Call them creative or call them crazy…the “dedicated” social worker that spent the day with Wendy and UnderWoman at SHED was confused and concerned, confusing and concerning on so many levels.
a) Was it true that they had been playing ukulele and singing for the 911 dispatcher — who was laughing heartily — when young medics arrived? And if so, why?
b) Could their resilient spirits really rise so far above their uncontained pain? And if so, how?
c) Were they pulling her leg?
IF SO, at least the social worker had what originally appeared to be a leg to stand on, whereas Wendy and UnderWoman — badly bruised and battered from yesterday’s wheelchair accident and stuck in a hospital stretcher — had less than none.
Nonetheless, they had a working laptop and synapses firing as the social worker went SLOWLY backwards through what she at first purported to be the MMSE: Mini-Mental State Examination…but which quickly progressed to other blunt and explosively improvised instruments of an imagined trade.
She: Are you aware that your speech is fast and pressured?
She: How long have you been aware?
Us: We’ve been aware since birth.
She: How long have you been aware of your fast and pressured speech?
Us: At age seven we announced to the world that we were from New York City…and even our parents could not disagree. In our early teens, we took a family trip there that proved the point. We worked in New York City one summer in college and moved there soon after. We LOVE to be in a place where people are can-do, open-minded, candid and free. In fact, if we hadn’t taken this tumble with our wheelchair, we might have been at Crosby Street Hotel with fellow Mademoiselle guest editor Meg Wolitzer right now!
She: Yet you live in Maryland now. Why is that?
Us: Because when we died, we didn’t go to HEAVEN. We were kidnapped by unwitting family members to our home state, okay?
She: I’m calling your mother….
Us: Really, Nurse Ratched, we are 56! Mom is nearly 80 and knows NOTHING of our presence here. To call her would be TORTURE for ALL.
If you call her before we do, there will be HELL to PAY!
She: Is that a threat?
Us: And also a PROMISE!
Plus, since we’re getting a rather important phone call about our new brand, Lucky Breaks, do you mind if we direct you to a blog post where UnderWoman narrates the FULL DEATH EXPERIENCE as well as the move?
(Social worker exits during our call, and then reenters…and then exits and reenters several times over the course of H-O-U-R-S. We have by this time spoken to the much distraught Merrie Do-It, and can now give “said social worker” permission to call…though we still believe this to be extremely ill advised.)
She: Do you still hear voices?
Us (now getting angry): Unfortunately, only yours. Do you mind sending back in the muse of nurses who at least have a sense of humor, a sense of the world, and who had the good graces to bring in adult diapers after hours of endless bedpan duty…but who have not yet bought in the aspirin requested at 8:45 a.m.? Can you….
She (now completely ignoring…or misunderstanding…nearly everything we are about to say in her random plodding through an improvised and expanded “MMSE” that now sounds remarkably more like a psychiatric intake exam): And UnderWoman……?
Wendy: And UnderWoman WHAT?
She: Does UnderWoman hear voices? Is she a voice?
Us (now offended and singing Revolution 1 beneath our breaths): UnderWoman is a REAL CHARACTER…a BRANDED CHARACTER — like Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, UnderDog, SuperGirl, Wonder Woman — who was born the day we were definitively diagnosed with myasthenia gravis nearly 11 years ago. She sees and speaks and goes and does when I cannot. Also, due to her design — having emanated from a caricature of myself at Sweet Sixteen — UnderWoman has thinner thighs, thicker hair, bigger eyes…all of which we hope will make her especially appealing to our audience…not to mention, we hope, ultimately licensable.
She: I can’t pretend to understand! Has UnderWoman ever advised you to hurt yourself or others?
Us: Au contraire! UnderWoman sees and brings out the best in everyone. She finds and mines the humor and teaching in everything. Even NOW! Even YOU!
She: And do you, Wendy, ever consider hurting yourself or others?
She: How do you feel about suicide?
