An Ill Wind

The strange tale of the Killer Nurse is one of those stories that smells like an urban legend. Charles Cullen, the Angel of Death! You come out of the anesthetic to find him standing over you, his face a mask of granite, his hands gripping the fatal pillow/hypodermic needle/plastic bag.

The picture strains credulity. At least that's what I thought when I went to see my father in the hospital, sometime in the nineteen-nineties, when he was recovering from an operation to install a shunt in his head. I found him strapped to his bed. The anesthetic they gave him for the operation made him so crazy they didn't know what he might do.

"See that man?" he said to me, as a male nurse silently puttered about the room, doing housekeeping nurse chores. "He's trying to kill me. Get these restraints off me. I have to get out of here."

"It's all right, Daddy. They're going to take care of you until you're well enough to go home."

"I tell you he's trying to kill me. All these people are after me. They want to take my money and send it to Washington." Well, I knew that was a lie. He was on Social Security; the only money he had came from Washington. Why would they take it back? So I put the whole rant down to a drug-induced paranoid delusion. Indeed my father regained his wits in a day or two and lived on for many years.

But I remembered that nurse when they arrested Cullen sometime later and charged him with murdering forty people, maybe more, as they lay helpless in their hospital beds. For some reason I was reminiscing about that last year in the emergency room of that very hospital. They were treating Harold for an allergic reaction to some drug or other. A young fellow with a clipboard came into our cubicle to take down some information, and I found myself chattering to him about my father and Cullen.

The young man glanced over his shoulder and pulled the curtain closed. "Ah, yes," he said. "Him."

He proceeded to tell us the following story.

Sometime in the nineties the young man had been hard at work on an Eagle Scout project. This was his second attempt, he said, the first one having failed through some evil stroke of fate. This one was a sure winner. The Catholic Church was hosting a large group of homeless people in one of their facilities, but it was a large open space with no privacy. The Scout drew up plans for partitions to make their stay more comfortable. He cleared his plans with the zoning officer and bought the materials he would need to build the partitions.

Then he took his plans to the parish priest.

"No," said the priest. "You can't do that."

A few days later the priest fell ill, so ill that he was confined to the hospital, where he came under the care of Charles Cullen. That was the end of him.

The following week the Scout presented his plans to the priest's successor, who said, "Go right ahead, son." The young man completed his project and became an Eagle Scout.

I was thinking that this could be a great theme for a TV series, sort of like The Millionaire in reverse. Every week we could get to know somebody and then Cullen could kill him. If it weren't in such poor taste, that is. But then, we're talking about TV here.

Kate Gallison