Officer, it’s not what you think!

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by Isabella Maldonado

“Three seventy Charlie, respond to a complaint of a naked female running down Route fifty.” The dispatcher’s voice cut through the relative calm of a crisp Spring evening in the suburbs of the nation’s capital where I was a rookie on patrol with my Field Training Officer, Tony.

I cut my eyes to Tony, who sat in the front passenger seat next to me. He raised a bushy eyebrow, and I took the cue.

Raising the mic to my mouth, I pressed the transmitter. “Three seventy Charlie, direct.”

Tony checked the mobile computer terminal for the nearest cross street as I maneuvered the Crown Vic in that direction.

It didn’t take long to locate the problem. Cars were snarled in a traffic jam as a heavyset middle-aged woman with graying blonde hair shrieked and howled, flailing her arms as she ran in circles in the middle of the multi-lane road. It was a miracle no one had run over her.

Next, I found out something every cop who has any time in patrol can tell you.

Naked people are extremely difficult to arrest.

Soaked in sweat, her skin was slick as an eel. Hysteria and adrenalin enhanced her strength well beyond normal. Eyes wild with fear, she was determined to escape us. I cannot imagine what onlookers must have thought as they watched the scene unfold. I can only be grateful this was before the days of ubiquitous cell phones and livestreaming.

We finally managed to wrestle her into a set of cuffs and call for an ambulance. I was sure she was on some kind of hallucinogenic drug, and we wanted her checked out medically. The EMTs ended up transporting her to the hospital, where a quick blood screen revealed…wait for it…NO drugs in her system.

Wait. What?

Tony and I couldn’t ID her. We had no idea where she came from and obviously, she’d left her purse at home. No one at the ER recognized her, but they wanted to run more tests. Fine.

We called the on-duty psychiatrist, who responded for a consult. Perhaps she’d had a psychotic break. The mystery deepened.

We were discussing the matter when an ER doc came out to deliver the diagnosis. The woman was suffering from a severe sinus infection. The doctor had developed his own suspicions after hearing our description of her behavior and ordered radiographs of her sinuses (among other diagnostics). He went on to explain that it was not the first time he’d seen severe sinusitis lead to this kind of behavior.

The psychiatrist, after hearing the doctor’s comments, agreed. He explained that he had also seen perfectly sane and healthy people become delusional and act irrationally under similar circumstances. Fortunately, the woman received the medical treatment she needed and recovered completely.

During the years I spent in patrol, both as a line officer and as a supervisor, I saw the effects of a raging sinus infection on three different occasions. Each time, the person involved was off-the-rails and extremely difficult to subdue. In two of the cases, the person had stripped. Never could figure out why.

Last year, a friend of mine developed a cold that got progressively worse. She told me she believed she had a sinus infection but figured she’d just tough it out with some echinacea drops and hot tea with a shot of whiskey. I browbeat her until she finally went to the doctor. Thankfully, she got the medicine she needed and managed to recover without any drama involving the police.

I decided to write about this today as a PSA because I saw a report that the flu season has officially begun, and that it’s supposed to be a bad one this year. Please, for the love of all that’s holy, if a cold or flu turns into a sinus infection, don’t wait, don’t try to be brave…go see your doctor!

P.S. Feel free to show this to someone you love if the need arises.

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