Us: That’s a rather odd and too-broad question. For the most part, we subscribe to the saying: “Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.” It’s a shame when a person commits suicide without seeking help or seeing the full picture…and leaves so much mess, sadness, hurt, anger and guilt behind.
Yet there are permanent problems — terminal illnesses, interminable intubation, times when the benefits of death outweigh the benefits of life — for which we strongly support the right to die. We work closely with Compassion & Choices and Death with Dignity. And none of us would use the word “suicide” to describe the rights of terminally ill, mentally competent adults to take or be given life-ending prescription medications — a right that is now only legal in a handful of states…and should be legal everywhere.
She: So that’s a “YES” for suicide, right?
Us: NO! It’s a YES to Death with Dignity as described above, with more information at CompassionAndChoices.org. Who ARE YOU? Where do YOU come from? Why are YOU now presenting yourself with a variety of names? And why has ANYONE failed to bring me ice packs or an aspirin after this many hours?
She: Do you see or have you ever seen a psychiatrist? And if so, when was the last time?
Us: YESterday. The esteemed Dr. Charles Samenow was directing a musical comedy about Alzheimer’s called “Tangles,” and it was awesome!
She: This is REALLY TOO MUCH! Can you give me Dr. Samenow’s phone number? I’ll have to call him to check this all out.
Us: I’ll call him first and THEN give you his number. Please give him our best and our CONGRATULATIONS. The performance was superb. The Q & A was unforgettable. And we were so pleased to see the ukulele playing such a pivotal role. It’s a favorite instrument of ours, you know!
She (shaking head): Too much, too much. I’m going to go make some phone calls…..
Us: Good luck! And if you don’t mind, can you plug in our computer and phone and bring us more water? Also, can you check to see where our NSAID is and when Dr. James Gasho will be rounding?
She: Anything else? Like a chaplain?
Us: A splendid idea! But only if the chaplain is nondenominational or atheist.
We offer the following comedic and musical interlude to bring ourselves…and you…the humor, expressions and upliftments that helped us to transcend pain and tedium, an increasing sense of isolation and outrage, and an ultimate sense of amusement and acceptance during our social worker’s inexplicable and overlong comings and goings:
Talladega Nights / Prayer to Baby Jesus
Meghan Trainor / All About That Bass / Honest Diapers
Monty Python / Most Awful Family in Britain Awards + Icelandic Honey Week
Monty Python / Ministry of Silly Walks
Monty Python / E. Henry Tripshaw’s Disease
Monty Python / Not Dead Yet
Monty Python / Always Look on the Bright Side
Amanda Palmer / In My Mind (and other ukulele songs)
Coldplay / Lost
Tracy Chapman / Matters of the Heart
Tracy Chapman / Fast Car
Petula Clark / Downtown
Petula Clark / Don’t Sleep on the Subway
Black Sheep / This or That / Hamsterdam
Jay Z and Alicia Keys / Empire State of Mind
T.I. and Rihanna / Live Your Life
T.I. and Justin Timberlake / Dead & Gone
Jay Z, Rihanna, Kanye West / Run This Town
Mumford and Sons / Thistle and Weeds
Sun Kil Moon / Heron Blue (Melancholic Overtones)
Damien Rice / 9 Crimes
Damien Rice / Grey Room
Damien Rice / Blower’s Daughter
Mumford and Sons / Feel the Tide Turning
Kaleo / Way Down We Go
Tom Waits / Hold On
Tom Waits / Pony (I Hope My Pony Knows the Way Back Home)
Garrison Keillor / Prairie Home Companion / Rhubarb, Rhubarb
When said “social worker” returns — having spoken to Mom and Dr. Samenow twice each…she seems flushed and flustered. NOW…at last..at least…she hews loosely to MMSE — seemingly at a loss for any other “life-saving instruments” and in an apparently blatant and blustery bid to buy time…
She: What is 100 minus 7?
Us: 93 — Ne / Neptunium, as per the Periodic Table of Elements.
She: Is there no straight answer with you? And 94 minus 7?
