I thought when I first met Max that his name was short for Maximilian or Maxwell. Masculine names, derived from Maximus, a third century saint and martyr. It’s a name with a history, a noun as all names are; of something or someone. Even the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick the third gave the name to his son and eventual heir. A blending of two other nouns; two other names, Fabius Maximus and Cornellus Scipio Aemillanus. Roman Generals of past gone battles, past gone empires of one sort or another. Past on; more the operative and unfavorable point of my tale it seems to me now.
I was wrong though as Max spent hours at times regaling me with witticisms about what his name meant. Truth was his parents were illegals just learning English and heard the name Max in one of the places they cleaned. A stereotype of people, yet like all stereotypes, they become that due to the fact that many people for one reason or another come to fit a pattern of behavior. A pattern of living or just a pattern of the worlds Darwinian environment that makes some people come to do questionable things in the nature of there never ending attempts at survival.
Many illegals as we call them, and many times our own citizens fall to a great extent to that stereotype. PC or not, truth is as truth comes to be seen. Without it; we’re just another animal hiding from those things of truth to which all our fears come to be. No; Max’s name was Maxim; his parents had looked up the name Max; but for some reason or another, ended up finding another word closely aligned in spelling to the short version of the name they had borrowed from their boss, and thought it a good omen to name their son the same.
It was a lucky mistake as “Maxim,” fit Max’s personality much more than the name Maximilian ever could. Maxim; a short, pithy statement which expresses a general truth, or rule of conduct, fit Max to a tee. There were all the synonyms; saying, adage, aphorism, proverb, even epigram; for he was something of a puzzle at times. The type of child born complicated to everyone’s view, yet more an axiom, given his world view. So it seemed to me at times.
Max reminded me about the funny quirks we often come across in life. Not funny ‘Ha Ha;’ but funny the ironies of life at times. Patterns that emerge in peoples lives which change us all. Not always for the better of course; at least not in the short view most of us take all too often, yet change us they always do. It is left to all of us over time to see; looking back, whether the challenges we faced changed us for the better or changed us for the worse.
I was working at one of the local hospitals; taking some clinical classes; patient care time outside my classes, in my efforts to pick up a nursing degree. After being injured in Afghanistan; several years in the Wounded Warrior Program, I was back going to school to follow another path.
I met Max this night; just an infant really, the baby sitter calling 911 because he had stopped breathing. Such a call; frantic, panicked, and rightly so. By the time I was called, things had settled down, the father; a young Hispanic man around twenty or so, held Max to his chest, rocking back and forth, the mother crying in relief or the Adrenalin letdown, the aftermath of the crisis, I wasn’t sure on first view.
That was the first time I met Max, just an infant being rocked by his father, a new life barely started, now doomed in all likelihood to frequent visits to the hospital. So my understanding came to be over time; yet I didn’t know it then. Max would change my life as few have outside the life and death experiences with my own children, my own friends at one time or another in combat and out.
Nursing was a second calling; but one I was doubtful would engage me to the extent I wanted or even needed at times. The truth of the matter was that I had started the Nursing program to have a little more freedom from the military protocols that were rather binding.
The Wounded Warrior Program is great, very supportive, even very attentive to my every need; yet also locking you within an Active Duty military status, with all the bells and whistles of legal do’s and don’ts that we as Reservist don’t normally have to contend with. I had been transferred to the 101st Air Borne unit in Kentucky and Tennessee, for it spreads for many miles across the borders of both states.
We’d had a choice of duty medical stations to be flown to. My younger son to my knowledge was stationed there; though it turned out that he was in Fort Bliss Texas, a recent transfer after his own deployment to Iraq. I could not get permission to go outside the region I was now locked within. Eventually being processed to the Midwest regional Wounded Warrior Program at Rock Island Arsenal near Davenport Iowa. The closest duty station to my older son who is a policemen in Fort Wayne Indiana.
After a few days or weeks; depending on your medical care, you are processed to go to your home duty site; usually with a relative or someone. I was still listed as Active Duty; but no real job per se. You’re not allowed to get a job or go back to work; the logic being if you can work, you probably shouldn’t be in the program.
