Monday, August 29, 2011

Disappearing into the Background

It was dark and still outside- the wee hours of a late summer night. A man limped through a long outdoor hallway lined with construction tarp and concrete into a brightly lit room. It was large room and had many chair and several people- he chose one in the very back where no one would pay much attention to him. Nobody saw him, or rather, nobody paid attention to him. Scruffy, muddy, and quiet, he hid in a chair that could not be seen by the triage desk. The people sitting around him paid him no mind. They were too worried about getting into our busy emergency room, never mind the bundle over there in the corner. A storm was coming, you see, and everyone wanted to avoid going outside.

The last time I saw this man- his pseudo-scholarly build, straight nose, glasses, beard, balding head, khaki shorts and polo-style shirt- he was covered in feces in critical care. The last time I saw him before that, he was stealing my things. Mr. Poopy was the stuff of legend in my mind. I felt guilty, but I disliked him on a personal level. I recoil at the thought that he had touched my life by touching my things. He was an unwelcome and dangerous intruder once to my polite academic community at a prestigious research institution and given me nightmares (before I became the tough old cat I am now from working in the ER). He was a homeless man in academic garb, a total counterfeit, opportunist and leech of the system. My co-workers know him on first-name basis because he had been there so many times. My tech hated him- called him the scum of the earth... yet, my tech died, and this cucaracha continued to live. I am ashamed to admit thinking these unbecoming thoughts last week in critical care, but I won't lie- I didn't have even a single reason to like the guy.

No one paid attention to Mr. Poopy (Tales of an Emergency Tech: Coming Back Full Circle) as he sat down in that chair, huddled down in the middle of the night. Maybe he felt pain- he had an extensive cardiac history... More likely, he might have just wanted to take refuge in a place he had been hundreds of times, away from the churning winds and penetrating wet. He curled up and closed his eyes, as he was apt to do. He was a very quiet man- shy, and addled in some ways. He couldn't answer questions quite the way you wanted him to. In any event, he probably went to sleep. It was going to be a long wait.

It was mid-morning before someone realized that he died in that chair in the corner. He was already blue- had probably been so for about 10 hours. And nobody noticed... not the triage nurses, not the visitors to the ER, not the security officers... Who would have thunk?? His body was taken to a private room for a last chance revival- but I'm sure it didn't last long.

Suddenly, a name, a face, a smell we've known hundreds of times, permanently seared into our memories- was gone. He was swiftly wiped from the face of the earth with no further questions nor inquiries. There was a general feeling, more of relief than sadness- the expensive interventions and work-ups he received gratis wouldn't happen anymore, we were minus 200 visits/year on our census, and the city was minus a limping, quiet, and creepy old homeless man. Just like that, he became a memory, if anybody else remembers, that is. How terrible and profoundly sad it is to die like that.
Rest in peace, Mr. Poopy. I hope wherever you are now is better than where you were.


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