Us: That was a trick question, right? 93 minus 7 = 86 — Rn / Radon. 94 minus 7 = 87 — Fr / Francium.
She: And 86 – 7?
Us: 79 — Au / Gold…a favorite element of Dr. Oliver Sacks’ and ours. You know our Chief Complaint at check-in this morning was injury to everything except the head, right? It was not math…..
She: And 79 minus 7?
Us: 72 — Hf / Hafnium. You know that we’re concentrating on writing our memoir — Lucky Breaks: Recasting Life in a New Light — yes? If you’re going to distract us by asking simple math questions in an oddly interrogational manner, can they at least be rather more interesting and challenging…such as “How fast was the wheelchair going when it hit the lip and dip, and…..?
Number 9, Number 9, Number 9…. (reference to Beatles’ Revolution 9 and also to Helter Skelter from White Album)
She: Number 9 is the WRONG ANSWER.
Us: Really? You hadn’t even asked a question regarding 16! Besides which, Number 9 refers to The Beatles’ song we’re playing for this increasingly ridiculous occasion…which has already added numerous insults to the injuries for which we presented, and for which NONE of the PRESENTING INJURIES HAVE BEEN TREATED. Who are you? What is going on here???
She: A song in your head?
Us: MANY SONGS on YouTube.
She: Do you have a problem with songs in your head?
Us: No. We derive pleasure from them. Do you have screen sharing or want to sit with me to watch or listen? But otherwise, and really, who gives you this ill-advised authority? WE WANT TO MEET THEM NOW!!!!
She: Sorry! I have a headache. Be right back.
~~ Back ~~
She: Sorry. I still have a headeache.
Us: So does Charles Manson. But blaming it on A SONG like Helter Skelter is no excuse. Do you ever listen to music in your head, body, heart? WHO DO YOU WORK FOR? AND WHEN CAN I MEET THEM?
She: Does music ever make you do BAD THINGS?
Us: We don’t do things that we consider “bad.” Listening to and making music makes us happier than almost anything…except for engaging in deep play and elevated learning with ImmunoMouse — aka Baby Mouse: BM.
She: Now you’re messing with me.
Us: We were originally only telling you our own truths, straight up. But now? Anyone’s guess….
She: I’m concerned and confused on so many levels.
Us: Obviously! Plus, I’m CONCERNED FOR YOU. And YOU SHOULD BE, TOO!
She: Why do you laugh whenever I leave the room?
Us: To cope! To bring comedic and musical relief to whatever’s unfolding in your mind and world that is SO NEGATIVELY impacting ours. WHO ARE YOU? UNDER WHAT PREMISES ARE YOU WORKING HERE? WHY ARE YOU HERE? Why are WE? Surely the MMSE takes less than half an hour to administer in adept hands. And I KNOW we passed the math part….
Whoever you are, YOU have chosen the wrong time, place, person to “play games” with. Is this conversation being “recorded for quality control purposes”? For ALL SAKES, I certainly hope that it is. And I’d like to see both the transcript and a supervisor NOW please!
She: It is NOT AT ALL COMMON to reference the Periodic Table with every math answer.
Us: “Reebok, baby? You need to try some new things. Have you ever tried shoes without shoe strings?”
She: Another drug reference….
Us: A SONG!
Have you ever heard of Oliver Sacks? Awakenings? If not, you have some reading, watching and catching up to do.
***If*** we were in New York now, Dr. Sacks and others would be inviting us to a parties….not holding us hostage on suspicion of originality…or whatever it is you’re doing here…or think you are. Had you ever come in here to try to help us with our Chief Complaints? We THINK NOT! After five hours in here, no aspirin, no ice packs, no results of our X-rays. WHY? We do not believe you to be our advocate. We do not even deem you a worthy adversary. And why do YOU keep switching names without ANY REASON. WHO ARE YOU? And WHY?
She: Do you know where you are?
