Friday, December 9, 2016

Saves 9

When I was a little girl the world seemed gigantic to me. Just like, really overwhelmingly huge. One place in particular always left me with a mixed feeling of awe and dread; University Hospital in Krakow.  It was a castle, maze, galaxy, hospital, and whatever else I could imagine it to be. My mother was the Queen of it all, which was a little intimidating to me. When I was 11 my mother started taking me there to volunteer taking care of the elderly patients and sick children while she worked in the ICU. She was... is, a nurse, and a really good one. Some called her a legend, because none of her patient’s ever died on her shift. Maybe before or after she left, but when she was on she worked her hardest to save every life. She was an inspiration, and like the hospital, she was bigger than life. When I grew up and became a nurse myself, everything seemed smaller. The world got really small, the hospital wasn’t as vast, but the legend of Marynia was larger than ever. She was something of a celebrity, and sharing her name and profession was a bit much.

After I finished secondary my mother really wanted me to take the Matura test and go to Wein like she did, but that seemed like... a lot for me to process. So instead I traveled and bounced around Europe for a while. She was the exact opposite of ecstatic about that. I did get an education in my own way, learning this and that, directionless but observant. I wanted to be a nurse but I wasn’t ready to take up the responsibility that would come with being the daughter of Marynia Majchrowski. I studied lives and experiences I never knew existed and gained skills I never imagined I’d need.  Sometimes I would get into trouble just to see if I could get myself out of it. I thought it was too hard living up to the impossible standard my mother had set, but those few years gave me the confidence to believe that I could handle anything she could. Now as an adult I am a little more jaded and a lot more realistic, but my mother was and always will be a giant to me.

I however, was not a giant, so Marynia K. Majchrowski decided to move to the US to make her own name. I went to school in California and ended up going into nursing after all, since the expectations of an anonymous girl new to the US weren’t so high. I work in the Emergency Department of another University Hospital, USC. It’s not as big as my mother’s University, but I look forward to making it my own. It’s a trauma center, so we see some pretty messed up people. It doesn’t bother me because in the last 6 years I had seen and done some pretty messed up things, most of which I’m proud of. Not all of it, but most. On the night shift we had little to worry about, because Dr Walker was there. He was by far the most talented, gracious, humorous, and intelligent Emergency Department doctor in the state. He knew 3 languages fluently and another 2 conversationally. He was very handsome and very, very married with two kids, but that didn’t stop all the nurses from flirting with him. He accepted the attention graciously, but it was very apparent that he was happy with his life. He radiated that happiness to his patients. I’ve seen patient’s pulse and blood pressure fall just being in his presence. He would laugh when a patient recovered, cry when they didn’t. This is the story of a crazy few months were no one laughed.
There’s a little crew of us who all work overnights, and we arranged it so we work the same nights as much as possible. Coincidentally those nights were almost always the nights that Dr Walker worked. About 3 months ago we got a call that a 23 year old female was coming in by ambulance. When she got to us she looked like she’d just fought a pack of wolves. She was bloody, battered, broken, like, a total mess. She was missing teeth and her face was near unrecognizable. We called a code and most of the ED rushed to her side; her vitals were terrible and she was crashing fast. Walker was a blur, barking out orders, and directing traffic. Dr Walker had a great record when it came to saving lives himself. He was nowhere near my mother’s mark, but his reputation in the city as being an expert was well known. We work in a rough area, so seeing victims of violent crimes was an unfortunate but all too regular part of the job. This was different somehow. Her name was Joanne. She wasn’t much younger than me, 24 years old, White, just an average girl, nothing spectacular about her. Her wounds were from far from average and way more than I’d seen in the worst domestic violence victims. This woman had been abused and beaten for some time. The EMS crew said that she was dumped on the street a few blocks away from the hospital. She was bleeding from several different types of wounds, and Dr Walker was determined to stop them all. He did his best, we all did, but by the morning the best we could do was stabilize her. For most doctors this would have been considered a victory, but Dr Walker set very high standards for himself, so by extension the rest of us did too.  Dr Walker stayed with her until the family came and he explained what happened. He was shaken… we all were, because as a team we went as he went. It was a shitty way to end my shift, my third in a row. My only consolation was I would have a few days off to de-stress. The next night I worked, the mood in the ED had returned to normal for everyone but Dr Walker.

