The Iowa 7th Cav Rides Again
The River Rat Ranger gets on occasion the opportunity to tap the intelligence of the some of the world’s most interesting people. Today there was a message on a scrap of paper by the phone to call an old friend, Dean, the curator of the museum at the Gettysburg Battlefield. Dean is back in the state doing some research for a book on an Iowa Civil War cavalry regiment. His voice on the phone took me back over 15 years.
I was working at the county hospital on the 3-11 shift taking care of adult psychiatric patients on a six bed maximum security unit. Dean was the evening unit clerk while he pursued his graduate degree, I think in museum science. He was responsible for all the clerical duties for my unit and the attached 40 bed acute care psych unit. He carried an unflappable dignity to a job that not only required dealing with the madness of 46 acutely ill patients but also a nursing staff which was often difficult to distinguish from the clients. Psychiatric care personnel tend to be VERY type B personalities with almost no organizational skills or interest. Dean had the organization and focus of a corporate accountant. I can picture myself now rushing into the nurses’ station demanding, “Dean, quick, where’s a pencil?” He would give a tired, long suffering sigh and say, “In the drawer…. labeled… ‘Pencils’”.
Nothings unsettled him. He was an island of calm in a sea of chaos.
I remember one night in particular. He had his work caught up and came back to the security unit to play solitaire at the table in the corner. It was visiting hour and I had my hands full with one patient whose husband had come to see her. They had met right there on the security unit a year or two before. Boy meets girl on the psych ward campus.
She was bipolar in the manic phase that night and was getting louder and louder and increasingly threatening and obnoxious. I made the mistake you NEVER make in that environment; I turned my back on someone, her husband, and ordered her to take a time out in her room. She cursed me in defiance. I put my hand on her elbow to guide her to her room. I felt a hand on my shoulder and was spun around by her husband, straight into a whistling round house punch to my face that set my on my rear and I slid into the wall.
My shouts for help carried out to the open unit over the ceiling microphones and a half dozen staff charged to my assistance, followed quickly by several security guards. The other patients jumped to the defense of the attacking husband and a general melee resulted. Though it all, Dean sat calmly playing solitaire as though he were at a table in the city park on a summer day. At last the visitor was arrested, handcuffed and removed to jail, the patients were locked in their rooms and I stumbled panting to the table and sat down across from Dean. I rested my forehead in my hands and watched my blood slowly drip from my split lip onto the table. He continued to place one card on another.
“My grandmother prays every day that I’ll get a job somewhere else.” I said when I got my breath back.
Dean looked calmly at a red 10 and placed it on a black jack.
“As do we all.” He replied.
It really, really happened. I’ve been delighted with him ever since. His visits are special occasions. We guzzle coffee and pour over maps of Iowa cemeteries where more of the vets of his “lost regiment” might be buried. We read over old obituaries and reminisce and I try to match wits with him. Good companionship and good times. It was a day to remember.