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     Jake set his cup of coffee on the dashboard and checked the GPS.

     "We don't usually get pickups at this ER. Must be a busy night."

     Katie nodded her head in agreement. "That public hospital gets some wild ones. Psych transport?"

     "Yeah. Patient has been evaluated by a mental health professional and committed on a seventy-two-hour hold to Memorial."

     "Got it. Let's fire up the lights."

     Twenty minutes later Jake pulled into the ambulance bay outside City Hospital. Katie rolled the gurney from the back and loaded it with the emergency supplies required for every case. They headed through the wide double doors into the waiting area.

     Newer ERs had out-of-the-way areas for ambulances to pick up and drop off, but not City. Their budget didn't allow renovations.

     Josh checked with reception about where their guy was held.

     "They had to restrain him in the padded room." She cocked her head to the side. "Follow the screaming."

     "Sounds like a live one."

     "Nurse Casillas said amphetamine psychosis."

     "Oh, man, those guys have super strength. I hope the docs hit him with a tranq."

     Katie and Jake rolled the gurney down the long, bleak hallway. They could indeed hear screaming coming from the room with the metal door.

     "I want to get out of here. I want to get out of here.”

     Katie shook her head. “He doesn’t sound tranquillized to me.”A white-clad nurse hurried up to the door. Jake spoke to her. “We are here to pick up this patient, but it doesn’t sound like he’s ready to go. Most ERs usually hold guys like this for 24 hours to see if they clear up once the drugs wear off.”

     “Not this one. The Director wants him transferred. He’s known to us, and we know he isn’t going to clear.”

     Katie nodded. “A Frequent Flyer.”

     “You can say that again. Rapid cycling bipolar. Here’s his med list.”

     She handed Jake a typed list half a page long.

     Jake shook his head. “Makes you wonder why folks with that kind of diagnosis do drugs when it puts them in this state.”

     Nurse Casillas looked Jake in the eye. “You wouldn’t believe how depressed Dwight gets in between his manic episodes. While I don’t condone his drug use, I can understand why he uses them. It’s been very difficult to regulate his moods with meds.”

     The screaming behind the door intensified. “I, I've gotta, I've gotta get out of here.”

     “Let me get in there and give him another injection. When he’s like this, he doesn’t respond to anything but the maximum dose.”

     “Yeah, we can’t transport him like this.”

     When the yellow steel door opened, Jake and Katie got a glimpse of the straight-jacketed figure huddling on the floor of the padded room. He raised his head to watch the nurse as she unsheathed a needle. The calming medication hit his system after a few minutes, and his muscles relaxed, allowing him to recline on the floor.

     Jake and Katie moved the equipment to the lower level of their gurney and rolled it into the room. The nurse removed the straight jacket.

     “Come on, Mr. Fry. We’ll take you to a safe place.” Jake saw fear in the patient’s darting eyes, his pupils hugely dilated.

     The patient whispered, “See my lonely life unfold.”

     Jake and Katie strapped him on the gurney and double checked the restraints.

     The patient spoke again, “See my lonely mind explode.”

     The nurse shrugged. “Bipolar patients often speak in a kind of word salad. I guess what they are saying makes sense to them.”

     As the EMTs rolled the gurney through the waiting room, a little girl and her mother jumped up. “My daddy was gone so long last time. Will you let him come home soon?”

     “He’ll come home as soon as he’s well enough. I know you miss him.”

     Dwight’s daughter extended her hand toward her father.

     “Leave me alone. Don’t touch me,” he screamed.

     Jake and Katie rushed out of the ER pushing the gurney and loaded their patient into the ambulance, leaving behind a sobbing little girl.

Second Place Winner

Jacob von Kutzleben Memorial Writing Contest 2017

Ballad of Dwight Fry

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