Mental Health/Journal Notes/Slice of Life
by: Sheri de Grom
Notes From My Journal – Monterey, California
My office on Fort Ord was quieter than usual: no laughter, chatter or copy machines running. Usually the investigators bantered with each other and the phones never stopped ringing. When had the silence settled in? Had another day passed me by?
Glancing up from my stack of folders, I saw Mike, my deputy, standing in my office doorway. He hadn’t made a sound; one of his unique qualities that always amazed me. I marvel at his ability to hold one pose motionless for hours on end. He’d told me it was a talent he’d honed along with his sharpshooter skills. He’d never shared with me exactly when he’d needed that expertise and I hadn’t asked. We’d shared the shooting range often enough to know that we could cover each other with confidence.
“Hey you, how long have you been standing there?”
“Long enough to know that we both have to get out of here. It’s almost nine-thirty and I heard you tell Cecelia [editorial note – my secretary] earlier that you were still going to the hospital tonight. I know for a fact that you haven’t had anything to eat in several hours, if at all today.”
Leave it to Mike to call it the way he saw it.
“And what have you eaten today?”
“Remember, I had that delicious lunch at the nursing home.” His body tensed and his hand grazed his belt as if the memory were physically painful. “I hope I live long enough on their food to finish the investigation.”
“We’ve seen the winning results of those meals haven’t we?” Mike went on to tell me how the patients’ lunches had consisted of chili dogs, potato chips, cooked cabbage and peaches in heavy syrup. Every tray the same. No allowances were made for diabetic or other medical nutritive needs and the high sodium content alone made the entire meal unacceptable. The indigestible component of the food for the patient population being served broke every rule.
Nursing home fraud routinely uncovers massive irregularities concerning patient nutrition. Thousands of dollars are saved annually by ignoring Federal guidelines.
We’d started our investigation as a Veterans Affairs fraud case but fraud opened up wherever we turned at the nursing home. We had no idea where this case was taking us, but it wasn’t going to be pretty. Every item we examined revealed additional improprieties.
“What do you say boss, let’s get out of here and go grab dinner.”
“I’d love to but I really must go the hospital.” The internist promised she’d keep me informed, but that’s not enough. How can I say Tom is my top priority when I’d admitted him that morning and hadn’t visited or called all day?
Suddenly I felt weird, the all-too familiar and uncontrollable perspiration running from every pore, and makeup slithering down my face. My hair was oily and wet and so was every inch of my body. Did I smell? My clothes stuck to me.
I couldn’t pull enough air into my lungs, my breath quickened but air came raw into my throat. Suffocating. There was that sensation of a trapdoor suddenly opening in my belly. Oh, God. Please don’t let me soil myself. My heart wanted to jump out of my chest . . . I was sure it could . . . it would . . . that was my heartbeat roaring in my ears, wasn’t it? It was uncomfortable to swallow; the perspiration intolerable.
I’d always worked hard to maintain my image—a professional woman. Could this be God’s way of saying, the joke’s on you? Was it my fault that Tom suffered?
My hands tingled and then they didn’t. Why couldn’t I feel anything? Had I lost touch with reality?
“Sheri, Sheri . . . can you hear me . . . it’s Mike. You’re here with me and you’re safe.”
I felt a hand on my arm and jerked.
“Don’t touch me. I feel so grungy.” I cringed. “I’ll never be clean. I need a shower.”
My legs folded under me. I wanted to stand, but couldn’t. Touching my lips, the tips of my fingers were wet. Blood. I’d bitten my lips so hard they bled.
“Sheri, breathe. Come on, deep breaths. Follow me. In-out. That’s it, now repeat. Over and over.”
I was calming down. My heartbeat was slowing. But I was still covered in sweat. The worst feeling ever.
I lay on my office floor; how could I compose myself after what had just happened? Even more puzzling, what had just happened?
Mike bent down and supported me while I stood up.
“Boss lady, you’ve given me one hell of a scare. We’re not going to do whatever that was again. I’m going to play Dr. Mike for the duration of the VA case plus all the other stuff you have going. You need a good meal and a way to blow off steam so you can focus on whatever you think you must do.”
