Chapter 2 of my novel Terminal, soon to be sent to editors by my agent. Refer to the prologue and chapter 1 to get caught up to speed. Warning: Intense graphic content.
His dick looks like a swollen eggplant.
That’s one way to start a chapter.
I’m serious, though. His schlong is engorged. So bloated with blood it’s purple, skin stretching beyond proposition like a water balloon ready to burst. His veins race like serpents up on the length of his shaft, looking ready to tear through the veil of his skin.
I hold 414’s ankles down, securing them to the bed. He’s letting out breaths in rapid heaves, his face thick with sweat. A nurse secures his arms while another confers with the doctor, getting him the proper medical equipment.
I’m eye level with his dick. Head to head staredown. I have to make sure he doesn’t move or this operation could be disastrous.
Cue dramatic music.
I’m thinking Ennio Morricone’s score from The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.
The patient has maintained an erection for hour ten hours. The medical term for what is happening is a priapism, which is when blood is trapped inside the penis and isn’t circulating. This is why his cock is a slowly-dying-purple instead of the pasty pinkish hue of the rest of him.
Viagra commercials warn you about this type of thing.
Because they’re super concerned about your health, after all.
Blood that doesn’t circulate cannot carry oxygen to cells, which then die. This results in severe tissue damage and the potential loss of the penis itself.
The man had been rushed in as a medical emergency. They shoved him down in the first bed they could find. Apparently there wasn’t enough time to get anesthesia going, because he’s going to be awake for this “operation.”
He’s been told to close his eyes like seven times.
But could you do it,, knowing what was coming?
Dr. Sherbrooke is using a butterfly needle, a particularly thin instrument used to administer shots to infants. They gave him a pill for the pain but there’s no way it’s going to suffice. There’s a panicked look in his eye and he wiggles as the doctor draws near. Sherbrooke says something, it’s reassuring, I’m sure, coming out in a docile, complacent sort of professional voice. You know, the voice that cares because it’s supposed to, the tone thinly veiling the fact that the current situation is a major pain in the person’s ass.
You get it.
At least I think you do.
The man is panicking. He swears. Horrible things, the worst you can imagine. He calls the nurse a few choice terms I dare not repeat. It takes all I have to hold his ankles in place as his legs attempt a frenzied dance. He’s wiggling and squirming as the needle approaches his swollen dick.
Then it happens and everything becomes slow motion.
The needle pierces his skin and 414 thrashes to the side. I stumble forward, nearly face-planting into his balls. His body is stabilized but then a nightmare charges my way.
There’s no avoiding it.
Like a punctured water balloon his cock squirts, sending a rush of blood straight into my face with the fury of one thousand super soakers. As engorged droplets of the mess cascade down my face, the errant cock taunts me, dancing with the epileptic shakes of those inflatable tube men outside of car dealerships.
It’s at this point you should really question if this book is for you.
The others respond to the man’s needs. I sigh, take a step back, and walk over to the counter. The man is thrashing and shouting, but the doctor and nurses have control of him. His cock is withering and there’s the rich taste of iron on my lips.
I grab a hand towel and wipe my face. I decide to get back to my rounds.
I don’t tell you this sort of thing to gross you out. Sure, puncturing bloated dicks may seem unusual to some people, but this type of thing is every day life for others.
Just last week, an ER nurse had to help the doctor tug a six inches long by four inches round Yankee Candle (scent: Seaform Breeze) out from the rectum of an obese forty-eight year old man. He insisted he had fallen on it, even though the waxy nightmare stuck out of his asshole wick first. It was rammed up there with enough force to tear the lining of his anus and cause internal bleeding. Eventually, they had to take him into surgery to dislodge the item.
It ended up in the hole bin – a plastic container in which we store unusual items removed from the orifices of patients. Children’s toys, hair brushes, eating utensils, power tools, and even unopened pickle jars have found their way into the bin, recovered from this, that, and the other place.
I’m not kidding.
Seriously, look this stuff up.
On second thought, please don’t.
What I’m getting at is, being around this type of thing constantly warps your perspective. Makes you see things a little differently.
Have I given you that impression?
The hallway is cramped and cluttered, discarded medical equipment lining the walls like loiterers. I’m about to transition back into my rounds when I start to hear the ticking. Soft at first, but then louder, booming, the rhythm steady and unshakable.
The Taos Hum is a phenomena reported in the town of Taos New Mexico. It’s estimated that approximately two percent of people who live in/visit Taos report hearing a constant humming sound in and around the town. Those who have heard the Taos Hum report it to be a low frequency rumbling sound, similar to a droning hum or distant diesel engine, which is heard both indoors and outdoors. While there are scientific theories abound, including biological as well as environmental causes, the true nature of the Taos Hum is still unknown.
