Damaged Minds

Heidi Hutton Rigoli
3 min readOct 5, 2022
Photo by nikko macaspac on Unsplash

An empty bottle of pills was beside him

When he was found in the car

With a hose attached to the exhaust pipe

At 25, he’s tried to end his life

He’s only 25.

I’ve lost count of how many times he has been in our hospital

It’s easy to forget them — once they’re gone.

Until they come back again,

With bleeding wrists and pumped-out stomachs.

I work with dying people

Not dying from cancer of the lungs

Or breast

But cancer that mutates and multiplies,

They are thoughts of destruction,

Voices that say:

“You’re no good — you should be dead,

Kill yourself, go ahead, that’s the way out…”

We try to fix them

With pills and short psychiatric sessions

But mostly we just try to keep them alive

Or away from the general public

People don’t want to know they exist

Because it’s all too close to us all

The mind that comes to the brink of reality

And just can’t take any more.

We send them to ‘process groups’

and teach them coping skills

To make ourselves feel like we are doing something.

But I know that many aren’t fixed

Because I see them again and again.

The most difficult ones are the children,

Ages nine to fifteen

Some were raped by their father,

Beaten by their mother.

Despised by the world

And never should have been born

(At least that’s the way they feel)

I met a kid who drank bleach,

He said he wanted to get clean inside

’cause “I’m so dirty,” he said.

For some reason that made sense to me.

There are the ‘Cutters,’

They come in with bleeding red lines

On their arms and legs.

When you ask them why they do it:

“It seemed like a good way to let the pain out,” they’ll say.

A way out of pain — somehow I can relate to that.

But when I was that age, I was riding horses

Or playing Monopoly with my friends

Sure, I still turned out a little whacked,

But what the hell happened to you

Little 12-year-old boy?

Little 10-year-old girl?

Though I have to know,

I don’t want to know.

Some of the nurses I work with

Have been doing this for 20 years.

I see what it’s done to them —

Their hardened hearts

Their inability to have a decent relationship with another person.

They work double shifts and never go home.

How can you go home and make love

With all of THAT inside your soul?

While she was training me, one of the nurses said:

“If you don’t get hard, you don’t stay sane.”

She was right.

One day, I was working with a nurse

Whose heart must have been too soft.

One minute she was gently talking to a patient,

The next she was screaming, hands over her ears

“No! No! Leave me alone…Shut up! Shut up!


We had to get her out of there.

I called for help, and they took her away,

Her patients stood all around,

Surprised that a nurse needed help,

Just like them.

Maybe I should find another job.