He did a great job managing things as usual, but we could tell that his thoughts were somewhere else. The charge nurse that night was Juliet, my best friend, ass-kicker, and unapologetic ginger of the ED. She was in her mid-40’s, worked overnights, and ran the lives of her 3 teen aged sons in the daytime, but you would never know it by the energy she brought to the job. She was great at managing all of the different personalities and characters in the ED staff, which was very much like herding cats. She kept us in line by being so empathetic that she could tell when one of us was going to lose our shit before we did. This was great for me since I tended to lose my shit frequently. Another reason why I chose to start my career in America is that I had a bit of what people call a short fuse. I like to say that I enjoy spirited conversation. The police called it "assault." Whatever.

In between patient’s I went and asked her what as up with Walker. “I don’t know” she said “I guess you noticed how he isn’t as focused as he usually is. Maybe he needs to get laid. I’d be happy to take him in the supply room and relieve his stress. With my vagina.” Did I mention that she had the filthiest mind in Southern California?  Dr Walker walked by and gave us a weak but genuine grin. “But your right, he definitely isn’t his usual hyper-chipper self.” She came over to my side and said “I think he’s not over that girl from last week. You know how detail oriented he is. There’s something bothering him about that girl and he won’t tell anyone what it is. Personally I think she was just 4 hours into a night of heavy S&M and forgot what her safe word was. Mine is banana.” I looked at him down the hallway, and all the signs I had missed up to that point were crystal clear. He was distracted. This was more disturbing to me than anything I’d seen in the worst neighborhoods of Hungary, Poland, and France. Seeing such a strong man so shaken gave me the chills. I put it out of my head. In most ways nursing is just a job like any other except every now and then we see patient desperately trying to die, and we have to stop them.

I was two days into my next three day stretch, and the grind was wearing on me. Coffee wasn’t working to keep me awake anymore, and for the first time in my life cocaine seemed like a viable alternative to Starbucks. I had just finished wrestling a psych patient down so we could give her 5-and-2, which always puts me in a festive mood. Just as I was catching my breath we had another EMS crew sprinting through the ambulance doors with a critical patient. My heart froze as I ran to assist; it was another young woman, one who looked frighteningly like me if I hadn't just been run over by a train. She had broken bones, spiral fractures, clean breaks, puncture wound, and lacerations. It was like someone went down a Reddit list of 13 great ways to hurt someone without actually killing them. Her name was Gloria. She was a Music major at the school. She played piano. The fingers on her left had been systematically broken one by one. If there was no nerve damage she might be able to play again one day. One day in the far future. I was on autopilot as we slid so easily into our appointed roles. As an ED team we were kind of a well-oiled machine. It was that speed and efficiency that saved lives.

Dr Walker should have been proud of himself; this was not an easy one. She had a deflated lung and a lacerated spleen. We patched her up well enough to get her to ICU. She would leave the hospital 3 weeks later, in a wheelchair. She would need that wheelchair for another 6 months. He was there when she left. One of the day shift nurses, Maureen, watched the whole thing. For the first time ever I was grateful that she was exceptionally nosy. She told me every detail, how she thanked him, and how her parents thanked him. She recited the whole scene as if she were a court stenographer. I held back tears as she told me in her thick West Indian accent how he, for all of his effort, and for the fact that she was sitting there in front of her, alive, could not stop apologizing. She was alive, not physically well, but emotionally and spiritually she had been healed. She could not describe what had happened to her more than she was returning home from a late class, and was abducted somewhere between her bus stop and her apartment. There was torture; there was pain, and a ruthless, sadistic coldness to everything he said to her. She told the detectives that he kept blaming her for what happened, blaming her for what “she made him do.”