Sometimes that’s true, and sometimes it isn’t. All soldiers are required to give a 0500; 5AM call back to the duty nurse at Rock Island to verify that we’re still alive. Haven’t committed suicide, haven’t died during the night. Probably a good requirement; especially for the younger soldiers, those not tested by time in harsh conditions or their first injuries in combat or otherwise. It’s a good program for those with Post Traumatic Stress Injuries (PTSD) or Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) where the psychological patterns become unstable at times due to the healing of the brain, and the extent of the damage done to it.
Certainly for this group of injured soldiers its definitely needed, for they will exhibit personality changes for some years to come. Many permanently. In general its a good program for all of us; but for an aging Solider Marine like myself, the seven day a-week 0500 call to check to see if I’m alive, or the hours of sitting in the local armory at a duty post, staring at walls all day long, it can get old very quick even for the best of us.
That was the other part of the program we had to comply with; reporting for duty to the nearest military armory. My home base was basically any of the local armories within a fifty mile radius; limited to any activities I might want to pursue by the military medical orders I received each month.
Outside the fifty mile radius of Fort Wayne Indiana, I still had to get orders for travel just as if I were back on any Active Duty Military base. Active Duty communications can range from excellent to average; but between Active Duty stations and Reserve Stations it tends to range from average to something way dark and deep, where you get lost to whatever duty Sergeant happens to be in the Armory at the time.
The positive side; I had access at a moments notice to my Chain of Command and my doctors back at Rock Island Facility five hours away. The negative side; even in the military I tend to be a loner and self-sufficient to a fault. I’m a team player who gives his all for the team; but finds it very difficult to accept help from anyone else. A great success for the team; but not great for my own personal development.
Don’t get me wrong, the military units and the people I came to associate with in my recovery were great; but not used to having wounded soldiers in there midst without some medical guidance to tell them what type of work I can and cannot do.
In today’s military with officers careers being lost for overstepping Risk Management Guidelines on just about everything; they, like doctors being sued all the time, get in the habit of playing defensive medicine or in this case, defensive interpretations of orders that come there way concerning those of us medically compromised and sent back to the walking wounded details of a reserve unit.
For me this translated into sitting in a corner, not given work to do, not being able to leave, for the very simple reason that if I was hurt doing something for the unit; well….bad fitness reports are the bane of any officer’s career. There fault or not.
For some months I thought reporting to another armory would help; but the end result was extra work for those I was around, having to look after me or worry they were going to get in trouble for putting me to work. I’m one to find it difficult to be a burden to others, so I started looking for alternatives.
As a younger man I’d once been interested in medicine; even went to a pre-med program for awhile before focusing on engineering and physics; but now due to my problems I wasn’t up to a full medical school program. I worked in a hospital while going to school and remembered enjoying the patient care to a great extent. Certainly I needed to focus on something besides myself, so over a period of several months I eventually chose to go to Nursing School full time. My time was my own, all accept the 5AM call in the morning; seven days a week, 365 days a year. Certainly it got old; but it was better than the eight hour shifts of passing time with nothing to do.
If I couldn’t work, it did give me something functionally to do, something every patient in recovery tends to need most of all. Nursing was a quick and easy two year degree getting another skill set while allowing me to pursue my own interests without to many limits.
Quick and easy for me anyway; my background was already complete with courses in the hard sciences; engineering and physics and mathematics, and I’d already been a Para-Medic in my younger days, so going to school was the easiest choice for what I was looking for.
Easiest in the sense that as a younger man, the ideas of Medical School were something of a life goal, as well as science in general. A life goal before my daughter became so ill that is. She became my overriding goal; searching for ways to help her. Hence my choice of going into the sciences, teaching at times, jumping and leaping from one program to another as I found my path ignorant of any solution for now; my life’s goal, finding some way to heal my daughter. As the story unfolds you will see that somewhere along the way, I became broken, lost to a great extent, and it took years to find myself again. Max and Liberty you will come to find, were much of the catalyst among others that finally healed the broken soul I had become.
