Sometimes I gotta wonder about people, especially some religious people. Of course we can all probably relate to some incident where someone with their religious beliefs led to somewhat unusual situations, even funny or tragic situations.
Of course when you work as a Trauma and Surgery Department Chaplain at a major inner city Level One Trauma Center like Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, the unusual, the funny and the tragic can all be wrapped into one or maybe two two stories, sometimes on the same day. Such an occasion occurred about halfway through my residency year at Parkland in March 1994.
About a quarter into my residency my Clinical Pastoral Care Residency Supervisor moved me from the Internal Medicine service to Trauma, Surgery and Neurosurgery service which included the Trauma and Surgery section of the Emergency Department. This several years before the hospital began their Emergency Medicine Residency and unified the ER.
We saw lots of trauma, back then we had six fully equipped trauma rooms as well as about 50 other beds of various types in the Surgery section of the ER. The Medicine Section had three fully equipped Cardiac Resuscitation rooms, numerous telemetry beds and about 60 addition beds and rooms of various types and specialties. When things got sporty as they often did additional beds were used in side halls for patients with minor injuries which sometimes included minor gunshot wounds.
It was often the case that every trauma and cardiac room would be full sometimes with multiple “codes” going on. We saw about every kind of injury imaginable on the surgery side of the house and in the course of my residency year I dealt with well over 300 deaths in the hospital. That may sound like a lot but back then Parkland was a 940 bed hospital that was usually running 90-100 percent of capacity and it had eight Intensive Care Units dealing with some of the worst trauma in the United States. The most death calls I dealt with in one night was eight in an eight hour eleven p.m. to seven p.m On a typical day if I left the hospital dealing with two deaths or less I considered it an easy day but I digress….I think I was talking some unusual, funny and tragic situations come together.
Well like I said about halfway through my residency I was hanging out in the Surgery ER about 10 a.m. on Saint Patrick’s day. The morning had been busy with the usual bevy of motor vehicle accident victims from the rush hour and had died down. It was then that the Dallas County EMS brought in a young man on a gurney who was taken to trauma room 6, the one in the back corner directly across from the “Presidential Suite” which was always cordoned off by the Secret Service when the President was in town.
The situation didn’t seem that interesting at first as I did not see the young man’s face but he appeared to be stable and since I was spending time with one of the nurses who had dealt with a patient in pretty bad shape from one of the MVA’s (Motor Vehicle Accident patients) I waited to check things out.
About 15 minutes later I wandered down to the trauma room and saw some of the Ophthalmology docs looking at the young man’s face peeking under the gauze 4×4 that covered his left eye and shaking their heads. When I walked into the room a good number of staff looked at me, some with expressions of horror, and others amusement and still others just weirded out. So I asked what was going on.
One of the Surgery residents answered and said that the young man had been doing crack cocaine and reading the Bible. So I said “you mean the “if your eye offends you pluck it out” verse?” And the resident said that’s the one. I looked at the young man and saw a large black Bible on his chest clasped in his hands. One of the Ophthalmology doctors looked at me and asked “Is that really in the Bible?” I said “oh yeah, you want to read it?” He said yes and a number of his colleagues nodded in agreement.
Now the young man reminded me of what back in my younger days was referred to as a “stoner” kind of like Sean Penn’s character “Jeff Spicoli” in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. So not having a Bible in my hand just a small Episcopal Armed Forces Prayer Book I went up to him. I said:
“Mr. Spicoli (the name has been changed to protect the stupid) I’m the Chaplain what happened?” His answer was classic, “Dude sir, it was like I was reading the Bible and I saw this verse about “my eye offending me” and just knew that I had to take it out.” I said “Dude, you know that some parts of the Bible aren’t supposed to be taken too literally don’t you?”
With his one good eye he looked up at me and said “Like I didn’t have to cut it out?” I shook my head feeling somewhat compassionate yet amused (a feeling that many who work in ERs and trauma centers can attest to having) and said “No Jeff you didn’t….you weren’t using before you read the Bible were you?” He then said, “Yeah, like dude, like why not?”
I shook my head and said “Jeff my friend, God loves you and wants you to read his word but not while you’re doing crack, it tends to mess up your interpretation of it.” To which Jeff replied “Really, yeah dude you might be right.”
Now this was obviously a nice but really messed up kid so I decided not to push him any farther and commented on his Bible.
“That’s a pretty impressive Bible Jeff.”
Jeff replied “Yeah I got it like last week or something.”
I then asked him “Can I look at it with these doctors a second?”
I promised to give it right back. When he gave me permission, I gently took the Bible from his hand and walked to the disbelieving (not in God but in what was going on) physicians with it. Thumbing through the pages I came to Mark 9:47 and let the doctors read it themselves. They were genuinely shocked and kept looking at Jeff as they read it. The Ophthalmologist who had asked the initial question looked at me and said: “I guess that it wouldn’t be good to read that verse while doing crack.” I smiled, shook my head and said “No, not a good idea.”
With that I took the Bible back to Jeff and thanked him and he said “anytime dude.” The docs were getting ready to transport him to surgery so I wished him well and told him that I would pray for him for which he thanked me. I felt bad for the kid and knew that he would not be on the trauma service after the surgery and when medically ready would be hanging out in the Psych ward. That was the last time that I saw him and I do hope that he was able to break his addiction and get his life together.
However, the day was still young and I had the overnight 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. on call duty in the evening. The rest of the day into the early evening was progressing rather uneventfully by Parkland standards, just your typical MVA’s, overdoses, cardiac arrests and shootings.
That changed when the Dallas EMS brought an African American lady who appeared to be in her thirties. Her eyes were covered with a bandage so I asked the paramedics what had happened.
One of them said, “Chaplain, you wouldn’t believe this in a million years, the lady’s sisters took her eyes out.”
I said: “Took her eyes out?”
The paramedic replied: “Yeah, like scooped them out, almost surgical precision. She said her sisters drove her from New Orleans to Dallas and along the way took out her eyes because they thought that she was possessed by the Devil.”
My reply was a simple, “Damn, that sucks.”
The paramedic continued “Yeah, she kept saying that her sisters said the she had “her father’s eyes” or something like that.”
The conversation continued for a while as the paramedic vented about how idiotic and criminal what happed was and when he went to finish his paperwork and get back to his rig I went in to the trauma room where the lady was being assessed. I got a look at the eye sockets and was quite impressed. The young man had gouged out his eye and made a mess. The lady’s eye sockets were just a little bloody and hollowed out like nothing had been there. It was rather creepy.
Since she was pretty out of it and not very coherent I backed out of the room, consult with the team and let them know what the paramedic had told me. The story creeped them out as badly as it did me. Later I would find out that the sisters had been arrested. Evidently the lady was a school teacher and she and her sisters were heavily involved in hoodoo a blend of Voodoo and Catholicism. At their trial they claimed that they were “fleeing from the devil.” The victim refused to testify against her sisters but they were convicted of the crime. The link to the New York Times article and one from the UK Independent is here:
Never before and so far I have not seen a day where I have seen anything that unusual. It was creepy like a really creepy horror movie.
All I can say about that day now was that “the eyes have it.” Unlike the Kim Carnes’ song, these folks don’t have “Betty Davis Eyes” but “Sammy Davis Eyes.”
With that to leave your stomach to churn I wish you a good night and pleasant dreams.