by Robert Lanz, LCSW
When it comes to domestic violence, men are weak, recalcitrant, and hopeless for the most part, and the disinhibitory effects of alcohol are frequently a contributing factor. Joe the wine-imbiber found that out the hard way.
I’m sure there was a prior history connected to the events that brought Joe down to the ER with the paramedics that night. After all, it would be rare for an aggrieved wife (or whatever she was) to pick up an empty wine bottle, most likely something with a screw-top, and break it over a guy’s head without good reason. I’m also sure it may not have been an entirely spontaneous event when after breaking the bottle over Joe’s forehead while he was either passed out or sleeping soundly, Mrs. Joe looked in her hand and noticed she was still holding the bottle’s jagged neck. Maybe a light went off over her head: Why waste a good weapon when there’s still work to be done? Or maybe she flashed back to an old gangster or cowboy movie and realized a person could do a lot of damage with a few deft moves and some broken glass, especially if Joe wasn’t wearing a shirt.
The woman proceeded to carve Joe like a Thanksgiving turkey, taking care not to damage the parts she may want to relate to later, like his penis. The rest of Joe’s fleshy, drinker’s body was fair game: nothing too deep, but deep enough to require a suture needle and thread to fix.
The paramedics called the cops. They arrived at Joe’s, did a brief interview with him and he was loaded into the ambulance. He apparently told police it was his fault again: he didn’t want to press charges. (In those days, you could actually get away with that.) It took one-hundred and eighty-six stitches to close Joe up: a truly Frankensteinian task. Any DV patient is a social-work patient, and Joe being a guy didn’t exclude him from our reporting requirements, even if the assailant was a female.
Later, the cops came to the ER to finish their report and walked into the treatment room just as the doctor was doing some Downward Dog stretches trying to get his back into a more relaxed state after being hunched over Joe for the first hundred stitches. My immediate thought when I walked in with the cops was that Joe himself wasn’t going to be in any stretching situations for an extended period of time. Yeah, yeah honey I really wanted to go to that yoga class with you but you cut me pretty bad. Maybe next time. Naw.
Joe told the cops he was okay with the outcome of the night’s events and he didn’t want Mrs. Joe to go to jail. Pretty forgiving guy, I thought. And so there I was, all ready to do my social work pitch on a guy with a record number of sutures and he was resistant to catch. To him, the slasher evening was just another part of the intricate interweave of his less-than-perfect, marital-like relationship. Given the very less-than-perfect participant, my pitch was minimal: half-hearted, barely meeting the requirements of the hospital policies and procedures manual. Just when I was about to experience a twinge of social work guilt for my lackluster intervention, I got a call from the waiting room.
“Bob. Mrs. Joe is out here and wants to see her husband.”
“Tell her it will be a couple of more hours back here. We’re still sewing.”
I bit my tongue, almost saying, “But if her name is Betsy Ross, send her back.” Instead, I just hung up. More tongue calluses – it never ends for us.
A couple of minutes later I got another call from the front: “That guy’s wife says she’s going home to sleep, but wants his keys. She followed the ambulance in a cab, and now she’s locked out of the house.”
Talk about adding insult to injury. Joe’s going to be in acute pain when the wine wears off, if he ever lets it, and a laugh or a sneeze will be excruciating. Then again, there was the possibility, and I’m not making this up, he most likely had more of the painkilling grape beverage hidden in the garage or the garden somewhere and Joe would use the medication he thought would work best as soon as he got home. I’m sure he would now have the good sense to pour it into a plastic cup and toss the empty bottle really far away.
Joe handed me the keys and I took them up front and gave them to his lovely, ahem, wife. She looked like she might need a referral to a dentist, but that was a chronic rather than an acute situation. Besides, she wasn’t actually my patient and all I needed to know was that she was steady on her feet and we wouldn’t incur liability by giving her a key chain that included car keys. She passed my visual test and I got a confirmatory nod from our triage nurse in the waiting area. I suppose she got home okay. At least she didn’t come back on my shift.
I went back to see how Joe was doing and brought the requisite domestic violence handouts in the very, very unlikely event he volunteered to go to a shelter, a place thirty miles away, where alcohol was not allowed and twelve step meetings were not optional.
The doc was just finished his hundred and eighty-sixth stitch:
“Can we get this guy home with a cab voucher, Bob?”
Joe didn’t come back on my shift, either.