June 19, 2006, 3:32 am

Eccentricity Is NOT A Crime


Oh man, I was totally born in the wrong decade!

I was so meant to wear that dress on the left with a cap!

It’s some sort of a wrap dress but I love the wide shoulders!

I think it’s from the late 40s.

It is so classy looking!

I found this on eBay, but the size wasn’t right.

If it had been the right size, I’d have made it.

It’s so hard to look classy in scrubs.

It’s like wearing pajamas to work.



An elderly woman lives alone in a beautiful 4,000 square foot home in a very exclusive neighborhood. She is just this side of ninety. Her husband died five years ago and she lost the last of her pomerainians two months before.

She has no living children. Oh, she gave birth to five of them. All dying in their first month of life.

Born in Europe, she has spent the last fifty years in this country, becoming a citizen back when the Beatles topped the charts and painsakingly learning the language of her new home.

She still has her accent.

When she came to the US she was appalled at the lack of civil rights for black Americans and she fell in love with the cultures of the Native American tribes she met in her travels across the country.

If she were any younger, she would be an activist.

As it was, she was a feminist before Gloria Steinem was out of diapers.


She loved to talk. Hyperverbal doesn’t even come close to describing her style. Her conversation bordered on tangential, but it was as if she had so much she wanted to say that she could not keep from jumping to whatever topic flowed from the next.

She fascinated me.

The very first thing she said to me after the initial triage, when describing her life in her native country while pointing her finger at me, “Do you know what it is like to be guilty until you are proved innocent and how hard it is to prove a negative?”

I assured her I did not.

“My dear, that is because this is America. It is not like this in the rest of the world.”


She had activated the EMS system for some vague complaints that a head CT readily ruled out.

She thought the standard orientation questions were stupid and she treated them as such, telling the medics it was 1945 or that Washington was president and Halloween was next week.

She was as oriented as I was that night. If not more so.

That night she was not fighting for her life. Her chemistry panel was better than mine.

She was fighting for her right to live her life.

Her way.


For you see, my friend was rather eccentric.

Her house was full. Of her “collections” as she described them.

The medics said the house was full of garbage with nowhere to walk and bags and boxes piled everywhere.

The Fire Marshall thought it should be condemmed; that it was a fire waiting to happen.

That night she had fought, almost to the point of needing four-point restraints, the city police who were going to go into her home.

They’d been in before, during previous hospitalizations.

And had destroyed thousands of dollars worth of her “collections”.

She wanted no one in the house. She met the medics at her gate. But when you call 911 around here, you get fire, police and the medics. And she had no doubt that those men were going to trash her home.


The patient made so many references to her collection that I finally asked her what she collected.

Old newspapers?  Magazines?  Did she have fifty years of National Geographics lining her living room floor?

She buried her face in her hands as if she despaired of my ever understanding.

“Papers, magazines, bah! Those are nothing”, she said bitterly. “They can take what they want.  What I have will go to the museums and I will call it ‘Life In America’.  You see, it is not for me, but it is for you and your children.  It is history, what I have. The history of this country. They don’t know what they are destroying!”

Was she paranoid?  Delusional?

Was she telling the truth?


It was coming up towards the end of my shift and my colleauges were making attempts to “rescue” me from the barrage of words emanating from this tiny, fascinating woman.

I was done with all my charting so I sat and listened to her.  I watched her face light up as she described her travels collecting Native American artwork, basketry, pottery.  How she loved the Native Americans.  How her collection consisted of such works that she could no longer lift some of them, they were so big.  And how she drove 500 miles one trip to find a tribe who specialized in miniature basket weaving.

Her conversation became less tangential as we focused on her love of historical artifacts. Toy horses, drums used in the Civil War, guns used in WWI and II – the real things!

And…… she talked about her lifestyle.  How she turned off the heat because she could not afford to heat the house but managed to stay warm.

How she lived in the dark after sundown because she could not reach the lightbulbs on the ceiling that had burned out, but she liked using the flashlight just fine.

