-What’s up man?
-I’m here, right?
-I know it.
-Let me get this shit show started. What’d you got?
-Room 12 needs blood cultures drawn…. 16 is a real asshole, but you need to get a urine sample for the Utox screen, doc won’t let him go until you get that…. 20 needs a post mold on his right hand…
-…Motherfucker did you do any work today?
-We were slammed, bro.
-Slammed my ass. I saw you bull shitting in the hallway with that one Asian transporter chic.
-I got her number, though.
-Must’ve took you all day with what little your ass got done.
-I got it, though.
-Fuck it. Tell me what else I gotta do to clean up your mess.
-That’s it, bro. Shit, you got time, you’re here all night. I don’t know why you’re bugging out. I’d clean your shit up if you needed me to.
-My bad, man. I’m fucking tired. I got home this morning and they’re doing construction on my block. I couldn’t sleep.
-Working nights is a bitch.
-Working nights is a bitch. Working nights in this ER, is a motherfucker.
-You going to pay my rent? You feeding me, too? Cause lord knows I can barely afford to do both with what we get paid.
-I know what’s up, bro. But it sounds nice, right? ‘Just quit.’
-It sure does.
–‘Just quit.’ Fuck it.
-On some, “Half Baked” shit, right?
-Yeah, “Fuck you, fuck you, you’re cool, fuck you, I quit.”
-No, straight up, how’d you do it, quit?
-I’d put some trauma sheers to my scrubs, cut the sleeves off my top and most of the legs on my pants, start there, walk around with some short, shorts scrub pants and sleeveless top.
-Knee-high socks with your short scrubs?
-There’s no other way.
-Then I’d make my rounds with the asshole frequent flyers that treat us like shit and freak them the fuck out.
-What about Mrs. Avers?
–‘Ma’am, I know you came into the ER tonight to have your chronic sniffle checked out, but we ran some extra tests and found that you have exactly one hour, nine minutes, 12 seconds to live due to a fatal sniffle disease called “People get colds in the winter time.” Yes, ma’am, I am a medical professional. Yes, ma’am, I am wearing short, shorts scrubs.’
–Yes, ma’am, turkey sandwiches are all we have in the ER. Yes, ma’am, I know that after your sixth one, it can kind of get disgusting. No, ma’am, we don’t have ham, so your seventh one will probably make you feel worse than your sixth one.
-What about Percy Hawkins?
–‘Mr. Hawkins, sir, Mr. Hawkins. Have you slept your hangover off? You feel better? Good. Get the fuck out, asshole. And yes, I’m wearing short, shorts scrubs.
-You are stupid.
-That’s how I’d do it.
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I was sitting at work, a day like any other, when Beth, a nurse, walked up to me and said: “Hey, Ro, can you help me clean and change room 22?”
“Yeah, no problem,” I said as we walked over to the room.
“It’s this cute little old black lady,” Beth said as we walked. “She’s 98-years-old.”
“Alright,” I said.
We got to the room and Beth opened up the door and we both walked in.
“Ms. Smith,” Beth said, “We’re going to clean you up and change you.”
“Ok,” Ms. Smith replied. “Oh, lord, who is this man right there? Handsome devil.”
“This is my friend, Ro,” Beth said as she giggled.
“Hi, Ms. Smith,” I said. “I’m going to help Beth change and clean you. We just have to take off these blankets and your depends.”
“For what, so you can get ready to come over here and lay on me?” she asked with a smirk on her face.
Beth’s nearly inaudible giggle turned to a full out laugh.
“No, Ms. Smith,” I said. “No one is going to be laying on anyone around here.”
“Well it’s a damn shame, I tell you, cause I’m ready.”
Beth and I both started laughing. We couldn’t help it. Was I really being propositioned by a 98-year-old lady for a booty call?
“Well I tell you what, when you ready to come get you some, you come see me,” she said as she began winking at me and blowing me kisses.
I guess that’s exactly what was happening.
“Ms. Smith, you’re going to get me in trouble. Beth here knows my girlfriend.”
“I don’t care. I got something for your girlfriend,” she said as she balled up fists in a boxing stance and starting throwing punches. “Pew, pew, pew, POW!”
At that point, Beth and I were practically in tears. Here’s this little old lady, old enough to be my great grandmother, and she was as feisty as could be.