Two weeks passed and we didn’t have one patient like that. I spent more time with Juliet after work; she would make sure her kids got off to school then we would process the events of the night, and by "process" I mean drink a bottle of wine each and share impure thoughts about the male ED techs.  It helped, and we needed the release; the whole hospital did. No one said it but that break gave us the greatest relief you can imagine, greater than taking off your bra after a long day. We relaxed, we exhaled, we let our guard down, and naturally you know what happened next.

This time it was early, so early in my shift we had barely put our things down. The day shift was giving report to the overnight nurses coming in. In the middle of report an EMS crew bursts in, panicked. They were kids, and this was obviously their first trauma victim. There were two shifts of nurses there, which meant that we were all in each other’s way. Fortunately Juliet was there too and herded the cats. She has a voice slightly more peaceful than a train wreck, so she is great at getting people’s attention. She directed traffic and made sure that no one was doing anything redundant. For all her insanity she was the calmest person in an emergency; mothers are good for that. We ran in all directions like dutiful children finishing up our chores.

Her name was Elysian. She looked as artful as her name was. She was pale and graceful, like one of those elves from the movies. She had long jet black hair and crystal blue eyes. Her left arm was covered in tattoos of vines with thorns. She told me later they were catbriar vines. They were intricate; she said it took for 8-hour days to finish. She had no broken bones, just deep purple and black bruises all over her. She seemed like the type to bruise easily anyway.

Unlike the others there wasn’t much to do with Elysian; once we had made sure there was no internal bleeding, there was nothing we could do for the tissue damage other than make sure that she was comfortable while she healed up. She had been walking home from one of the buildings over at the art school, and just like the others she had no idea what happened next. Just like the others she woke up to a nightmare of a beating, all the while her attacker blaming her for what she had made him do. There was no finesse to this one, no subtlety. It was hurried and sloppy. With the other victims he took his time, starting the damage out slowly and building to a crescendo of violence until the victim blacked out from the pain. The scars were both emotional and physical. He never raped any of them... I guess he thought THAT was the line not to cross. Psychopaths are funny that way.

It turned out to otherwise be a slow night, so I had some time to talk to her. She said that she didn't know where she was, but she had been unconscious for about an hour; she managed to look at her watch at some point. People really need to wear watches more often. They come in handy when being kidnapped my a serial killer. She said that as soon as she woke up he started hitting her with all of his might.  At one point she played possum so he would stop hitting her. He turned the lights on, and she peaked at the walls. They were covered in a wallpaper of blood-spattered newspaper clippings, website articles, and photographs of one person. A couple of times he wore himself out from exertion, and she called him an out of shape pussy boy. She told him that the newspapers on the wall were not only cliche, but tacky. He beat her harder. I liked this girl, she was a badass. Anyone who risked getting their ass beaten worse just to taunt their attacker while he has you tied up to a chair can be my BFF forever.

"I couldn't read all of the text, but the guy was murmuring to himself the whole time, and I distinctly heard him say 'Dr Walker'" she said.

I bit my lip; my suspicions were confirmed. There was no way that it was a coincidence all of these girls ended up on our doorstep the same nights when the same crew was working. This guy must have stalked us to find out our schedule. I knew this wasn't random, but I was missing this last piece of the puzzle. This guy was hurting these woman to get at Dr Walker. It worked; Dr Walker had been a nervous wreck since all of this began. I think he figured this out long ago but he didn't want to worry the rest of us. He's probably been trying to fix this himself. That's his way, to help everyone else and never ask for help. "Did he say anything else?"

Something about "just as long as I did. Just as long six more...."