I don’t hear humming. I hear the ticking.
Like a clock in an otherwise silent room.
Now, unlike the Taos hum, I know the origin of the ticking. I’m aware it’s inside my head. It hasn’t been my whole life either. No, after I received some news, the ticking began.
Time’s running out.
I’m fading back.
I hear the blare of the horn.
The hallway in front of me begins fade away, a ring of darkness clouding my vision. I lose sensation in my body, feeling as if I’m floating, literally exiting my body and going back in time. I hear the screech of the brakes and the hallway becomes the back seat for just a moment, before I clench my fists and shake my head, snapping the scene away.
I can’t go back there.
With a pop I’m back and it’s alarming to feel again, the warmth of my body surprising me. I shake my head as Linda, a respiratory therapist, mutters a comment under her breath while sidestepping me.
Disassociation is a medical condition whereby an individual, who has experienced past trauma, feels detached from themselves, literally as if they are not who they are.
If you haven’t already guessed, there’s something going on with me.
Disassociation results in emotional and physical numbness, and in severe cases the odd sensation that a person is “beyond” themselves, feeling as if they are floating above or near their bodies, watching their interactions like a spectator. Disassociation is often linked to clinical depression and posttraumatic stress disorder.
I’ve seen some shit.
And I’m not talking about the ass-wiping I have to do as part of my job.
Well, not yet anyway.
When a person experiences a traumatic moment in their lives, it’s easier for their mind to detach and dissociate, as to not deal with the crippling reality of their situation. Therefore, when stressed or worried, individuals who have disassociated in the past may do so again.
Your body’s coping mechanism.
We all have our ways of dealing with stress.
Some of us better than others.
A pain lingers in my skull after the event and I have a fairly good idea of why. There’s a reasonable explanation as to why my mind keeps fading back to that day and place I want to leave behind.
We’ll get to that later.
The ticking reminds me of the time I have and what I have to accomplish. This all reminds me of something greater. I try to push it all from my mind as I walk back to perform my rounds. The business with eggplant dick was spur of the moment; a diversion from the normal routine. Most of my day and actions are structured, all part of that rinse and repeat existence.
I enter the room of 409, a fossil of a woman in her 90s who always smells like a strange mix of rotting fruit and cat piss, and my thoughts shift from the ticking to something much more disgusting.
I scratch my back. I feel imaginary bedsores. I feel the need to turn in my bed. I feel helpless and unable to. It’s a strange sensation and I wonder if I’m disassociating again.
Bedsores form due to a lack of oxygen from limited blood flow. Without this oxygenation the tissue in the affected areas becomes necrotic and dies, literally rotting away. The signs of this are progressive, with redness and mild swelling showing as an early sign of the process while putrid rotting flesh craters develop as the result of long term inactivity. In advanced cases, the decaying flesh can be pulled from the body in chunks.
This is why we turn patients.
Standard procedure dictates that all patients be turned every four hours. There’s no need to do this in the case of physically able patients. Critically ill or elderly patients, however, often lack the faculties or awareness to do so themselves and must be turned to prevent the development of these festering ulcers.
Now you can walk away from this experience claiming you’ve learned something.
I get to the side of 409’s bed. She has an NPO sticker slapped to the foot of her bed. NPO stands for “nil per os,” a Latin phrase which translates to “nothing by mouth,” and indicates a patient is not to receive food or medicine orally. This can be due to the medical condition, current dose of medication, or due to the need for surgery the next day.
Hey look, you learned something else.
I place 409 on her side as gently as possible. One time, another aide was so tired that he turned a patient without paying attention. He didn’t notice the elderly man’s arm was wedged under his body at an awkward angle. Some nurses said they heard the pop of the dislocation from the other side of the floor.
But you can never really know who to believe.
Some people just like to be part of the story.
I turn 409 without an issue, but then she stirs from her sleep. She delivers an elbow to my groin with far more power than I thought she possessed.
See: occupational hazards.
I let out an “oof” and check to see if everything is in place, hoping 409 doesn’t misinterpret this motion as she squawks at me. She complains that she doesn’t need anyone touching her at night, and that she can turn on her own. Her final bold proclamation is that me and the rest of the lowlifes that work here don’t know the difference between proper medicine and our own assholes.
I agree with her and wish her a pleasant night as I walk out of the room.
