Carol Ann Evans
c 2009 All Rights Reserved
Before I became disabled with Multiple Sclerosis, I spent some time visiting the city of Detroit, MI as nurse. I met some incredible people who were most interesting. I tell some of my adventures in this story.
Adventures of a Visiting Nurse
Nursing visits in Detroit, Michigan, were always eventful, but I wanted an area closer to my home in Redford. I had been a visiting nurse at Hi-Tech Health Care for six months and I was sure that my evaluation would promote me out of the city. Unfortunately, the evaluation luncheon with my supervisor, Sue, had left negative feelings between us so I was stuck driving to Detroit for another month. My new assignments were even deeper into the heart of the city. I had become a master of the U-turn because I frequently traveled the wrong way on one-way roads. I quickly learned to navigate Detroit’s back streets, though, and many times I traveled on unmarked roads that were more like alleys to make up time when I got lost. It seemed like I was always getting lost but eventually I was buzzing around the crowded streets of Detroit like someone who had lived there for years.
Visiting the Brewster Projects
The Brewster Projects were the oldest highrise projects in Detroit. The brick towers were a plain beige-brown with brown borders around the windows. The project windows didn’t have bars on them. It seemed they were the only windows in the whole city without bars. I guess the people who lived there were so publically poor nobody felt their contents were worth the risk.
My first visit to the Brewster Project was on a snowy day in February. I drove a rusted 1977 T-bird. I never knew how the car would perform day to day and definitely didn’t know how it would handle in the snow. This particular day blasted Detroit with a foot of fresh snow. I could hear the icy crust scrape under my car as I tried hard to follow the ruts already paved from drivers before me.
I entered the projects about 10:00 a.m.
“Okay,” I said. “Up and out.” I pried myself and eight months of baby stomach out of the car.
I was short of breath when I reached the project lobby so I sat on a park bench that had been moved inside the building and took out my visit information papers. I set the papers on the bench beside me and looked around the lobby. Diana Ross had been born in these projects. I wondered if anyone lived here who knew her as a child. My attention focused on my visit papers. They had started to move to the opposite side of the bench. I reached over to grab the papers and uncovered the biggest cockroach I had ever seen. It startled me so much that I moved the park bench backward about a foot.
“Gee wiz, you guys,” I said to an empty lobby. “Is he a guest here?” I stood up and faced the bench. “Good day, sir Leroy.” I bowed to the three-inch long cockroach. “Will you please show me where room 4505 is? Randy Stewart lives there.” The cockroach sat motionless on the bench. His antennae twitched.
“I’m standing in an empty lobby talking to a cockroach,” I said. “I must be crazy.”
I set my bag on the bench next to Leroy and walked around the lobby. I found a service elevator. When I retrieved my bag, I said good-bye to Leroy but he had disappeared.
I rode the elevator to the fourth floor but I couldn’t find Randy’s room so I knocked on a random door. I asked if they knew where room 4505 was.
“Are you the cops?” a voice said from the other side of the door.
“No,” I said. “I’m a visiting nurse. A sudden burst of sounds came from inside the room. People were talking in low voices, drawers and doors were slamming shut, it sounded like someone was loading a gun. A male voice came close to the door.
“Go two doors down,” he yelled.
“Which way?” I asked.
“Two doors down.” He sounded annoyed so I didn’t ask for further clarification.
I went two doors in each direction but I still could not locate Randy. I returned to the male voice and knocked again.
“I went two doors in each direction but I can’t find Randy.” The room erupted into another ruckus. This time a gun discharged. I jumped. A female voice inside the room screamed. The male voice came back near the door, but didn’t open it.
“Are you sure your not the cops?” he asked.
“No!” I yelled. “I’m just trying to find Randy Stewart.”
“Go three doors down,” he yelled. “Tell him Tyrone sent you.”
I went three doors left. Randy answered the door. Lucky guess.
“Man,” I said. “What goes on around here?”
Randy looked at my name badge. “You the nurse?”
“Yes I am.”
“You better get in here, girl,” he said. “You stand out there long enough, you gonna get shot.”
I stepped into Randy’s room. There was a four foot square of tile with a rug to wipe my feet.
