Excerpt from Hard Time (featured tonight on Banged-Up Abroad "Raving Arizona").
decided the Russian prisoner, Yordan, was the closest thing we had to a doctor
because he'd been in the military and knew how to dress wounds. Inmates from
all of the races inundated him with demands for medical treatment due to a
menace from the insect world: spiders that crawled on us during the night and
bit while we slept. The culprit was rarely seen. Some thought it the brown
recluse, others the Arizona brown. Whatever the spider, the result was always
the same: during the first few days, the bite would slowly expand from a small
white blister to a pus-oozing sore; over the next few, tissue would slough away
from the abscess leaving a sunken ulcerated crater, exposing underlying tissue.
These holes were sometimes as broad as the palm of a hand. Other side effects
included fever, chills, vomiting and shock.
Alejandro was so big, his flab crept up and
down the wall as he breathed during his sleep. With scant room for spiders to
manoeuvre around him, he was inevitably bitten. His written requests for
treatment were ignored. When the pus began, and Officer Mordhorst rebuffed his
pleas for help, inmates from all of the races began to sympathise.
“Give him treatment!” Gravedigger yelled at
Mordhorst in the day room.
“He must go to Medical. Look at his damn
back! He must see a Yankee doctor,” Yordan said.
“It’s getting worse and worse,” Alejandro
said, his face pinched.
“It’s growing. Look! There’s pus coming out,”
“I already told you guys: the Medical Unit
does not treat insect bites. That’s the jail’s policy,” Officer Mordhorst
“That’s fucked up, dawg,” Troll said, playing
“You’re shit outta luck,” Tracy said to
“You’re burnt,” Gravedigger said.
Later that day, Yordon entered my cell.
“These damn Yankees think I am a doctor.” He seemed strained, yet proud. “Now
they want me to take care of Alejandro’s spider bite. Will you help me?
“How?” I asked, honoured to be included.
“Gravedigger and the others are going to hold
Alejandro, so the big bastard doesn’t move, while I squeeze the pus out, and I
need from you some salt, and perhaps you will help me put salt on the wound?”
Revolted by the pus aspect, I didn’t think
twice about helping my friend: “Count me in.” Plagued by outbreaks of mouth
ulcers due to stress and malnourishment, I’d been collecting the tiny salt
packets served with the chow because gargling salt water temporarily relieved
the burning sensation the ulcers caused. I retrieved the salt packets from
under my mattress, and followed Yordan into the day room.
The bullet-wound scars on Alejandro’s back
paled in comparison to what looked like a baseball of yellow plasma trying to
exit his body. I was flabbergasted that a spider had caused that. When Yordan
fingered the wound, thick yellow pus ran down Alejandro’s back, triggering my
“That’s fucking gross!” Tracy said.
“It hurts like fuck! Are you sure you know
what you’re doing?” Alejandro asked.
“Trust me. I was in the Russian military.
This wound is easy for me.”
“He ain’t no doctor!” yelled the big
hillbilly, George, sat with the TV-watching crowd. “The commie bastard’ll make
“The irritation will be less when I am
finished. Someone bring me toilet paper!” Yordan caught a toilet roll launched
from the balcony, unspooled some and swabbed up the pus. “Men, I need you to
hold him steady,” he said in the tone a commander reserves for troops entering
Gravedigger yanked Alejandro’s right arm and
locked it between his forearms and biceps. Two men secured Alejandro’s left
Yordon pressed his thumbs against the wound.
Alejandro moaned. The wound gushed. “It
hurts,” he whined.
“It hurts! Ah good! It will hurt less when I
am finished.” Yordan pressed harder, freeing more pus. I wondered if he knew
what he was doing.
“It fucking hurts!” Alejandro said, his face
“More toilet paper!” Yordan’s eyes followed
the pus streaking down Alejandro’s back like egg yolk.
Sweat was streaming from Alejandro’s short
black hair, converging on his neck, branching into tributaries on his body, and
coagulating with the baby powder coating his skin.
Passing Yordan toilet paper, I hoped that was
the last of the pus.
“We done yet?” Alejandro asked, swaying,
destabilising the men holding him.
“Keep him steady! We are not done! The poison
is still coming out! More toilet paper please!” Yordan boomed.
I quickly unspooled more toilet paper. “Here
Yordan cleaned up the fresh pus, and applied
pressure to the rim of the lesion.
Groaning like a dying elephant, Alejandro
shifted, dragging along the men holding him.
“We need more guys to hold him,” Gravedigger
Everyone in the day room stopped their
activities to watch more volunteers steady the big man.
“I think that is it. One moment! Let me see.
No! No! We are not done.” Gazing like a fanatic, Yordan discovered a new region
of pus to finger.
Alejandro groaned and shifted again, he
looked as if about to faint.
“More toilet paper!” Yordan yelled.
“That must be it,” Alejandro said, sweat
dripping from his ears and chin.
The prisoners eased their hold on Alejandro.
“Wait, men! Let me see.” Yordan thrust his
fingers into the sore. The ejaculation of pus, the largest so far, surprised
Yordan, delighted Gravedigger, and shocked the rest of us.
Alejandro stumbled forward, tugging everyone
holding him. They steadied him again. It seemed a pint of pus had come out by
“More toilet paper!” Yordan massaged the
area, exhausting the supply of pus. “Now I will apply the salt.”
I tore open the tiny packets, tipped salt
into Yordan’s palm, and cringed at the prospect of what he would do next.
Yordan sprinkled salt onto the wound, and rubbed it in. Alejandro wailed so
loud the hermits rushed from their cells.
“There. Thanks to my Russian military
training and the solidarity of my Yankee and Limey assistants, you are all
fixed up now.” Yordan smiled.
With their bee stripes stained by a
combination of pus, sweat and baby powder, the men released Alejandro to much
applause. Alejandro swayed, but didn’t collapse.