8 Dec 84
Schroeder has been moved to the step-down unit, which is called CVU (Cardiovascular Unit). It is attached to our unit by a swinging door. We, in the CCU, have immediate access to any patient in the CVU if a problem is encountered with any of their patients in which our nurses would be needed. We have a friendly relationship with them, and are available to them in any situation in which they need help. When they were notified that Schroeder was stable enough to be able to be moved into their unit, the whipped cream was already off the sundae. They had had more than ample opportunity to be exposed to the problems encountered with him. They were not looking forward to having him, and we met with them to discuss what they might expect and the problems that were occurring.
A couple of us (CCU nurses) had a very frank discussion with Bill DeVries about everything. Needless to say, nothing we said was any surprise to him, as he knew what kind of a personality we were dealing with. He is well aware of Schroeder’s sexism, vulgarity, verbal abuse and controlling behavior. Unfortunately for all of us, we have little control over what can be done about him. He is the #1 item on national, state and local news daily. Nobody ever states the truth about him, and he is glorified as a hero. A resentment has built up which is hard to overcome, and no one wants to take care of him. We also deal with his family daily, but they are no problem to us at all. We all feel sorry for them that they, also, are subjected to his abuse. His wife has had to put up with a lot. She is a kind and patient woman and I spend time with her when I can. This is not an easy sojourn for her. Her children come and go, as they have to travel back and forth. Margaret tries to stay in the hospital most of the time, although I have noted that not a great deal of that time is spent at length in his room. I can’t help but wonder how embarrassed she is by his behavior to the staff. The CCU nurses have continued to take care of him for a few days, even though he is actually in our step-down unit. The nurses there will soon become more accustomed to taking care of an artificial heart patient.
Cindy has acted as though she got along fine with Schroeder, until tonight. She has finally had enough of his abusive, hostile vulgarities. She came through our connecting doors with exasperation, just bitching about how nasty and disgusting he is. I couldn’t help but laugh. He called her names, accused her of, and suggested, all sorts of obscene things. He’s probably one of the biggest jerks we’ve ever taken care of, and it has nothing to do with his artificial heart. Of all the patients they could have chosen, why did they choose a nasty mean-tempered bastard? You can’t get excited about his progress, medically, because you can’t stand him. Apparently a lot of people have been complaining to the supervisor. Tonight she said she was going to talk to Dr. DeVries, and that Schroeder has to be straightened out. Things are deteriorating and the professionalism that has been a mainstay with us is waning. Taking care of a patient who is of ill-temper because he is sick is one thing, but taking abuse because the patient thinks he is God’s gift to the world and a movie star to boot, is taxing, to say the least. The non-stop attention he is getting, and the hundreds of gifts and letters he gets seem only to encourage him to exhibit the most vile behavior. I wouldn’t want to say we are becoming of vigilante mentality but I can see how things like that happen. Sometimes I want to remind him that the only thing separating him from death is the plug in the wall…which could be tripped over. But I wouldn’t say it out loud, even in closed company. It is interesting to note that when the photographer or one of the doctors is in the room, he changes his tune completely. He just goes into his “good ol’ Bill” routine. I wish I didn’t have to take care of the SOB on Monday.
And then…I ran across a note that I wrote and put in my desk at home. I wondered how something that felt so incredibly heroic and important could be reduced to what it is today. Just to give you an idea of what I mean…here is a portion of the note that I wrote to my Dad who had died of heart disease many years prior:
Dad, the day the surgical team rolled Bill Schroeder into our CCU and I spent that first critical night with him, and in the days following, you were on my mind, and in my heart. To be a part of a world famous heart team, to be able to be part of giving a person the chance to live that you never had. To believe that we are making progress so that people someday will not have to die, like you did, fills me with hope and a belief in the future. I want you to know my part is small. Dr. DeVries is the surgeon, and Dr. Jarvik is the inventor of the artificial heart. But I have the privilege of being a critical care nurse on this team. I hope how ever small my part is, that you will take my efforts as a dedication to you. It’s a little late, and it’s drawing near Christmas, not Father’s Day, but I know you will understand that it has taken a long time to give you this gift. Happy Father’s Day.
When I read this over, and realized what a contrast my dreams were with the reality it became, I cried.
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