The official title of my job is CNA, which stands for certified nurse’s assistant. In order to become certified, a series of coursework and a certification test are required. In my case, however, since I had college courses under my belt, I only had to take the certification test. Being certified as a nurse’s assistant is not even a requirement for hire at my current place of employment, nor does it come with a salary bump. Instead, anyone with a high school diploma can be hired to care for the wellbeing of your seriously ill loved ones.
There’s something to think about.
As a kid, you kind of figure that the people who do these types of jobs are competent. That lives, for example, are in good hands. The older you get the more this illusion fades. Kind of like the idea that you can achieve your dream career or find true happiness.
I’m just kidding about that second part.
Well, sort of.
I am currently working the night shift, which runs from eleven to seven. However, I am scheduled for a double, meaning I’ll be turning, feeding, bathing, and wiping ass until three in the afternoon, with my next shift starting again at eleven that night. This kind of schedule makes the days and details blend together, like a song on repeat or a movie marathon where they play the same film over and over.
You’ve seen the details a thousand times but you still forget them.
I’m walking towards room 410 when I see Rebecca in the hallway. Her outline is nothing more than a slit, the bright white lights of the hall casting her as a slender shadow. She’s thin, with sunken cheeks and liberally applied mascara. Her bright green eyes are emeralds shining out of a black abyss. Combine this with her hair, dyed a vibrant red with streaks of black highlights, and the array of pink scars running up the lengths of her arms, and she’s someone who doesn’t fit your typical mold of a nurse. She’s two years older than I am, and we’d both starting working at hospital three years earlier.
I recall the first time I spoke to her.
I didn’t speak to many nurses. They just weren’t my type. But Rebecca was different. There was just something about the way she carried herself throughout my first few days at the hospital.
Oh, and the scars.
Yeah, she had a multitude of them running up and across the length of her arm, like a do-it-yourself flannel pattern. Some were pink and faded while others were crimson, so fresh they were still scabbing. As far as I knew, she had been working at the hospital for three days and no one had broached the subject with her.
People like to leave most doors unopened.
I walked up to Rebecca at the beginning of my shift, as she stood studying a clipboard in her hand, put on my finest shit-eating grin and asked the question that had to be on everybody’s mind.
“So, why do you cut yourself?”
“Well, nice to meet you too.”
“My name is Trevor,” I offered.
It’s estimated that between two and three million people habitually cut themselves yearly in the United States alone. The true numbers are difficult to discern since many cutters hide their habit out of fear of social stigmatization.
“No you’re not,” Rebecca interjected. “You’re a snide little punk ass is what you are. I’ve heard about you, Mr. Doom and Gloom.”
“Is that my nickname?”
“Does Fuckface sound better?”
“Kind of, yes.”
Rebecca sized me up. “Do you really want to know why I cut or are you just being an ass?”
“Are those things mutually exclusive?”
Although there’s evidence suggesting an increased risk of suicide among those who cut, it’s inaccurate to categorize all who cut as being suicidal. Self-harm via skin cutting is often a symptom of underlying conditions, most commonly depression.
Rebecca tilted her head. “Isn’t it obvious why I cut?”
In many cases, cutting is an unhealthy coping mechanism, a way for individuals to release stress by focusing on physical pain rather than their emotional suffering. Studies indicate that such behavior can be psychologically addicting, and individuals can develop the belief that they need cutting as a coping mechanism and cannot function without it.
“If it was so obvious, I wouldn’t ask,” I responded.
“I thought I was Fuckface.”
“Are those mutually exclusive?”
Treatment options for cutters include a psychological evaluation to determine the risk of suicidality and therapy in conjunction with whatever medication may be prescribed to assist in treating the underlying condition.
“I suppose not,” I say. “But I’m actually curious. No one else has asked you, but you don’t seem to be hiding it, so I figured why not ask?”
Rebecca wore an assured smirk. “The answer to your question is simple. Do you know why people get tattoos? Why they sully their skin with unnatural images?”
I thought about it. “To feel expressed,” I responded. “People want to express themselves and represent who they are, the ideals they hold dear.”
“Ah,” Rebecca said. “To feel expressed. So you’d say it’s fair to say they want to represent what is inside, on the outside?”
“Yeah, or at least what they hope is there,” I replied.
“So my question to you is,” she said, her smirk growing with a twitch, “is why don’t more people cut?”
“What do you mean?”
Rebecca played with her scab, picking at it and drawing blood. The sound made as it detached from her skin reminded me of children eagerly unwrapping presents on Christmas morning.
It’s strange where our minds go.
