A young man is standing in the corner of the cafeteria in a NY Psychiatric Center. A stacked pile of acrylic [I guess?] chairs with metal frames is by his side. He is in a rage and throwing them violently at staff. He was a big boy. This was in the admissions ward. So, as usual, the call goes out to the secure unit for the cavalry. Myself and a fella named Frank scampered off as quickly as we could to assist … we of the special “combat” training. Quickly assessing the situation, and without a word, Frank & I each grabbed one of the flung chairs laying out on the floor. Using them as shields, he ran down the left wall and I the right … straight at him in the corner. Another staffer stood in the middle of the floor holding a small table as a shield and acted as a distraction. Boom! POW! Frank & I and our chairs, simultaneously, ran full force into the hapless psychotic before he knew what had hit him. Blood spattered, as one chair hit him pretty high up on his chin. He went down and we immediately had him subdued before anyone else got hurt. Oh. those were the days! I came to find, over time, that my years working there were actually my training period for my Postal career! 😉
It was back in 1974, at the tail-end of the infamous Hussy Bus adventure, that a couple of remnants of that trip & I somehow found ourselves in Oceanside, CA. Those folks in that part of the country have been experiencing immigration problems for a long time. This was 40 years ago. Anyway, we lived in a cozy adobe-like cottage right on the beach. We were bums, but I went out to try and find some work. Took a job riding a truck that was more-or-less a convenience store on wheels. It visited various places of employment for lunch breaks and the like, but mainly it [we – I was along on a training ride with another experienced driver. Should be noted, he spoke some Spanish; I did not] went out deep into the tomato fields – acres & acres – that had dirt roads going through them for vehicles to pass. What an easy job this was. Just drive around the farms and nary a soul in sight. Then, the driver stopped. We waited. “Won’t be long now.” Suddenly, from all directions, streaming from over every slight hill, Mexican migrant workers – don’t recall them being referred to as illegal aliens at that time & place – came pouring toward us, by the dozens, all shouting & chattering in Spanish, not a word of which I understood. It was just a barrage of indiscernible banter. They all wanted stuff … food, amenities … and it seemed as if they were all shouting at once. I guess they had not much time; there was a sense of urgency. The guy I was with was a pro. He handled it well. Had done it hundreds of times before. To me, it felt that I was Custer at the Little Bighorn. I didn’t stand a chance. That was the end of that career!
Off the top of my head, there were 3 times in my life that I was really – I mean REALLY – scared for my physical well-being. The first was the days of the Cuban Missile Crisis. I was 10 or 11. Last time was September 11, 2001. Sandwiched in between was a much more innocuous event. I forget the year, probably ’85 or ’86. I know it was December 8 because that is my son’s, Adam, birthday and I was at work on the wards in a NY Psychiatric Center. There was a fellow there – a patient – named Tom. He was a huge, muscular guy. Powerful. He was usually a pretty good guy though … I don’t recall what he was in for, but he was no longer on the secure unit that I worked on. Despite the difference in our builds, I was able to hold my own against him at the front line of the volley ball net – spiking and receiving spikes – out in the courtyard. We had a blast! As with most of the guys, I got along pretty well with him. Well, this late fall day something occurred upstairs somewhere in the building and the call went out over the intercom system, “All available male staff …” I remember running up a flight of stairs or two to the scene with a few other guys. As always, we had little clue as to what we were going to find. Got up there and Tom had a floor stand ashtray in his hands – the kind that have their bases full of sand – the HEAVY kind – and he was swinging it around like a candlestick. By the time we got up there, we made a total of a dozen or so guys, but Tom didn’t care. He was furious about something. Something had set Tom off and he had a deadly weapon in those hands of his and was threatening to bash someone’s head in with it. “Alright, you MFers! Who wants to be first to get your effin’ head smashed in. YOU? You blue-eyed, MFer!!!”, he said right in old Don’s face. And he was just going on & on. Waving that killer “stick” around through the air. We gradually made a circle around him. I can vividly recall that my mouth was dry as sand and my knee caps were jittery – just rapidly quivering, I almost thought I could hear them rattling. I was so scared. I guess we all were, but no one backed down. Somehow, through eye contact and barely noticeable facial expressions we moved in simultaneously and swiftly and took him down. No injuries to anyone. It was hell carrying Tom to the elevator as he struggled. I was latched on to a thigh and holding on for dear life. I’ll tell you … we did not get paid enough!!