Six more. Six more. That would be nine. I prayed to God that he would be caught before then, but me and God aren't exactly on a first name basis. Not anymore. Over the next 3 months we got 5 more victims, all around my age, all beaten within an inch of their life. The only pattern was their age; 2 were Black, one was Asian, and two were white. They had jobs in all different locations; it seemed like they were kidnappings of opportunity, which would explain why the intervals were random. Some of the nurses stopped working our shift. Police and news crews hovered around the hospital all the time now. At one point Dr Walker, knowing that he was the cause, went on long term leave. It killed him that he wasn't there to help these girls, but he couldn't deal with the guilt of knowing that he had some part in all this. Him leaving just made things worse though; the month he was gone, the victim went into a deep coma; her injuries were too severe. Her name was Jenny Chang and she was a pharmacy tech working her way through the pharmacy program at USC. She had a large family and most of them were there when they decided to take her off of the respirators. The family asked that Dr Walker be consulted before the final decision was made though; he said that they should wait a little longer. He thought that due to the nature of her injuries her body might take a while longer to sort itself, and there was still a chance that she could come out of the coma. The rest of the attending doctors said it was impossible, right up to the day when she woke up and smiled at her parents. He saved her life from home. Dr Walker came back soon after; he figured if he couldn't stop this guy at least he could save the victims. After number 8 the entire hospital was on edge. Everyone from maintenance to executives were going sleepless. This one man had terrorized most of Southern California, and he was building to his grand finale. I was pissed, I was angry, and I felt helpless. I had had enough. It wasn't enough to patch these girls up, someone had to stop him.

I had a hunch, an instinct, a feeling, and I had to act on it. As I said before, I was a woman with a certain set of skills you wouldn't know by looking at me. In my time bouncing around Europe I learned some things to keep myself safe, like how to handle a knife. For two weeks before my shift I walked alone to The In-n-Out near the hospital, and got a burger and fries; unhealthy I know, but it was all in the name of vigilante justice. I made sure to walk the same rout every night, and was always alone. I knew from the various descriptions I pieced together from this guy that I could take him; he was only a real threat if you were tied to a chair. After a couple of weeks I started to think nothing would work, until one night a felt a sharp pinch on my ass. No one was around so it shocked the shit out of me. I thought maybe it was a Wasp. When I reached back there was no wasp there, but there was a tranquilizer dart.

"Son of a....*"

I was gently awakened with a hard right cross to the chin. I heard more than saw one of my teeth skitter across the floor. The love tap was followed by three more to the face, and another two to the abdomen. He had certainly refined his attacks. It actually looked like he was in better shape than what the other victims had described. I knew that taunting him makes him sloppy, and I was Oh so good at it.

“You know, if you’re going to hit me, you may want to get a weapon. A crowbar or brass knuckles maybe. I’m from Poland; my people survived 2 World Wars, the Germans and the Russians. You’re from the Valley yeah? I doubt you’ve survived anything worse than unexpected rain." He cracked me again on the side of my face; I almost felt my cheekbone give way, but it held. I have to admit, he was literally knocking the sass out of me.

“You think your funny bitch? I’ve been watching you. I’ve been watching you this whole time. I knew I would end up with one of his own, but it took me a while to figure out who. Then I saw you, how he looks at you. I knew you were the one, the one that would hurt him the most.”

My left eye had swollen shut, and he stayed to that side so I couldn’t see him clearly, but his voice definitely sounded familiar. Before I could open my mouth again I heard my left collarbone crack. Well, there goes that arm.

“You know I can see why you’re his favorite, you have good ideas.' He walked to my right side so I could see him more clearly. “A crowbar is way more efficient.” He pulled back and slammed the crowbar down on my right thigh. I didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of hearing me scream but it hurt like a MOTHERfucker.

“Vinny?” It was Vinny, a lab tech that worked overnights He left the hospital after his daughter was diagnosed with cervical cancer. His 25 year old daughter…

“You’re probably shocked. I don’t fucking care if you see me now. You’re the last one, the 9th one. Nine lives for the nine months that incompetent asshole did his experiments on my little Suzy before he finally murdered her. Did you know he used to do oncology? I know. He was supposed to be the best. I counted my lucky stars that we worked in the same hospital so our insurance would cover it. Suzy was getting real bad so they admitted her here. For 9 months Walker did all these tests and chemo and anything else he could think of to get her better, he said. I think he was just trying to get his name in the papers for curing a girl of cancer. Well he fucking didn’t, and my little girl suffered every single day of those nine months. He quit oncology for the ER after, probably fucking ashamed at being a total torturing failure. He got away scot free and I had nothing left but 9 months of agony and my little girl’s dead body. But we’re going to be even now.”