“We all feel so incomplete, so torn,” Rebecca explained, blood streaming down her arm. “I’m just expressing how I feel, like a dagger is cutting into my soul. So why not represent it? Isn’t that authenticity the closest we can be to being whole?”
As she stood before me, blood staining her porcelain skin in a zigzag pattern, I found I was drawn to this woman.
What does that say about me?
“Physical mutilation as genuine expression then,” I said. “You choose not to hide how you feel from the world.”
“I choose to be what I am on the inside: cut, bleeding, broken. The triumph and tragedy of human life is that we feel.”
“Poetic,” I said.
“Realistic,” Rebecca responded.
“You’ve been through a lot, haven’t you?”
“Haven’t we all?”
“And like marble, each chip away from us moves us closer to becoming a work of art,” I said.
Rebecca stared at me for a moment before laughing. “Are you calling me a beautiful work of art? Is this your attempt at flirting, strange nurse’s aide?”
“My name is Trevor,” I said. “Or Fuckface, whatever you prefer, but no, I’m not flirting. I just think that those of us who have endured trials in life have the potential to become unique and beautiful in ways others cannot.”
I often wonder why I said these types of things to her. I guess I identified us as two birds of the same feather, each broken in our own way. And it’s better to be broken together than broken alone, certainly.
“You might be onto something there,” Rebecca said with a smile. “ My name is Rebecca. It’s a pleasure to meet you. Maybe we should be friends.”
“Yes,” I said, letting a smile grace my face. “We should.”
A beautiful friendship blossomed.
Beautiful is a subjective term.
Now, as I approach Rebecca, she’s slouched against the wall, face dropping downward with her expression. The years hadn’t been kind to her spirit, and this setting, with its sterile white walls, constant buzz of conversation and machinery, and consistent odor of death had worn away at her.
Life will do that to you.
“Hey there,” Rebecca says. “406 went, how about that?” In the hospital we use the term went as if they are hotel guests checking out.
I suppose in a way they are.
“Really?” I say. “He wasn’t in such bad shape, that’s a shame. At least he’s done with this place.”
“Unlike us,” Rebecca says. “Maybe he’s the lucky one. People don’t think enough about how life isn’t necessarily a good thing. That’s why I get confused about babies.”
Rebecca stares at her fingernails, picking some grime out from under them. “Everyone celebrates them like they are the greatest thing ever when babies are just a game of chance. That sweet little bundle may just end up as a rapist, serial killer, or the next Adolf Hitler. How will everyone feel about their celebrations then?”
“I get what you’re saying, but I think kids are just an opportunity for most people,” I say. “That chance to leave the past behind and make something worthwhile.”
“You’re right,” Rebecca muses. “I just wonder how many parents are disappointed in what they made when those hopes don’t pan out.”
I feel a stab of emotion and look away.
What does that say about me?
“We should talk about this stuff more, get coffee soon,” I suggest.
“Oh smooth,” Rebecca says with a sort of disinterested laugh. “Are you asking me out again? It’s been almost a year.”
I shake my head. “Just for conversation. I wouldn’t wish the burden of my romance upon anyone. Plus, I don’t know how much longer I’ll be around.”
Rebecca’s eyes widen. “You’re quitting?” This is asked in the hospital, in some capacity, at least a dozen times daily.
“Something like that. Never know what tomorrow will bring.”
“Way to be vague, smartass,” Rebecca says. “You’re the one leaving riddles around the floor, aren’t you?”
Rebecca throws me a sideways glance. She reaches into her pocket and removes a slip of paper. She hands it to me and I read.
What am I, what am I?
You can see me but never hold me
You can fear me but never avoid me
I am the shared experience of all man
What am I, what am I?
The paper is creased, folded, and wrinkled, only about the size of a napkin. It’s the type of thing you’d expect to find next to a trash bin, or left lying on a park bench somewhere.
“Do you know the answer?” I ask.
“Is it love?”
I shrug. “How should I know?”
Rebecca rolls her eyes. “You’re something else. I have to get back to a patient. As for the coffee, maybe Tuesday, keep in touch, champ.” She gives me a pat on the shoulder as she walks by.
Tuesday. I strain my mind thinking of what day it is. In the hospital business, it’s always the same day, the same dredge of a stretch with no holidays or weekends to take advantage of, the same fluorescent lights shining down the same downtrodden group of people.
Stuck on repeat.
I already made that reference, I’m sorry.
I’m losing track.
Rebecca was right; I wrote the riddle. I scribble them down and hide them in various locations during my shifts. Sometimes it’s under a patient’s covers, other times it’s under a coffee mug in the break room, the potted plants, toilet paper dispenser, nowhere is off limits. Sometimes I hide them so well they aren’t found until months after the fact.