“That’s quite a speech, partner.”
“Indeed it is. Now, if you like, you mentioned feeling dirty. I don’t see you that way but if you insist, I’ll give you time for a shower before we eat. However, don’t plan on my being so lenient in the future.”
“Yes, sir. Might I ask who made you the boss of me?”
“I thought that was pretty obvious. You asked God for help and I’m here. You know, our Lord does work in mysterious ways.”
“Don’t be a smart-ass.”
But in my mind, I was thanking God for this particular smart-ass.
“Go get your shower and no you don’t have time for makeup and all that girly stuff. I’ll pop us a couple potatoes in the microwave while you’re doing your thing.”
Standing on tiptoe and leaning in, I warned, “Don’t you touch me.”
Mike’s mischievous grin and flashing blue eyes were music to my seriously bruised and battered heart; I planted a kiss on his forehead.
One of the best features of having our offices in an old WWII barracks building was that plumbing was in place. No one had ever thought to take out the toilet and shower between each office. My theory was simple. I was a workaholic and I wanted some comforts of home. My shower connected to my office; how convenient is that?
I didn’t know what had happened to me earlier but I did know that I’d lost it and was sure that it was a result of trying to hold everything together and pretend I was coping, when in fact, I was falling apart.
I was sacrificing myself for everyone else and I didn’t need anyone telling me how that would turn out if I kept up my current pace.
Clean skin, clean hair . . . nothing in the entire world felt better . . . wel . l . l . not unless I could slip into a bed with crisp, clean sheets with Tom. But, that was a fantasy.
Pulling on favorite faded jeans and an old familiar flannel shirt brought a smile to my heart.
Lord, it was good to touch something as simple as a well-loved flannel shirt and have it fill my heart with pleasure.
I found a pair of socks to match my shirt and padded without shoes into Mike’s office.
“Wow, you’ve gone all out.”
His office had become a quiet library setting. He’d moved his lamps to softly accent the walls of books. They cast a glow across his leather-bound collector editions with their scripted gold lettering along the spine, soft jazz played in the background.
“This is wonderful. You’ve even rolled your sleeves exactly the way I love them.”
The staff was always teasing us about my preference for the sexy way Mike had of rolling up his sleeves. He had a special way of doing them that was a real turn-on, to me anyway. Tom had tried to duplicate Mike’s method numerous times and had even tried to get Mike to demonstrate his skill. Mike liked to tell Tom that it was the only thing he could do better than him and he wasn’t about to give away his one winner.
“This is so good and so much better than going out.”
We’d laughed often calling the refrigerator in our personal supply closet our best secret weapon, and tonight it was proving itself just that. He’d prepared a wonderful assortment of the goodies that Cecelia kept stocked for us.
In the hour that followed, the conversation flowed easily. Mike exuded confidence and charisma. From time to time he allowed a smile into his voice as he shared his concern about how hard I was pushing myself. Those sharp, clear eyes of his told me he knew he was right on target. He’d seen me move into meltdown mode less than two hours ago.
“Thanks for dinner but I absolutely must get to the hospital. I can’t go home until I see Tom.”
“Why don’t you let me drive you to the hospital? I worry about you when you’re so tired.”
“Thanks, I appreciate the offer. But, I can make it on my own tonight. Thanks for the wonderful dinner and I’ll see you tomorrow.” I remembered a song we’d tagged as ours and laughed, “By the way, I’ve Had The Time Of My Life. I always do.”
ADDED NOTE: I have no idea how I would have had a successful career if I hadn’t surrounded myself with highly-motivated people who have become friends for life. During the many years we worked together as a team, I often thought they knew me better than I knew myself.
Names have been changed but my heart sings when I remember my friend, ‘Mike.’
How about you, have friends held you up when otherwise you might have fallen apart?
I’ve had many panic attacks like the one I describe in this blog. In my situation, they are triggered by my PTSD.
Thank you for reading with me.