By Thomas F. O’Neill Getting to know you
It was her tenth year as an emergency room nurse and she certainly earned her pay at the Hospital. But most nights Betty Almond dreaded working the emergency room shift. The overtime hours were taking a toll on her. Every night there were gunshot victims, assaults, and stabbing victims. They came through the emergency room doors and she treated them as if she was running on automatic pilot. She tried her best to keep a psychological distance from her patients but the harder she tried the closer she got to them. It just wasn’t part of her psychological disposition to be distant from people.
She also did her best to maintain a routine in treating the patients. The emergency room environment was chaotic to say the least. It was not your normal nine to five office job that Betty’s husband was use to working. She was putting in long hours at the hospital and her husband began to see some negative changes in her attitude. She just wasn’t her normal optimistic self and life seemed to be weighing her down.
The near death cases in the emergency room and those that did die on her watch came with the job. But those emotional experiences were not something she trained for or prepared for and ten years in the emergency room was beginning to weigh on her emotionally.
She noticed that every evening a scraggly bum of a fellow would stroll into the emergency room’s waiting area. The coat, shirt, and pants that he wore looked as if they were never washed, and constantly worn. She wondered to herself when first seeing him. If the clothes that scraggly fellow was wearing were ever removed from his body. He was after all homeless, and she quickly noticed how his hair and beard were unkempt. He was just downright dirty, and he brought an odor with him of burnt ash.
He made his daily visits to the emergency room because he liked their coffee which he didn’t have to pay for. When the coffee pot was empty he would politely inform the emergency room staff that the pot was in desperate need of refilling. He would also remind them if the powdered cream or sugar had run out. Most of the staff ignored the homeless chap but Nurse Betty enjoyed humoring the fellow who was known as, Phillip Hobbs. She saw something in his smile even though he only had two remaining front teeth.
“You sure make good Coffee,” Phil said to her.She refilled his cup and started to return to her duties.
“I’m glad you enjoy it,” Nurse Betty replied, “we like to please our repeat customers.”
“Well I’ve been helping myself to the coffee here for five years now,” said Phil.
“I see that,” said Betty, “so why do you come here for coffee.”
“It’s so busy here it’s almost like I’m invisible,” he said, “no one cares I’m here and I don’t bother anyone, no one bothers me and besides you’re nice.”
“Where do you live?” She asked.
“Under a bridge,” was his reply.
“My god! doesn’t it get cold?” She asked.
“Naa we burn garbage in a large metal drum for heat,” he said a matter of factly.
“I wasn’t always like this you know. I was decorated three times for valor in Nam,” he said with great pride, “boy was my Father proud. I ignored the baby killer comments from the college preppies because I was no baby killer. I was a medic during the war in Vietnam. I saved lives and helped people like you’re doing here now.”Nurse Betty turned once again to enter the Emergency room.
“I’m sure there are jobs that you could do for money so that you don’t have to live on the street,” she said, “there are agencies that can help you.”
“Too many rules,” he said.
“Too many rules?” she asked, “what do you mean.”
“Those agencies have too many rules; they wanted to put me in a group home with a curfew. No beer and what not,” he said with some agitation in his voice, “I’m an adult not a child.”
“Well you should apply for cash assistance and low income housing,” she said.
“Well some of my friends sell their blood for money,” he said, “not me though I’m scared of needles.”
“You used to be a medic,” she said laughing, “and you’re scared of needles.”
“Those needles were being applied to the people I was helping not being stuck in me,” he said.
“Nothing to it just a small prick,” she said, “not that painful.”
“That’s okay I will pass on the bloodletting,” he said while taking a gulp of his coffee.
“You know, I wasn’t always like this,” Phil said to her, “five years ago I just broke down and lost everything. I was living back then from pay check to pay check. I lost my job, then my house, and my car, so here I am but I get by.”Betty told her husband about Phil as they ate breakfast at their kitchen table. She told him about the medals he received for his Valor in Vietnam.
“It’s good getting to know you,” she said to him.
“You’re a good Nurse, I see that in you,” he said, “you care about people.”
“You’re a good person, too” she said to him, “I wish there was more I could do for you. No one should live on the street; everyone should have a roof over their head.”
“I’m doing all right,” he said trying to maintain his dignity, “really it’s not that bad.”
“The war has been over for ten years now he must have some serious issues,” her husband said while reading the morning paper, “the next time he comes around call the hospital security. He has no business being there.”Every day Betty made sure the coffee pot was full and each day she went out of her way to engage Phil with some small talk. Phil not only enjoyed Betty’s Coffee. He also enjoyed the feeling of being visible. He may not have been all that visible to the other staff but Betty treated him as a full fledged human being. There was just something about Phil she liked.