“I must have stepped through the looking glass,” I said looking around. Plush, thick, white carpet covered the floor. Overstuffed, blue, velour upholstered couches were against the walls. A crystal chandilier hung in the dining area. The dining table was solid oak with four matching chairs. Randy’s eyes met mine.
“You never know what you’ll find in the dumpsters in Detroit.” Randy grinned.
“Leroy didn’t tell me about this,” I smiled.
“Who’s Leroy?” he asked.
“The cockroach I shook hands with in the lobby.”
Randy shook his head. “Girl,” he said in a high-pitched squeal. “I know you gonna get shot now. Talking to cockroaches and everything. Man!”
I left Randy’s room after the visit and returned to the parking lot. Another inch of snow had fallen and my car was covered. I brushed the snow from my windshield and got in. The engine started but the car wouldn’t move. I was stuck.
I got out to assess my situation when I noticed a group of black teens staring at me. They were huddled together near the lobby entrance. Their shoulders were shrugged tightly upward toward their ears in attempt to hug the collars of their leather coats against their necks. I doubt if the posture made any difference in their warmth. It was freezing outside. They started walking toward me. My heart pounded and my stomach knotted.
“Keep calm,” I muttered to myself. “What could they possibly want?’
I looked at my car. My back tire had managed to get stuck in the middle of a pile of crusted snow. I kicked it. The teens laughed.
“I don’t suppose you’d be willing to help me out here?” I yelled. My voice quivered. “I could use a push.” My heart was still pounding but I needed their help.
The group assessed my car.
“Are you crazy?” one of the teens asked. “School buses ain’t runnin’ today and you come down here? Pregnant and stuff? Man.”
My stomach unknotted a little until one of the teens laid a gun on the hood of my car. I stared at the gun and froze.
The teen saw my fright. “Don’t worry,” he said. “This part of Detroit is bad even for us black kids.” He smirked at me.
I faked a smile.
They pushed my car free. I stopped to thank them. I must have been
nervous because I blurted out about my difficulty finding Randy and about the gun going off.
“Randy’s cool,” one teen said. “But sounds like you knocked on Tyrone’s door.”
“He said that was his name.”
“Biggest drug dealer in Detroit. Your lucky he didn’t shoot you through the door. He’s got crazy Larry and Linda living with him. Them two love to shoot guns. Don’t matter if someone gets in their way, neither.”
“I met a cockroach and named him Leroy,” I said. “Maybe he told Larry and Linda not to shoot me.”
The teens laughed, again. “I got to meet this Leroy,” one teen said. “Maybe he’ll protect me, too.”
“Maybe.” I waved and drove out of the parking lot.
Visiting the rural suburbs
My next visit took me to the lavish suburbs of Bloomfield Hills. Finally, a visit outside of Detroit! Paula smiled as she motioned for me to enter her two-story mansion. The house probably wasn’t considered a mansion in the real estate books, but I considered it one.
“Do you want me to take off my shoes?” I asked.
“No,” she said. “It’s not like you’ve been downtown Detroit or anything.”
If you only knew.
Visiting the city suburbs
During the days to come, my visits slowly moved from the downtown Detroit to the city’s suburbs. I became good with directions in the surburbs, too. It was easy—there were no one-way streets.
The attitude of the suburb people was different from the people of the inner city. People from the surburbs were bold and aggressive. They would stare at me and make obscene gestures when crossing the street in front of me. One time I was stopped at a light when two black men walked toward each other and stopped in front of my car. One man placed a gun on my hood making a loud thud. The other man placed a baggy full of white powder next to the gun. The gun man looked at the powder. He licked his finger, dipped it in the powder and tasted it. He nodded, put the baggy in his pocket and threw a large roll of money at the baggy man.
I stared at both of them. They both looked at me and nodded. Then the gun man picked up his gun and both men walked away in opposite directions.
I sat in my car stopped at the light for minute after it had turned green. My car, a table for a drug deal? Wow! The light turned yellow and I sped off. I don’t want that to happen again.