He put down the crowbar and picked up a very dented aluminum baseball bat. “See, the Asian girl was supposed to die, but SHE. JUST. WOULDN’T. DIE.” With every word he swung the bat nearer and nearer to my head. He wanted me to flinch. I didn’t.

“But you will. I’ve had a good amount of practice, and I think I’ve perfected my craft to where you’ll get far enough into the ED to die right in front of him. Then maybe I’ll go to Mexico. Or shoot at some cops, I haven’t decided yet.”

I was finally ready. “I have been working with Dr Walker for a long time. He feels every patient’s death like it was his own child. He was probably devastated when your daughter died, and I really am sorry for your loss. But if this, all of this is your response… If you really thought that taking away nine other daughters from their fathers would somehow make you even with the universe, then you’re really the fucking failure in this situation, not him. Hopefully in her next life Suzy gets blessed with a competent father…”

He roared and came at me, blind with rage, just what I wanted. While he was monologuing I got the knife I taped to my lower back out and had cut the plastic ties he put on my wrists. He swung wildly with the bat and I leaned back easily. He missed by a mile. I dropped to one knee and jammed my knife right into his right knee, severing his ACL and PCL (I hoped.) He screamed like a banshee and immediately went down. I went to work on that leg; cut his ACL down near his ankle. He probably wouldn’t ever use that leg again. When he reached down to grab his knee I took the opportunity to stab my knife into his shoulder. Well, there goes that arm. I got up unsteadily. I wasn't sure how deep the damage was to my thigh, but it felt like someone dropped a truck full of anvils on it, so I guessed it wasn’t OK. I pulled myself up, one arm and one leg completely functional, and grabbed the bat.
“You know what’s the saddest fucking part? For all this shit you’ve put everyone through, he saved them. He saved EVERY. GOD. DAMN. ONE OF THEM.” It was my turn to accentuate my words with stabbing pain. I slammed his disabled knee and shoulder over and over again with the bat. “Isn’t it ironic? Dontcha think?”

He cried. He rolled around. He screamed. But I didn't stop. All I heard were the cries of those girls, and I hit him til the cries stopped. I wasn't sure if he was silent or I had quieted the memories in my head, but either way it was quiet. I felt nothing and heard nothing. I found my phone in a corner of the basement. Through my good eye I blearily took in the history of what he had done. He wasn't really careful with covering up evidence; he obviously didn't have a long term plan. I called 911. I fell into a corner and started to cry, big heavy tears. I wasn't crying because I was scared, or sad... I was angry. I was still full of rage, and he wasn't moving and I couldn't beat him anymore and I couldn't stop wanting to hit him. It felt good, past the revenge, past the fact that there would be no more broken girls, it felt good to hurt someone. That part wouldn't make it into the newspapers when they interviewed me over the next few months. But I knew it. I know it and I am completely fine with it.

The EMT's allowed me the honor of rolling the piece of shit's unconscious body through the ambulance doors. They applauded me like the conquering hero I was. I only had full use of one arm and 1 1/2 legs, but I did it. I didn't kill him. It wasn't on purpose; turns out I passed out right after I called 911. Who knows what would have happened if I could have stayed on my feet. I know, but again, the media didn't need to know that. Juliet came over to help me to a stretcher. "You attention whore, you look like dog meat." She went about addressing my wounds, tears smacking me in the face the whole time. "I may look like dog meat but it's better than being an ugly crier." I tried to laugh, but it hurt when I laughed. Or breathed, or existed really. Juliet moved over as Dr Walker looked over me. "It's over" I said "he only got eight. He didn't get me. I got him, you see that? I got the fucker." He put his finger to his lips "I know Mary, I know. Now be quiet while we get you patched up." He smiled that special smile of his, "You look like shit."

That was the first time I'd ever heard him curse.