Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Walter from the dumpster. (From the ER journals)

The usual routine when patients were brought into the treatment rooms was for the nurses to get vital signs, and asses the problem so they could set up the room with equipment or supplies as needed.   When ever possible, I would like to see the patient for a quick “greeting” and assessment of my own, before the nurse arrived.


I had no idea who was in the treatment room, or why. I pushed the curtains aside, stepped into room and was immediately overwhelmed by an oppressive, sickening odor coming from the crumpled dirty figure lying on the gurney.  I am ashamed to say that my first reaction was to think, “I’m glad I’m not the nurse who has this room”.

Like so many of our homeless patients, Walter was brought to the ER by the local police.   He apparently sought relief from the severe weather by crawling into a dumpster to sleep, only to be rudely awakened when the garbage truck began lifting the unit to collect the trash.  He had enough presence of mind to know what was happening and quickly scrambled up and out of his now moving abode.  Unfortunately he was a good 10 feet above ground when he exited, and thus he became our guest.

The next time I parted the curtains and looked into the room, Walter was standing by the gurney sporting the one size fits all hospital gown washing himself with the help of one of the many angels working in the ER as registered nurses.  The odor was now tolerable and his clothing was nowhere to be seen.

Walter had a head full of wild looking hair that did not fit with the chagrined, embarrassed look on his face.  Clearly he was ashamed of his situation.  He appeared to be in no distress or pain and we were surprised when his x-rays revealed non-displaced radial fractures of both fibula.  It was our turn to be chagrined for having him stand and wash himself.

Like most of the homeless that we saw in the ER, Walter was humble, polite, and very appreciative of all that was done.  I will never forget the image of him standing there dripping wet from his sponge bath.  Nor will I forget the smell the first time I walked into that exam room.

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