After a week visiting in the suburbs, I was beginning to miss the atmosphere of downtown. At least downtown school kids had respect. School kids in the suburbs were disrespectful and rude. I tried to avoid driving near schools in the suburbs. The kids would huddle together and move like a giant wall. Many times the wall of kids would block me for ten minutes at a stop light. If I beeped my horn, they would stay longer. Sometimes I didn’t stop. I kept rolling slowly through the wall, nudging kids out of my way. Police were everywhere but did nothing. They stayed in their squad cars with the windows rolled up and watched. Kids were dancing, wrestling, talking, yelling and sometimes fighting in the streets. The police never moved. I wondered if they were scared.
I saw Randy and Paula a few more times. During my last visit with Paula, the mansion lady, I thought I saw something move in my bag. When I got home I found a surprise in my trunk. Leroy!
He must have hitched a ride in my bag. I hope Paula didn’t see him.
“Leroy,” I said. “Have you been in my trunk for a week? You can’t come in my apartment but I’ll leave you some old peanut-butter and jelly sandwich.” I closed the trunk.
“I’ve got a cockroach for a pet,” I said while walking to my appartment. “Most people have a dog or a cat but, no, I have a cockroach!”
I made sure Leroy stayed in my trunk each day before I removed my bag. It was kind of cute in a weird sort of way to talk to him.
One visit took me to an older part of the suburbs. The Tannon family crammed themselves into a tiny two-story bungalow--all fifteen of them. The house smelled of dry rot and it was dark and damp inside. I bent down to take Mrs. Tannon’s blood pressure when I noticed something move off my bag. A roach fell onto the floor and Bessie, Mrs. Tannon’s sister, stomped on it before I could get a good look.
They jumped and looked at me.
“It was just a roach,” Bessie said. “We got a ton of them in here.”
I rushed to my car after the visit. I had to know if Leroy was the roach Bessie stomped on. I opened the trunk. I couldn’t see Leroy. I felt sad. I moved an old newspaper to make room for my bag. Leroy was under it munching on a crust of toast.
“Leroy, you’re safe,” I said. “That was a close one. Next week I’m taking you home.”
Mattie Smith’s visit was next. She was a nice old lady. Mattie liked to call me her sister because my skin looked tinted to her.
“You Italian, girl, that’s close enough for me,” she said. “Italians are almost like black folk.”
Mattie was standing at the door when I arrived. She looked worried.
“I had one of them mamograms today.” she said. “I think they broke ‘em. Do they feel broken to you? C’mon feel them.”
“No, Mattie,” I said reassuringly. “Mammograms take x-rays. Besides, your breast doesn’t have bone in it. How could it break?”
“I know they broke ‘em, child, they don’t feel right.”
“Ask your doctor when you visit him tomorrow, okay?”
“Okay, sister, you know what’s best.”
We had a pleasant visit. After waving good-bye to Mattie, I headed across town to visit Mr. White. Mr. White lived with his daughter and her husband. He was eighty and his daughter looked fiftyish. I didn’t think she was capable of caring for an elderly man. She was forgetful and couldn’t carry on a coherent conversation. There was a strangeness about her but Mr. White was comfortable with her.
“Nothing like being home with family,” he said. “I can always go back to the nursing home if I feel unsafe.”
I really liked Mr. White. I had been visiting him for three months. I never noticed anything unusual and his daughter was doing a good job, contrary to my misgivings. But on this visit, broken glass covered the entire living room carpet. I almost fell when I walked to his room at the back of the house.
“What’s going on in here?” I asked.
Mr. White was sitting at his bedside hunched over. His feet were in a dishpan of water. Lit candles were scattered around his room. There were posters of monkeys hanging on his bedroom wall. They had long pointed tails and fanged teeth. Incense was burning and the blinds were closed. I opened them. Mr. White’s daughter, Salem, entered the room. I jumped.
“My husband and I had a fight last night, we broke every piece of glass in the house,” she said.
Salem was dressed in a long, black robe and her face was painted like she was going to a Halloween Party. I turned to look at Mr. White. I noticed the water steaming, his feet were bright red.
“Please take his feet out of that water!” I yelled.
Salem took Mr. White’s feet out of the water but it was too late. They were covered in blisters.
“Empty this pan and fill it with some ice cold water.”
“We ain’t got no ice,” Salem said. “But I’ll get you cold water.”
I placed Mr. White’s feet in the water. I looked at his face.
“Didn’t you feel the water burning your feet?” I asked.
“Nope,” he replied. His response was mechanical and trance-like.
