(Excerpt from the upcoming novel,  A Heart of Steel, by Stephanie Dean.)

Steele was standing at the door to the closet, aiming her voice toward the nurse’s station and screaming, “Linda! Get in here, quick!”

hallway-867226_1920Holding the door open with her own weight, Steele stood frozen in uncertainty. In front of her, the man’s body was uncontrollably jerking and thrashing about on the linoleum closet floor. “Hurry, bring a tongue blade,” she yelled to the nurse’s aide. Steele had never before witnessed a patient having a seizure. She wasn’t sure if he was having convulsions or dying, but in either event, things weren’t looking good at the moment.

There were some days that Steele wondered why she had ever taken a job at this facility. Following graduation from nursing school, her first preference for employment had been the operating room. She filled out an application at Vanderbilt, but there were no positions available in surgery. Steele settled for her second choice, working in the psychiatry field and had accepted a position as head nurse for a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center at the Tennessee state psychiatric hospital, Central State. Steele had earned an almost perfect score on the psychiatry section of her state board exam, and she had a natural affinity for the psychology of human behavior, so the job was a great fit.

Then one day, unknown to staff, the residents of the unlocked rehab unit snuck out of the facility and returned with liquor, which they hid in the pop-up ceiling tile of their bedrooms. Steele was in the medicine room sorting pills preparing for medication delivery time when one of the male patients appeared at the door. Drunk, he pushed his way into the medicine room. Immediately alarmed, Steele placed her palms against his chest and forcefully pushed him out of the room. With her heart beating fast and feeling vulnerable, she yelled to an orderly to call for security. Steele recognized that several other men in the nurse’s station and out in the hall were drunk. Quickly, she returned to the medicine room and locked the door behind her until security arrived.

As she worked around psychiatric patients with addiction, Steele found every day was a different story. Steele believed she was prepared for what might potentially occur on any given workday. Her patients were detoxing from drugs and alcohol and required close observation at times. Because the facility was coed, Steele was accustomed to finding male patients in the beds of female patients, but she was not prepared for having to lock herself in a room for personal protection from drunken men.

CLICK HERE to read other poems and stories by Stephanie Dean.

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