“He’s harmless,” she said.
There are those unforeseen circumstances that have a tendency to plow over us when we least expect them. One of those unforeseen events came to Betty on a November night in 1985 when a drunk driver careened his vehicle into her car. She was seriously injured and for the first time in her life she returned to the emergency room not as a hospital employee but a critically injured patient.
Her husband arrived at the hospital shaken up and visibly distraught.
“How’s my wife,” he shouted to a nurse.Well, Phil endured the needle and Betty received her transfusion.
“Calm down they're working on her now,” a nurse said to him.
A short time later a Doctor came out to the waiting area, “what is your blood type?” he asked Betty’s husband.
“Type A positive,” he replied.
“Your wife is in urgent need of a blood transfusion,” the Doctor told him, “but we can’t locate her blood type. She’s type AB negative, a very rare blood type.”
“You mean she might die?” Betty’s husband said frantically.
“We’re trying to locate type AB negative blood,” the Doctor said.
“Are you Betty’s husband?” asked the scraggly looking, homeless man.
“And you are,” came the sarcastic response from Betty’s husband.
“Your wife makes the best coffee but I don’t know who made this it’s downright awful,” Phil said with a cup of Coffee in his hand.
“Look what the hell is this bum doing here?” Betty’s husband said to the Doctor in an agitated voice.
“He’s one of your wife’s associates,” the Doctor replied.
“Is there anything I can do I used to be a Medic,” Phil asked.
“We got everything under control,” said the Doctor as he turned to walk away.
“Please locate that type AB- blood,” said Betty’s husband.
“We are doing our best,” said the Doctor as he returned to the Emergency room.
“You need type AB- blood?” Phil asked.
“Get away from me you freak,” said Betty’s husband visibly angry.
“You said you need type AB blood,” Phil repeated.
“Look if you don’t get the hell away from me I’m going to call hospital Security,” Betty’s husband yelled.
“Is this man bothering you Mr. Almond,” asked a Nurse, “are you bothering this man,” she said to Phil.
“Sorry but I was just trying to say that I have type AB negative,” said Phil, “but I will just drink my Coffee over there in the waiting area.”
“Look,” Mr. Almond said very loudly, “you don’t have any kind of communal diseases or anything do you?”
“I just need a haircut -- you won’t catch anything from me,” said Phil.
“It’s Betty I’m worried about; my wife is getting your blood,” Mr. Almond said. He paused for a second and stared in disbelief as the Nurse took Phil into the Emergency room.
“Well we are practically blood relatives now,” Phil said to Betty in her hospital room.Not quite sure of the moral of this story, but it’s a nice story worth sharing. Phil did eventually get back on his feet during the dot com boom of the mid nineties. He did quite well for himself reselling designer computer mouses online. But unfortunately, when the internet bubble burst in the late nineties, so did Phil’s company. Phil is happy though, living out of Betty and Hank’s garage, and once a month he donates blood at their local blood bank.
“That was awfully sweet of you Phil,” she said.
“I sure miss your Coffee, Nurse Betty, I don’t know who took over making it since you’ve been laid up in this room,” Phil said to her, “the coffee down there is just downright awful.”
“Hank,” Betty said to her husband, “I think Phil can fit in one of your suits.”
“What,” Hank said in a shocked voice.
“He’s about your size,” she said.
“No, No,” Hank repeated, “he can get his own suit.”
“Take him out for a haircut too and a Cappuccino,” she said to her husband.
“Look now that’s going too far,” said Hank, “next you’ll be having him move in with us.”
“I hope I’m not putting you guys out of your way,” said Phil at their kitchen table while wearing Hank’s pajamas.
“No not at all,” Hank said angrily.
“Now, Hank, be nice,” said Betty, “you look so much nicer now Phil with a haircut and shave.”
“And not to mention my pajamas,” Hank said angrily. “You got him wearing my suits, dress shirts, ties…”
“Hank,” Betty said in a stern scolding voice, “he needs to look professional if he’s to get back on his feet.”
Betty and Hank had their only child a daughter in 1986, and they had their first grandchild in 2008. As retired grandparents, they enjoy spending time with their granddaughter. Their daughter Angela refers to Phillip Hobbs as Uncle Phil and she visits him often in her parent’s garage.
Always with love, from Suzhou, China.
Thomas F. O’Neill
China Cell: 8615114565945
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Thomas F. O'Neill can be found at the links below.