Not only was she trying to “get some” but she was also willing to whip my girlfriend’s ass to get it.
We finished cleaning her up and I told her I was leaving.
To which she replied: “You know I’m just talking crazy.”
“I know Ms. Smith, it’s good to have a sense of humor. I’ll check on you later.”
“Ok, Big Daddy,” she said as I left the room with that same smirk on her face.
Time flew by, we got busy as hell, and I almost forgot about Ms. Smith. That is, until, Beth walked up to me with her own smirk on her face and asked: “Hey, do you want to take your girlfriend in 22 up to her room?”
“Why the hell not?”
I walked back to her room, opened the door and announced: “Ms. Smith, I’m here to take you up to your room.”
“Let’s go, daddy,” she said, smirking again. “You think we’ll have some alone time up there.”
“Probably not, but we’ll at least have the trip up together.”
“Fine by me.”
I packed her stuff on the cart and off we went. I turned left at the main hallway that connects our ER to the main hospital. It was mid afternoon so the hallway was packed with traffic. People going back-and-forth to the various parts of the hospital. No one really paying attention me or the little ball of energy that sat on the cart.
To be honest, I was surprised at how well she was behaving. I thought for sure she would act out in front of anyone who could be a potential audience for her nutty antics.
We got to the staff elevators and a few people were waiting to go up. Then she started again.
“Hey, mam,” she said to a young female transporter. “Ain’t he pretty? Tell me he ain’t pretty with that beard and that face.”
The poor woman, she had no idea what to say. I could tell she didn’t want to offend me or the old lady, so she said: “Yes. Yes he is pretty. With that beard and that face.”
Luckily the elevator arrived at the first floor and I got her in it as quickly as I could.
As we made our way up to the fourth floor of the hospital. Ms. Smith turned to me, smiled and said: “Baby, you know I’m just talking crazy, right? I’m old, and I don’t got much. No family, no friends. All I got me is some talking crazy to keep me from going crazy. Smile before I cry. You know what I’m telling you?”
“I get it, Ms. Smith,” I said. “I’ll take a laugh over a cry any day.”
Just then the doors opened and I pushed her out into the busy hallway.
“Lord or lord, I hope there’s some pretty men up here. Not that one, he’s too fat. But that one, yes, that one’ll do.”
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I was a bizarre kid with a lot of weird ideas when I was growing up. And lately for some odd reason, I’ve been revisiting a lot of memories from my childhood and having a good laugh in the process.
I mean, the crazy shit that I used to think up. Most of it was based almost entirely on my own imagination, some of it was based on observations my young mind would make, but almost all of it–now that I look back as an adult–was hilarious.
Take, for example, my take on some of the differences between white folks and brown folks. I can remember clearly, at the age of seven or eight, believing that white people did not feel cold the same way brown people felt it.
I was convinced that white people didn’t feel cold on their legs or arms.
How did I come to this conclusion? Well, it was simple, really. We’d be in my dad’s car, driving down the street, and I’d see a white person, jogging, with shorts, a t-shirt and gloves and a skull cap on. In the middle of winter. Just bare arms and bare legs.
I saw this repeatedly. So I formed an opinion: White people’s arms and legs don’t get cold.
Or take for example my belief that, as a young, nine-year-old little league baseball player, if I were transported back to the twenties or thirties, I would be as good, if not better than the pro ball players of that era.
The Babe and all those old timers? I’d show them how to knock it out of the park. I’d run faster, hit harder, throw missiles from any position on the field–they’d have to rewrite the history books about this young Puerto Rican kid phenom who was killing the league.
How would I be able to do these things at the tender age of nine? Well clearly (in my mind) the human body had progressed so much in the intervening six or so decades, that a nine-year-old in the early nineties, was much stronger and a more capable athlete than someone from the twenties or thirties.
If only I could’ve gotten a fully-functioning time machine. I would’ve been a star.
The funny thing about all this is that I don’t remember at what age I stop believing these things or what it was that finally made me understand that things didn’t quite work that way.
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Around 9 am I get the text, “Caroline’s water broke.”
I’m sleeping. It’s my weekend off. Call me an asshole or not, I’m not trying to hear that shit.
Caroline’s water breaking means–in a normal person’s mind, a baby is coming. Oh joy! Yay!
