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Texas | Columns

Playing Chicken at the A&P
or
Duck, Duck, Goose

by Frances Giles

As a registered nurse I spent the bulk of my career working in psychiatric settings. It was rewarding work, overall, but it had its share of more unusual moments, scary, bizarre, humorous and even dangerous. One memory that stands out in my mind took place when I was working in a private psychiatric hospital.There were strict rules and regulations mandated by the State of Texas and by hospitals that were set in place to try to ensure that patients rights were protected. Occasionally one ignored a rule here and there in service of protecting someone who might harm themselves or others.

Very early on one of my evening shifts one of my female patients skipped onto the elevator and was gone in the blink of an eye. Given her history for self harm I called the alarm for the security team to converge and we quickly stormed down the stairs. At reaching the front door I could see that she was already at the curb. The hospital rule clearly stated that staff was not to pursue any patient who made it off the property. I ignored this rule and erred on the side of protecting her, but maybe following the rules would have been more judicious, as the incident unfolded.

She made a beeline for the A&P grocery store directly across the street, six staff members in hot pursuit. Down the side of the building, a quick right down the front and she was inside, pursued by our pack of hounds. Since I doubted she knew of any exits from the building, I felt sure we could calm her and convince her to return with us.

Nope. It wasn't about to be so easy. She ran down the frozen foods aisle in the middle of the store and took refuge at the far end of a very long freezer. I signaled to two team members to go to the next left and right aisles over to try to corner her, but she quickly picked up on that and began grabbing frozen meat to hurl at them. In this case it was tiny Rock Cornish game hens. Small they may have been, but when frozen they carried no little threat of injury. The two men dodged and took cover. As two others of us advanced toward her she upped her defense and grabbed full size frozen chickens. Now these were really fraught with danger, so we commenced to bob and weave and hunker down while trying to advance on her and avoid fractured skulls.

I might add here that the store manager was on site and somehow had gotten the idea that we were trying to harm this woman. He was yelling at us and threatening to call the police, but we really couldn't respond very well. We seemed to be making a little bit of headway when she ran completely out of chickens and grabbed the next fowl in line, frozen Long Island Ducklings. I used to see these in the freezer when I shopped there and never bought one because of the relatively high price, but I'd always wanted to try some Duck L'Orange. There were various birds flying through the air as if alive and held aloft by invisible wings, poultry in motion. Alfred Hitchcock had absolutely nothing on this situation.

By this time all six of our team had regrouped at the opposite end of the freezer from our patient, and we decided to risk a direct frontal advance once again. She pulled out all of the stops and we were again bombarded with long, solidly frozen deadly missiles. To warn my team members to be careful, I yelled the first thing that came to mind: "Duck!!!"

Unfortunate choice of words, in retrospect. The police showed up, assisted us in calming the young woman and we all trooped across the street to resume the shift.

Some twenty years later, I was in this same store shopping one afternoon and the bagger asked about my name tag. I acknowledged that I was employed at the hospital across the street and he commenced to tell a tale of long ago fowl deeds and soaring beasts of birden. I skulked quietly from the store.



Frances Giles
"True Confessions and Mild Obsessions" September 15, 2015 Column

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