After that first meeting with Max, an infant very ill; I would come to see him over time, sometimes in passing, sometimes it seemed he was there every day. I never thought it odd at the time, at least in the beginning. Yet Max seemed to light up and focus on me when I came into the room. The nurses always busy, other patients needing to be attended to, they never seemed to see Max the way that I did.
Liberty was the same way; one among several children that over the next few years I came to see, and say hello to, talk to and develop a friendly relationship with, when I found them walking the halls, just enjoying there play time with the other sick children. If I knew they were here, I would sometimes bring toys or books for them to play with or to read. Something I did when my own daughter was lost to us for so many months in the Intensive Care Unit she spent so much of her young life in. Maybe that was the nature of my view of these children, my daughter’s absence from me so much of the time, partially military deployments partially problems with my ex-wife’s husband who had become my daughter’s guardian after my ex-wife passed away.
I was lost to desert sands in the Middle East, losing touch with my family as I served in Iraq and Afghanistan, the injuries and the several years it took to recover. The absences more my fault than anyone else; the need to not be a burden to my family as I fought the battle of healing myself once again.
Yet it is with a certain amount of hubris on my part that I came to cause much of the harm I did to myself over the years, always feeling the martyr, the might of right in going it alone, never; for many years, realizing that going it alone makes you stronger; but weakens your connections to those you love, yet finding the balance of making those connections stronger, makes you less reliant on yourself. A Catch 22 if ever there is one.
Like most things in my life; the Intellectual Rationalist, I found logic a way to reason my way through to the needs of myself in the act of trying to be protective of my family. Not understanding that any lighted path lies through the heart rather than purely through the mind.
I met Liberty much the same way I did Max, taking a clinical course in Pediatric nursing and watching her being wheeled in to the Pediatric-Intensive Care Unit. Parents crying; an ongoing problem of severe asthma reaching at times a deadly race to the hospital when it grew out of control for Liberty. The name Liberty isn’t used often I gather, yet it is usually feminine; which makes some sense. Liberty, freedom, thoughts of creation coming to mind. The nature of Creation always feminine to my mind.
Liberty like Max first came to my attention as an infant, a child losing the race that even Hermes came to lose once upon a time. A deaths-head breath of life losing its hold even as her parents looked on. It always did something to me; twisted something deep and dark within me as I watched by proxy my own sense of loss, my own sense of guilt in not being able to do something, to help our children survive.
After finishing nursing school, I picked up a security position in the hospital of my choice to take my boards for becoming a Registered Nurse; it pushed me away from the couch potato status I was starting to specialize in; now that school was over. Due to the night position I worked and the type of patients that arrive many times at three o-clock in the morning on any given weekend, the nurses started calling me the Douche-Whisperer.
I hoped I had misheard the word; hoping for maybe Duce-Whisperer, like Benito Mussolini, the Italian word for Leader Duce. A Latin word Dux, or cognate with Duke. A leader; something to be respected. Yet it was a bit funny at times, for I had not misheard; it was Douche-Whisperer.
Drunks, raging hormones waiting to explode in car wreaks, druggies, people some nurses termed Douches; human waste to be washed away. Not a nice thing to say, yet when you see the same gang-banger faces, the same lost children day in and day out, the nurses and the doctors alike get frustrated that their skills are; to there view, wasted at times on those that do not care for the life they have. Cannot see anything but the feral nature of the world around them. The feminine wash which creation washes away the human waste that comes to exist within the world we live. Within the views some start to take in the raging forest fire which burns each night in every city of the world at one time or another. Burning even those that come near, even those that seek to help. Changing them as it does those lost in the fire of emotions believing that love has spurred them in some way.
I became the Douche-Whisperer long before starting to work with patients. Though some would call it something more biblical, something more a calling to save a soul. I came to work with some of the Detainees; prisoners in Afghanistan and Iraq; those feral cult mentality type personalities that cannot think beyond their imprinting, the culture that defines there view, rather than their views defining there culture. We see it everywhere today; black, white, Hispanic and all colors in between, culture being defined by the worst of behaviors coming out of the jails and inner city mentalities of the 60’s and beyond; transforming society to enjoy the worst of thoughts, rather than the best.