I motioned for Salem to follow me out of the room.
“What’s wrong with him?”
“He’s upset because I didn’t let him stay in the nursing home last week,” she said. “He was the only white man in the whole place.”
“So,” I said. “Was he mistreated?”
“Only after he called the black aides Tar-babies.”
“Why did he do that?” I asked.
“Don’t know but he can’t go back now.”
“And the posters?”
Salem looked down. “I was practicing.”
“Never mind,” I interrupted. “Will you please remove those hideous posters from his wall?”
“They’re not hideous,” Salem said. She pouted, then she showed her teeth and hissed at me like a cat ready to strike its prey.
I mimicked her and hissed back.
“You don’t scare me, lady,” I said. “Good always wins over evil and I’ve got God on my side.”
I turned and walked back through the living room. Salem’s husband had picked up most of the glass so I quickly made my way out of the house. I expected Salem to come after me. The thought made me shudder.
I reported the incident to my supervisor, Sue.
“Witchcraft isn’t a crime,” she said.
“Abuse is,” I said. “They burned his feet. He looked traumatized.”
“Not enough to get adult protective services in.”
“It is not safe for Mr. White to be in that house under his daughter’s care.”
“Just because I have the freedom to call adult protective services, doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do,” she said. “Those people aren’t breaking any laws.”
“Sue, we’re talking about a man’s life.”
“I don’t know what I can do, my hands are tied.”
“You’re not the only supervisor here. I’ll find someone to handle this situation,” I said.
“I am your supervisor and I have complete control over my nurses.”
No other supervisor in the agency would listen to me. I even tried to call social services myself. They said I had to go through proper channels. I needed Sue’s help.
“If we don’t help Mr. White, he will die.”
“You feel that strong about the situation?”
“Well, it doesn’t matter. They stopped our services early this afternoon. Its out of our hands.”
“You can still call and report the situation.”
“I could,” she said with a pause. She looked at the ceiling then back at me. “But I won’t.”
“Drop this issue,” she said. “I will write you up for insubordination.”
I was about to have a baby, I needed my job. “I don’t think you are Hi-Tech’s greatest asset,” I said.
Three weeks later, I read Mr. White’s obituary in the local paper.
With each week I began visiting areas closer to my home. I liked most of my visits but I decided I would return to hospital nursing after my baby was born. The incident with Mr. White devistated me and I felt his death could have been prevented.
The next day, I visited Sam Curry. He was a young black man, fairly thin and slightly muscular. He was a diabetic. I had to draw a fasting blood sugar test so it was an early morning visit. I knocked on his door but he didn’t answer. That’s strange, I know he was expecting me.
I looked in a window near the door. The apartment was plain. It had tile floor scattered with throw rugs. A refridgerator, stove and sink was on one side and a small couch, twin bed, table and chairs was on the other. No one’s home. Something moved on the bed. I strained to get a better look. Sam!
I ran back to the door, wrenched the handle open and entered. Sam lay on the bed. He was covered in sweat.
“Where is your OJ and sugar?” I asked.
“Over by the fridge,” he said. His breathing was shallow and he blurted his words between breaths.
“Your blood sugar must be low. Here drink this.”
“No,” he said. “I need you to draw my blood first so I can prove to the state that I’m a diabetic.”
“You should be drinking the orange juice. You could loose consciousness any minute.”
“Draw the damn blood, girl!”
“Okay, okay,” I said. I got his blood sample on my first attempt, then I held the juice to his lips so he could drink. He felt better almost immediately and the sweating subsided.
“Thank you,” he said.
“You scared me.”
“Sorry, I really need help paying for my medical supplies.”
“They’d do no good if you were dead.”
“I ain’t dead yet.” Sam smiled.
I finished the visit and dropped the blood sample off at the lab on my way to see Terrance Jones. Terrance was a few years older than Sam. This was my second visit and I hadn’t collected his complete case history. I knew he was a paraplegic from a gun shot wound--drug deal gone wrong. He got defensive when I asked him about the details of the shooting. I was visiting to teach him about his catheter, so I didn’t press him. Maybe I will get him a visiting counselor.
Terrance’s house hadn’t been fitted for wheelchair ramps yet. He refused the modifications because he wanted to catapult off the porch instead.
