room and there was no time to get me out. In the commotion I heard things like, “Who’s room is this?” and “Why is she in here!” …..My guess was that she was coming to show me her fabulous outfit but no one cared about that while they cut off her body suit. There was no room to get me out so I sat in my bed and watched and cried while this horrific scene took place.

THANKFULLY she woke up just fine and they were able to get her to her room where they restrained her to her bed. She spent the next 2 hours yelling “I WANT MY FREEDOM!” and then eventually singing along to Much Music.

Meanwhile that same nurse that yelled at me came back to me and said, “You know if he ever comes back in here again you need to tell us. He can’t be doing that. I saw him in here earlier and all I just had to tell the other nurse to get him out of here. He shouldn’t be in your room. Because then something like this happens and you have to see it.”……… SHE WAS SCOLDING ME. As if it was MY fault this happened.

So here’s my rant dear nurse: First of all, there is no way anyone could have known that would happen. And there is no rule at your hospital that says, “don’t be nice to other patients incase they barge into your room while you’re sleeping and code on your floor.” Second of all, if it had been a child, or a housewife, or a retired business man, I’m quite certain this nurse would not have had a problem with us having a conversation. No one would blink an eye if they came into my room to say hello. But you’re being judgmental because Kristen is a little rough around the edges.

Third of all, this sort of discourse promotes victim shaming. You blamed ME for being too nice, for being too welcoming and too kind to someone. But the fact is, I did nothing wrong. It was Kristen’s fault (bless her) for barging into my room, not MINE. Or if anything, it was YOUR fault for not keeping an eye on her. But certainly not MINE.

I have the upmost respect for nurses. And I can recognize that Kristen was in no way an easy patient. My experience at Mount Sinai was nothing but positive with the nurses and they have given me the best care possible. But as much as you can connect with us, you can’t possibly empathize the same way one patient can to another. Don’t reprimand us for finding some sort of rapport between each other. Don’t be judgmental and decide who I should speak to or who I should shut out. I never once felt threatened or uncomfortable. I in fact felt proud that I had given comfort to a mother dealing with a situation beyond any magnitude my own mother has dealt with.

I was discharged the next day. And I gave Kristen some flowers and wished her well on her LONG road to recovery but I don’t know how it ends up. There is a lot of pain in her life and it’s evident that she has suffered deeply. She carries very heavy baggage, and luckily she has a mother to help her with that load.

I’m embarrassed I treated her the way I did her first night in the unit. And I am angry with this nurse who scolded me. But I hope that by sharing this short piece of her story I can remind you how far a little kindness can go. How appreciative people are to a smile or hello. Please, be open when you meet people and maybe we can all help carry each other’s baggage.


*I changed the patient’s actual name in respect for her privacy