Friday, January 30, 2009

An Ode to Billy Jack

Do you ever wonder what nurses discuss around the water cooler? Well, here you go!

It began as any other day in the hospital. It ended as anything but. I was due to get off duty at 4pm. At about 3:30 I was done...physically, emotionally, mentally. I ran to the break room and hid while I drank a cup of high quality hospital coffee...Fully leaded. Of course, I have a pager, and since I'm spread out over 3 floors, I can really only hide for so long before someone beeps me.

At about 3:40 I decided to do my final rounds through the radiology department. First stop, CT. I entered the holding area to find an older gentleman attempting to climb off the end of the his stretcher. He'd been in the ER for 3 hours (really a very short time by ER standards) and his legs were hurting...And he needed to use the facilities. I helped him to the bathroom, asked him why he was here, and helped him get situated as comfortably as possible on a stretcher.

Billy Jack: "I've been through a lot in my life. I've really suffered, but nothing compared to this."
Me: Is that right?
Billy Jack: Yeah, I've been under a lot of stress lately. Well, I'm a prisoner.

You can imagine my surprise at this bit of information. I was immediately fascinated, and strangely not afraid. Of course, I'd already spent 10 minutes virtually alone with him, and he hadn't tried to strangle me yet. I guess I figured I was safe.

It seems my friend, who called himself "Billy Jack" started his life of crime at the tender age of 9. He had no one to take care of him. He was living in fields and sleeping in people's barns. He was caught killing chickens (to boil and eat, of course) and sent to reform school.

His next stint in the slammer was at the age of 16. He was put there for robbing banks. He's been in and out of trouble his entire life. Mostly in trouble. He spent the majority of his life in prison. But he's not a bad person. He's just had a hard life.

He was in Dallas when JFK was shot. "Were you involved in the plot?," I asked. Yes. I did. As a nurse I have the ability to ask anyone anything, and can justify it to myself that I need to get an accurate history. Granted, I only knew him as "Billy Jack," and I was only killing time until I had to go while he awaited his CT scan, but you can never underestimate the value of a good patient history. Especially when it could be a great post on a blog!

Okay, I digressed. No, he wasn't involved in JFK's assassination. He was attempting to break out of jail in Dallas at the time of the assassination. But he's not a bad person. He's just had a hard life.


He finally ended up in jail for murder. He shot two people. But only because they were going to kill him. He just killed them first. He said the jury didn't see it that way. But, again, my friend Billy Jack is not a bad person. He's just had a hard life.

He ended up in a hospital for the criminally insane. He was institutionalized with John Hinckley, Jr, the man who shot Reagan. "They called it a hospital, but there were no windows. There was razor wire at the top of the fence, and guards with machine guns in the towers waiting to shoot you if you tried to do anything or escape." It sounded like a rough hospital. I guess they don't give you a lot of amenities in facilities for the criminally insane.

During this fascinating "patient assessment" (I like that term better than the idea that I'm just nosy) I also learned he did 8 years in Alcatraz, along with several other institutions that I can't remember all of the names of. But he's not a bad person. He's just had a hard life.

You see, Billy Jack has always had another person living inside of him. This person keeps him safe. This person also keeps the people on the outside safe.

"Wait a minute, does he mean this other person is keeping him safe, or me safe from him?" I was contemplating this during the remainder of our conversation.

I asked him where his guards were, since he's a prisoner. *You see, Gentle Reader, I worked in a hospital that had a contract with the federal prison system. Let me assure you that these prisoners were shackled to their beds and had 2 armed guards on them at all times. And, depending on their crime, they could have 2 armed guards outside the door also. The really creepy thing is when you realize they are there to protect the patient, not you, in case a family member comes seeking vengeance. On another day I'll tell you about my experience with a former mafia leader.* It seems he went to a halfway house 32 days ago. He's been on good behavior for several years, so even though the federal government still owns him, he has more freedom now. He will eventually be released on parole, but even then, he will "still belong to the government."

Yep, Billy Jack, is certainly a misunderstood soul......By the way, I never verified his name with his bracelet. I just started helping him and asked his name. The CT tech came in to interview him for his exam. He apparently knew who he was. He stood like 10 feet away from him, and asked his questions. It was seriously funny because I could tell he was really... uncomfortable with him. You see, we of course report details like "this patient is a homicidal maniac" when we send patient's to someone else's unit. Anyway, he verified his name (which WASN'T Billy Jack, just in case you're wondering), and the patient said "Call me Billy Jack."

You know I didn't believe his stories right? Except about the person living in him. I think he may have been in and out of jail. Maybe for murder, maybe for bank robbery, but definitely not ALL of the places he listed. At least I hope not. Because, if they released him for good behavior, like he said, he's still crazy, and by crazy I mean yes, he's mentally ill and possibly dangerous. Who's to say that person on the inside will stay in control?

You also know I googled (click) Billy Jack when I got home, right? Billy Jack was a character in a series of movies in the 1970s. He was a former green beret, half Indian, who did time in prison for involuntary manslaughter. Could this be similar to "I killed them before the killed me?" The movies take place in Oklahoma during the depression. Another similarity? Hmmmm....

So, what do you think, Dear Reader? Did I meet a poor, confused man who assumed the personality of a 1970s movie hero?


Did I look into the eyes of a serial killer who began with poor hapless chickens at the tender age of nine, and ended with a double homicide?

Who knows? But it sure made the last 20 minutes of my day fly by!

BTW, if you haven't figured out what we discuss around the water cooler...We discuss freaks. Absolute freaks.


Dawn said...

Actually, besides the math and science issues, the psych ward rotation would have driven me from the nursing program. Oh, and not being accepted of course......But this certainly seals the deal that the hospital is not the place for me!

Becky said...

I sense a little Red Dawn in this hapless stranger of yours. Some true... all fiction. Get it? I just spent two days in the hospital. Met all types of nurses. I was hopefully not one of those freaks. ;-)