Us We know were we are. And because of YOU, we know it IS NOT FOR US: SHED — Suburban Hospital Emergency Department. Little Boxes, Little Boxes, Little Boxes Made of Ticky Tacky.
She: Are you teasing me? Why do you SING? Do you know what time it is?
Us: 12:30 p.m. AND getting later by the minute.
She: WHAT ARE YOU ON RIGHT NOW?
Us: A hospital stretcher.
Us: This morning, we took Tacrolimus for our myasthenia gravis as prescribed. Otherwise, we are on no OTC, prescription or illicit drugs.
She: No drugs AT ALL? Are you SURE?
Us: We did produce an abundance of adrenaline when we took the wheelchair tumble…and have been “all jacked up on Mountain Dew” — i.e. endorphins — ever since.
(Coupling a fully disclosed reference to T.R. Bobby in Talladega Nights’ “Prayer to Baby Jesus” with a word the social worker does not know.)
She: Aha! We thought you were on something! Talk to me about making and taking drugs…..
Us: We’re not running a makeshift crystal meth lab here, if that’s what you mean.
She: WHAT DO YOU MEAN?
Us: Our body…any body…can produce such hormones, neurotransmitters and neuropeptides as adrenaline, endorphins and oxytocin when faced with anxiety, fear, excitement, love, hate, pain and so forth…..
She: I’m confused!
She: Oxytocin is a CONTROLLED SUBSTANCE, is it not?
Us: It is NOT. It’s a hormone. You may be thinking of Oxycodone.
She: And you took an Oxycodone at 11 p.m. last night, yes?
She: And what about now?
Us: We’re on nothing but what the body produces for itself in your basic fight, flight, freeze or fawn response — adrenaline, endorphins, high energy and alertness.
She: How? Why?
Us: Can you please Google this or look it up in a basic textbook? We’re awaiting the results of our X-rays and are trying to write a book here…..
She: Do you not find it strange?
Us: We’re finding all of this VERY STRANGE indeed. Is there a particular aspect of the “strangeness” that you’re referring to?
She: We’re REALLY CONCERNED about you! And it seems you laugh at me just about every time I leave the room.
Us: So SORRY! That’s not at all about YOU. Or at least it didn’t start out to be….
In the spirit of humor and music as our favorite medicines, we’re watching Monty Python clips and music videos that keep us calm, upbeat and clear. We’re writing darkly humorous but deeply uplifting portions of Lucky Breaks: Casting My Life in a New Life.
She: Well I have a headache today. I’m not at my best. And your answers are not the kind I’m used to. They’re disconcerting. And then I have to go and check with others. And….
Us: Have you tried acetominaphin, aspirin, ibuprofen or the like? And might you be able to bring us one? We’ve been asking since 8:30 a.m…. And now it’s 1 p.m….
She: I’m sorry that this is taking so long. But I’m very concerned and confused and uncertain.
Us: Clearly! But the questions you’ve asked should and could have taken an hour at most. And now we’re now going on six hours.
She: Do you hear voices NOW?
Us (trying not to laugh): YES: Ricky Bobby’s Prayer to Baby Jesus from Talladega Nights. Monty Python’s Most Awful Family in Britain. Mr. Neutron featuring Teddy Salad. (Yes…Salad, as in lettuce, radishes, tomatoes). And most unfortunately, YOURS.
She: Based on our conversations, I’m going to have to recommend in-patient observation and evaluation.
Us: Oh REALLY? At SHED?? I THINK NOT. In New York, Oliver Sacks would have visited us TWICE and Tribeca Film Institute would have optioned this screenplay by now. At McLean, we would already have finished our book and started making the movie…besides which we’d be bunking with fellow authors and agents.
And FYI: This interaction IS being “recorded for quality assurance purposes” in MY MIND, which is QUITE FINE, THANK YOU!!!
We want to see your supervisor NOW.
She: I’m sorry. I hear your frustration but I fail to see the humor…
Us: And your “failure to see humor” is but the least of your tragedies in this encounter. So please just STOP TRYING TO UNDERSTAND and SEEK SHELTER and LEAVE US ALONE NOW! FYI: This CEASED TO BE FUNNY hours ago. Please bring in your supervisor and / or a psychiatrist NOW.
