There’s something about working the night shift in a trauma level 1 ER in downtown Chicago that’ll put things in their proper perspective.
There’s something else that working in that ER on Halloween, on a weekend, in downtown Chicago that takes it to another level, that takes you to a place, as a sober healthcare worker, trying to do a job and get the fuck home, that changes you.
Halloween 2015, I’m working the night shift wth a crew of seasoned night nurses, docs and techs. The night starts off alright enough.
Some of the ER staff are rocking ER appropriate costumes, a tech has mini mouse ears and a doc has a carved pumpkin badge on his stethoscope. The mood is light, and chill.
Then the clubs let out at around 2 a.m., and the shit hits the fan.
The Chicago Fire Department, and our ER, erupts with calls about, “A drunk female, found inside a dumpster.” Or, “A male, intoxicated, found in a gutter.” And, “Unknown, shirtless, with a mask, passed out in the back of a cab.” Or, “Found in a park, crying, hating the rain.”
The drunks and druggies start coming in faster than we can room them. I mean, the shit is getting crazy. Our 60 plus rooms are filled, and we got folks in the hallways, 40 more in the waiting room, and more and more coming in by ambulance.
Kids on drugs are trying to fight staff, residents are fighting crackheads, I’m just shy of a fist fight with one guy who took a bunch of God knows what, and is trying to punch me and the tech with the minnie mouse ears, unlucky for him she ain’t having it and puts him in his place.
It feels like we’re losing control of the place, the loonies are taking over, people are getting hurt. It doesn’t help that trauma after trauma is coming in.
I don’t remember when, but at some point, after many, many hours, we regained control.
To this day it still is a blur. After all this chaos, after all the fighting, the screaming, and drunken assholes, the only thing I can clearly remember is the 8 a.m. redline ride home, and getting to my apartment, and fucking crawling into my bed, and thinking, ‘on that devil’s holiday, even Jesus can’t save your ass.’ and that’s it….
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Editor’s note: Rolando is off getting wild with the rest of the Cubs fans after their second post season win against the Giants tonight. We thought we’d run an oldie of his on the Cubs while he’s running around Wrigleyville waiving the “W”. Bandwagon fan, anyone?
I’m a Chicago guy, born and raised. I love my city. I grew up in neighborhoods mainly on the northside of town, so that should automatically make me a Cubs fan. And for years, I played the role.
I attended games at Wrigley. I bought the hats, shirts and other Cubs gear. Hell, I even kept stats on my favorite Cubs players–Sandberg, Sosa, Woods, Lee, etc.
I even had my picture taken with the Chicago Cubs icon, Ronnie “Woo-Woo.”
I was a real Cubs fan, and no one could tell me otherwise. Shit, I even got into arguments with fans of the other team on why the Cubs were the best representative of Chicago folks like myself.
But about a year ago I came to a realization that I had been denying all long: I hate baseball.
I know, I know, it’s America’s past time. It got us through The Depression. Being a ball player is what countless little boys all over the country dream of becoming.
I get it.
But the damn game is so boring. I can’t stand it. It’s slow, there’s very little action and all there is to do at games to pass the time is get drunk.
True confession: I’ve never watched a baseball game in its entirety on t.v. Can’t do it. The shit’s too boring.
Now I know this isn’t going to sit well with some of the readers of this blog. But it’s true.
And as our moto reads, “We Rarely Lie to the American People.”
So I figured now was as good a time to go public with this info. Sorry Chicago, I hate baseball.
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Last week I had this weird experience where a childhood memory just popped into my head.
Now I’m not talking about when something triggers a childhood memory and you relive the experience–no, not one of those experiences.
I’m saying the damn thing just appeared out of no where. I must’ve suppressed that childhood memory because I had no recollection of it prior to that moment, but it all came flooding back in a flash.
And with it came a tide of shame and embarrassment, followed by confusion and a whole lot of unanswered questions.
