I need a new method of transportation.
Sitting in front of me, alert, oriented, and chatting away on her cell phone was a patient I treated the Friday before. I saw her last week when I was working triage on the Labor and Delivery floor. She was high as shit and annoying the piss out of me. She was complaining of leg pain but wouldn’t answer any of my questions. It was an imposition that I needed to know about her leg pain, that I needed to know her medical history, and that I not only did I need to know her daily dose of methadone I needed to know what other drugs she took today. I lightly touched her leg and she started wailing uncontrollably and making a scene. While everyone else on the floor was freaked out about this, I actually felt like I was at home, in my element back in the ED. She is status post c-section, post-op day 8, and is boarding at the hospital because her baby is withdrawing from methadone. At this point I am tired, annoyed, and have about a million other things that needed to be done 20 minutes ago. The trouble with this though, as an emergency medicine physician, is that as much as people piss you off, and as much as you think they are full of shit, people can still be sick. This woman was recently hospitalized, had recent surgery, is an IV drug user, smokes cigarettes (all risk factors for a deep vein thrombosis), and is now having unilateral lower extremity pain and tenderness (which may or may not be real). Those of you who read this blog who are in the medical field (none of the three of you), will understand this: I recommended a lower extremity doppler to my attending. He, who had the benefit of knowing this patient well (perhaps there’s something to be said for continuity, or maybe just experience), nodded politely at my “emergency medicine” work-up, and discharged her with some Tylenol. A week later on that bus she was still annoying me but I was relieved to see she was not tachypneic, DVT and pulmonary embolus free.
On that same bus ride, sitting directly next to me was another lovely gentleman I ran into two weekends earlier. Two weeks prior he was asking for money on the subway. “I just need $6.75 for the commuter rail. I already have a dollar. I can’t get into the shelter tonight and have nowhere to stay and really need money for the commuter rail.” There was no response from the passengers and next thing I know he’s making a scene, screaming, swearing, punching the walls, and scaring the crap out of those from whom he was just begging for money. Before my experiences working as an intern at the hospital where I work I think I probably would have been frightened, or maybe felt bad for not giving him money. I think it’s also important to note, however, that I know this guy. During my first month as a doctor I saw him come into our trauma bay two times over the course of one twelve hour shift. The first time he left angry and AMA (against medical advice) as soon as he was able, the second time he was admitted for a heroin withdrawal. During his outburst on the subway I was neither frightened nor felt compassion for his plight. Mostly because he turned into a jerk and started scaring people. Needless to say, yesterday the same dude, in the same red sweatshirt, hopped onto my bus. “I just need $6.75 for the commuter rail. I already have a dollar. I can’t get into the shelter tonight and have nowhere to stay and really need money for the commuter rail.” And as luck will have it, there was a seat open right next to me. I was about to get a bit nervous, I didn’t want to be between him and the window when no one offered him money. Luckily, there was a nice gentleman with one of those classic heroin toothless smiles (who also looked vaguely familiar) in the front of the bus who gave him five bucks. My buddy in the red sweatshirt got off at the next stop.
And then, no joke, toward the front of the bus on the right there was another familiar face. It was an overweight 28 yo male who I have treated on numerous overnight shifts. He lives in a shelter and has a multitude of mental problems and likely a very low IQ. He abuses the system, but has no idea what that even means. He likes coming to the ED. We give him sandwiches and we’re nice to him. Last time I saw him it was at 3am because he had a cut on his foot. It wasn’t infected, though with his lifestyle and medical history, it easily could have been. It was just a little cut. I cleaned it and gave him a band-aid and wrote him a doctor’s note so the shelter would let him back in at such a late hour. Twenty minutes after he left I called the shelter to make sure he arrived, it was a slow night. I walked by him on my way off the bus and we made eye contact, there was no recognition on his part. And I’ll probably see him again next week.
Oh how I love taking the bus.