How she pulled her mattress to the floor so her elderly dogs could sleep with her without hurting themselves jumping up or down to the bed.

How she could not consider another baby puppy because she no longer had the means to get them to the vet for the required shots.

I noted that her hygiene was good, as was her nutritional status, at least outwardly.


I was so engrossed in this patient and so enjoyed her I stayed half-an-hour after my shift ended,  just listening.

I got the impression she didn’t get to talk to many people.

She just didn’t like to be lied to.  By the doctors.  By the Fire Marshall.  By George W. Bush!


I didn’t have the heart to tell her I was one of the 29% of Americans who still liked him.


When it came time to discharge her, she sounded insulted that we asked if she had money for a taxi!

Of course she did!  How did we expect her to get home?

No vouchers for this fire-cracker of a lady.

She took care of herself, thank you very much!


When I went back to work a few days later I learned that my patient had gone home from our facility, was placed on a 5150 within an hour.

The psych facility called for our records, that’s how we found out.

We still don’t know why.  My guess is she found people in her house when she got home and went ballistic.

She was close to 90 and she was happy!

She had a dream, a vision, a “collection”.

Whether it was real or a magnificent mental creation didn’t matter.

She was living her life that way that she chose to do it.

Why didn’t they leave her alone?

To this day, I don’t know if she really did have all those historical treasures in her house or if it was truly a bunch of garbage and I don’t care.

It didn’t match what most of us consider “normal” she was forced into the “system” and away from her beloved collection.

I’d have raised hell, too, if I were her.

For a short time she had the undivided attention of someone who found her fascinating and interesting.  For a short time I was given the undivided attention of a rare gem of a woman.

I got the better deal.

And another patient to add to my list.

The list of the ones you will never forget.


  • kt

    June 19, 2006 at 6:04 am

    she is facisnating! great story.

  • Jodi

    June 19, 2006 at 4:00 pm

    aw, That sucks!
    I only pray she found a decent psychologist who deemed her sane and sent her home.
    Great story though.

  • Gimpy Mumpy

    June 19, 2006 at 4:33 pm

    The most wonderful neighbor I ever had was the male version of this lady. A little less verbose perhaps, but that was just a timidity born of experience. Most people thought him crazy. I found him facinating. He was a wealth of knowledge, particularly of history, and a he too had his collections.
    The kids at university used to shoot at his house with bb-guns and laugh when the police finally came. They knew this man would suffer more from the police then they would, and so they laughed. I never could understand why people couldn’t just accept him for who he was and leave him alone.

  • Moof

    June 19, 2006 at 7:42 pm

    Kim, that was beautiful. Thank you.

  • Alice

    June 20, 2006 at 12:48 pm

    I could almost hear her talking as you told her story, Kim. I agree that the mental health system is very much predicated on the idea that “if you don’t think the way I do, there’s something wrong with you, and we’ll lock you up and force you to take medicine for it.”

  • MotherJonesRN

    June 20, 2006 at 6:20 pm

    I’ve taken care of people like that before. When they talk about their life, I’d sit and listen. There is wisdom in their “crazy talk.” If you really listen, you learn they aren’t that crazy after all. Thanks for sharing that great story.

  • expat

    June 21, 2006 at 10:38 am

    Kim, I’ve always wondered – why DO medical people in America wear scrubs? It IS like wearing pyjamas. Why don’t nurses wear uniforms like the rest of the world?

    It’s so much easier to see the nurse as a professional when they’re wearing a shirt with a collar and trousers.

  • Jan in SC

    June 21, 2006 at 12:53 pm

    Bless her heart. How in the world did we ever decide who was “normal”??? I truly enjoy your blog!!

  • difficult patient

    June 23, 2006 at 6:29 pm

    Kim, that woman needs a blog . . . thanks for sharing.

About Me

My name is Kim, and I'm a nurse in the San Francisco Bay area. I've been a nurse for 33 years; I graduated in 1978 with my ADN. My experience is predominately Emergency and Critical Care, and I have also worked in Psychiatry and Pediatrics. I made the decision to be a nurse back in 1966 at the age of nine...

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