And to be fair, those thoughts also entered my mind. My soon-to-be-sister-in-law is having her kid. Yay! My soon-to-be-wife is going to be an aunt….
I’m going to be an uncle….
But on my weekend off? How inconsiderate of the little thing that she would “pick” my weekend off to make her appearance. I’m sure she’s going to be cute, but she’s coming off as kind of a jerk, right off the bat.
But at the same time I had those other thoughts. You know, health care worker thoughts.
After ten years working in emergency medicine, and recently having removed myself from that scene, I couldn’t help but to flash back to the five live births I witnessed.
Blood, guts, fluids, alien babies that are supposed to look like humans beings, but don’t.
Not that I was going to witness this birth, but I still was freaking out. I got to the hospital around 8 pm. At that point, she had been dealing with it for almost 16 hours.
More hours pass. We’re sitting in the waiting room of a hospital that I used to work in. I’m uncomfortable on many levels, having given up that life, and also picturing–knowing what the birthing process is–and, selfishly, feeling tired and wanting to go home.
After two in the morning, we get word, the girl is born. We all rush to the room, and she’s there. This little creature. I don’t get emotional, but I get emotional. Chunky cutie baby.
Mom’s tired, dad’s tired, grandmas, aunties, uncles and this soon-to-be-tio, is tired.
But, damn, cliches and all, she’s an angel. Cheeks for days, an adorable creature.
I drove home, not sure how I felt about it all, but knowing deep down that I’m a Tio for the first time. And I’m pretty happy about it.
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It was Spring 1996 and I was sitting on a coach bus with twenty other kids in front of Newberry Math and Science Academy, ready to start our eighth grade class trip to Washington DC.
I was out of my mind. I was about to go on my first cross country trip without parents.
There were other firsts that trip, too, things that had a profound impact on me.
Like when my buddy, and bus mate, Pete, introduced me to the late great Cuban bassist, Israel “Cachao” Lopez. I listened to him on repeat all through Ohio. And that record shop in DC where, for the first time, I found and listened to a copy of Dizzy Gillespie’s, “Night in Tunisia” and my teacher had to physically pull me out of the shop because I was so entranced and delaying the tour.
And of course the experience of being in DC and seeing all the monuments and just being in a city I had never been to before–all memorable experiences.
Then there was, well, let’s just call her Nancy for the sake of anonymity.
On that trip, amongst the many other firsts that I experienced, at the wise and ripened old age of 13, Nancy became the “woman” that I was going to marry. My true and eternal love.
We had so much in common–so my 13 year old mind reasoned. Nancy is Puerto Rican. I am Puerto Rican. Nancy is cute as hell. I am sexy as hell. Nancy is on this trip. I am on this trip, too!
That’s all I based the idea of our impending marriage on.
The problem was, Nancy and I were always friendly, but she never paid much attention to me beyond a “hello” back in Chicago. And there was also that I was a chicken shit, too afraid to say anything to her.
One day about three days into the trip my bus mate sat down next to me and said, “Dude, dude, Nancy is back there with Gina and Lisa talking about how cute your are.”
“What?” I said. “Stop playing, bro.”
“I’m serious, bro. I went to the bathroom and could hear them.”
“Tell me exactly what she said.”
“I heard Lisa tell Nancy, “Don’t you think Ro cute?”And then Nancy said, “He is.” Then she said, “He reminds me of Eddie, right? With his hair.” And then they all laughed.”
“Eddie? I remind her of Eddie, with my hair? And why did they laugh?”
“That’s what she said, bro.”
I sat with that for a few hours as we travelled. ‘Eddie with my hair? Who is Eddie?’
Then it hit me. Eddie Torres the Puerto Rican detective in the TV show New York Undercover.
Eddie Torres–originator of the Puerto Rican Duck Lips.
“Yo, she thinks I look like Eddie Torres, bro. The cop on that TV show.”
“Oh, shit, bro…. Wait, you look nothing like that dude. I mean, you’re both Puerto Rican, but that’s it.”
“Nah, that’s it bro. She likes me cause I got that star quality about me.”
The rest of the trip goes by and I don’t say a word to her. I’m just content that she thinks I’m cute, and that I remind her of a Puerto Rican TV star.
Finally, at a truck stop on the way home, I built up enough courage to talk to her.
I approached Nancy, who happened to be with Lisa.