‘Oh, shit,’ I thought when the memory first popped into my head, ‘I shaved one of my eyebrows off when I was a kid. Why the hell did I shave my eyebrow off?’
I don’t remember all the details of the incident, but I had to be around six or seven-years-old and was taking a bath when I somehow got a hold of my dad’s razor.
I don’t remember actually shaving my eyebrow entirely off, either. I just remember walking into my parents’ room after I got out of the bathtub and the horrified look on my mom’s face.
“Oh my God, what did you do to your face?” she screamed, with a look of complete horror on her face as she gasped.
Instantly I knew I had done something wrong. I played dumb and tried to defuse the situation: “What? What are you talking about?”
“What happened to your eyebrow?” she screamed. “It’s gone.”
A feeling of panic cut through my body as I tried to find an explanation that made sense. Whatever reason I originally had to shave off my own eyebrow wasn’t going to cut it.
I came up with the best excuse my young mind could find: “It just happened. I didn’t do anything.”
That pissed my mom off even more.
“Your eyebrow didn’t fall off your face, Rolandito,” she snapped. “Were you playing with your father’s razor?”
“Don’t lie to me, boy.”
“I’m calling your father. Rolando come see what Rolandito did.”
I heard some foot steps from down the hall and then my dad was in the room looking down at me, trying to figure out what it was my mom was all upset about.
“What happened to your eyebrow?” he asked, more confused than angry.
“He shaved it off,” my mom said before I could answer.
“No I didn’t, it just happened,” I said, still playing dumb.
“Boy, eyebrows just don’t fall off faces,” my dad said. “Were you playing with my razor?”
“No,” I said on the verge of tears. “It just happened.”
“Rolandito, don’t lie to me again,” my dad said, his face as serious as could be.
I knew I was busted, so I came clean.
“Yeah,” I said as I stared at the floor, ashamed that I was caught in a lie.
“Why in the world would you shave your eyebrow off, Rolandito?” my mom asked, her tone changing from anger to flat out confusion.
I didn’t have an excuse, or at least I don’t remember what the original reason why I decided to shave one of my eyebrows off.
All I remember was that a few minutes after admitting that I had played with my dad’s razor, and cut of an eyebrow in the process, something strange and confusing happened.
Both my parents started laughing, I mean, doubled-over with tears in their eyes, they were laughing so hard.
And looking back I can see why. There was their little boy, their first born, wrapped in a bath towel, sopping wet and scared, with one eyebrow.
They laughed for a long time before they were able to settle down and be serious enough to scold me for my actions.
In the end I was relieved that all I got was a scolding. I guess they figured that walking around with one eyebrow for the week or so it would take for the other one to grow back was punishement enough.
But part of me wonders if they didn’t give me a spanking because they felt sorry for me. I mean, shaving off my own eyebrow? Maybe they felt like it was a sign that I was a little touched, that I had special needs.
You know, one eyebrow short….
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“I can’t find it.”
“Can’t find what?”
“Damn son of a bitch, my shit’s missing.”
“Don’t start this shit, Ron. It’s time to go.”
“My eye patch. Where the hell is my eye patch?”
“What eye patch, Ron?”
“My eye patch, mother fucker. I had an eye patch with my shit. Now it’s gone.”
“Ron, everything you came in with is in this bag, so cut the shit.”
“Not my eye patch. The shit’s not here.”
“Why the hell do you have an eye patch for?”
“Cause I do.”
“Come on, Ron, it’s time to go. You’ve been here all night, we’ve let you sleep, now you have to go. Stop stalling.”
“I ain’t stalling, I want my patch. Hell, you probably stole my shit.”
“Me? Me? Ron, I have two functioning eyes. Why the hell would I steal an eye patch?”
“Cause you’re a dirty, no good thief.”
“Ron, you have two functioning eyes, so why the hell do you have an eye patch anyway?”
“Cause I do, asshole. Now give it here and I’ll be on my way.”
“Alright, Ron. Enough. Get out, or I’ll call security to get you out.”
