by Robert J. Lanz, LCSW
“It’s not conditions. It’s decisions that shape your life.” – Tony Robbins
Goofballs. They’re everywhere. They’re the guys that could do a lot better in life but for some reason, don’t. They could. They should. Maybe they would. But most just go on about life in the goofball lane, depending on family, friends, luck, the system or some other cosmic source to hold them together when life gets tough. That’s most days for a real goofball. Goofballism- it happens to everyone some time. I call that a goofball moment. Some people spend their life in that moment. They’re goofballs.
George came to the ER stabbed all over his body, including a couple of significant and possibly life threatening, penetrations to the chest. Serious enough to activate the trauma team and get everybody pumped up for a while and get a lot of cops in the mix. We put in a chest tube, gave him a couple of units of blood and sewed him up. At trauma team speed, with everybody clicking, that only took about an hour and then George was stable. But, an hour is a log time to lay there and let people poke and probe and cut and sew so George certainly had enough time to think about his near death experience. He certainly had more than enough time to think about his story and get it straight for the cops. Now, most of us regular folks wouldn’t be so quick to consider all the angles but for the rest of the guys who do get into these situations on a regular basis, those would be the goofballs, lying and making stuff up is a natural act once you realize you are going to live through this particular near death experience.
George had a simple story, a common story, as in “I was just walking down the street (all covered with gang tattoos in someone else’s territory) and these three guys came up (the implication always being, if it was only one or two guys, they’d be here, not him) and they asked me where I was from.”
I guess he came from the wrong place and they stabbed him all over his body he said. In the subculture this goofball chose to join such confrontations and outcomes were daily events. It made sense to the cops. It made sense to us. It would probably make sense to his friends and family. Another goofball stabbed.
Our policy is to use a phony name when a crime victim is injured enough to be admitted into the hospital because we don’t want somebody coming into the intensive care unit to try and finish the job he started in the street and maybe take a couple of us with him. Anonymity is for our safety as well as the patients.
It’s my job to create the phony names we give the patients and I take it seriously but sometimes it is really hard to not give in to my inclination to give the goofballs a goofball name. I won’t get into my past transgressions right now but let’s just say that not everyone thought I was as funny about it as I thought I was.
“I’m going to give you a different name before you go upstairs George. It’s for your safety and ours. Hospital policy. We don’t want anything bad to happen to you here, OK? I’ll tell the cops your phony name but once you get upstairs, no one will know who you really are unless you tell them. We’re going to call you Harold Buford. The nurses will call you Harold. The doctors will call you Harold. Everyone will call you Harold. If anyone calls the hospital and asks for you, you won’t even be in the computer so it will be like you aren’t even here. Do you understand everything I said?”
“Oh, yeah.” George, uh Harold, said.
“If you want, I’ll call someone for you. Someone you really trust. We want you to be able to have visitors like all the other patients but we want you to feel safe. That’s the most important thing. Is there someone you trust with your life that we can call for you?”
“Yeah. My old lady Sally. Call Sally.”
I got the number and tried to connect with her several times over the next couple of hours but never found her at home. Then it got busy in the ER and I forgot about all about Sally and Harold. That’s never a good idea. To forget about a guy who someone is trying to kill is bad patient care and sometimes it can be dangerous.
“Hey,” the receptionist said into the phone. “There’s some tough looking guys out here looking for that guy who got stabbed. They have a lot of tattoos and they want to know what room he’s in. One of them says he’s his brother.”
I took a casual look out into the waiting room and the secretary was right. The group out there did look tough. Gang guys. Slouching around, giving the evil eye to everyone, their baggy pants slung low and dragging on the linoleum floor. Several patients who had previously seemed too sick to move got up and walked outside. The receptionist took a sudden coffee break and disappeared. The waiting room noise dropped considerably and even the feverish kids stopped crying. The bad boys looked around and saw the empty receptionist’s chair and they saw a group of patients move slowly towards the exits. They saw me staring at them from behind the bulletproof glass and they started staring back. Hey, one of them does look a lot like Harold I thought, maybe it really was his brother. And somewhere in my job description it says the SW has to find these things out. That comes under the “everything else” category as in the doctors do this and the nurses do that and then the SW does “everything else” left over. It was a part of my job I didn’t like much; walking up to a bunch of armed guys who may have just tried to kill one of our patients and might be here to finish him off. That just isn’t smart. But it is necessary.
And the more I looked at those guys, the less they bothered me so I unlocked the door and asked the guy who looked like Harold’s brother to come into my office. He came alone and I guessed he probably wasn’t here to try and kill anyone so I let myself relax a little. No retribution tonight I hoped. No murdered social workers tonight I hoped. The danger factor now seemed to be retreating.
“Your brother got stabbed but so far he looks pretty good. Well, pretty good for a guy who got stabbed anyway. He’s not going to die or anything. The doctors said it could have been a lot worse and his vital signs stayed stable the whole time he was in the ER. He’s in intensive care, do you want to go up and see him?”
“Yeah sure” he said easily.
“I’ll take you up to his room. Oh yeah. We changed his name to Harold Buford. No one knows that but you and the cops. Your brother wanted me to call his girlfriend Sally to tell her about the phony name but I never was able to make contact with her. Can you do that for me?”
“She’s in jail”.
Here’s the part where I’m having the goofball moment. This went straight by me.
“Didn’t your brother know that?” I’m thinking that if a guy’s girlfriend is in jail he ought to know it. I’m thinking maybe she’s in jail for some traffic warrants or something. Hell, if she were in prison, he’d know for sure and try to contact someone else. I must have looked a little confused.
“She’s in jail for stabbing George. They had another one of their fights and she stabbed him again. The cops came and busted her in front of the house while the ambulance was still there. He ought to know who did it, he’s the one who got stabbed.”
I spent a lot of time looking for an explanation for allowing such things to keep happening. The only one was right in my face. He’s a goofball. And he survived again. His goofball girlfriend will probably come out of this without any major problems either. Probably about the same time George gets released from the hospital, she’ll get released from jail. What a day that will be. A big goofball reunion. I hope the party ends up in a different hospital next time. We’ve already had our share of goofballs for this year.