“Ramps is for old folks,” he said. “I am Superman.”
The porch wasn’t big enough to get a rolling start, so Terrance kind of dropped off the porch face first. Luckily, his father put an old mattress on the ground for him to fall on. Terrance was stubborn.
I pulled up to the house. Terrance lay on the mattress in front of the porch, his wheelchair was tipped on its side. Catapult gone wrong. I chuckled.
“Hi Terrance,” I said.
“Oh, hi,” he said. “I almost did it. Tell her Dad, tell her I almost landed on my wheels.”
“Wheels is for rolling, son, not for flying,” his father said.
“Mine are for both,” Terrance said.
“Did you ever figure out how you will get back into the house once you’ve catapulted off the porch?” I asked.
“One thing at a time, missy, I’ll get it figured out.”
Terrance’s father put him back into his chair and dragged the chair backward up the stairs into the house.
“How have you been, Terrance?” I asked. I took his blood pressure and pulled his chart out of my bag.
“I’m doing as well as can be expected.” Terrance pointed to his motionless legs.
“I was hoping we could talk more about your injury.”
“You want to know the scoop, don’t you? Curiosity killin’ ya isn’t it?”
“Okay, as a matter of fact it is,” I said. “Well, are you going to tell me?”
“Nothin’ much to tell.” Terrance shrugged. “I got messed up with Tyrone’s men. I know you don’t know Tyrone but he’s the biggest drug dealer in Detroit.”
“I was getting’ some crack for me and my lady. It was her birthday and we was plannin’ a big night. Tyrone tried to sell me some whack crack. I didn’t want it. He started getting’ all up in my face and talkin’ bad about me. He said I tried to rip him off cuz we shared crack before and I hadn’t paid him. He pulled out a gun.”
“He shot you that close?”
“No, sister, his crazy man, Larry shot me from behind.”
“That wouldn’t happen to be the Brewster-project Tyrone, would it?”
“You know him, too? Man, girl, you do get around.”
“Never met him, only heard of him.”
“Luck is on your side if you run into that man and he don’t try and shoot you down.”
I thought of Leroy. “Maybe I had a lucky roach.”
“You got one of them, too,” Terrance said. “I keep mine wrapped up safe. Only smoke a puff on special occasions.”
I shook my head and laughed. “I mean a cockroach.”
“No shit. Where can I get me one of them”
“I got him in my trunk. As a matter of fact, I’m looking for a good home for him.”
“I’ll take him.”
I said good-bye to Terrance and Leroy. I knew I couldn’t keep Leroy in my trunk forever. Maybe Terrance needed Leroy. Maybe Leroy would help Terrance work out his anger. I made my way south on I-75 to visit Clarence Jones.
Clarence had just been released from the hospital. He had a kidney transplant. I was visiting him to get his medication organized and to monitor for organ rejection. I pulled up to his house. Between me and Clarence’s front door stood about thirty angry black people. They were pushing and yelling. Should I get out?
I opened the car door slowly. One of the men looked at me.
“Hey, you the nurse?’
“Yes,” I said. I scanned the crowd.
Suddenly, everybody stopped and stared at me.
“Go tell Clarence the nurse is here,” a woman shouted. “Well, let the nurse through.”
She smiled at me.
“C’mon honey, don’t be afraid.” She extended her hand toward me while looking at the crowd around us.
“Move!” she yelled. I jumped.
The sea of people split, making an aisle-way to Clarence’s door. The woman grabbed my hand and ran up the steps into Clarence’s house. She stopped. I didn’t. We collided.
“I’m sorry,” I said.
“No problem,” she said. “You the nurse. Now you let me know if there is anything I can do for you.”
Clarence lay in an old style hospital bed. I glanced at the hand cranks used to raise and lower the head of the bed. The woman followed my gaze.
“I know its old, but it’s the only one social service would give us.”
“I’m sure it will be fine.” I smiled at Clarence.
“Have a seat,” he said. He looked toward a wooden chair next to his bed.
The woman quickly ran over to it and started slapping and wiping it off.
I saw a cockroach hit the floor.
“We can’t seem to get rid of them, sorry.”
“No problem,” I said, “I just dropped one of them off at my last visit.”
