This is a flash piece I wrote that is actually based on a true story. I go to a forum for retail workers where we complain about our jobs, and this one was told by a member whose father had experienced it in his time as a nurse back in the 1960's or 70's.
"Merry Christmas from Crazy Eddie"
Christmas Eve and the ER was packed as usual. There were a few real cases: someone set on fire while lighting the Yule log; someone else stabbed with the ham knife at the annual family dinner. But tonight most of the patients were homeless. The shelters were overflowing, so the local hobos made up chest pains and stomach cramps and shambled in.
Marty didn't mind most of them. They were quiet and polite and just trying to escape the snow. Anyway, he had Christmas Day off. By the time he came back to work they'd all be gone, back to wherever it was they went.
He'd just got the newest one installed in his room- a quavery old man who called himself Prince Charlie- when the PA squawked for backup to Room 207. Marty sighed. His shift was almost over, so of course some crazy shit had to come up at the last minute. He heaved himself into the corridor and almost collided with Mike, the other male nurse on shift. Mike shot him a grin and shrugged, no time to chat. They reached the open door of 207 at the same time. Mike was bigger and shoved through first.
“Crazy Eddie,” he reported over his shoulder. Marty groaned and followed him inside.
It was a shared room; three beds, all full. Two of the guys were sitting up, watching Crazy Eddie. Their hair was still damp from the showers they'd taken. Crazy Eddie, on the other hand, had not showered in a very long time.
His name was actually Scott, or Eric, or any of the dozen others he'd given every time he showed up at the ER complaining of chest pains. Marty had christened him Crazy Eddie because of his uncanny resemblance to Iron Maiden's gaunt mascot.
Crazy Eddie stood by his bed, which was nearest the door. He swayed drunkenly from side to side. His hair straggled over his shoulders like pale, limp snakes. His eyes swung around, their whites so bloodshot they looked pink. Crazy Eddie wore a hospital gown that wasn't tied in back. It flapped like ragged moth wings around his wasted limbs. He wore socks that might have begun life white but were now crusted stiff and brown. His jaw worked convulsively, dribbling words that didn't seem to connect.
The nurse who'd called for help cringed against the bathroom door. She was very young and Marty didn't think he'd ever seen her before. She turned to them, her eyes pleading. “He says he needs the restroom, but he can't even walk straight. And he won't let me help him!”
“I kin walsh!” Crazy Eddie roared before sinking into a storm of coughing.
“I know you can walk, man.” Mike edged into the room. “But the hospital says patients have to have someone go with them. It's policy, we can't do anything about it. So just let me help you, okay?”
“He's right,” Marty moved to Crazy Eddie's other side. “Let us help. Maybe we can even get you a shower while we're in there. I bet you clean up real good.”
Mike had gotten close enough to take Crazy Eddie's elbow. The old man peered suspiciously at him but didn't fight when Marty touched his other arm. Together they managed to get him moving, though they were more carrying than assisting him. His arms felt like sticks under the gown.
Two steps, three, and then Marty smelled it. A stench of despair and decay, rotting vegetation and withered meat, with a sharp buttermilky under-smell. An eye-watering stink the likes of which Marty hadn't smelled since his son was a baby. An instant later something splashed on his scrubs, and he knew. Even with their help, Crazy Eddie hadn't been able to make it.
The other men in the beds groaned and protested. Marty glanced at the young nurse, but she was already diving for the door and the cleaning staff. Mike shook his head sadly. “If you hadn't stood there and argued so long-”
“Shaddup!” Crazy Eddie howled. Marty looked down. Streams of blackish-brown shit ran down Crazy Eddie's wasted legs, staining his socks even darker. It puddled on the floor in a half-liquid pool, little clumps plopping into it, spattering the filth even higher. Marty held his breath. He'd seen worse; blood didn't bother him but he'd never gotten used to the piss and the shit, even after all this time.
“Come on, buddy.” His voice was nasal and thick. He grasped Crazy Eddie's arm tighter. “Let's go.”
“Noooooo!” Crazy Eddie wrenched away with a strength Marty wouldn't have guessed he had. Mike also let go as Crazy Eddie tried to jump back, away from them. His socks slipped in the puddle of shit and he crashed to the ground, landing in it. His arms and legs flailed madly as he tried to get up. Shit spattered Crazy Eddie, Mike, Marty and the floor as they tried to haul him to his feet. Marty tried to breathe through his mouth, but he was afraid to open it. Instead he let the stench invade his nostrils. Maybe he would get used to it and stop smelling it at all.
“Calm down, man!” Mike dug his fingers into Crazy Eddie's ribs and yanked. He rose enough for Marty to grasp his shoulder. Together they lifted him. Crazy Eddie abruptly went limp. Mike and Marty nearly dropped his suddenly compliant body.
“Sorry,” Crazy Eddie mumbled. “Sorry, sorry.” Shit matted his dirty hair into glistening coils.
“Don't worry about it.” Marty patted his bony shoulder. “Let's get to the bathroom and let someone else mop this up.”
As they guided the old man to the bathroom, Mike glanced over his shoulder. He began to chuckle. His shoulders trembled with mirth. “Hey Marty, check it out.”
Marty looked. The puddle on the floor had been splashed and smeared by Crazy Eddie's furious flailing. Staring up at him from the linoleum was a perfect shit angel.
He had to laugh too. “Merry Christmas, Mike.”
“Merry Christmas, Marty. Merry freakin' Christmas.”