“The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow. Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough. Give the best you’ve got anyway.”
I wake up.
It is blurry.
I am in a room with machines going off.
There is a curtain, it is blue.
There are people talking, I can see them talking. I look over to my right, my mom is there crying, not just crying but sobbing.
There are alot of people in blue.
None of them talk to me. After a while I am up. Now I remember, I am supposed to be dead. Why am I here? Am I dead? Is this real? These are the thoughts I have.
I am alive. I had tried to kill myself the night before by taking every pill in the house, I spent the next day being forced to drink charcoal and throwing up for hours.
But why all the doctors in the middle of the night?
I learned later that what happened was I had 3rd degree heart block in the night. Third-degree heart block limits the heart’s ability to pump blood to the rest of the body. This type of heart block may cause fatigue (tiredness), dizziness, and fainting. Third-degree heart block requires prompt treatment because it can be fatal.
I was 17 years old. I was now remembering, and I am angry that I am alive.
I pass out again.
I wake up the next day.
In walks this guy. He has blue on. He has brown hair, normal length with a beard. I am watching this guy thinking to myself “Do not even say anything or I am going to punch you.”
“Hi I am Tom, I will be the nurse working with you today.”
I do not say a word.
“Ok I will be here if you need anything, I have a menu here if you want to order food.”
I am not going to eat, I throw the menu away.
The food comes in daily and I do not eat.
Day after day this guy says “Hi, how are you. Can I help with anything.” He does his work and I ignore him. My mom is by my side everyday as I lash out at her. Tom doesn’t judge me for yelling at her. He doesn’t say a word about it. He talks to my mom, as she was an RN as well so she was asking him questions.
I kept yelling at my mom, but I didn’t want her to leave that room. She never did leave. That was her way. A love that cannot be matched by anyone, anywhere, and it was given to me.
I may have had hard times, but I had that. I had a love that everyone should experience as my core. It is what allowed me to overcome everything. I would not trade it for anything. While I had rougth times, I also was given the love that would help me overcome all of it.
It has been 4 days at this point. My mom has brought me a sweatshirt of my favorite team. My Minnesota Twins sweatshirt. I loved baseball and I loved that shirt. My mom knew this. I was going to ask, but it was already there. Everytime I looked, she was there. She was in tears, but she was there.
I wore the shirt. In comes this Tom guy. He won’t go away. I guess it is his job. But it’s others’ jobs to. But they aren’t dumb enough to ask me how I am doing every day. My anger pushes them away as it is supposed to. This idiot Tom doesn’t seem to get it.
“Oh you like baseball, me too. The Twins are my favorite team too. Do you think they were better in 1991 or 1987.” (Those were the 2 years that they won the world series.) I was 11 and 15 when they won and they were moments I will always remember as a child.
I speak. I cant let this go. “Yeah I like baseball, I think they were better in 1991.”
Tom starts talking to me about baseball. I start to give one word answers that become 2 or 3 word answers. Then they become sentences.
Tom then says, “Oh I know you haven’t been eating alot and your mom says you are a picky eater. Do you think I can make you a special order? I know they say you can’t have a burger yet, but I think I can make sure you get one if you’ll eat it.”
“Ok.” Is what I say.
I eat the burger.
The next day. I am actually waiting for Tom to come. Some lady walks in the room. I am thinking to myself, where is that idiot who keeps talking to me? Where is that corny dude?
I ask my mom, “where is Tom?”
He has a day off.
“Whatever, he’s a moron anyways.” I say.
Tom is back after 2 days off. I won’t admit it, but I am excited to see him and I have been waiting for him to come back.
“Well you are starting to feel better. It looks like we can take you off some of these machines.”
I am eating now and Tom helps me fill out the menu and to understand what is happening.
The psychiatrist from the hospital comes down and I refuse to talk.
Tom then walks in.
“I heard you didn’t talk to the doctor. It is really important so they know what to do to help you.”
I have learned to trust this moron. I think he has my best interest in mind. He is on my side. He got me a burger, he likes baseball. He actually notices me and what I like. He takes time and has taken an interest in me. IN ME. He actually seems to care even though I think he is a corny moron. He is on my side. So I talk to the doctor.
Then I get the news that they want me to go to a psychiatric floor in the hospital. There is no way I am doing that. I am going to get up and leave, No No No No No.
Then Tom comes in and speaks to me. “I need to talk to you about this. You know if you do not go willingly, they may force you to go and then you have no say in it, you could end up being here even longer that way. You said you hate it at home anyways. So think of it as a vacation. You get to go talk to people, and to play games. They have a ping pong table and you said you like ping pong. You get to go to groups.”
Tom knew I liked ping pong and no one else did because he had asked. No one else noticed my sweatshirt, talked baseball, or knew I liked hamburgers. No one else went against the hospital rules and got me a burger. No one else talked to me as a person. So, if he says it is ok, I believe him. I say “ok I will go.”
He says “great I will walk up there with you. But first I have a surprise.”
In walks Tony Oliva, Twins Hall of famer with a baseball bat from the world series. He talks baseball with me and Tom for an hour. He signs a bat and gives it to me.
Tom found him visiting someone else in the hospital, and went out of his way and bothered him until he would come. Tom did this on his breaks and his off time.
I, being a 17 year old Twins fanatic, this was heaven. Baseball was my favorite sport. This was the best thing ever. I smiled. My mom said “That is the first time I have seen him smile in months.” As she sobbed.
I walked up with Tom to the adolescent psych ward. As I walked I had my bat in my hand. When I opened the doors, my new life was about to begin. It was not the end for me, but the beginning.
I walked through those doors. The doors opened and it was the beginning of a long, painful journey. It was the opening to the beginning. He was my shepard. I was the lost sheep.
I never would have made it to the doors without Tom.
It all started with him being present, and saying hi. Him noticing things. Building a relationship. Going out of his way, not always following the rules. Being invested in me. He had a wife and kids and he had a life. He made me a piroirty. For the time I was with him, when I was in the room, at those moments, I was the most important thing in the world. When he left, I am sure he moved on. But for the time he was with me, he was focused completely on me. He was not distracted, or thinking of other things. He was present completley with me. Before that, he was just there. Saying Hi.
They say Tony Oliva got me to go up there. He saved my life. While that was great, and it made my day. Truth is, I was going with Tom regardless. Tom is the one that saved my life. What happened in those doors is another story for another day.
You think that you save someones life like you see on TV or the movies like this:
Someone is on fire. Burning in the building. The hero rushes in to save him. The hero has all his armour on and has been trained well. He is ready for this and pulls him out of the building.
But It doesnt go like that. Sometimes people are burning and dying inside. We do nothing. We let them burn, we all do. We were too caught up in our own lives.
You do not save a life by running into a burning building, you save a life by saying hi.
May you all be someone’s Tom today.
BOOKS BY THIS AUTHOR:
Taking the Mask Off: Destroying the Stigmatic Barriers of Mental Health and Addiction Using a Spiritual Solution
“Taking the Mask Off” is the new book by Cortland Pfeffer and Irwin Ozborne. Cortland Pfeffer spent years as a patient in psychiatric hospitals, treatment centers, and jails before becoming a registered nurse and working in the same facilities. Based on his experience, this story is told from both sides of the desk. It offers a unique and valuable perspective into mental health and addiction, revealing the problems with the psychiatric industry while also providing the solution – one that brings together science, spirituality, philosophy, and personal experience