Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Last night I had a patient. I'd inherited him from the previous shift. He was being discharged to home. The problem was: there was no home. He looked old but they all look old. They being the homeless. They look old because of the abuse heaped on their bodies, inflicted by themselves due to addictions and irresponsibility.

Wasn't I right?

The fact that he had no home was NOT my responsibility. I made sure he had his prescription (never mind the fact that he had no money to get it filled). "Where do I go?" he asked. "Where did you come from?" I asked. "The Salvation Army" he replied."Then I suppose you need to go back there" was all I could say.

Wasn't I right?

I was thinking about the 30 people who were in the waiting room and had been there for hours...all needing to be seen. I was thinking about how I needed to discharge this patient and get the next patient in this room. I was thinking that an emergency room isn't supposed to be a shelter for the homeless. Besides, it was the end of my shift.

Wasn't I right?

Then I looked up and saw the housekeeper looking at me with that "aren't you going to do something?" look on her face. You see, she is a Believer...and so am I. But this wasn't my problem. I walked out of the room and left him to dress himself.

Wasn't I right?

I looked down at my notes. His birth date was 1932. He is 78 years old. He had dementia. I walked back into the room. His hands were trembling and desperately trying to put on his shirt. I reached to help. He had no coat and the wind chill factor was in the 30s. I put him in a wheelchair and pushed him out to the waiting room. When I told him he could spend the night there if he behaved himself I thought I was being kind. He assured me he would not be any trouble and clung to the Styrofoam container of food I had given him. It was time for me to leave and I had done all I could do....I had gone the extra mile....I had done my job.

Wasn't I right?

A voice came to me: "As you do unto the least of these”. I looked back at his empty eyes. I walked over to the phone and called the Salvation Army. Line busy. Again and again I called. I was late getting off. Then I tried The Compassion Center but it was 9 pm and I knew they didn't take anyone after 8. Oh well...and whispered a prayer. Someone answered...the person on the other end knew this fellow. The person on the other end accepted him but how was I going to get him there? The hospital had cut back on paying for cab rides except in extreme situations. It just so happened that the charge nurse agreed and a cab was called.I walked back out to the waiting room. The man was slumped over in his wheelchair still clinging to his food. I gave him the last coat we had in our stash and told him we were getting him a cab to the Center. His eyes were no longer empty.

Back out to the waiting room, I wheeled him over to the door and asked the guard to assist him into the cab whenever it arrived. The demented little old man thanked me over and over. I looked up I saw a woman I had taken care of earlier who had been doing crack cocaine. She was staring at me with tears in her eyes. She said "God bless you". I fought back the tears . After all, I was standing in a packed waiting room and couldn't cry in front of all those people.

Wasn’t I right?

I thanked the woman and dashed back into the department...still fighting back tears.

Then I felt the conviction of my hardened heart and my prejudices and hung my head in shame. There but for the grace of God go I.

Wasn't I right!

I want to be a part of your world
having you become a part of mine.
Though we don’t see eye to eye
on all that surrounds us-
our ideals in life,
our motives for being,
our reasons for existence,
I want to understand you
even greater
accept you as you are-
with an open eye,
an open heart-
I want
to be your friend.


  1. this is the most heart wrenching / wonderful thing that i have ever read.

  2. Oh, if we could all do just one simple thing for someone in need... the world would be a different place entirely.

    Love, Love, LOVE your blog. Thanks for your prayers...sending some up for you as well. :-D

  3. oh Ames, I feel your weariness like it were mine. But isn't it? Thank you for the inspiration to be an advocate for the veterans I work with. Thank you for being that person that I look around desperately trying to find among my co-workers. Thank you for reminding me that I can be that person. But for the grace of God go I.