Yesterday [EDIT: actually, September 2, 2011], I was waiting on an elderly man at the counter in Marion. Normal transaction; regular customer. He was purchasing a money order and a stamp. He walked in from the excruciating heat and humidity we’ve been experiencing, and weakly approached me hobbling with his cane. I could immediately tell he wasn’t feeling very well, and asked him if he was OK. “Yes, just the heat.” We proceeded with the transaction, and when it came time to pay, he pulled out his wallet and tried to take out the $290 some-odd dollars to hand to me. He had significant difficulty. He seemed confused, as if he couldn’t figure how much he had taken out of his wallet and how much more he needed. I waited patiently. Finally I asked him, “Are you sure that you are OK?” He replied, “Yes. I’m fine.” Still, he couldn’t take out all the money. I said, “Here, let me help you,” and took hold of his wallet. He seemed like he wanted to let go, but he couldn’t. I gently pulled out his money, counted it out in front of him, and handed the rest back. He tried to put it back in his wallet, but he just crumpled it up and stuffed it in. It was hanging all out, so I took it back, arranged it neatly in his wallet and again handed it back. It was quite apparent that something was askew; I asked him if he’d like to come in the back and sit down and I’d get him a cool glass of water. Again he insisted he was fine and that his friend out in the car would take care of him. About the time I handed him his purchase and change, his cane fell to the floor and he clung to the counter top. I said, “Stay right there. I am going to come around and help you to your car.” I scooted out to the lobby, and just as I reached him, he began to fall. I was able to stop him enough so that he gently leaned on the wall and slowly slumped to the floor without getting hurt. I shouted to another clerk to call 911 and asked a customer to go outside and find his friend. His face went blank and he started to breathe heavily and foam up at his mouth, drooling. Then he began moaning and his body stiffened and his eyes rolled back in his head. He was profusely sweating. I was pretty sure he was having a seizure, maybe a stroke. I unbuttoned his shirt, kept speaking to him softly and rubbing his shoulders just so he knew I was there. This went on for 2 or 3 minutes. Then, it all stopped and I thought for a few seconds that he was dying right there in front of me. Another clerk had come out there with me and was checking his pulse. It was very faint, but there. Then, his eyes opened and with great relief the EMTs arrived and took him away, but not before the gentleman pointed at me and said, “Thank you for helping me”. I gave the money order to the man’s friend. I am certain the man was unaware of what was going on during those few minutes before he opened his eyes, yet he knew I had helped him. I had to hold back the tears and it took several hours for me to fully calm down. Heard later from the hospital that they were running tests, but thought it was a stroke and that he was doing well. Thank God!
