The Emergency Department called me because there was an aggressive and intoxicated psychiatric patient causing some problems. When I got there, I heard him yelling at the staff. He was demanding to be allowed to leave so he could go somewhere and kill himself. His wife was leaving him for someone else, he said, so he had nothing to live for. Of course, the staff was shouting at him too, but only so they could be heard above his shouting.
Before I got to the room, I met his wife, with whom I happened to be acquainted. (No, I wasn’t the guy for whom she was leaving her husband.) She was concerned for him and embarrassed. I asked her if what he was saying was true, and she said it was. I don’t think she foresaw how he would react when she dropped that bomb on him. I’d never met the guy, but I could have told her what he’d do.
The more I heard of the shouting — both from him and from the staff — the more it sounded like an argument. He refused to listen to anyone, and the staff refused to let him leave. “Let me out of here!” he’d say, and they’d respond with “Mister Johnson, we can’t do that, we’re here to help you!” (His name wasn’t Johnson, but let’s call him Robert Johnson for the sake of this article.)
I turned to his wife and asked, “What did his mother used to call him?”
“Huh?” she said. “Why do you need to know that?”
“I want to try something,” I told her.
“She called him ‘Bobby'”.
I walked into the room and adopted the demeanor of someone who was surprised to see an old friend in a hospital. “Bobby!” I said. “What’s going on?”
The transformation actually shocked me. He changed instantly from a drunk guy spoiling for a fight to a ten-year-old kid leveling with his best buddy. He started telling me all about what was going on, and I said, “Hey, while we’re talking, let these good folks do their jobs. Now, go on. You were at home, minding your own business, and then what?”
He sat there and told me the whole story, and the staff got what they needed (blood samples, IV line started, and so on) without a problem. Anything I wanted him to do, he did it. Anyone else tried to get him to do something, he’d look at me and ask me if he should do it. And when it came time for me to leave the room, he was calm and grateful that someone heard him out.
This was several years ago. I still don’t know him, and wouldn’t recognize him today. He probably wouldn’t recognize me, either, because he was pretty drunk at the time. But we were childhood buddies for a little while.
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