Or never at all.
So what do you think the answer is? I’ll provide it at a later point in the novel.
Now there’s a reason to keep reading.
I turn 410 and get some water for 411 before walking down the hall en route to my next task. The call bell is ringing for 413 and I’m hurrying around the corner to their room so fast I nearly collide with the person coming the opposite way.
Do you know what they call the person who graduates at the bottom of their class in medical school?
“406 just went,” Dr. Rubino says. His hair and stubble are dark but coated throughout with a smattering of gray. He glares at me from behind his wire frame glasses. His eyes are light blue, what many would describe as a soft blue, but their stare is always harsh, accusatory.
I nod in an absent sort of way.
“Did you fuck something up?” he growls.
“No,” I reply. This is an honest response; I’d accomplished what I set out to do.
“Are you sure?” he says. “You barely look like you’re aware enough to be here. Are you high on something?”
“I’ve passed every drug test while employed here,” I say before tactfully adding, “sir.” This was also true. I simply failed to mention two occasions when I’d used someone else’s piss.
He shakes his head. “Well let’s see if you can keep that up. If I find out 406 was your fault…” he trails off, assuming I can conjure up the horrid consequences.
As if termination scares me.
As if release from this position wouldn’t be liberation.
As if the fear of death is nothing but irrational.
Dr. Mark Rubino has it out for me. Most of the time, these grudges are all in someone’s head. It isn’t that people are out to get them; it’s that they are misinterpreting situations and intentions. It’s that they haven’t clearly communicated with the other party and there’s a misunderstanding.
This isn’t the case.
Dr. Rubino had made it clear on several occasions that there was a reason why “people like him” were doctors and “people like me” wiped ass for a living. The funny thing is, I agree with him, but for entirely different reasons. Dr. Rubino views himself as a “success,” someone who used the indomitable force of his sheer will to work hard and achieve where others had failed. In Dr. Rubino’s opinion, he earned everything he had while others wasted the opportunities life afforded them.
Dr. Rubino was born with two doctors as parents. He was raised in an upper middle class setting. Food, safety, and security, were never concerns. Dr. Rubino was given everything he needed to succeed in life and had only made it this far. Despite his parents being excellent practitioners, he had graduated last in his class from Temple, and for this reason he found himself working at this low-level hospital in the middle of nowhere, Pennsylvania.
He had two failed marriages under his belt.
A DUI conviction.
He once filed for bankruptcy on a doctor’s salary.
And he is judging me?
Dr. Rubino should be one of the top medical experts in his field, saving countless lives, publishing valuable research to make a positive change in the world, yet here he is before me, a sad excuse for a doctor in a go-nowhere town, the ultimate representation of good genes and care gone to waste.
I’m no winner myself, but at least I know it. I come from a different background. Generations worth of white trash DNA compose my being, with experience to boot. Single parent household, drug addiction, abuse, living off of food stamps and twenty thousand dollars a year.
A place where expectations are up, up , up.
No one in my extended family had ever considered college; most didn’t graduate high school. But I did. In fact, I lasted two years in college before dropping out. By this standard, I’ve gone further than Dr. Rubino ever has. A person in my situation was supposed to fall to the wayside, become an addict, a leech on the system, have more kids than he can afford, and continue the cycle. But here I am, college credits under my belt, working in a professional setting, contributing to the majority of my household’s bills.
I’ve risen from my parents and he has fallen from his. So really, I’m the success and he’s the failure.
“Are you proud of your life?” I ask.
“What did you say?” Rubino snaps.
“Are you all you dreamed you would be when you were a child?”
He puts on a scowl. “Don’t be a smartass.”
“So the answer is no, then?”
“Oh this is rich,” Rubino scoffs. “The ass-wiper trying to taunt me. You better watch your mouth and do your job or I’ll make sure you’re out of a job and that you and your low life mother will have to sell her extra pills to pay the rent.”
“Quite a threat.”
“A promise, one you best remember you little pion,” Rubino remarks, walking away as if he’s won.
“You never answered,” I call. “Are you what you’d dream you’d be as a child?”
Rubino’s laugh is that of the schoolyard bully, somehow as directive as it is dismissive. “And what did you dream you would be? An ass-wiper? Making eleven bucks an hour cleaning up piss and shit and giving baths? Please, indulge me.”
I shrug. “It’s better than what my mother said I’d be.”
Dr. Rubino narrows his eyes. “And what did she say you’d end up as?”