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I stood in the group room beside the monstrosity of a man holding a syringe in his freakishly large hand, my pulse faintly throbbing in my ears as I realized that I, a skinny, young man, inexperienced to any kind of physical combat, was moments away from a perilous altercation with this behemoth of a human. It was my first week on the job at the hospital, and, right now, the most reassuring thought I had was knowing that it was not me this needle-wielding co-worker was going to be fighting. Rather, he and I were currently trying to talk a patient into taking his nightly court-ordered medications. The black man was sitting across the room from where we stood, in a large chair filled by his girth. His big tree branch forearms were settled on the armrests as he gripped them with dinner-plate-sized hands. He was a bulky fellow and his oversized jacket and sweatpants gave him a homely look but also intensified his already apparent mass. He sat there with a blank stare on his face, oblivious or indifferent to our requests. When he refused to cooperate and come out of the group room, we had been left no choice but to evacuate all the other patients from the area and confront him.
My coworker, Fox, passed the syringe to the nurse standing with us and turned back to the still seated patient. Like me, Fox was a psychiatric technician and, on this particular day, was wearing the same shade of tan scrubs as me. Standing beside each other, we looked like a pair of severely disproportionate Twinkies. Fox was trying to talk to the stoic man across the room from us. The word FAT was etched into the thick window behind him, designed to be shatterproof but apparently not scratch resistant. An irreversible act of vandalism by another patient a few months prior. “This is it, brother,” Fox said. "This medication is court-ordered. You can just take it yourself and make it easy for us all. We will have to give it to you whether you want it or not. Don’t make us do that.”
The man remained passively mute. He hadn’t even bothered to look at Fox as he spoke. The silence held between the four of us and I could feel the unbearably thick tension in the room. My co-worker let the moments slip by, perhaps waiting for the patient to process the situation and wise up. To come to his senses and realize all this trouble wasn’t worth it. When nothing happened, I knew things were about to take a turn for the worse.
The door to the group room opened. Our backup had just arrived. Another technician from the second floor had gotten our call and came down in case we needed some assistance. From the looks of things, we were about to need all the help we could get. John was a Boston native and a former member of a notorious biker gang. Like Fox, he was a built man with tattoos that seeped from the sleeves of his hospital uniform and stained a path to his meaty wrists. The patient’s eyes tracked the newcomer as he entered and stood just far enough away from Fox and me to make our presence seem that much more spread out. Despite our numbers, the patient still made no show of complying.
“Okay then,” Fox said, and, in unison, we all took a step toward the patient.
The man shot up from his chair at a surprising speed and stood rock still with his arms down by his side and the same blank expression stapled to his face. We all stopped in our tracks. “Stay the fuck away from me,” he said. His demeanor was so flat that the statement was surprisingly void of any aggressive edge but still carried the full weight of a menacing threat. It made for quite an effect and, for a split second, I had wondered if the man had done it intentionally. However, I knew enough to recognize that this was not a thinking man, but a dangerous one.
As he stood there, I suddenly realized just how big he truly was. He was bigger than Fox for sure, much taller too, and the quickness in which he had stood up told me he was not a blob of totally useless flesh. He had deceptive speed. In the back of my mind, I hoped that my team would contain him before he had the chance to do much more of any kind of moving.
Both Fox and John took wide steps to flank him from both sides. He clenched his fists but I was amazed that he still only stared straight ahead, relatively undeterred by the two large men that had come just outside arms reach of him. I knew he was mentally unstable, so predicting his movements was next to impossible. I did my best to step forward into a position that would put pressure on the cornered patient while also trying not to get in the way of my two co-workers, who I was counting on to take the lead on what was about to happen next.
I noticed the man’s view seemed to be fixated on the female nurse's syringe. She had wisely kept her distance and was now the center of his attention. Fox noticed this and took another step closer. The man’s concentration broke and he snapped his gaze coldly toward Fox’s hands, which were slowly coming up to take hold of him. It was then that John closed the distance and secured the man’s left arm with one hand and braced his shoulder with the other. The patient quickly tried to spin toward his assailant, his free right arm working to break the tech’s grip. Fox was on him in a split second and immediately worked to restrain the patient’s right arm. It was a move they had both practiced for years in similar situations. Trapped from both sides, the big man began to panic and thrash, throwing his weight against Fox. In less than five seconds all three of them were on the ground. The patient struggled to break free and, in desperation, began using his only available weapons. His legs. I dove onto the hospital floor with the entangled men and quickly wrapped my arms around his two unsecured limbs, feeling a bulk of muscle beneath his sweatpants.
“Get off me!” The man yelled, flailing wildly in our grasp. “I'm being drugged against my will!”
The door to the room suddenly flew open and another mentally ill man with long disheveled hair barged in and joined in on the shouting. “He doesn't want that,” he yelled over the noise. The nurse quickly turned to the unexpected newcomer and worked to remove him. She braced one of her arms across his chest, still holding the needle in her opposite hand. He looked past her to the scuffle unfolding on the floor.
“Get off me!” the restrained patient continued. “I don't want to be here.”
“Yeah! Don't wanna be here,” the other psychotic patient echoed.
“I know your faces,” the black man hollered. “You're all dead!”
“Yeah, all dead!” The other patient repeated, the nurse still working to push him from the room. “You have to leave, sir,” she insisted. “It's dangerous. You have to go.”
“Dangerous! Have to go!”
“Get off me!”
“Get off me!”
Another co-worker appeared and took the long-haired man away from the door which quickly closed behind them. The nurse turned and hastily stepped forward with her gently sweating syringe. “Keep him steady. I’m going in for the stick,” she said.
“You keep away from me with that needle!” The man shouted.
“Just relax man,” Fox said. “It’s gonna be real quick.”
“Fuck you! I’m not crazy! I don't belong here! I don't!”
The man’s right leg was suddenly ripped from my grasp and struck out, landing a harsh blow to Fox’s side. I quickly reached out and wrapped the free leg up again and pressed with all my strength to keep both legs in my arms. My face almost pressed against his body, I quickly deduced that the man had not taken a shower in several days. The nurse was now pressing one knee gently into the patient’s lower back as she began working his pants down, exposing his bare, naked ass. “Keep him steady,” she shouted over the scuffle.
“Keep away from me bitch! Don’t stick me with that junk!”
As the patient began to thrash with renewed vigor and I worked to keep my hold against his massive legs, I began to wonder how it was that I came to be in this position. What circumstances had led me to a place where, at any given moment, I could be lying on the ground with three other men in an aggressive struggle for control? What were the odds that one of these patients might engage me like this when I had no help around? The fact that such an altercation had developed in the first few days of working at the hospital was more than enough evidence to suggest I would see much, much worse in the months ahead. Despite this, I would look back years later and marvel at how fortunate I had been to be at the Winded Willow at that exact time. I was fortunate because it was there that I met a woman who would eventually become a good friend and a travel companion to the far ends of the world. It was there at the Winded Willow that the course of my life would change and take direction in completely new, exciting ways.

--Full book release May 2022 - Read more chapters at


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