The first time I met White Feather was in the ER. I was an RN on the psyche floor of our hospital. I was a floor nurse, working the Special Care Unit, or the “locked side,” as we called it. I was often asked to come down to ER to help with patients that were combative, for whatever reason, including mental disorders and alcohol withdrawal. Often, I would help them with the paperwork that was always involved with involuntary admissions.
He was sitting in one of the small ER exam rooms. He wore faded denim overalls, an old flannel shirt, and on his feet were old, worn work boots. His hair was long and curly, with some gray in it. His beard was full and bushy, also some gray. He spoke slowly and deliberately, but it was obvious that he was becoming agitated. He was telling the nurse who was talking with him that he needed to get back to his “place.” They asked me to talk with him and see if I could get him to sign a voluntary admission form. He had been in three different nursing homes within the last year. He had injured staff in two of them. I had been informed before talking with him that his name was Thomas Sinclair, but he would only answer to the name White Feather.
When I spoke with him, he was very vague when talking about his “place.” He was not happy with the nursing home where he had been staying. He said they were too bossy there. I tried to explain to him that almost any place could be a good place as long as you were at peace with yourself and God. I told him that sometimes we don’t understand why we have to be somewhere but sometimes we just have to go where we are sent. This seemed to calm him and he signed the voluntary admission form. He signed the form with the name “White Feather.”
In the beginning, White Feather seemed to like being on our floor. He was placed on the locked unit due to his history of violent behavior. The psychiatrist had adjusted his medications, hoping to decrease his agitation and anxiety. The medical consult had adjusted his insulin dosage, hoping to better control his blood glucose levels. But medication adjustments take time. His accuchecks had been increased from twice a day to four times a day. This became a problem. He did not like the finger sticks.
There were mice on the unit during White Feather’s stay. When a patient first reported seeing a mouse, staff assumed it was an hallucination, but after a nurse also saw one, an exterminator was called.
One day, White Feather saw a mouse run along the hallway wall and enter a patient room. He ran screaming into the dayroom to tell of the sighting. The next day, I approached White Feather to do an accucheck before lunch. I explained how important it was and he said I could do it, but only if I stuck a toe. I told him we couldn’t do it that way. He became furious.
We were in the middle of the dayroom. I could see the look on the nursing assistant’s face, silently pleading with me to forget about the accucheck. As we were talking, I saw a mouse enter the dayroom and crawl along the wall. I changed the place where I was standing, so that White Feather would also move, so that maybe he wouldn’t see the mouse. But he saw it out of the corner of his eye. He screamed. He then pulled up the pant legs of his overalls, ran across the dayroom, and jumped up on the couch. He looked terrified. Somehow, I kept a straight face. After he calmed down, he let me stick his finger.
Edna was the nurse whose luck ran out with White Feather. She approached him at the end of the hallway to check his blood sugar. He refused. She insisted. He chased her down the hallway to the nurse’s station door. She would have got away, but when she went to insert the key, she missed the keyhole. White Feather punched her in the back of the head and her head bounced off of the door. They took her to ER for evaluation. They placed White Feather in restraints.
White Feather was on our unit for four weeks. I was assigned to him every day that I worked during that time period. I was told this was because of the calming effect I had on him.
The last week he was with us, he was allowed to go outside with staff briefly, twice daily, to get some air. When I would take him on these outings, he would insist on stopping at the little chapel on second floor. There he would get on his knees and pray to Jesus. He would say, “Jesus,” then the prayer would follow, but the words were spoken so softly I could not understand what he was saying.
After he was discharged, I never saw him again. Many of our patients came back time and time again, but White Feather never did. Maybe he found his place.