“Hey, Nancy, you have a good trip?”
“Yeah, Ro. You?”
“Yeah. A real good trip.”
“Yeah it is. Listen, I know you think I’m cute and all, and that I remind you of Eddie Torres from that TV show, I just wanted to tell you I think you’re cute too.”
“Who told you that?”
“Nah, I just know things and that’s cool that you feel that way. I mean he kind of does look like me, only a lot older.”
Then came another first, happily and at the same time cruelly provided by Lisa.
“Boy, she don’t think you look like no Eddie Torres from the TV show, that man is fine, you look like Eddie Munster with your Widow’s Peak.”
“Eddie… with his hair”
‘Oh no. My Widow’s Peak. I’m not a sexy Puerto Rican TV star, I’m a Puerto Rican version of a black and white freak from a 60’s sitcom about monsters,’ I think as I try to figure a way out.
The best I could do was, “Well you’re both stupid. And prevalence of the Widow’s Peak in the male population in this country is less then 3%. So that’s makes me pretty unique, ok?”
Needless to say we never got married.
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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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When it comes to great fathers, my dad is probably as good as they come. He always worked his ass off to make sure his family had what we needed, and he always put our needs before his.
In raising my brother and me, my old man, who is also named Rolando, was tough but fair.
He didn’t put up with dishonesty or disrespect. He always made sure we respected him and our mother. If we didn’t, he was quick to discipline us.
It was this upbringing that shaped who we are as men today.
It’s safe to say that you could pretty much attribute any good qualities we have as a men to him, and if I do become a father, I plan to follow his example.
But there are certain aspects of his parenting methods that I won’t be using if I have children.
My dad is a sink or swim type of guy—literally.
When we were babies—around five or six—we’d always take a yearly summer trip to Florida. We’d go to the beach and Disney World and enjoy all that Florida had to offer.
Those were some of the most memorable moments of our childhood.
But mixed in with those good memories, are some traumatizing memories that still haunt us today.
My dad, who is an excellent swimmer, took it upon himself during these trips to teach his sons how to swim.
We would learn early and we would learn well — that was his theory.
Get in there, boy!
I’ll never forget it…
We were at the Days Inn in Clearwater, FL. I was around five-years-old. We woke up early that day cause my dad said we were going down to the pool to swim.
Excited by the thought of a day at the pool, I threw on my trunks, gathered my floaties and eagerly followed my old man as we made our way down to the pool.
It was a typical hot summer day and the other hotel guests were out enjoying the sun. Kids were jumping into the pool and splashing in the water.
I was eager to join in on the fun. I had my floaties around my arms and was ready to jump in when my dad called to me.
“Come here, son,” he said lovingly.
“I want to go play, daddy,” I said.
“You will, son, but come here first.”
I walked towards him and he picked me up, looked into my eyes and smiled a great big smile.
“I’m going to teach you how to swim today, son,” he said as he began removing one floatie from my arm.
I thought nothing of it.
“Alright, daddy,” I said.
He then removed the other floatie and started to walk towards the deep end of the pool.
I still thought nothing of it. He was my dad — surely, he would cause me no harm.
Now I swim like Michael Phelps….
When we got to the deep end, my dad said these now infamous words: “Son, today you will learn how to swim.”
Before I knew what was happening, I was six-feet in the air, free-falling into the deep end of the pool.
As I fell towards the clear blue water, it still hadn’t registered what was happening to me. It wasn’t until I came splashing down into the pool that the reality hit me.
My first reaction was to scream, which caused me to swallow water. I splashed and flailed my arms as I struggled to keep my head above water.
I can remember popping my head above water as I struggled to make it to the edge of the pool and seeing my dad with his arms crossed, standing there, screaming: “Swim or drown. Swim or drown, boy.”
When I finally made it to the edge and out of the pool, my dad, proud because I had “learned how to swim,” picked me up and tried to explain to me how “humans are actually born knowing how to swim and all we have to do is get past the fear of drowning to realize it.”
I was too hysterical. All I could do was cry and punch at him for throwing in to the pool.
For the rest of that trip I wouldn’t go near the pool unless my mom was present.
More than twenty years later, my dad remains unapologetic for his unusual teaching method.
Whenever it comes up during family dinners he always says: “Let me ask you a question — do you know how to swim?”
To which I can only respond: “Yes.”
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