Raging truths of darkness that are always with us to one degree or another, that in the past was what a civilized society fought against, now acceptance for the darkness, even enjoyed and reveled in as just being free, as just being who we choose to be. Moses would have had this view coming down from the Mount as he did, watching his people turn to the worst of who they could be, the rational of giving up to the dark forces by choosing another God to validate what they were becoming. I suppose it was the same feelings Christ had when kicking out the money changers from the temple.
If it is true that good people coming together can create a world of peace and harmony; some fortress of solitude by which humanity can take a rest from the vagaries and vicissitudes of life, come to build it with the collective believe of right and wrong, and knowing the difference of each. It is also true that that those who revel in the dark-side, can come together to destroy all that disconnects them to some hope or dream through which jealousy drives it outside there reach; then yes the world can be lost, can be destroyed by the freedoms they think they have, rather than the emotional prisons they wall themselves within.
My ability isn’t something magical, or seen outside the nature of what those around me do not understand. My ability comes from having been in some ways one of those lost souls; part of the human waste, lost within the Gordian knots some of us tie ourselves within, not able to see a way out, not able to get someone to understand the prison that surrounds them even as we drop from sight.
When I talk with a lost soul, I only see the common thread by which I to once was lost, I only see a mirror of who I could have been, if at one point within my life, a hand had not descended to the depths of my soul, pulling me up to see the light, the light we all are able to see, if only we open our eyes at times to look at how it shines for thee.
So when the nurses call me the Douche-Whisperer; the joke they usually mean, whispered as they ask me to talk with some soul they are unable to connect with, quiet down, or just don’t have the time to talk with for the raging traumas that all to often swirl around them in the Emergency Rooms. I take it as a complement, a glad soul that welds the words of a common scar, a connection to the human waste that comes to be, as God tries to save them to. The living breathe of God which shines out like a diamond in the sky, even if at times its been dipped in human waste somewhere waiting to be plucked out, plucked from the addictions they escape to; to forget who they have come to be.
None can easily look in the mirror of a wasted life; seeing those around them shine constantly within their minds eye, the truth that becomes their only perception to escape from, to run from, learning to snap and claw at those who come to be the pain they flee.
My magic; if it is magic, is the simple act of listening, knowing who they are; feral, though they might be, is a soothing hand, quiet words to the savage beast that swells within. For pain is the great equalizer, we all strike out in anger at times, yet we all seek a release from that which drives us insane. Given someone who does not judge them, that looks to guide them, to mentor what they see past the lost hopes and dreams that cause them pain, they find in a quiet mans words the peace they seek. A temporary sanctuary from eyes that judge them, that condemn them as something to be washed away; something to be washed away from the light of day. It’s rather ironic really, those who condemn do so out of fear, and those who are condemned came to be; out of fear.
So when I get called; the Douche-Whisperer on the prowl, it is with a light heart, and a thanks, for the joy of finding a common heart to learn to heal together within our common scars. For whether you have wounds of the body, the mind, or the spirit that comes to be healed, they always leave the rough scars that challenge us, change us, become the map by which we see the world through the lens of there existence.
Guilt drives the scaring of the mind; yet through penance becomes the introspective challenge by which our wisdom can grow. In my minds eye I started to heal as I saw the comings and goings of Max and Liberty; so many more children like them along the way. First in the Emergency Room, then the Intensive Care Nursery, periodically in the intensive care area at two and three, they would appear and disappear as children tend to do in a hospital. You see them, then you don’t, say hi to them, and happy they are gone, yet sadly you miss them as well.
It was always with a glad heart this Damocles sword, the metal biting with both edges, the happiness and joy of Seeing Liberty and Max, yet sad that by seeing them, you knew they were ill once again. I was there in the hospital room when Max took his first step, Liberty learning to roll from side to side and sit up. Read them stories every week or so as they sat mesmerized by ‘The Cat and the Hot.’ They were five. They hugged each other at six sitting next to me, as I read them Goosebumps horror stories for children.