It wasn’t always fun on the Psychiatric Ward. Lunch time. Patients are sitting around at the tables munching on hospital food in the cafeteria. Staff are bunched around the perimeter watching on. Happened every day. This was on a ward for chronic patients, if memory serves, at Harlem Valley. Anyway, one fella was disturbing the other guys by stealing their baked potatoes. A little brouhaha ensued among a few of them. A doctor standing next to me said that “Lowell” was on a low-carb diet and that I needed to make him stop eating all those potatoes. Oh joy. “Lowell, man, ya gotta knock this off. These other guys have got to eat.” No response. “Lowell, the doctor says you can’t have any more potatoes.” “Go f yourself.” And so it went.. “Lowell, You ARE going to stop.” He snatched up another baked potato. As he was bringing it up to his face, I grabbed him by the wrist. The potato flew up in the air. My eyes followed the hot potato. His right fist hit me square in the nose. Before that moment, I had a nice Roman nose. I staggered back a few steps. Lowell was a big lad … much bigger than I. I felt for my nose. It was under my left eye … or so it felt. I saw red and the adrenaline rush came and I charged poor Lowell. He never had a chance. With the quick response of other staff, we had him subdued, in a straight jacket, and a needle in his rear in moments. That was such a fun place I eventually had surgery on my nose about a month, or so, later. They had to wait for it to heal before it could be broken again. [The Psych Ctr. told me I was fine – I KNEW it was broken – so, it wasn’t done right away.] The process involved packed my nose with cocaine to numb it, putting me into semi-consciousness, and then smashing my face with a little hammer and chisel. Really! After it’s reset to specs, they stuff the nose with gauze and stuff to keep it in place. One thing I cannot tolerate is a stuffed nose. As soon as I got home, I pulled all the gauze out so that I could breathe, only I couldn’t because as soon as there was no gauze, my nose swelled up shut. It was torture and ruined all the work the doctor’s had done. Now I’m stuck with this schnoze, making me, at the Post Office, “The Long Nosed Rascal.” That was such another fun place. 😉 And that reminds me of a joke. Maybe you have heard it. Maybe you don’t want to. 🙂 This always struck my funny bone … The stud and the dork are talking about getting women. The dork wonders how the stud manages to attract all those women down at the beach. The stud says, “I just put a potato down my bathing suit. Works every time”. So, off the dork goes in his swim suit, potato in hand and on down to the beach. He sticks the potato down his pants and begins parading up and down the beach. Nothing. No girls. In fact, it’s even worse than usual. Back at the house, the dork explains his problem. Stud says, “show me what you did. ” The dork does. “No man,” the stud says, ” You’ve got to put it in the FRONT of your pants.” Ha Ha Ha
New Year’s Eve, Harlem Valley Psychiatric Center in Dutchess County, NY, 1983, probably — I worked the day shift and had recently transferred up there from a LI facility, so, I was junior man on my shift. Evening shift is coming on and they do their routine head count before accepting the ward. Meanwhile, all the day people are heading out … except me, the junior guy. I have to wait until the shift head accounts for each patient and accepts the ward. As fate would happen, one guy was missing in action. George. He was out using his “Honor Pass” that allows him to have pretty much full access to the grounds … but, he was late coming back. I had to go searching for him to bring him back before I could go home. Boo-yah! Off I go to seek out the missing fella. It was getting dark, cold, and there was snow & ice covering the ground, but it wasn’t long before I spotted George in a telephone booth out in front of the Administration Building. His arms were flailing and he was very animated. “Hey George! Whatcha doin’. You need to get back to the ward. They’re waiting for you.” “Hey man, I’m talkin. to the effin’ FBI, man. Leave me alone. I have business.” I have no idea who George was really on the phone with, maybe it WAS the FBI, but, more than likely, it was a dial-tone. We argued back & forth, George insisting he had business with the FBI and I was pleading with him to cooperate. “George, c’mon, it’s cold out here. I just want to get home with my family. It’s friggin’ New Year’s Eve.” “F— You!” On it went — maybe 10 -15 minutes. I was out of patience. “George, we’re hanging up the phone, going back to the ward, and I’m going home. You can call them back tomorrow.” SLAM. I personally hung up the phone. With no warning, George leaped at me right there in the phone booth that we were both crowded into. We grappled and then we slipped on the ice out into the parking lot. Nobody was letting go. We just rolled around in the snow for what seemed like a very long time. “Oh great,” I thought, “here I am fighting for my life with nobody around.” Death seemed imminent – for someone. Then, out of the blue, I could hear the sound of shoes crunching in the snow coming toward us. I could also hear the rattling of beer bottles in a brown paper bag — it WAS New Year’s Eve, after all, and this was the cavalry. Thankfully, Jim, an evening shift guy – who I would work with later for several years on the Secure Unit – was a bit late for work. That was my good fortune. Between the two of us, we were able to restrain George and get him back to the ward. I went home, and Jim went to his ward presumably to celebrate the New Year with some beer. Jim and I, and our families, became very good friends for many years. He’s not on FB, but his wife and daughters are, so we are still sort of in touch. I would trust my life with that man, and I think he would trust his with me. That’s all there is to the making of good friends. Easy as pie!