Sunday, June 26, 2011

Sneaking away from the asthma hospital

Unlike most patients of 2-May, patients of 7-Goodman had to have permission to leave the floor -- except at night.  At night we kids had free roam of the entire hospital, and all the tunnels.  You could have a lot of fun with all the available stomping grounds under National Jewish.

The usual culprits were my room mate Eric, a girl named Trisha and whatever friend she decided to drag along, and whatever kid Eric decided to drag along.  After Sean was admitted he and Eric became good friends, and the usually 7-Goodman sneak-a-way team. 

Those who were participating got their pajamas on, curled up in their beds, and turned out the light.  Then the radios were turned on.  Back home I was used to sleeping in the silence, so I hated the radio being on all night.  I actually complained about it during weekly group, and to my counselor, but nothing was ever done.  So I dropped it.  Yet then, by mere chance, I discovered the real reason for the tunes.

With Madonna's Material Girl playing softly, I watched as Eric shifted out of bed and into the next room.  I heard some whispering and then silence.  After a few minutes I hopped out of bed and peered around the corner.  Through the flickering light produced from a small black and white TV I saw the back of a shoe and the watched as Marti replaced the drop ceiling and curled back into his bed.

That was last night.  This night -- coincidentally -- Material Girl was on the radio again as I peered into the next room.  Willie, a portly black kid from Chicago who was wearing all long-johns, was facing opposite me and performing his famous break dance moves.

I learned by now the sneak-aways occurred right around eleven, long enough after the 9:30 p.m. bedtime that most of us would be sleeping -- at least us kids most likely to snitch.  Yet I don't think the sneak-away-kids realized this, yet to snitch would instantly place a kid on the outcast list, and the rest of your stay would be pure hell. 

So they'd wait till the rest of us were sleeping to reduce the snitch risk yet mainly they waited for the 11 pm.m nursing shift change when the nurses were giving report.  Their talking, and the sound of music, muffled out any noise -- ideally it did anyway.  I never slept through the sneak-a-ways because I was a light sleeper, yet I never revealed my position.

The operation went quick.  It went like this:

11:00 Marti would stand on his bed.  Marti's bed worked best because it was snug up to the wall, and there were no wires or pipes above the drop ceiling.  Jeff would hop out of his bed and onto Marti's, and Marti would hop off.  Jeff was the tallest so he'd stand on the bed and help any participators up.

 Karl was a cool, very intelligent black kid from Atlanta.  He was a 7-Goodman patient the longest when I arrived, and he earned a private room and a TV.  While I never saw him sneak away, he'd bring out his TV just for the light. 

So under the flickering black and white light of the TV I watched -- my head peering around the corner --as Jeff stood on the bed and assisted Eric and then Sean -- the only time I ever saw him without his race cap in those early days, so his hair was astray in his face -- climb up, using the edge of the brick wall for support. 

Obviously you couldn't walk on the drop ceiling, so the kids walked along the tops of the walls.  I heard a story of a kid who fell through about five years earlier, giving away our secret.  Yet that was long ago, and hopefully forgotten. 

11:03 Jeff replaces the drop ceiling and climbs into his bed.  Karl grabs his TV and returns it to his room.  In an hour there would be a light tap over Marti's bed.  Jeff would assist in helping the kids climb down.

The girls would sneak away too, and sometimes they'd meet up with a kid or two from 2-May in some hidden cove under the buildings.  A cigarette would be smoked, and perhaps even a joint of marijuana. Either that or a trip to the store across the street was in order.

After I was admitted to 2-May I learned it was easier to sneak away from that floor.  The kids waited until the nurses were asleep and sneak out the slip of a window and walk along the edge of the building to where there was a hill. They'd jump off and have their way. 

The problem with sneaking away from 2-May is they didn't have access to the 7-Goodman elevator to the basement and the tunnels, so they had to have their fun outside. 

One night I was exceptionally tired and studying for an exam when I turned and saw my friend Gary in the window.  I was startled and let out a scream.  Gary rushed away, just in time so the nurse who came in to check on me didn't see him.  Yet it didnt' matter.  The gig was up.  It took me a long time to live that down.  I never snitched, yet I know Gary was busted when the counselors did a room check.

So needless to say I was on the do-not-trust list.  I did get off it eventually, but not because Gary decided to speak to me again.  The reason was because at an asthma institution patients come, and patients get discharged.  Thankfully for me Gary's stay wasn't long.

Back when I was on 7-Goodman there was one time I almost slipped up.  I was in the front rear seat of the National Jewish van.  The van was packed with kids.  PE instructor Charlene was driving, and PE instructor Jeff was in the passenger seat.  As we the van moved down E. Colfax Avenue the NJH complex was to our right, yet to our left was the old and empty National Asthma Center building.

I said, "It would be cool to walk around that building some night."

Charlene turned and gave me a dark stare, as well did the other kids.  I was wasn't thinking at all about sneaking away to that place, I just love history.  Yet it was this incident that made me aware of another nightly journey was to that old building. 

I can tell this story now because I've heard 7-Goodman and 2-May have since been closed.  I imagine the liability and stress of taking care of teens was part of it.  Yet I imagine improved asthma wisdom was probably the main reason for the closure.

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