The cadence of life within the hospital a cadence of life and death, day in and day out, the tidal pools of life surged through the community which depend on the people within to be there when called. Max and Liberty flowed to the same cadence, as did the shrouds which hung so often over there heads. You learn a lot about death, a lot about grieve when you see it attack a child; yet I found that when death stalks a person, they become the children they always have been. Some innocent with hearts so strong, some the guilty pleasures of sin seeking the fear of absolution in there last moments. Anger, fear, complacence, acceptance; all move and shift as fear bares all souls to the quick of who they are. Max and Liberty had come to accept life within the path they were forced to walk. The least I could do, was make the walk a little easier, a little more enjoyable when they came to visit my world.
“Hi Max, how’s your day going today. The seven year old boy in front of me, wearing hospital pajamas with the varied Disney Characters on them; standing tall for his age. I was working the weekend night security as I always do, picking up shifts as I could, attempting to step into a nursing position somewhere.
When starting Nursing School it was more happenstance than anything else; but now having finished, finding a nursing job as a fifty-eight year old, more retirement age rather than a fresh new face most places look for, had become somewhat problematic. No one would say it was my age, yet most alluded to it in one form or another. Though being a combat soldier and injured probably worried them at times as well.
Civilians tend not to understand the nature of something outside there experience, so shun it most often if they can. A combat soldier is more hardened to step into a situation and confront it, sometimes the Political Correction of some find that rather harsh at times. Yet accepting the truth is more about learning to have a thicker skin, a stronger will to accept truth as a way of learning, becoming stronger.
As one interviewer said: “How can a combat soldier really have the mentality to be a good nurse? How good could you really come to be? Of course the corporate nurse that interviewed me referred to hospital patients as “pocket profit,” a term I came to understand some accountant used for the patient load. She laughed every-time she used it. Ironic that she felt a combat soldier could not be a good nurse. Funny how ignorance breeds such stereotypes.
“Hey Max: How are you feeling today?” “Good Uncle Mike. There are a lot more kids in this week, so I have plenty of friends to play with.” “Is Liberty back?” “Yea; she’s down with the sick babies, she likes to visit and watch over them for some reason.” I laughed, that was Liberty. Effusive, mercurial, a heart that always seemed to bleed for every sick child she came near. Being sick so often herself, you would have thought the opposite. Max and I smiled at each other knowing the truth of who she was.
“So what have you read lately?” “Well; I finished Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer you gave me.” “How did you like it? “It was a fun read, just like you said it would be, though I didn’t understand it all.” I read it and one quote: ‘The less there is to justify a traditional custom, the harder it is to get rid of it.’ “Uncle Mike; I’m not sure I understood that passage.”
Max called me Uncle Mike since I had come to talk with him so often when we crossed paths over the years. Every weekend I worked, he was usually somewhere close. His father came to work as a tech in surgery. A young man attempting like me; the older man, to find a path that fit our needs as well as the wants of our goals.
Maybe that was the reason I saw Max so often, though Liberty seemed to be around just as much. I see patterns around me, just as I see patterns in those parts of life that come to pass through my life. I knew at some level; in some innate way that Max and Liberty had come into my life for a reason. I just didn’t yet, know what that was.
“Max, Tom Sawyer is one of my favorites; but you do have to remember many of the words and concepts are the thoughts of an older man seeing his own life as a child, the wisdom he eventually gained in hindsight.” I thought about his question as we walked passed the elevators. We were on third floor, the new Pediatric Intensive Care unit had just opened up. Two floors up from where I’d first seen Max just a few short years ago. In that time he had blossomed; as had Liberty. Two precocious yet seemingly happy children. Certainly they seemed to circle each others lives, often to an extent I didn’t really understand.
Max reached up his hand to mine as we walked the halls. Not an unusual sight anymore, none of the staff ever questioned why there was a young boy, sometimes a young girl, sometimes both, walking through the halls, and stairwells of the hospital. I enjoyed the talks, the walks, the two of them holding hands at times as I worked. Sometimes we just sat and talked.
“It’s time to take a break Max, let’s sit over there. The Pediatric lounge just off the elevators was a good place to sit. Liberty would see us as she came out of the Intensive Care Nursery just down the hall. Nurses walked by, some doctors, family members. Most on there way to complete the next task on there never ending list of things to do in there attempts to help heal the sick. It was odd at times, always being the watcher, observing everyone; yet ignored for the most part in the things I learn about them, even if they do not see yet what they taught.