“You’re one rotten mother fucker. Alright. Alright. I’m leaving. But if I see you on the street with my patch, I’m whipping your ass.”
“Good enough, Ron. I’ll take that chance.”
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I’m fucking tired.
It’s late and the end of a long day of work and an even longer week and I just want to go home.
I’m waiting at the Howard Terminal for the #22 Clark bus, looking around at the madness that’s playing out all around me.
A steady stream of junkies make their way back and forth between a couple dudes standing in the tunnel that leads to the terminal and then back out to Howard Street.
Each time there’s a quick handshake with the first guy and then a quick exchange with another dude who’s further up the tunnel.
Across Paulina Street, a woman is pacing back and forth, having an argument with herself about who finished the last of the cognac.
And all around me people are moving quickly trying to make it to work or home or whever the hell people go to at midnight on a Saturday night.
Then I hear, “Say, big brother.”
I turn to the left and this guy in a shirt and basketball shorts with sandals and socks on is standing there, smiling at me.
Right away I know he’s on a hustle. That’d be the only reason why a much bigger and older guy would start off a conversation with that phrase. He’s trying to soften me up for the pitch.
“What’s up, bro?”
“Can I ask you a question, big brother?”
“Do you love The Constitution of these United States?”
I stare at him for minute, trying to find his angle. He has to be working some angle at a hustle. I doubt this dude wants to engage in a scholarly discussion on the intracies of our Constituion at midnight at the damn Howard Terminal of all places.
“What the fuck do you want, bro? Get on with it.”
He reaches behind his back and into his shorts with that same stupid grin on his face.
I jump back and throw my hands up, “Whoa, what the fuck, man.” For a moment I’m conviced this asshole has a gun and I’m fucked.
“Cause I have this copy of the Constitution test study guide and I’d be willing to part with it for five dollars.”
“Bro, a Constitution test study guide? Do I look like I’m in eigth grade? Get the fuck out of here with that shit.”
“I’m saying, big brother, with the way things are going on in this country with polices, it’d do a brother alright to know his constitutionally afforded rights.”
“Hey, man, take that shit back to whatever kid you jacked that from, they’ll need it to pass 8th grade.”
“And get another hustle that doesn’t involve selling school books at midnight.”
I go on waiting and wishing to hell that this stupid bus gets here so I can go home. A few minutes pass and I see that same guy walk into the tunnel and approach the two guys inside it, “Say, big brothers…”
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I like riding Chicago’s CTA train systems, especially the El system. Been doing it all my life. There’s something about zipping through the city on train tracks high above the ground that brings a sense of nostalgia that links me to the old Chicago.
Besides, it’s convenient, economical, and environmentally friendly. And it’s exciting.
I mean, if rocking back and forth on a set of old rickety train tracks at speeds of up to 50 mph doesn’t get your adrenaline going, I don’t know what to tell you.
It sure as hell gets me pumped. Not to mention the characters you come across when you ride the train system.
So whenever I can, I ride the El….
A few nights ago I decided to ride the Red Line to this thing I had to do.
I’m sitting on the platform at the Granville stop listening to some music to pass the time.
Train rolls up, I get on and find a seat.
At the next stop the doors open and this old, scruffy looking white guy walks in and sits down on the seat next to me.
I scoot over to give him some space and keep on listening to my music, when I hear a muffled: “Hey, man.”
I pop my right earbud out and turn to him and say: “What?”
“Hey, man,” he says as he pulls out a joint from his coat pocket. “You wanna hit this?”
“No, I’m good, bro,” I say. “Besides, I’m pretty sure you can’t smoke on the train.”
“What the fuck? When did that start?”
“Well weed? Probably since forever, but tobacco, well over ten years now.”
“That’s bull shit, man,” he says as he shoves the joint back in his pocket.
I pop my earbud back into my ear and keep on listening to my music.
A few minutes go by and the old, scruffy white man keeps quiet.
Then, again, a muffled: “Hey, man.”
“What?” I say as I pop the earbud back out.