They both stared at me.
I realized how stupid that must have sounded and chuckled to dismiss it.
Clarence told me his hospital story. His surgery went well but insurance refused to pay for his anti-rejection medicine. The doctor told him he would need to take the injections for at least a year or he’d end up back in the hospital.
“They fired me during surgery,” he said. “I don’t know how I’m going to pay for my medicine. Do you know that each injection costs a thousand bucks?”
He looked at me. His eyebrows were raised. I guess he thought I’d be shocked, but I wasn’t. I had heard the outrageous drug-price dilemma from dozens of patients.
“I need dates and times of your hospital stay and a copy of your insurance policy.”
The woman left the room.
“Why did you get fired?” I asked.
“Cuz I was in the hospital too long.”
“How long were you in for.’
“For a kidney transplant? You should have been in there at least a week. What was your doctor thinking?”
“He wasn’t gonna get paid, I guess. I don’t know”
The woman brought back a folder full of papers.
“I think all the dates and times is in here,” she said.
“May I use your phone? I need to call your pharmacy.”
“Sure. It’s in the kitchen. I’ll show you.”
I stood up to follow her. The room had been growing steadily dimmer during my conversation with Clarence. I looked out the windows. I had just taken a breath to make a comment about the weather change when I noticed thirty pairs of eyes staring at me. The entire group had crowded on top of one another to peer in at me and Clarence. They had blocked out most of the sunlight. Clarence saw my blank expression.
“They’re concerned. Hope you don’t mind.”
“No, not at all.” I forced a smile. I flicked off a cockroach that had managed to crawl up my sleeve and turned to follow the woman.
The pharmacist explained that because Clarence’s work had fired him the day of surgery, they weren’t going to pay for the drugs he needed after it.
I verified the dates and times of Clarence’s hospital stay with the pharmacist.
“If these times are true,” the pharmacist said, “then Clarence’s medication will be covered.”
“So the pharmacy will deliver the meds tomorrow?”
“Good.” I hung up the phone and smiled.
The windows were still crowded when I returned to Clarence’s room. The crowd was wiping their breath steam off the windows. They started shoving each other with their elbows. I shook my head.
“Clarence,” I said, “you will have your medicine first thing tomorrow.”
Clarence raised his eyebrows.
“I don’t believe it.”
“Turns out your work fired you twenty-two minutes too soon.”
“Clarence looked puzzled.
“According to your insurance policy, you would have to be fired after 8:00 a.m. the day of your surgery in order for them to deny coverage. The phone call from your work occurred at 7:38 a.m.. Twenty-two minutes early”
“So I get my meds?”
“You get your meds, your equipment and some paid time off while recuperating.”
“Yes. According to the strict surgery protocols of your insurance policy, you are entitled to six months pay and one more year of coverage. Of course, there is a refusal clause, should you decide to refuse coverage.”
“No way!” Clarence started to cry.
I hugged him.
“The insurance companies don’t always win,” I whispered.
“Thank you,” he said. His face was so frozen from crying, I wondered how he had managed to say anything.
“You are most welcome.”
The woman had entered the room behind me. She slapped me so hard on the back, I thought she’d knock the breath out of me but she didn’t. I turned to face her.
“I’ll show you out,” she said.
I walked to my car, put my bag in the trunk and shut it.
“Where do you think you’re going, missy.”
I turned around with a smile.
“I’m going home, Clarence was my last vis--”
One of the angry crowd members was pointing a gun at me. He was crying.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” I asked. Stupid thing to say to a man with a loaded gun.
“You made my Uncle Clarence cry,” he said.
“Jamal!” the woman from the house yelled.
Jamal and I looked toward her.
“You put that gun down this instant!”
“But she made Uncle Clarence cry.” The woman ran toward us.
“She helped your Uncle, you fool, now put that gun down.”
The woman took the gun from Jamal. I exhaled.
“Sorry about that,” she said. “I hope you’ll still come back. Clarence needs you.”
I nodded slowly. My mouth was gaping as I watched the woman usher Jamal into the house. She smacked him on the back of the head and pushed him through the doorway.
I turned and walked to the door of my car. I saw a cockroach scurry into the grass as I opened the door to get in.
“Boy, they really are lucky bugs,” I said.