“Max; the world is full of good and bad people; yet many times even good people can do bad things due to not seeing the full extent, the full effect of what it is they do or contribute to. Everything in life is a point of balance. Take a man driving down the street, he sees someone trying to turn into the lane he’s in, slows in the middle of the street to allow the women in ahead of him. Yet in his act of courtesy to the woman in front of him, he endangers the lives of those behind him in the process of being nice. Many times causing accidents while ignoring traffic rules from his habit of being so nice to those in front of him, that he doesn’t see the lives he destroys in his wake.
“Uncle Mike: Why doesn’t the man already know that?” “Habit Max. Most of us go through life being imprinted with all the things required to be a part of the community. Courtesy is one of the mainstays of a civilized and stable society. Where we start is where we finish. Yet many can’t step out of the programming, the habits of what we are imprinted with, and use them as needed and appropriate. It goes for good habits as well as bad. There is a dullness that comes to the minds of those who accept the way things are around them without first thinking about what voices they let into there minds. Its unavoidable at times, knee-jerk emotional reflexes that we all grow up with, the cure is to challenge ourselves to see farther down the road of life, anticipate the patterns we see around us and an understanding of the mirror image of our behavior; of who we’ve become.
Over time; as I came to be healed, I started talking to those children who slowly grew up around me, there hearts filling the hospital hallways with all the joy and soulful play that all come to find within the purity of their wake. Some came and flitted by, a smile and a grin as the light came to fill their skies, some stayed much longer, the pain of life holding them for awhile.
For others like Max and Liberty; the years rolled by, they grew, my steps marching for years through the hallways and byways within the hospital I worked. Max talking to me when he felt a need as I walked on my rounds, Liberty coming to play, their souls each held in bay for the love that grew in each others eyes.
I watched as they played through the tears I held away, I watched as they walked hand in hand, watching other children come there way, watching with a glad heart and a smile waiting there turn. It was a life filled with hope, Max and Liberty, a love for each other, a life they gave in the beauty of the light that came to take them away.
I was called to the Emergency Room; a young girl arrived by ambulance, the sirens quiet, the father playing with a loaded gun had fired off a shoot, shooting his five year old through the eye. Her heart beating for a while, just long enough to get to our doors. Blonde, one blue eye left unmarked, a tiny smile on her face, her last laugh frozen on her face, a rectus of muscle by which death marks what comes to be left behind.
I watched the girl’s light step toward me; she smiled, looking back, frowning as we both watched her vessel, the toe tag placed, the white shroud her sepulcher. The police sad, distraught, their life’s work to protect, the irrational guilt of somehow not preventing this from happening.
Max and Liberty were standing next to me now, their hands reaching for the young girl. My sadness complete as we said our goodbyes. They were a family now, moving to realms unknown to me, as I watched the world spin as my future gave way to my past, the years gone by in seconds, now the seconds were upon me once again.
I watched as Max’s father rocked him within his arms, watching his son take his last breath, a mother’s cry, the nurses wiping tears from there eyes. I watched as Liberty took her last breath, a mother’s sob, a father’s howl of grieve. Yet as I took there bodies down, I watched Liberty and Max; now the young girl, walk hand in hand. For I could see them now in my mind’s eye, my reality changed to the thoughts of watching them step to another world. All of us coming together as one with the common needs of life, the common scars of grieve, as there souls were washed away, the light of grace, as god’s own tears bathed them within the beauty of his light.
Such a glorious sight to see, the truth of life that such light brings. I pray in my walks within my purgatory, to see such light come for me one day. For now, I walk; a shadow no one sees, a specter once alive, now tasked like Sisyphus to roll the stone of life across the door between life and death. To guide lost souls with the common threads of our spiritual scars, connected, knowing, feeling the catharsis of pain by which all things come to be seen.
I smiled; standing in the Emergency Room, life and death all around, an ambulance without lights just came in, a young boy walking towards me, the cries of a parent left behind. “Hi.” I said. “What’s your name?”