“You ever wonder what direction this train is heading in?”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“I mean, it can be conducted from both sides, so, are we headed forwards or backwards, man?”
“We’re headed south. That’s where we’re headed. And if we were headed the other way, we’d be going north.”
“Shit, man. That’s crazy.”
“It’s not crazy. You can go north, south, east or west on these trains. Forwards or backwards is irrelevant.”
“That’s some crazy shit, man. Did you go to college or something? You’re a smart dude.”
“Yes, but that has nothing to do with it….”
Frustrated, I pop my earbud back in and try to ignore the guy as best I could, hoping that he wouldn’t bother me again.
After a few more stops: “Hey, man.”
“Bro, what the fuck?” I snap as I pop my earbud out for the last time.
“Whoa, whoa, man. I don’t like your negative energy. I’m just going to have to find my self another seat in this car where the vibes aren’t so dark. I just wanted to see if you wanted to hit this joint.”
“I told you no and that you can’t smoke on the train.”
“Well here I thought you were a really cool dude with your “north and south” talk but it turns out you’re a douche.”
He gets up, walks to the other side of the train where he begins the same routine with another passenger.
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-Hey, New Kid, you got a minute?
-Yeah, Frank. Whatcha need?
-I just need help with this guy in room 19.
-You got it, Frank.
-Great, grab some patient labels off the counter there for this guy and come on in. It’ll only take a minute.
-Ok….Why are all the lights off?
-Cause we do that sometimes for the families.
-Hold on, I need to grab a bag out of the closet….
-A bag for what, Frank?
-For the patient, dummy. You get those labels?
-Yeah, Frank. Here you go.
-Let’s see…. One for the belongings, one for the outside of the bag and one for the toe. Alright, we’re set.
-Hey, New Kid, you wanna learn something, or what? Stop with all the questions and pull that sheet off the patient. I’m trying to teach you the job.
-Alright, alright. It’s just that… Oh, fuck. It’s a dead body.
-Of course it’s a dead body. The patient died an hour ago. Where the fuck were you when the radio nurse screamed out “arrest” and all the loud alarms were dinging and a dozen people were screaming shit back-and-forth, like, he doesn’t have a pulse?
-I don’t know. In another room. I’ve never seen a dead body before.
-Hey, sit the fuck down before you pass out. You look like shit.
-I’m fine. No, I’m good. Let’s do this, Frank.
-For fuck’s sake, New Kid. They’ll just hire any bastard that watched a medical TV show and thought it’d be cool to work in an ER, won’t they?
-I’m sorry, Frank. Seriously, I’m good.
-You pass out, or throw up, or piss your pants and you won’t get no sympathy, we’ll just send your sorry ass out on the floor all pissy and vomity to finish up your shift.
-I’m good. Really.
-Alright, roll the body to your side. But cover the mouth with this towel cause shit tends to come out and you don’t want it all over your scrubs or shoes.
-I’ll slide the bag under and we’ll flip the patient to my side and you can pull the bag under to your side.
-Keep your shit together, New Kid. It’s just a dead body.
-I’ve never seen a dead body, I’ve never touched a dead body….
-We’ll guess what, today you get to do both. Now flip the guy to your side. I wanna get this over with so I can go eat lunch.
-Alright, here I go.
-There, was that so difficult? It’s like touching any other human being, only a dead one.
-I feel sick to my stomach…. Oh God did it just move?
-Yes, asshole, cause you just moved it. Bodies tend to shift when you move them. For fuck’s sake….
-I’m sorry, Frank.
-Now I’ll flip him my way and unroll the bag under him, we tag him, zip it up and we’re done. There you go.
-Sorry I got all squeamish on you, Frank. And thanks for taking the time to teach me the job.
-Don’t worry about it, New Kid. We’ve all been there.
-So were you just like me when you started the job?
-Fuck no, are you kidding me? I wasn’t half the chump you are. You looked like you were ready to pass out. And you’re no where as good looking as me, so no, New Kid, we’re nothing alike.
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