She: I don’t see why you’re getting upset.
Us: Then perhaps YOU need to be observed and evaluated. We’d like to meet YOUR SUPERVISOR. Who heads up this division?
She: I don’t understand you. I fail to grasp your references.
Us: Obviously! And YET we’re citing each reference for you. We WILL publish a transcript. AND you have Google.
She: I have a headache!
Us: And you are CAUSING more HEADACHES…MORE THAN YOU CAN POSSIBLY IMAGINE.
Slainte. Dogspeed to you. LEAVE NOW!
Upshot of Seven Hours @ SHED? It messed with more than one head!
The six-hour interaction with our “dedicated social worker” added injury to insult to injury — completely ignoring the extreme pain we’d presented with and were still experiencing in lieu of what seemed increasingly unprofessional and adversarial interrogation.
Our social worker was unable or unwilling to grasp who and how we were or why we were there. She showed a propensity not to understand basic medical terms or to recognize even the most popular dialogue and lyrics lifted directly from the very media she feigned familiarity with…even though in each instance references were cited and credit was given where due.
She was dangerous. The situation was dangerous.
We had come to SHED at 8 a.m. in an extreme state of nausea and pain…for which we were given nothing. We would not learn until our discharge papers whether or not we had done further damage to our thrice-broken right foot or sustained damage to the right ankle, knee, hip, abdomen, shoulder and neck. We would not be released until a follow-up visit with our psychiatrist had been scheduled.
Were we really so at-risk and unbalanced? Or was it all too easy to unbalance a person / system whose own understandings and place had seemed…at best…rather precarious and parochial to us all along?
And what ****IF**** — which we never even fleetingly considered — WHAT IF we had accepted social worker’s repeated and increasingly insistent offers of “voluntary inpatient sectioning for additional psychological observation and evaluation?”
HOW MANY PEOPLE could suffer potentially permanent damage from just such treatment…at a young age or at any age?
What of the people who have nothing more wrong with them than their aliveness, brilliance, individuality and quirkiness — which is to say their rightness — and who have been shut down and / or locked up by people, processes and places that are themselves shut down?
Unlike us, they may not have made the early decision or had the option to move to New York, London or L.A., where they could more likely be who they truly, deeply are every single day…and hopefully make a career and a life of it.
For Wendy and UnderWoman, there would be no lingering doubt or ongoing trauma from our SHED experience with the social worker: Lucky Breaks is designed to find and mine just such turnarounds and triumphs in the face of difficulties, disappointments and dangers.
But just because WE COME AWAY WINNERS from quite a crazy situation — rich with experiences to learn from, laugh at, create around and contribute with — does not mean that all were or will be so lucky.
For Merrie Do-It, the outcomes are more haunting and lingering.
And so the story does not and cannot end there…..
Wendy and UnderWoman have requested to learn more about SHED policies and protocols. In the future, they hope to take training sessions and make presentations with the so-called “social worker” in question.
We will of course seek cover stories about any such “happy endings” in Suburban Hospital’s publications…which we will in turn feature and link back to from Lucky Breaks.
And who knows? A whole series of related Lucky Breaks writings, postings, exchanges and events might ensue….
If THAT doesn’t work, there’s the whole system to take on…which seems an equally exciting and worthy task.
Meantime, we’re about to leave this thread dangling where it hangs so as to delight in the pleasures of our pool.
We have doctor’s orders to PLAY! And we very much hope you will JOIN US!!
Warmly and looking forward,
Wendy Dubit and UnderWoman
Follow-on note of 09.29.15: Wendy and UnderWoman watched One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest…for the umpteenth time but in altogether new ways because of their SHED experience with said social worker. It is urged that SHED’s Crisis Intervention and Risk Management teams watch the film in full…or at least read the synopsis and vow to DO BETTER.