Slim's Broken Leg, Part 3
A Little Room For The Truth
The X-Ray showed a hairline fracture above the ankle. No big deal. Lockwood wheeled me into this little treatment room and fitted me with one of those clunky walking boots. He said it was safe enough to walk on, but fixed me up with a pair of crutches for back-up. Then, changing out his mask, said he had rounds to make. He paused a moment.
“How you fixed for money?” he asked.
“Tell you what. If I were you, I'd skip the pay window and go on out the door.”
“Won't I get a bill or something?”
“I doubt it.”
“But—you took my information, didn't you?”
“That was for show.”
“What about Aletha?”
“She didn't take anything, either. It's like you weren't here, man.”
“No shit? Thanks,” I said.
He extended his hand. “Name's Darwin, Darwin Lockwood. I'm just glad to help somebody besides a goddamn Covid patient.”
“Call me Slim.”
I asked him if he felt safe just wearing that little mask. He laughed. “Hate to tell you, pal, but walking around here is like swimming in a sea of Covid. Half the time, I don't even bother to wear this thing. Without all the proper PCP, the mask is a joke.”
“What if they fire you?”
“So, let 'em fire me, what do I care? But they won't 'cause I'm too valuable to them. We're hemorrhaging doctors and nurses from this joint like blood from a severed artery. A lot of 'em are quittin' 'cause they won't take the shots.”
“'Cause they're fuckin' lunatics. They're pro-Trump and they watch Fox News. Some of these numbchucks think Tucker Carlson is God.”
I explained to him that I hadn't had a TV in forty years, so I didn't know Tucker Carlson from the Cisco Kid. Lockwood was dumbstruck.
Suddenly, the door came open, a tall, lean black man started in. The badge on his lab coat read, “Holcomb, Intern.” “Oh—sorry,” he muttered, “Didn't know anybody was in here.”
“That's all right, come on in, Gerald,” Darwin said.
“I just need to hide out a minute. Who's this?”
“This is Slim.”
“Pleased to meet you, Slim. You don't have Covid, do you?”
“Naw, just a broke leg.”
“A broke leg,” Gerald sounded wistful. “I remember those.”
Gerald whipped off his mask, chunked it in the trash, with what looked like disgust. “Goddamn these motherfuckers. . .”
Gerald hesitated, looking at me.
“It’s all right,” Darwin said, “Slim’s cool. What’s goin’ on?”
“You know that bean bag in six?”
“The one we just pulled off the ventilator?”
“Yeah. Fucker's asking for a TV, now.”
“Did you tell him we're short on TV's in this joint?”
“Yeah, but he says he has a right to a TV. He read it in his Patients' Bill Of Rights.”
The so-called “Bill Of Rights” Gerald referred to was contraband some joker had photocopied and smuggled in from the Life's-A-Dream Recovery Center in Houston.
“Life's-A-Dream,” I said. “Never heard of it.”
“It's a cadillac rehab facility for high rollers,” Darwin said. The dog-eared document had somehow found its way into the Moberdee County Hospital, where it now circulated among Covid patients, most of whom apparently assumed that the outfit referred to in the brochure was the slum joint they were in, instead of a luxury resort on the Gulf coast, the name of which could easily be found on the title page.
Apart from wide-screen TV's in every room, with Netflix, HBO, and Popcorn Flix, the brochure's list of rights included airport transfers, a daily Swedish massage, canoeing on the 18-acre lake, fishing, hiking trails, gourmet dining, yoga and pilates classes, meditation with a resident swami, sex therapy, pet therapy, equine-assisted psychotherapy, and professional re-entry support.
Darwin marveled at the fact that out of all these delights, the one these monkeys were obsessed over was having access to a fucking TV—widescreen or otherwise.
“Let me guess,” Darwin said, “He wants to watch Fox News.”
“Right.” Gerald observed that there were now some dozen or so bed-ridden patients all crowded into the common room of the ICU watching Tucker Carlson, half of them unconscious, if not already dead.
“They don't care,” Darwin nodded, “They’re just looking to sail out on the Lord's Prayer and a load of bullshit.”
Gerald looked at Slim. “You don't watch Fox News, do you, man? I don't wanta offend anybody.”
“Yes, you do,” Darwin grinned.
“Yeah, you right,” Gerald laughed.
I assured them I didn't watch Fox News.
“Slim hasn't owned a TV in—how long, Slim?”
“Forty fuckin' years,” Darwin shook his head in awe. “Can you believe that, man?”
Gerald's mouth fell open. I asked him if he planned to be a doctor. He said he had put in two years at the junior college in Clarendon and was now trying to earn money for medical school, meanwhile getting some “hands-on” in the county hospital. “Hope I don't die of Covid before I can get my doctor's license,” he mused. “Wouldn't that be funny?”
“Yeah, man, pretty fuckin' funny,” Darwin smiled, but a cloud passed briefly over his face.
I thought for a moment. “I don't mean to offend you fellas, but, hearing you talk about your patients, somebody might get the idea you don't care much about them.”
They looked at each other, then, turned their eyes on me.
“Why should we give a shit about them?” Darwin asked point-blank. “Most of these birds wouldn't be here if they'd gotten their shots and worn their masks, instead of bloviating all over town about their god-damned freedom. Huh, Gerald?”
“You got that right,” Gerald replied. “Now they all up in here expecting us to save them? Seriously? You know what I say to that?” His voice dropped to a near-whisper. “I say fuck them, man. I know we ain't s'posed to talk that way, but I ain't no doctor, yet, so I can say what I want. And I guarantee you most of these doctors feel the same way. Nurses, too. I ask you: Why the fuck should we be having to prioritize the ignorant and just plain stupid over people with illnesses they got through no fault of their own? Huh? Why? Can you answer me that, Dar?”
“'Fraid I can't, Gerald.”
“I've heard things up in here—in this very room, in fact—things you wouldn't believe a doctor would ever say—where nobody but me or Darwin or these walls could hear them. Fact is, we all burned out on these self-centered, ignorant motherfuckers. Just this morning, we turned away a guy with cancer. Yeah! Guy had Stage IV rectal fuckin' cancer, and we had to cut him loose. And that's just one lousy patient in one lousy hospital. This goin' on all over the country. Every city! We turnin' away people with cancer, kidney disease, diabetes, heart failure, pneumonia, sepsis—I don't know what all. And here we are falling all over ourselves, some of us dyin', in order to save these goofballs.”
He looked at Lockwood, who stood there nodding his head gravely. “Ambulance came in late last night,” Darwin said, “just before I went home. Old guy having chest pains. His poor old wife rode in the back with him. And we turned 'em away! Told 'em to get lost.” Darwin paused, shaking his head. “Could'a been my grandparents.”
“Where'd they take 'em?” I asked.
“Fuck if I know. Wichita Falls, Abilene, maybe. If the poor old buck made it that far.”
Gerald stood there a moment, arms folded over his chest. Looking down at the floor, he sighed. “Hate to admit it, but. . .maybe Slim's right. I'm actually starting not to care.” He paused. “I hate myself for that! Hell, I pro'bly shouldn't even be a doctor.”
“Me, neither,” Darwin said quietly.
Just then, a voice—female, robotic, softly soothing—came over the PA: “Code Blue. ICU. Room. 7. Repeat. Code. Blue. ICU. Room. 7.”
Gerald and Darwin looked at each other. “That's us,” Darwin said. “Take care, man!”
“Nice meetin' you, Slim,” said Gerald, as they exited the room.
(Next—Slim’s Broken Leg, Part 4: Slim Goes Underground)